A Flawed Yet Promising Recital by Baritone Sergio Vitale

IndiaIndia Various composers: Sergio Vitale (baritone), Fabio Centanni (piano), Tata Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, 8.8.2017. (JSM)

Mozart – ‘Hai già vinta la causa’ (Le nozze di Figaro)
Bellini – ‘Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei’ (I Puritani)
Rossini – ‘Largo al factotum’ (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Liszt – Mephisto Waltz No.1
Donizetti – ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ (Don Pasquale)
Verdi – ‘Ehi! Paggio!…L’onore! Ladri’; ‘Ehi! Taverniere! Mondo ladro’ (Falstaff)
Tosti – ‘A vucchella’

Due to health issues on the part of soprano Rosa Feola, this concert, which was supposed to be an opera duo, became a solo recital by baritone Sergio Vitale. Mr. Vitale’s programme ran the gamut of the baritone repertoire, from Figaro to Falstaff. ‘Work-in-progress’, he announced modestly before one of the pieces; and this term could well be used to describe his singing as a whole.

The opening Mozart aria immediately conveyed his strengths and limitations: a full, rounded tone in the middle voice but strained at both extremes; genuine musicality compromised by imperfect execution of bel canto ornamentation and passage-work; an ability to communicate character and emotion when unencumbered by too much musical effort.

The aria from I Puritani fared better, as Mr. Vitale attempted sustaining a clean Bellinian line. However, his technical shortcomings were more exposed here, as later in the Donizetti, including a tendency to lunge at high notes from below (especially in upward-moving passages) and intonation that was somewhat suspect and often just under true pitch.

Mr. Vitale lightened his tone (as he should) for Rossini’s Figaro, whose ‘Largo al factotum’ was sung with impish, infectious joie de vivre and a fine command of patter singing. But the baritone cracked on the top G; and this highlighted his overall difficulty with high tessitura.

He came into his own as Verdi’s Falstaff, whose arias were a last-minute addition to the programme. From his first cry of ‘Ehi! Paggio!’ it became evident that Mr. Vitale was in his element: the role was a perfect fit, vocally and temperamentally. Falstaff’s Act I monologue was delivered with immense chutzpah and vivid word-painting; his Act III musing on the vagaries of the world was appropriately introspective.

The recital ended with the popular Neapolitan song ‘A vucchella’. Here his innate musicality and good intentions, undermined by flawed vocalism, were all too apparent.

Fabio Centanni’s accompaniment was too loud, often drowning out the singer. It made one wonder why the piano was kept wide open and not on short stick. His single solo, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1, was clangy and fatiguing.

The concert was an interesting introduction to a young singer. If his Falstaff is anything to go by, and with some work on vocal technique, he has the potential of a richly promising career.

Jiten S. Merchant

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