Giovanna d’Arco at Antwerp

Guylaine Girard
Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen: Giovanna d’Arco.
Concert performance on April the 16th 2005.
Guylaine Girard (Giovanna), Stefano Secco (Carlo), Bruno Caproni (Giacomo), Kurt Gysen (Talbot), Eric Raes (Delil)
Symfonisch orkest van de Vlaamse Opera en Koor van de Vlaamse Opera
Conducted by Silvio Varviso

The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81-year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators’ support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpass) Pappano’s former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera.
Originally, soprano Micaela Carosi had accepted the assignment but she gave it back after studying the score: too much coloratura for her taste. No problem for Michele Crider, a stalwart of Antwerp concert performances. The lady, however, got pregnant and would have her baby at the moment of the performances. Enter Nelly Miriciou who would surely please a lot of her fans. Then disaster struck in Amsterdam when Miriciou lost her voice completely and only came back with less than half a voice for the last performances. She (or her voice) was so shaken she cancelled too. Antwerp was lucky enough to find Marina Mescheriakova to sing all performances except the last one when she was to be Cio Cio San in London. Covent Garden absolutely refused to release her and for a month a frantic research went on to find a replacement, knowing the role and willing to sing one single performance. And at last Guylaine Girard, a soprano from Quebec, was found.
The lady has a clear, nice, though not large sound. Her main asset is her profound musicality and her brilliant technique. She knows how to shape a phrase, uses a lot of well supported pianissimi, knows how to sing messa di voce and people who heard Mescheriakova as well told me the Russian soprano with double the voice made less of an impression. Almost the same can be said of tenor Stefano Secco. He too is not over endowed with a striking big voice though the colour is distinctly Italian and he too succeeds with purely musical means. Irish baritone Bruno Caproni, who has the decibels, was not at his best. He sang rather blandly at first, improved in the second part of the opera and then once again lapsed into routine. Veteran conductor Silvio Varviso who is uncommonly popular at the Antwerp Opera, which he has almost made his artistic house, once more was at his best. Without big gestures, he gave rhythm and drive when necessary while restraining himself and the orchestra in solo moments of a soprano whom he probably had met only a few hours before. It speaks of craftsmanship when one still can give the impression of a thoroughly rehearsed performance. And indeed, it would be a crime to kill this opera orchestra or to merge the chorus with another one. Few if any small provincial opera houses can boast of such quality.
Jan Neckers