EstoniaVana Tallinn Gala. Soloists, Estonian National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Vello Pähn (conductor). Estonian National Opera, Tallinn 25.9.2013
This year is not only the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi, it is also the 100th anniversary of the Estonian National Opera, and what better way of celebrating both than devoting almost a week to the former’s music under the heading Verdissimo? True, the ENO’s formal celebrations took place a couple of weeks earlier with the world premiere of a commissioned opera, Butterfly, which I will see in a few weeks’ time. The start of Verdissimo was this Vana Tallinn Gala. Vana Tallinn is an Estonian brand of liqueur that has existed for generations and this autumn the one hundred millionth bottle will be bottled! During the interval the audience were served a glass of this excellent beverage.
The gala opened with the atmospheric overture to Aïda and then followed a string of pearls of mostly well known arias and duets. Aile Asszonyi’s grand and vibrant voice was well suited to Ritorna vincitor where she sported both ear-splitting fortissimos and inward pianissimos. She returned after the interval with an equally fine Ecco l’orrido campa from Un ballo in maschera, where we also could note a good flute solo.
There were, somewhat surprising perhaps, no less than four excerpts from Macbeth, presented in random order. Jassi Zahharov, always an intense and expressive singer, gave us Perfidi! … Pietà, rispetto, amore from the last act, followed by the young bass Pavlo Balakin in Banquo’s aria from act II. He was best in the upper register, while the lowest notes, so important in this aria, were rather undernourished. The Italian tenor Cataldo Caputo has primarily been singing the bel canto repertoire of Rossini and Donizetti and his nuanced reading of Macduff’s aria was very attractive, even though his tone was somewhat pinched at the top. Zahharov and Balakin then joined forces in the Macbeth – Banquo duet from act I, Zahharov again strong, sometimes over the top and there were signs of wear, but he is a true Verdi baritone. Balakin was unfortunately too weak for the role.
Byelorussian baritone Ilja Silchukov has attended master classes with Renato Bruson and it showed. His reading of Il balen from Il trovatore was a splendid example of bel canto singing, lyrical, fine legato, exquisite voice – but visually he was rather pale, lacking charisma. He is still young and I’m sure he will develop this side of armoury in due time. After the interval Rodrigo’s O Carlo, ascolta from Don Carlo had the same characteristics and here he was partly drenched by the orchestra. He fared better in the duet from the first act of the same opera, where also Cataldo Caputo was in fine fettle.
Before the interval we also met the real star of the evening, Georgian mezzo-soprano Stella Grigorian in Azucena’s Stride la vampa from Il trovatore. There was a voice with personality: Powerful, alluring, electrifying. In the second half of the gala she changed to Eboli in Don Carlo and with Olga Zaitseva as Tebaldo this was also a feast for the eye.
Zahharov’s expertise in the dramatic Verdi roles was further underlined with a high-octane reading of the Credo from Otello. Balakin in the second part of the concert treated us to the one real rarity of the evening, Attila’s Mentre gonfiarsi. The tessitura of this beautiful aria is luckily mostly in the upper part of the voice, where he is at his best.
La traviata was represented by the Spanish dances and chorus from act II and here Darja Günter and Andrus Laur from the Estonian National Ballet impressed greatly.
An so, for the finale, three favourite numbers that even those only vaguely interested in opera could stomach. Caputo excelled in La donna é mobile and the quartet from Rigoletto, where Stella Grigorian was a seductive Maddalena and at last the Estonian National Chorus in their own feature: the chorus of the Hebrew slaves. It’s a winner every time – and so was, by and large, the whole gala. A nice start of Verdissimo.