Thursday, August 6, 2020

Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy...set to music.

This is the text of a lecture I had given at the NCPA some years ago, prior to a screening of Verdi's opera "Macbeth" based on Shakespeare's play.

FROM STAGE….TO STAGE

Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy --- in the words of Norman, the title character in Ronald Harwood’s play “The Dresser”: “That is the unluckiest play in the world….that play would turn a good fairy wicked!”

Be that as it may, it certainly inspired Giuseppe Verdi to write some of his most impassioned music; making a decisive attempt to break from the musical strictures and conventions of opera in the mid-19th Century, to the extent of giving the text paramount importance in many scenes; with the music becoming subservient to its needs.

The best example of this is Macbeth’s “dagger” soliloquy in the opera. It follows Shakespeare closely; and its music is lyrical yet declamatory, free-flowing WITH the text, instead of adapting the latter to any formal musical structure. Verdi’s markings and instructions are astonishingly detailed and descriptive here, purely “expressive” in nature, totally motivated by dramatic pulse and impulse. In fact, for the duet that follows with Lady Macbeth, Verdi insisted (and I quote) that this “definitely must not be sung” but “acted and declaimed with hollow, masked voices”. And as for Lady Macbeth herself, Verdi rejected the original choice of singer because she had (and again I quote) “a wonderful voice, clear, flexible and strong, while Lady Macbeth’s voice should be hard, stifled and dark. Madame Tadolini has the voice of an angel, and Lady Macbeth’s should be that of a devil.”

Surely this was unprecedented in the history of opera till then; and it goes to show how Verdi, in “Macbeth”, took the art of the lyric stage, a stage further.

Another example of this; and an extremely important one: in the play, after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth re-enters and speaks the line: “I have done the deed.” This we know to be the turning-point, the point of no return; and it is interesting to see how Verdi and his librettist Piave do not translate it literally (though they have pretty much stuck to Shakespeare’s words upto that point in the scene) --- they interpret “I have done the deed” as “Tutto e finito” which means “everything is finished” or “its all over” and has a far deeper, truer meaning in context.

A line of such immense significance is given an equally significant musical motif, ending with the rise and fall of a semitone on the word “finito”. It haunts the opera in various guises, just as the image of Duncan’s murder haunts the play. The motif sounds like a sigh, and is heard most clearly and chillingly on a wind instrument during Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, punctuating her demented utterances with an eerie wail.

And what has David Pountney, the director of the performance you are about to see, done with all this? He is a true “auteur”, investing each character, event and idea in “Macbeth” with an image that is unique and startling, forcing you to re-evaluate your previous impressions and see these entities afresh, often in a completely different, revelatory light. One such example is that of the letter in which Macbeth narrates the prophecies of the witches to his wife. This is what starts the ball rolling; its "image" is repeated in the second scene with the witches and, significantly, during the sleepwalking scene.

Yet, despite his very personal interpretation of the components, Pountney presents the spine of the play, its germ, with frightening lucidity --- unnatural events, when set into motion by man, have unnatural and dire consequences. And he conveys this in an interpretation that is very much in sync with Verdi’s music; and yet is very much of our time, loaded with symbolism familiar to a modern sensibility, thus taking Shakespeare’s, and Verdi’s, “Macbeth” another “stage” further.

So, William Shakespeare through Giuseppe Verdi through David Pountney to us, will be our topic of discussion after the screening. During which, the only sounds we need to hear are those of music, NOT mobiles. And since this will be a long evening, there will be a short intermission after Act 2, approximately 80 minutes from now.

Enjoy the film.

Thank you.


Friday, November 16, 2018

The Truth

This review was commissioned by Mumbai Theatre Guide. An edited version is available here:
https://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com/dramas/reviews/the-truth-english-play-review-naseeruddin-shah.asp


This is my original piece:


“The Truth” written by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton.


Directed by Ratna Pathak Shah and Naseeruddin Shah.


Prithvi Festival at the Royal Opera House.


9 November 2018, 6pm.


 


The young playwright Florian Zeller is a wunderkind of the French theatre, one whose plays have been very successful across the English Channel. “The Truth” is the second play written by him to be staged in this city by Motley, who also presented his hugely acclaimed “The Father” last year.


The two couldn’t be more unlike. Whereas “The Father” is a searing study of dementia and its consequences, “The Truth” has been described as “a millefeuille of truth and deceit” (by Kate Kellaway in The Guardian) and takes a hilarious yet unsettling look at the pitfalls of marital infidelity. In this, it owes as much to Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” as to the tradition of French farce.


The play reminds one of a Baroque court-dance in which couples switch partners; but with only two main players onstage at a time. Motley’s production has adapted the script, setting it in Mumbai. The characters are certainly familiar: educated, well-to-do professionals, artfully co-ordinating their convoluted private lives and seemingly normal societal existence with nonchalant skill. Here, we have two couples in which the husbands are best friends; and one of them is having an affair with the other’s wife. But what appears to be a simple, one-sided deception turns out to be far more intricate; and gradually reveals a Pandora’s Box of lies and cover-ups. The cheating husband finds himself increasingly embroiled in these, ending with the horrifying if hypocritical realisation that he is more sinned against than sinning.


This production, co-directed by Ratna Pathak Shah and Naseeruddin Shah, is presented in a naturalistic, conversational style rather than with farcical intent, thus making the characters and their predicament all the more believable. But the pace tends to slacken sometimes, tension abates; and one misses a more crackling, pointed approach. Even so, the inter-personal dynamics of the characters in each scene are perfectly realised.


Naseeruddin Shah plays the husband in an understated, almost casual manner…though not entirely devoid of mannerism. The underplaying is in keeping with the production as a whole; but, while it is true to the character by itself, he doesn’t quite come across the footlights and grab you. However, Mr. Shah displays a surprising comic ability in the delivery of some of his lines, with impeccable timing.


As his wife, Avantika Akerkar offers a highly focussed interpretation, in which every thought and emotion is precisely expressed, vocally and physically. It is a riveting performance, especially in the final scene during which the wife’s own  duplicity is tantalisingly hinted-at.


Shruti Vyas, in the role of the friend’s wife, is a direct, “open” actress who makes the character and what she is going through immediately communicable, while Gaurav Sharma as her husband presents a cool façade of subterfuge.


The production’s design is simple yet effective. The single set ingeniously becomes six separate locales, each presented convincingly (without any glitches, thanks to efficient stage-management) and accurately lit by Arghya Lahiri and Rahul Rai. The sound-design and execution, by Saahil Vaid and Dhruv Kalra, is realistic though sometimes the sound-effects were a little too loud. One was really happy to note that body-microphones were not used by the actors; and one welcomed the natural aural perspectives owing to well-judged sound re-inforcement, in which the superb acoustics of the Royal Opera House certainly played their part.


“The Truth” might be regarded simply as a comedy about extra-marital sex, not too different from the many bedroom-farces staged in this city over the years. But, beneath its entertaining surface, it forces one to examine not only the tenets of modern (a)morality where “anything goes” but also how far one is prepared to go…and how much truth is good for you.

Baby's Blues


Drama review commissioned by Mumbai Theatre Guide, available here:

“Baby’s Blues” by Tammy Ryan.

Directed by Ila Arun and K.K. Raina.

NCPA Experimental Theatre, 7 October 2018.

 

The bond between mother and child is tenacious, yet tenuous. The very act of carrying a living, breathing being inside oneself for nine months, the pains of birthing and the ensuing sense of emptiness and loss all cumulate to an experience that can be extremely exhausting and traumatic, yet cathartic and joyful. However, some women suffer an ordeal which is worse than others, owing to post-partum depression.

Tammy Ryan’s “Baby’s Blues” is a harrowing study of this crippling phenomenon and how it affects the physical and mental well-being of one such mother. In this, Susan is unable to come to terms with what she has gone through and how to deal with its end result. Her conflicting feelings about her baby: helplessness, anxiety, frustration, rage and love, take her on an emotional  roller-coaster that descends into depression and psychosis. But ultimately, acceptance and love become her salvation.

The play is constructed like a spring that is progressively wound tighter until it reaches breaking point; and is then released. Yet there are moments in the writing where the focus meanders…until it comes back on track. This production, jointly directed by Ila Arun and K.K. Raina, follows its course faithfully, with the result that sometimes the tension seems to flag; but is quickly remedied as the play resumes its trajectory into this young woman’s private hell. The play mixes the surreal hallucinations experienced by Susan along with her reality; and, in this production at any rate, one is sometimes left a little confused: for example, as to who exactly the young girl at Susan’s side really is.

Dilnaz Irani initially seems a little one-notey as Susan in the first half; but comes into her own superbly during the second half in the confrontation with her husband, which is perhaps one of the truest, emotionally-naked scenes this critic has seen onstage. Her reserves of sheer energy: physical, vocal and emotional, are quite remarkable; and allow her to graph the woman’s devolving condition vividly.

She is ably partnered by Ankur Rathee, who is utterly uncontrived and natural as her husband; and an excellent supporting cast, among whom Anjula Bedi stands out as Susan’s mother, giving a chilling glimpse into what made her daughter what she is.

The production is an object-lesson in the art of staging, with an austere yet beautiful set, designed and gorgeously lit by Salim Akhtar. The music and sound-design by Sanjoy Dazz and Ambar Das is atmospheric and perfectly judged in its conveyance of an unsettled psyche. The popular children’s song, “Row, row, row your boat” becomes a leitmotif, heard in various vocal and instrumental guises through the play, and is entirely appropriate. The use of body-microphones on the actors certainly helps in immediacy and comprehension of the all-important words; though occasionally it becomes a little obtrusive. Having said that, it is still relatively subtle, compared to the heavy-handed, over-loud applications of this technology that one has sadly become used to in the theatre these days.

In sum, this production of “Baby’s Blues” does wonderful justice to the play. Although it can be heavy-going, it is ultimately uplifting; applying not only to the agonies of giving birth but to life itself, as in Susan’s final realisation: “Honey, you’re on your own…sink or swim”.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A ballet manqué

Commissioned by and originally published on Mumbai Theatre Guide here:
http://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com/dramas/reviews/swan-lake-english-play-review.asp

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake
Royal Russian Ballet,
Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA.
March 2018.

Some classics are so representative of their genre that it is impossible to think of either without recalling the other. In this, “Swan Lake” is the quintessential ballet in the Russian classical tradition. The image that it conjures, of ballerinas in white tutus representing maidens turned into swans, has remained steadfast in our consciousness for more than a century.

It is one of three fairy-tale ballets by Peter Tchaikovsky, whose music is lyrical and impassioned, poignant and thrilling, symphonic in its scope. The haunting “swan theme” is surely one of the most easily recognisable pieces of music ever written, ubiquitous in its popularity.

The original version of the ballet is rarely performed. Most productions are based on the 1895 revival by the Kirov Ballet, supervised by Tchaikovsky’s brother after the composer’s death; and choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with additional music by the conductor Riccardo Drigo. This revival also made changes in the story of the ballet.

The scenario currently performed is this: Prince Siegfried, while hunting in the forest, comes across a lake with a group of swans who turn into beautiful women, headed by their ‘swan queen’ Odette, with whom he falls in love. She and her maidens have been cursed by the magician Von Rothbart -- a spell which can only be broken through true love. The prince promises to make her his own, if she will come to his palace the next day for a celebration during which he will announce his choice of bride. But the magician makes an appearance at the party with his daughter Odile, who has been made to look exactly like Odette. She captivates the Prince, who swears his love to her. At that time, Odette is seen fluttering at the window. The Prince, realising his error, rushes to the lake, into which she jumps, killing herself. After a battle with Rothbart, the Prince follows her, the spell is broken, the magician dies and the swans become human; the Prince and Odette are seen united in the hereafter.

In keeping with Soviet ideology, a new version was created for the Kirov Ballet by Konstantin Sergeyev in 1950, based on the 1895 revival but with a happy ending, in which Siegfried fights Rothbart and tears off his wing, killing him. Odette is restored to human form; she and Siegfried are happily united.

This production by the Royal Russian Ballet follows the Sergeyev version, with a few alterations. There are a couple of surprising additions, such as an extra variation for Odile; and the inclusion of the seldom performed Russian Dance among the other “national dances” which make up the divertissement (show-pieces unrelated to the story) in the palace scene. There are some minor cuts; but the beautiful and melancholic Dance of the Swans at the beginning of the final act has also been removed and this is a real loss, like some of the more daring and difficult dance-movements (unforgettable to anyone who knows this ballet) which have been omitted or simplified.

Not surprisingly, considering this is essentially a touring company, the number of dancers has been downsized. Many of the set-pieces have fewer dancers than usual; and sometimes the stage looks too sparsely populated, for example, in the scene at the palace. Even so, the dancing on the whole is more than competent. The corps de ballet seems to be made up of young, well-trained dancers with sound, disciplined technique. Thus, the famous dance of the four cygnets in Act 2 was executed with razor-sharp precision and in perfect unison; the Neapolitan Dance was delivered with pizzazz by Arina Chumak and Alexei Bogutskiy; Yurii Gregul stood out for his unbridled energy in the Spanish Dance; and the Russian Dance was performed solo by Natalia Kazatskaia with great charm and delicacy.

Denis Tarasov as the Jester was agile and graceful, though he missed some of the character’s impishness. The rest of the principals have been double-cast, each set dancing on different days. Anatolii Khandazhevskyi did what was required as the Prince, with decent if not spectacular execution of scissor-leaps and other balletic demands, while Artem Tymchuk as Rothbart was quite unremarkable in the earlier parts of his role but came into his own during the final act, becoming a creature of real power and menace.

Any performance of “Swan Lake” depends ultimately on the prima ballerina who has to portray both Odette and Odile. It is a well-known fact that it is extremely difficult for any dancer to do equal justice to both, as they are in extreme contrast. So was Olga Kifyak’s level of accomplishment. Her dancing of Odette could best be described as grammatical. There was cold classicism and an aristocratic mien with an expressionless face…but where was the vulnerability, fragility and, ultimately, heartbroken despair? Her Odile, on the other hand, was near-electrifying. The dancer suddenly seemed to come to life, investing this character with the sly sexuality that was needed; and was able to dispatch the role’s notoriously demanding choreography, including the famous 32 fouettés (turns) with aplomb.

This production uses a pre-recorded soundtrack, most of which is played by the orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre (home of the Kirov Ballet) and conducted by Valery Gergiev. Thus there are inevitable compromises, since a live orchestra isnt present to tailor the music symbiotically with the dancing. Moreover, the sound-levels appear to have been ‘normalised’ so that softer passages (for example, the violin solo in the pas de deux) seem unnaturally loud. And there is a fatiguing excess of bass…though this could well have been a contribution of the sound-system at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. Speaking of which, its stage looked cramped, in spite of the fewer than usual dancers involved.

The set is old-fashioned (which is not necessarily a bad thing!) using painted backdrops to represent the palace gardens, the lake and a hall in the palace. The initial impression is favourable, as the wings on either side of the stage and the flies at the top are also replaced with painted images of pillars and an ornate ceiling. However, these remain during the scene at the lake and thus become extremely incongruous. The lighting leaves much to be desired, since is rudimentary and unable to convey much atmosphere; the appearance of Odette at the window lacks the requisite magic. The costumes, though, are quite pretty, authentic and entirely appropriate.

In sum, though one may want to commend Navrasa Duende for their initiative in organising this India tour of “Swan Lake”, one cannot help wishing for more…especially when one considers the astronomical ticket-prices! With more accomplished principal dancers, a full-sized corps, a live orchestra, better sets and lighting, this would have been something special. Perhaps next time?

The Importance of Being Articulate

Commissioned by and originally published on Mumbai Theatre Guide here:
http://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com/dramas/reviews/the-importance-of-being-earnest-english-play-review.asp

Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest
Director: Jeff Goldberg
Royal Opera House, 4 March 2018.

Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is probably the playwright’s most famous play; and the quintessential Victorian “comedy of manners”. Apart from taking a satirical look at the superficiality and pretensions of British society at the turn of the century, it is also a supremely elegant piece of writing in Wilde’s epigrammatic fashion, peppered with delicious witticisms.

A successful staging of this warhorse demands, above all, an awareness of the correct style required. Jeff Goldberg’s production seems to be confused about what that is. The director is sometimes able to invest the comedic happenings onstage with a civilised grace; but the proceedings soon degenerate into loud, broad farce. Movement and blocking are often clumsy; and one wonders at the bizarre choice of keeping the butler onstage almost constantly, as it is unnecessary and uncalled-for in the script.

Moreover, this is a play that celebrates the English language and requires the words to be spoken precisely and eloquently, while maintaining a fleet, smooth tempo-rhythm. But, in this production, the actors tend to gabble through their lines with poor articulation and projection, with the result that syllables are swallowed and words become unintelligible. Many of the more famous lines are thrown away or do not have the requisite punch. And there are MANY mispronunciations of simple words, names of places and even those of the play’s own characters!

There are some edits made to the script; and while these may be noticeable to someone who knows the play, in general the cuts do not bleed. However, several memorable lines are missing; and this robs the script of colour. The three acts have been compressed into two (which is often done) but the interval comes at an odd point: instead of happening after Act 1 which is set in a London flat, it occurs unnaturally in the middle of Act 2 which is played, along with Act 3, in a country-house. The two butlers, each belonging to one of these establishments, have been cleverly combined into a single character, which works…somewhat.

Perhaps the truest acting in this production comes from Takshay Tarneja as John Worthing, the play’s protagonist. Although he is somewhat pallid, he does no wrong and somehow manages to convey the character’s essence quite consistently. A greater contrast could not be imagined than with Shreyas Porus Pardiwalla’s Algernon, who is spirited and flamboyant but a little too campy and overtly farcical, playing to the galleries. As for their sweethearts: Taniya Kalra’s Gwendolen looks the part but is under-characterised, while Pashmina Roshan is charming and vivacious as Cecily but often so indistinct in her speech that she cannot be understood.

Neeti Singhi in the role of Lady Bracknell (made immortal by Dame Edith Evans) is young for the part but tries to carry it off with an imperious manner, although her intentions are compromised by unfocussed execution. Helen Absalom as Miss Prism looks the right age and initially promises a vividly-projected characterisation; but this quickly becomes grossly and irritatingly overdone. Sankalp Joshi as Dr. Chasuble is too youthful to be her romantic interest; and Ankit Narang as the butler speaks and walks in a strange, contrived way.

The production’s design is minimalistic and quite effective, but with a couple of glaring flaws: a painted, oversized clock displaying a constant time; and a roaring fireplace depicted by a large, static photograph. The women’s costumes are pretty and appropriate but those of the men leave a lot to be desired, with wrong jackets and a towelled bathrobe (worn by Algernon) in which no self-respecting Victorian gentleman would have ever received guests.

On the whole, the production leaves one with strong, mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is heartening to see a group of young actors trying their best to pay homage to the classics. On the other, one realises that if THIS is currently their best, they have a long, long way to go. And what is needed is an awareness of higher standards, with better and more intensive training to achieve them.



Lovely recital but a mish-mashed program.

Commissioned by and originally posted on Seen and Heard International here:
http://seenandheard-international.com/2018/02/a-marvellous-song-recital-by-baritone-benjamin-appl/


Song Recital – Benjamin Appl (baritone), Simon Lepper (piano), Experimental Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, 18.2.2018. (JSM).
SchumannWidmung
Britten – The Foggy, Foggy Dew
PoulencL’offrande
HahnÀ Chloris
GriegLauf der Welt
R. StraussGeduld
MendelssohnAuf Flügeln des Gesanges
SchubertSeligkeit
                  Ständchen
Finzi – It was a lover and his lass
Britten – The Salley Gardens
PoulencLa maîtresse volage
WolfHoffärtig seid ihr schönes Kind
GriegZur Rosenzeit
R. Strauss – Morgen
Wolf – Wir haben beide Zeit geschweigen
             Begegnung
Schumann – Du bist wie eine Blume
Brahms – Sonntag
R. Strauss – Du meines Herzens Krönelein
Vaughan Williams Silent Noon
Schubert – Die Taubenpost
Brahms – Wiegenlied
Schubert – Erlkönig
Wolf – An die Geliebte
Schubert – Der Tod und das Mädchen
Loewe – Süßes Begräbnis
R. Strauss – Allerseelen
Grieg – Ein Traum
Schubert – Wandrers Nachtlied II (encore)
           
This Sunday afternoon recital in Mumbai by the young German baritone Benjamin Appl was a potpourri of songs in three languages and in widely-differing styles by various composers. These were loosely strung together as individual pieces rather than in groups, with the unifying concept of depicting a tragic love-story, or so we were told, but the idea was stretched too thin to be convincing. However, the sequence of songs, particularly in the programme’s second half, did not present too many musical jolts since most consecutive selections seemed matched in key, if not in kind. They were interspersed by explanations given by the singer, though mercifully these interruptions were few and not cloying.

The recital began with Schumann’s Widmung and this immediately presented the singer’s strengths and weaknesses. There was an innate musicality in everything he did, aided by prodigious breath-control and a wonderful sense of legato, also heard to great effect later in Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges. He did seem to have some difficulty in songs with a very low tessitura and, more often than not, his softer tones seemed to have insufficient breath-support thus lacking a certain roundness, for instance in Brahms’ Wiegenlied. However, dynamic markings of mezzoforte and above found him singing out with clarion voice and flawless attack.

Herr Appl excelled in expression. There was no doubt that he felt and understood the songs deeply; and spared no effort in conveying this to the audience. One might say he did, on occasion, over-interpret the songs; but never self-consciously. Better a little too much than too little. A prime example of this was Schubert’s Ständchen, which began with the singer taking expressive liberties with line and rhythm but ended with an unforgettable beglücke mich.

The concert’s highlights included Geduld and Morgen by Richard Strauss, the former sung with vivid word-painting, the latter floated magically with iridescent accompaniment by Simon Lepper. Erlkönig was given a powerhouse performance, the four voices clearly demarcated, with perhaps the most thrilling rendition of the words “so brauch’ ich Gewalt” that this critic has ever heard. However, Mr. Lepper was too loud in the early part of this song, nearly drowning-out the singer (the piano was kept wide-open throughout the recital) though elsewhere he was unfailingly sensitive and ideally supportive.

On the whole then, a marvellous recital and a Sunday afternoon well-spent. However, one wishes the organisers (the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai) had presented a more consistent and better arranged programme, rather than this mish-mash. Especially since the audience would applaud after each song, until the singer politely requested them not to!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Flawed Yet Promising Recital by Baritone Sergio Vitale

The much-awaited opera duo recital planned by the NCPA, featuring the soprano Rosa Feola and baritone Sergio Vitale, left many people disappointed because the soprano had taken ill.
Which was a pity because she seemed to be the better of the two, as one could surmise from clips on Youtube!
Anyway the guy managed to hold the evening together...though one wished the accompanist were better.


An edited version of the following review is printed on Seen and Heard International here:
http://seenandheard-international.com/2017/08/a-flawed-yet-promising-recital-by-baritone-sergio-vitale/
(Also apparently available via a link on http://theoperacritic.com/ which can be accessed only by a paid subscription).


Opera Recital – Sergio Vitale (baritone), Fabio Centanni (piano), Tata Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, 8.8.2017. (JSM).
MozartLe Nozze di Figaro: Hai già vinta la causa
BelliniI Puritani: Ah! per sempre io ti perdei
RossiniIl barbiere di Siviglia: Largo al factotum
Liszt – Mephisto Waltz no:1
DonizettiDon Pasquale: Bella siccome un angelo
VerdiFalstaff: Ehi! Paggio!...L’onore! Ladri; Ehi! Taverniere! Mondo ladro
Tosti’A vuchhella


On account of a sudden deterioration in the health of soprano Rosa Feola, this concert, which was supposed to be an opera duo, became a solo recital by baritone Sergio Vitale accompanied by pianist Fabio Centanni.


Mr. Vitale’s programme ran the gamut of the baritone repertoire, from Figaro to Falstaff. “Work-in-progress” he announced modestly before one of the pieces; and this term could well be used to describe his singing as a whole.


The opening Mozart aria immediately conveyed his strengths and limitations: a full, rounded tone in the middle voice but strained at both extremes; genuine musicality compromised by imperfect execution of bel canto ornamentation and passage-work; an ability to communicate character and emotion when unencumbered by too much musical effort.


The aria from I Puritani fared better, as the baritone attempted sustaining a clean Bellinian line. However, his technical shortcomings were more exposed here, as later in the Donizetti, including a tendency to lunge at high notes from below (especially in upward-moving passages) and intonation that was somewhat suspect, often being just under true pitch.


Mr. Vitale lightened his tone (as he should) for Rossini’s Figaro, whose Largo al factotum was given with impish, infectious joie de vivre and a fine command of patter-singing. But the baritone cracked on the top G; and this highlighted his overall difficulty with high tessitura.


Fortunately, he came into his own as Verdi’s Falstaff, whose arias were a last-minute addition to the programme. From his first cry of Ehi! Paggio! it became evident that the singer was in his element and this role was a perfect fit, vocally and temperamentally. Falstaff’s Act 1 monologue was delivered with immense chutzpah and vivid word-painting; his Act 3 musing on the vagaries of the world was appropriately introspective.


The baritone ended the recital with the popular Neapolitan song ’A vuchhella. Here his innate musicality and good intentions, undermined by flawed vocalism, were all too apparent.


Fabio Centanni’s accompaniment was too loud, often drowning out the singer. It made one wonder why the piano was kept wide open and not on short-stick. His single solo, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz no: 1, was clangy and fatiguing.


The concert was an interesting introduction to a young singer. If his Falstaff is anything to go by, and with some work on vocal technique, he has the potential of a richly promising career.