Kulturkompasset | critics of culture events

Money make the world go around – Merry Widow in Napoli

Money make the world go around, and who can deny this in these times when half the planet is under a heavy economic crisis? Just like the Merry widow, where the action moves from the troubles of a State on the edge of bankruptcy, a situation now familiar to more than one country in recent times.

San Carlo Opera in Napoli. The Royal Loge.

San Carlo Opera in Napoli. The Royal Loge.

And economic problems are present also in Italy’s music world. The government is trying to reorganize the system according to Opera houses are getting money from the State and this has brought to enormous resistance with many performances cancelled, free air concerts and always the reading of a protest briefing before every performance

This was the climate when in Naples’ San Carlo, Franz Lehars operetta The Merry Widow was on stage, and it’s easy to understand how it has been puzzling for the audience to see, at the curtain raising, a big light clock showing the day when the action takes place: 29 october 1929, time of the most dramatic crisis in XX century.

Yes. this version of Lehàr’s popular masterpiece has been staged in the 1920s the scenery had a sober art deco touch with modern inserts, such as running lights, up in the air, simulating the stock market index so familiar in these days, Nasdaq, Mibex etc.

Moreover, beautiful Hanna Glawari comes out from a giant safe, as the one we imagine in Fort Knox cellar.

The fashion allure was assured by the luxurious gowns for men and women, created by Giovanna Buzzi: if Hanna Glawari’s dresses were an evident tribute to Jean Harlow, platinum hairs included, the whole athmosphere recalled the glorious RKO musical, namely Fred Astaire kingdom.

But unfortunately, what the staging lacked were the smileand the light-hearted hirony that were the trademark of those films.

Stage director was award-winner Federico Tiezzi, well known for his play and opera stagings. In San Carlo Tiezzi has signed many operas, among which Wagner’s Walküre in 2005, that allowed him to win the Italian ‘Premio Abbiati’ the most prestigious in opera world.

So it was to be foreseen that also his Merry widow, although respectful of the plot as he had announced, would have been under a modern and different view and focused not so much on sentimentalism, but on a ‘colder’ and more objective basis.

It wasn’t so: if the operetta is a recipe, all the ingredients were at their place, but unevident and low-key: the sentimental side was under tone, the comic parts not effective, the new ambientation and the cohincidence with 1929 remained not exploited at all, just an involucre, or an unexpressed moral.

In the whole, we can say that the whole performance has suffered of a monotone approach that never allowed it to take really off, and surely this was due also to the poor acting of almost the whole cast. With some notable exception, the artists have more or less spoken their parts without bringing really out their characters, with any stage relief.

On the musical side, there’s no need to say that also this time as it often happens with the Widow, Ofenbach’s Can Can was included in the Maxim’s scene.

This time San Carlo’s orchestra was not at its best
. Under the baton of the Young American conductor Christopher Franklin, they have played often too loud and allmost boldness, with no nuances at all. So all the various athmosphere were lost, every scene sounded like the others, and moreover the voices were very often covered by the orchestra sound.

Eva Mei sang the title role in Jean Harlow’s style gowns and coiffure, and she did well. Mei is a soprano coloratura, her voice is small but flowing with easiness, thanks to a good technique
. But sometimes Hanna Glawari didn’t suit her: though Me is at ease in the middle range and high notes, she’s evidently in trouble with the lower register, often barely audible, so that her ‘Vilja’s lied’ lacked in emotional deepness
. Much better the famlous waltz ‘Love unspoken’, where she did really well.

The ‘other’ primadonna was beautiful Cinzia Forte

clear but may be meaningful in certain men. Theimprove bone mass, muscle mass, strength and frequently little blue pill.

. Knowing her usually strong stage presence, it was a surprise, and not a good one, that her Valencienne lacked in the necessary humour and wit, as if she had been thinking to something more importan than her love affairs or the misunderstandings with her Rossillon. Vocally Forte was not at her best, with a large vibrato, that affected her voice specially in holding hig notes.

Count Danilo was Ricardo Bernal. The mexican handsome tenor had been on San Carlo’s stage last month as Leicester in Maria Stuarda (see review) letting the audience puzzled about his singing, while Danilo suits more to his vocality. Bernal’s timbre is beautiful and he’s technically skilled, but his voice is small and all lacks in the necessary projection so that people sitting far from stage could barely hear him.

Bruno Praticò (Baron Zeta) is a singer/actor who often overdoes with his overflowing personality
. This time he has been praiseworthy sober and restrained, with the noteworthy exception of a Neapolitan song included in the Maxim’s scene: he sang t recalling ‘the days when I was ambassador in Naples’ (!)

Having said about the poor acting of the cast, Neapolitan actor Gennaro Cannavacciuolo has distinguished himself for his skilled and communicative stage presence, a very very good Njegus. That Cannavacciuolo is of a different class it was evident from his body language or the many accents that made his acting expressive and communicative. In his career, the actor has always performed old fashioned music from the 1930s or earlier, so no surprise that he was able to give a ‘Njegus’ song’ perfectly in the right style.

All the other elements of the cast did well in their role: notably Paolo Fanale (Rossillon), Stefano Consolini (Cascada) and Saverio Bambi (Saint-Brioche).

At the end, a successfull evening even without the enthusiasm that a perfectly staged Merry widow shoud bring with her.

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