Thursday, November 24, 2016

Two popular works, two very different evenings and one champion conductor: La bohème and Carmen in Ljubljana


Hats, coats, gloves and scarves came off for a seat at Slovenian National Opera's evening in wintery Paris for Puccini's perennially popular work, La bohème. Popular it is, but still there were quite a few empty seats in Ljubljana's compact house for director Vinko Möderndorfer's now 10 year-old production.

Act 2, La bohème, Slovenian National Opera and Ballet
Curiously, Möderndorfer steels attention away from Mimi and Rodolfo by a pair of mature-age 'clowns' tracing the lovers' tragedy. Then, Möderndorfer's 'clowns' feature large, with Act 2's Café Momo madly overrun with their robotic mechanical gesturing. For what purpose they served remained a mystery, apart from slapping heaps of gaiety and colour contrast to the impending tragedy. At least for Parpignol, he was never short on like company.

Marko Japelj's sets were simple and serviceable with Act 1 and Act 4's spacious grey stud-walled garret with side-stage stair taking the appearance of being someplace back-of-set. Slavic lace-making skills got a good workout in Alenka Bartl's cuffed and colourful satin 'clown' costumes but the bohemians were thankfully outfitted in more subdued tones and attire. Annoyingly, the staging was hampered by poorly cued lighting.

Starting tentatively, Martina Zadro's Mimi leaned on the dull and demure side but her rich and bright soprano blossomed pleasingly. Branko Robinšak gave Rodolfo warm-rounded appeal, solid projection and sang with conviction, though he seemed creepily more like Mimi's father and the sparks rarely appeared to jump from one to the other.

 Martina Zadro as Mimi
Urška Breznik's Musetta had voluptuousness and presence, if a little overexerted on her top notes, but it was Darko Vidic's toasty-toned and sensitive Marcello that most impressed. Some of the best vocal flesh was added in ensemble work, especially so in the buzzing Act 2 finale and Act 3's earth and fire two-sided quartet.

Maybe a lack of budding little songsters among Ljubljana's ankle biters accounted for the sadly missed kids chorus but, despite the gaudy costumes, the men and women of the chorus shone appealingly. Down below, however, was where the best was happening. Excellence was sustained in the pit under conductor Jaroslav Kyzlink's sympathetic, never grandstanding approach.

But overall, the dots weren't really joining in Ljubljana's La bohème even though the music breathed marvellously and worthy vocals sprouted. It's high time the 'clowns' move on.

Slovenian National Opera and Ballet, Ljubljana
10th November 2016


Taking its audience somewhere warmer on a cold and wet Ljubljana evening, Slovenian National Opera's newish 2015 production of Carmen by British director Pamela Howard would prove a welcome and highly satisfying escape.

Directed and designed with great care, detail and expression, Howard's vision magnified the stage and keenly struck many emotional cords. In particular, Howard showed depth of skill at crowd management - Act 4's spectacle of almost 80 singers on stage was presented with pulsating reality. It was also great to see Ljubljana's children on stage after missing their jollity in La bohème the evening before and another welcome luxury with English surtitles posted.

Blessed with superb musicianship, conductor Jaroslav Kyzlink repeated his superb form after the prior evening's La bohème by delivering a Carmen plump with clarity, polish and ongoing tension.

Nuska Drascek Rojko as Carmen 
Dark-haired and free-moving Nuška Drašček Rojko was a tremendous Carmen - provocative, seamlessly convincing, luscious in voice and as exotic as her name. Even a persistent asymmetrical smirk on the face lured you into her performance as she sang and spun her charms. Solid vocal technique, Spanish flair, castanets and all, Rojko heated up the stage. That her Carmen was so vividly portrayed made the single-minded gypsy's death that much more heartrendingly tearful.

As Don José, Aljaž Farasin performed superbly, giving him great complexity, vulnerability and pent up aggression. It wasn't a big voice but Farasin sang with charismatic warmth, shapeliness and a tender sweet vibrato. A distinguished Escamillo came with Jože Vidic's hearty meat-and-gravy baritone but the upper register tended to stretch out unattractively. As an unflattering and peasant-dressed Micaëla, honeyed soprano Andreja Zakonjšek Krt made an admirable, if not absorbing mark.

When you get crowd scenes so alive with wide-ranging mannerisms and vibrant, unified singing to go with them, you have to applaud all involved. The men, women and children of the chorus deserve credit indeed.

Ljubljana's Carmen from Slovenian National Opera might not have lavish wealth behind it, but it undeniably has the impact to drive home its tragedy in riveting form. Nuška Drašček Rojko is a major stake in its success and following her engagements should certainly come with rewards.

And as it turned out, I also got to hear Jaroslav Kyzlink conduct Smetana's The Bartered Bride just a few days later in Prague and the musical richness continued with similar ebullience and feeling. There's a conductor I'd like to hear again.

Slovenian National Opera, Ljubljana
11th November 2016

1 comment:

  1. We hung out at this place in evening last week before heading out to our next destination. While we were at event locations here we found the service to be quick and attentive. Probably because it was early on a Friday and it was still kind of empty.