From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Florence Part II

by Jonathan Pell

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The interior of the Teatro della pergola in Florence

The last few days have been very rewarding—I have heard more than 100 singers from 30 countries, and attended a performance of Verdi’s original 1847 version of MACBETH (which I had never had an opportunity to hear “live”) in the very theatre in which it premiered, Florence’s  Teatro della pergola.

It is a charming little opera house with fewer than 1,000 seats and superb acoustics.  Since the company moved to the larger (and more modern) Teatro comunale in the 1960’s, opera performances in the Pergola are rare, and this felt like a great privilege.

The production, part of the annual festival known as the Maggio musicale (which in spite of the name extends past May well into June)  was by British director Graham Vick.  It was a “modern” production and had a sort of MAD MEN feel (imagine Don and Betty Draper as Mr. and Mrs. MacBeth) and was extremely clever if not altogether persuasive.  The witches in their scenes were streetwalkers strung out on drugs, and the ghostly apparitions that haunt MacBeth were also brought on by the use of illegal substances.

The scene I enjoyed the most was the banquet scene set in the MacBeth’s backyard next to their swimming pool, with part of the stage covered in green astroturf and decorated with strings of lights and pink lawn flamingos.

The sleep walking scene took place in a white tiled bathroom, with the Lady climbing into a tub to try to wash off the imaginary blood.

I think you get the idea…

The singing was good without being outstanding, but the orchestra was wonderful, under the baton of American maestro James Conlon, and the remarkable reverberation in the space added enormously to the power of the work.

I may never have another opportunity to attend a performance in this theatre, or in the Teatro comunale, for that matter (where I attended a concert performance of Donizetti’s MARIA STUARDA a few days earlier) since work is nearly complete on an impressive new opera house, which is scheduled to open in 2014.

My colleagues and I were taken on a private tour early one morning before the auditions, and it is a stunning facility.  Large by European standards (1,800 seats) it doesn’t look like any opera house I have ever seen, including an open air amphitheatre (their answer to Annette Strauss Artist Square) on the ROOF of the opera house.

This performance of MACBETH came at the end of a very long day of auditions that began at 10:00 a.m. and didn’t end until 6:30 p.m.

If this had been a competition, and I had to choose just one singer, this would have been nearly impossible.

There were probably ten singers who made a deep and lasting impression.

Among them were two artists who have already appeared in Dallas, American baritone Jonathan Beyer, who recently appeared as “Ping” in TURANDOT, and Russian soprano Oxana Shilova, who sang the role of “Xenia” in the Dallas Opera production of BORIS GODUNOV a couple of years ago, and both of them sang extremely well.

There was also an impressive audition by an American soprano named Joanna Mongiardo, who I have heard before but who has not yet sung in Dallas.

I hope that she will now.

Among the singers new to me were a Georgian soprano named Salome Jicia, an Italian mezzo named Rafaella Lupinacci, a Russian bass named Ilya Bannick, and perhaps most interesting of them all, a Spanish soprano named Saioa Hernandez, with a dusky soprano vaguely reminiscent of a young Montserrat Caballe.

We’ll just have to see which, if any of them, have major careers.  Talent is only part of the equation.

My time in Florence has come to an end.

I am sitting in the train station on my way to Venice for a brief vacation before heading back to Dallas on Sunday.  I will of course, attend some performances at the Fenice opera house, in hope of discovering more extraordinary talent.

These auditions in Florence have afforded me an opportunity to hear some of the most promising young European based singers, and a chance to” talk shop” with colleagues from theatres large and small ( representatives from companies as large as the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera, as well as smaller companies like those in Karlsruhe, Germany, Tblisi, Georgia and Linz, Austria.)

It is amazing how similar the problems are that we all face.

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Copy of Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence.

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