Carlos Álvarez triumphs in Madrid as Donizetti’s Mamma Agata

SpainSpain Donizetti, Viva la mamma: Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real / Evelino Pidò & José Miguel Perez Sierra (conductors), Teatro Real, Madrid, 9 & 10.6.2021. (JMI)

Carlos Álvarez in Viva la mamma (c) J. del Real

Direction and costumes – Laurent Pelly
Sets – Chantal Thomas
Lighting – Joël Adam

Mamma Agata – Carlos Álvarez / Luis Cansino
Daria – Nino Machaidze / Sabina Puértolas
Guglielmo – Xabier Anduaga / Alejandro del Cerro
Procolo – Borja Quiza / Gabriel Bermúdez
Luigia – Sylvia Schwartz / Francesca Sassu
Biscroma – Pietro Di Bianco
Pippetto – Carol García
Cesare – Enric Martínez-Castignani
Empresario – Piotr Micinski
Director – Luis López Navarro

I am once again able to review in person, and I am doing it at Madrid’s Teatro Real with this Donizetti opera. I have only seen the opera once before, and that was more than thirty years ago. I have a very funny memory of it, and it was amusing this time too.

Viva la mamma is the title by which this buffo opera by the Bergamo composer is known; the original full title is Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali. It premiered in Naples in 1827 and was revised for Milan in 1831. There have been few opportunities to see it in Spain and, as Joan Matabosch indicates in the program, among them one should note the staging at the 1990 Peralada Festival in a production by Emilio Sagi, with an impressive cast headed by no less than by Montserrat Caballé and Joan Pons.

It is indeed a buffo opera, and the musical quality is not comparable to the great Donizetti operas. The music is very reminiscent of Rossini, especially in the first part of the opera, which is not surprising, given the importance in every way of the composer from Pesaro in those years of the nineteenth century. It is a new production (in association with Opéra National de Lyon and Grand Théâtre de Genève) by the French stage director Laurent Pelly, who has been very successful with this type of opera in recent years. It is enough to remember his well-known La fille du régiment, which has been seen on many of the main opera stages in the world.

The production works nicely and serves the plot perfectly, with commendable stage direction and attractive costumes by Laurent Pelly. The sets by Chantal Thomas place the action in the parking lot of a theatre in the 1960s, a space that is gradually becoming a rehearsal room. In Act II we move inside the opera house, where what one could call the general rehearsal will take place. All in all, it is a satisfying, amusing production, although not an exceptional work.

Evelino Pidò led the first cast, and his conducting was, for me, the biggest disappointment of the evening. Pidò, a true specialist in bel canto, is often at the podium when it comes to operas by Bellini or Donizetti. We shouldn’t forget that this is early Donizetti, and that the music seems on many occasions to have come from the pen of Rossini. For a buffo opera of that period, more life and lightness in the conducting is required, and I missed it in his reading. The Teatro Real Orchestra was not the brilliant group heard on other occasions.

José Miguel Pérez Sierra conducted the second cast. His reading was not very different from that of Pidò, though perhaps with a little more lightness in the first part of the opera. On several occasions, it seemed to me that the sound coming from the pit was excessive.

The protagonist of the opera, Mamma Agata, was interpreted by Carlos Álvarez who was back at Teatro Real after an absence of some sixteen years. The character is unquestionably the center of the opera, which allows the interpreter to show off both vocally and on stage. Carlos Álvarez’s performance was flawless, and he clearly was having fun on stage. In the second cast, Mamma Agata was played by baritone Luis Cansino, who offered a good performance with humor and ease. Vocally, he is not at the height of Carlos Álvarez, but he fulfilled his mission.

In the first cast, soprano Nino Machaidze played Daria, the prima donna of the opera. She gave a good performance, singing with taste and an appealing voice, although the top notes were a bit problematic at times. I found the best singing of the second cast came from soprano Sabina Puértolas in the part of Daria. Her engaging voice had no problems with coloratura and trills, and indeed, her top notes were brilliant. She only falls short of Nino Machaidze in the power of her voice.

It was a luxury to have tenor Xabier Anduaga in the part of Guglielmo, since he has just a single aria to sing at the beginning of Act II. I was left with the desire for him to sing more, but we will have to wait for another occasion. He once again offered his beautiful, expressive and homogeneous voice throughout the whole tessitura. The second Guglielmo was Alejandro del Cerro, whose voice is rather light though well emitted, and he has no problems reaching the room.

I would highlight the performance of baritone Borja Quiza in the part of Procolo, the husband of the prima donna. He gave a wonderful stage performance, and was impressive in his Act I aria. Gabriel Bermúdez did well as the second Procolo, with an attractive voice. The rest of the characters were generally well covered.

Jose M. Irurzun

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