Avalanche in Geneva

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Catalani : La Wally, Chorus of the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Evelino Pidò (conductor), Victoria Hall, Geneva, 6.18.2014 (AL)

Wally: Ainhoa Arteta
Stromminger: Vitaliy Bilyy
Hagenbach: Yonghoon Lee
Walter: Ivanna Lesyk-Sadivska
Afra: Ahlima Mhamdi
Il Pedone: Bruno Balmelli

Director: Cesare Lievi
Sets: Ezio Toffolutti
Lighting: Simon Trottet

History may remember Alfredo Catalani’s opera La Wally for two reasons: it was a Toscanini favorite; and many sopranos have made their own the sublime Act 1 aria, “Ebben, ne andrò lontana”.

However, if the work is not familiar to many, that’s not without reason. The libretto and story are very weak, even by operatic standards. Several scenes lack dramatic cohesion; and Act 4, which sees the death in an avalanche of the two lovers (who keep fighting during the whole work), goes on forever. Basically, the courageous gamble to promote this opera by Geneva’s Grand Théâtre simply did not work.

Cesare Lievi tried hard to put in some of his special touches. He made a subtle parallel between Wally’s commanding father and Geppetto, another of Italy’s classic father figures, and found good ideas in the chorus’s reaction to Haggenbach’s second act challenge. But as a whole, the production was lacking the imagination we saw in his Met Cerentola. Dirndl and lederhosen did not add much to a dull reading.

Musical matters at this premiere were somewhat uneven. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande was not at its best. They have played before under Evelino Pido and know him well, but they may be paying the price of a taxing season: 4 Rings followed by two concerts with Swiss premieres of complex works such as Terry Riley’s organ concerto and Michael Jarrell’s Emergence. The string tone lacked color, Italian cantabile was sorely missed throughout the performance, and the orchestra covered voices on more than a few occasions. These things may well be fixed in subsequent performances, but that did not help the premiere.

The title role was sung by Ainhoa Arteta who proved to be often under pressure to push her voice beyond its limits, thus hurting some of her high notes. Tenor Yonghoon Lee’s projection was uneven. He was at his best in the Act 3 narration, but his command of vowels and his phrasing were problematic. Vitaliy Bilyy was a wooden but reliable Gellner, while best of all was the youthful Walter of Ivanna Lesyk-Sadivska.

As always, the Geneva chorus was strong. It is one of the Grand Théâtre’s greatest assets. This production was the last after many years under the chorus master Ching-Lien Wu, who will assume the same position in Amsterdam. In the future, if her successor manages to retain the same artistic level, he or she will be as fondly remembered as Ms. Wu.

 Antoine Leboyer

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