The charm of Italian opera

Following the first five festival concerts, which were dominated by austere northern music, especially by Beethoven, on Thursday the time was ripe for a breath of fresh air from southern Europe: the opera programme was made up entirely of Giacomo Puccini’s works.

The star of the evening was Polish soprano Ewa Vesin, who appeared alongside two Italian tenors to perform excerpts from La bohème and La rondine (including the aria Mi chiamano Mimi from Act I in La bohème).

However, the evening commenced with purely instrumental music – excerpts from Puccini’s lesser known operas: juvenile Edgar (Prelude to Act III), which foreshadowed the composer’s later style, Suor Angelica (Intermezzo), and Le Villi (La Tregenda). We also heard Intermezzo from the opera Manon Lescaut, which was Puccini’s first international success.

The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Massimiliano Caldi. This seasoned conductor established an excellent rapport with the orchestra, which was clearly responsive to his intentions. A full symphonic sound, soft, broad phrasing, passionate exuberance, and in the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut – exquisite rubato and drawing clear inspiration from Wagner. The well prepared Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra exhibited more than a hint of Caldi’s Italian temperament and was on its very best behaviour.

The second half of the evening belonged to the singers, although the orchestra remained on equally fine form, this time as a partner of the soloists. The parts of the romantic lead, Rodolfo from La bohème and Ruggero from La rondine were to be sung by the Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas, who was replaced by last minute substitute, the Italian Vincenzo Costanzo. He did not seem to feel particularly at ease singing the part of Rodolfo, and was only slightly more comfortable as Ruggero. In turn, Ewa Vesin’s soprano truly blossomed in the part of Magda from La rondine. The second tenor, Leopoldo Lo Sciuto, brought some character genre-wise with his superb diction in spoken parts, e.g. in the scene in which he foretells that Magda will fly away like a swallow in pursuit of love.

I must again congratulate Massimiliano Caldi on elegance, culture and very good conducting technique, which allowed him to keep things well under control.

Anna S. Dębowska

Thursday, 6 April, 7;30 pm, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall