Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bel Canto on PBS

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Production: Kevin Newbury

Roxane Coss, American opera singer (soprano): Danielle de Niese
Katsumi Hosokawa, Japanese businessman, party honoree (bass-baritone): Jeongcheol Cha
Gen Watanabe, Hosokawa's translator (tenor): Andrew Stenson
Ruben Iglesias, vice president (tenor): William Burden
Father Arguedas (baritone): Takaoki Onishi
Victor Fyodorov (bass): Rúni Brattaberg
Joachim Messner, red cross messenger (baritone): Jacques Imbrailo

Carmen (mezzo-soprano): J'Nai Bridges
César (countertenor): Anthony Roth Costanzo
General Alfredo (tenor): Rafael Dávila
General Benjamín (bass): Bradley Smoak

Jimmy López's opera Bel Canto premiered at Lyric Opera of Chicago in Dec 2015 and was filmed for the Great Performances television series the following month.  My tv is on the fritz, so I am viewing it from an online source.  It is based on Ann Patchett's novel which is in turn a fictionalized version of an historical event which took place in Lima, Peru, in 1996-97.  See here where I suggested this novel would make a good opera.

One of the fun things about this opera is that people sing in a lot of different languages — English, Spanish, Japanese, Latin, Russian, French, German and the native Peruvian tongue of Quechua.  The voice lessons are in Italian.  The characters drift toward people who speak their language.  We are at a birthday party for a rich Japanese businessman who loves the opera singer Roxane Coss.

My first reaction is that the role is too heavy for Danielle de Niese, a wonderful lyric soprano.  We need some more spinto.  The terrorists think the Japanese businessman is the president.  Good to remember here that the president of Peru at the time of the attack was Alfredo Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent.  They say "Tupac Amaru" for no apparent reason.  This is the name of the last Inca ruler.

My second reaction is that the piece is over orchestrated.  Opera is about the singing.  Think about how your opera would sound with only the singing.  I feel it's over orchestrated even in comparison with something like Tristan.  For such a loud orchestra we need Sondra Radvanovsky, not Danielle de Niese.  How happy I felt when I heard a bit of "Laschia chio pianga."  The composer seems only interested in the orchestra.  Since I am not in the hall, I could just be describing the recording.

Past the middle is a lyrical section which I like very much.  J'Nai Bridges has a beautiful solo.  So does Anthony Roth Constanzo.  It's consistently too loud in the orchestra compared to the singers, but the lyrical parts are attractive.  Less heavy on the brass and percussion.

In the real world of opera singing Roxane would speak more languages than anyone else.

There is a lot to like about this opera.  I'm adding a small post script.  When one is sitting in the opera house, one cannot lookup in Wikipedia that the president of Peru was of Japanese descent or other details of this type.

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