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La clemenza di Scipione, Bach, Johann Christian
D: Dominik Wilgenbus
C: Juri LebedevAndrey Doynikov
Soprano bravura for Johann Christian Bach

The conductor Juri Lebidev understands singers and instruments with a sense of justice obsessed with detail. His almost telepathic presence becomes an indispensable prerequisite for the trust between the stage and the pit, which made this blissful operatic event possible in the first place. The premiere and the performance the following afternoon were enthusiastically celebrated by those who had come and subscribers with unusual persistence.In "La clemenza di Scipione" all the singers have a parade number or at least a better stage coup thanks to Wilgenbus. Sara-Maria Saalmann asked for kind indulgence before the second performance. Unfounded. In addition to all the other requirements, she mastered her great aria with solo instruments in concert with bravura. In terms of structure, melos and ornamentation, this huge piece is amazingly similar to Konstanze's dreaded martyrdom aria from "Die Entführung aus dem Seraglio". Alexandra Scherrmann, as Arsinda's sister Idalba, proceeds even more confidently with coloraturas of emphatic lightness and physical frivolity, even when the powerful Marzius swings the raw leg of meat. Johannes Mooser finds the right vocal compromise between hero and poltergeist.With a tenor that is minimally throaty in the depths and clearer and clearer towards the top, Martin Lechleitner recommends himself as a Scipio who appreciates love more than war for larger tasks in the Mozart repertoire. It is astonishing this time how Onur Abaci as Luceius lets all difficulties of the soprano castrato part be forgotten. In the large duet, Saalmann's soft entrances merge with Abaci's virile and at the same time flexible, nuanced intonation in such a way that the two voices can hardly be distinguished. A deluxe plea for Johann Christian Bach! Hopefully this is only the prelude to further discoveries of operas in Eisenach.

18 Oktober 2021www.concerti.deRoland H Dippel
Great moment: Johann Christian Bach's "La clemenza di Scipione" in Eisenach

One has to thank three initiators for the first own opera production in the Landestheater Eisenach. Jens Neundorff von Enzberg, the new director of the Meiningen State Theater, has more plans for the beautiful Bürgertheater in Rot und Weiß than guest performances by Meininger productions, as has been the case since the last renovation ten years ago. Director Dominik Wilgenbus brought him to Johann Christian Bach in his search for music theater works connected with the region. The Thuringia Philharmonic Gotha-Eisenach, not particularly familiar with early music, did an excellent job in “La clemenza di Scipione”. The premiere weekend became a great moment and a festival of voices.

18 Oktober 2021www.nmz.denmz.de, Roland H. Dippel
D: Dominik Wilgenbus
C: Jan Hoffmann
In a new musical guise: Bellini's Zaira at the Stadttheater Giessen

A little over four years ago we witnessed a fascinating performance of Carlo Coccia's Caterina di Guisa by I Virtuosi ambulanti at the Komödienhaus Wilhelmsbad in Hanau. The members of the Camerata Mainzer Virtuosi sat in the cramped orchestra pit, a total of only five strings and ten wind instruments, plus a harpist. I remembered that when I read the announcement of the Stadttheater Giessen for its production of Zaira: "The orchestration by Herbert Gietzen, which was specially created for Giessen, guarantees a sound pattern that does justice to Bellini's style". Gietzen, composer and arranger, explains his concept as follows: "My musical approach is not only practical [corona sends greetings], but also historically justified: a few decades before the premiere of Zaira, the secco recitatives - as for the most part in my arrangement - yes, accompanied by piano plus solo cello”. And so we find thirteen musicians in the Giessen orchestra pit alongside the conductor: in addition to a "string quartet" consisting of two violins, violoncello and double bass, there are oboe (English horn ad lib.), flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and percussion and, as a "joker", piano, Harmonium and harp involved. This works, but gives the sound a rhythmic hardness and reaches its limits in the choir and ensemble scenes. The fact that Bellini's fifth opera was a failure when it premiered on May 16, 1829 in the newly opened Teatro Ducale in Parma (today's Teatro Regio) is well known, even if it has not been fully clarified. The dramaturg Samuel C. Zinsli accompanying this production has written an informative and entertaining contribution in the program booklet. One of these complex attempts at analysis is certainly the remark made by the librettist Felice Romani in his “Foreword by the Author”, in which he criticizes his own weaknesses in his work (style, unnecessary repetitions) and then summarily states that “poetry and music in were written in less than a month". Bellini reacted to this failure in his career by adopting essential building blocks and melodies in his next opera. His latest work, I Capuleti ei Montecchi, saw the light of the stage less than a year later and was an immediate success. The mostly only partially "parodied" pieces include Corasmino's Cavatina, Zaira's Cavatina and Cabaletta, the duet Zaira/Nerestano (all in the 1st act); Nerestano's Rondo and Cabaletta, Zaira's Aria and Cabaletta (all in Act II). Bellini himself summed up this procedure in the words: "Zaira has been avenged by I Capuleti ei Montecchi." The source for Romani's libretto was Voltaire's five-act tragedy Zaire, written in 1732, which was to become the basis for a total of 13 operas, the best-known of which, alongside Bellini's failure, is perhaps Mercadante's melodrama tragico of the same name from 1831 with a largely identical libretto by Felice Romani. Excerpts from this could be heard in concert form in 2006 in Gelsenkirchen's Musiktheater im Revier. Romani also emphasizes in his "Proemio dell'autore" that - despite the generic term tragedia lirica - Zaira is not a tragedy but a melodrama. He also set aside the display of philosophical themes current at the time of the writing of Voltaire's Zaire in favor of the language of passion. How much this piece meant to the French Enlightener - he called it "the only tender tragedy that I have written" - became visible in Giessen through the successful repeated appearance of the aging Voltaire as a puppet (Francesco Rescio), whose original texts were recited from the off, whose translation projected onto curtains clarified the plot background. The fact that this performance was also a feast for the eyes was due to the magnificent stage design by Lukas Noll, who is also responsible for the stylish, magnificent costumes (including golden brocade fabrics). Supported by video technology and enhanced with mirror effects, oriental patterns and pointed arches as well as colorful ornaments dominate the sultan's palace, which is occupied on two levels with a multitude of small chambers nested into each other (from Corasmino's office to the prison). The dramatic final scene, introduced by a beautiful oboe solo, is all the more gripping when, on an empty, completely dark stage, the protagonists, accompanied by cones of light, almost statically evoke the tragic end in a quintet. Director Dominik Wilgenbus decided to that Orosmane did not take his own life after the murder of his beloved, but – deviating from the libretto text – had to live with this guilt – perhaps a worse fate!? So he ended up sitting there like a heap of misery, with Zaira's wedding dress in his hands. This theater of images and the solo arias, duets and tableaus tell us the story and emotional surges surrounding this ultimately failed love between the Muslim Sultan Orosmane and his Christian slave Zaira at the time of the Crusades. A more moving and precise character guidance isn't really missing, and one doesn't mind the now and then blatantly presented ramp singing, when the vocal performances are as impressive as they are this evening. The title role, which was extremely demanding in terms of length and tessitura, was sung by Naroa Intxausti, who has already been heard in Giessen as the enchanting Linda di Chamounix. Safe in coloratura, she offered an excellent performance overall, even if a certain sharpness could not be overheard in the high notes. Leonardo Ferrando (Corasmino) shone in his high-lying tenor role as vizier and intriguing advisor to the Sultan from the start: in his entrance aria (with a brilliant final acuto) as well as in his coloratura duet with Sultan Orosmane. In this role as a liberal-tolerant Muslim ruler, the wonderfully powerful bass-baritone Marcell Bakonyi convinced with flexible voice leading. A real discovery for me was the mezzo-soprano Na'ama Goldman, enthusiastically celebrated by the audience, as Zaira's brother and supposed lover, with warm-sounding depths as well as dramatic outbursts in the high notes. The only historically tangible figure in the dramatic event is Lusignano – Guy de Lusignan, the former Christian king of Jerusalem who died in 1194 – impressively performed by bassist Kouta Räsänen. Zaira's Christian slave friend and critical admonisher Fatima convincingly sang and played Sofia Pavone, and other supporting roles included Kornel Maciejowski as the French knight Castiglione and Josua Bernbeck as Meledor, the Sultan's official. Both are members of the choir rehearsed by Jan Hoffmann, who sang magnificently and powerfully with his 14 singers. His appearance in Scene 3 of Act 2, one of Bellini's finest choral melodies (originally composed for Bianca e Fernando and then used again in Norma), was a feast for the ears. Jan Hoffmann was also a prudent conductor of this small cast in the orchestra pit and provided the Belcante-esque tonal magic of the Bellini melodies. The fiasco of the premiere of Zaira had direct consequences insofar as after the scheduled subsequent performances only performances took place in Florence in 1836. 140 years later there was the first modern revival in Catania, which was followed by further productions there (1990) as well as in Gelsenkirchen (2006), Montpellier (2009) and Martina Franca (2016). After this brilliant performance at the Stadttheater Giessen, another pearl in his chain of bel canto rarities, it is to be hoped that this older sister of I Capuleti ei Montecchi will soon enrich the repertoire of other stages, also because of her subject matter.

01 November 2021operalounge.deWalter Wiertz, Operalounge.de

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