Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège

Hasmik Papian – Suor Angelica et Fiorenza Cossotto – La Zia Principessa (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)
Opéra Royal de Wallonie (Liège)
Suor Angelica: Hasmik Papian (Angelica), Fiorenza Cossotto (Zia Principessa), Laura Balidemaj (Badessa), Christine Solhosse (Zelatrice), Cécile Galois (Maestra delle Novizie), Nicole Fournié (Genovieffa), Chantal Glaude (Osmina), Christine Remacle (Dolcina), Magali Mayenne (Infirmiera)
Pagliacci: Vladimir Galouzine (Canio), Alketa Cela (Nedda), Seng Hyoun Ko (Tonio), George Petean (Silvio), Florian Laconi (Beppe)
Orchestre, Choeurs de l’Opéra de Wallonie
Conductor: Giuliano Carella

Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I’d love to hear Angelica’s second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent (nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.
Director Claire Servais had some good ideas. She put everything behind bars (a reality in this kind of cloister) and showed us the nuns’ cells stapled upon each other. The big confrontation scene with Angelica behind and Zia Principessa before bars worked extremely well, made even more poignant by the brief appearance outside the cloister of Angelica’s living son and the Principessa’s hesitation before making up the story of his death At the end of the opera Servais however mixed up Angelica and Cio Cio San. A nun with Angelica’s knowledge of poisonous plants wouldn’t think of committing suicide with a blunt knife. Servais succeeded in avoiding the sentimentality of the original ending by a simple device: Angelica may think she sees the Madonna and gets her pardon but for the spectator there is only the loneliness of a painful death to watch.
General Manager Jean-Louis Grinda himself directed Pagliacci. I cannot say I liked the idea of turning every villager into a clown until the end of the opera when everybody takes off his or her mask. We’ve seen those clowns in the Antwerp Hänsel und Gretel and last year’s Tannhäuser at De Munt used exactly the same device. On the other hand I liked his concept very much in that Canio enters and propagates the evening’s entertainment in his clown’s outfit while gradually returning to his normal clothes in which he sings “No, Pagliacco non son”. Vladimir Galouzine succeeded into raising the house to a white hot temperature. Some thirteen years ago he made his début here with a clear ringing Renato des Grieux (with the late Yoko Watanabe). The voice has changed into a burnished brown sound with an enormous amount of volume. Sometimes he loses focus and there is no ring any more on the highest notes. He even breathed between “Ridi” and “Pagliacco” in “Vesti la giubba”. But he doesn’t try sobbing or improving on the score with “infamia, infamia” like Gigli used to do. The torrent of sound, the honesty of acting is simply overwhelming so that one forgets the less pristine sounds. This is probably his best role for the moment, better suited to the voice than Kalaf or Otello.
Another big voiced singer is baritone Seng Hyoun Ko. With Galouzine one forgets his somewhat special histrionics while with Ko one is too much reminded of his chopping up the line, of making noise for noise’s effect. He can sing a piano but even then (and much in the tradition of Korean singers) one feels he is just imitating some other singer’s records. I would wager quite a lot on Ko studying his role with Gobbi’s CD’s near him. Still there is no denying the force of nature his voice is. I admit that up to now I didn’t know the name of Alketa Cela (though she has sung in Brussels) and so I was in for quite a surprise. The soprano has a big lirico, slightly but sexy husky in the middle voice, very agreeably coloured in the best Mediterranean way. Only at the top she now and then flattens the sound too much. The lady is a beauty too and knows how to impress on a scene. A real find and I hope she will soon be back in the country. Young Romanian baritone George Petean will go far too. He has some decibels less than Ko but the voice is smooth, well rounded and with a brilliant top and he outclasses the Korean in style and musicality. I’d like to hear him in one of his Verdi roles. Our luck still held as Florian Laconi was a Beppe of one’s dreams and it was immediately clear that he won’t sing long as a comprimario. Indeed he has already sung Faust.
Giuliano Carella is somewhat better known for his many recordings of belcanto operas but he proved himself to be a formidable veristo too, whipping up his orchestra into passion without drowning his singers (difficult of course with Galouzin and Papian). A great evening.
Jan Neckers