Arena di Verona marks a century with lively aria concert at Zankel

Fri Nov 11, 2022 at 2:39 pm
Company general manager Cecilia Gasdia took the piano to lead a group encore of “O solo mio” at the 100th anniversary concert of Arena di Verona Thursday night at Zankel Hall. Photo: Stephanie Berger.

The Arena di Verona is an ancient Roman amphitheater that since the 1920s has hosted an outdoor summer opera festival in that Italian city. Next year will be the hundredth anniversary of the Arena Opera Festival, and as both a celebration and an enticing preview, the festival presented a punchy performance of opera arias Thursday night at Zankel Hall.

Six singers delivered nine arias. There were two sopranos, Monica Conesa and Gilda Fiume, mezzo Olesya Petrova, and three singers performing at the Metropolitan Opera this season: tenor Brian Jagde, baritone Luca Salsi, and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, all accompanied by pianist Federico Brunello.

The music was typical of the Arena’s repertoire, programmed of 19th-century Italian arias, with six by Verdi and one each from Leoncavallo, Giordano, and Ponchielli. There was no other theme than crowd-pleasing popularity, meaning, the likes of “O cieil azzurri” from Aida, “Casta Diva” from Norma, and “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci.

The performances, in turn absolutely pleased the crowd. While in showcases like this, that’s usually automatic, that in no way diminishes the fine performances.

Outside of the Met pros, Fiume and Petrova were impressive. Conesa—who sang Aida’s aria and “Suicidio!” from La Gioconda—had a fine voice but these two singers had that characterful, dramatic manner that shaped the singing into not just notes but a journey. Petrova showed a rich, purplish lower register that was a pleasure in itself in “Re dell’abisso affrettati” from Un ballo in maschera. Fiume’s “Casta Diva” was graceful and slightly understated, and she handled the episodic and extended form of “E strano!” from La Traviata beautifully, to close the concert.

Jagde nearly blew off the doors with the confident intensity, and touch of fun, of Pagliaicci’s famous aria. Van Horn, who is always musical, delivered the full meaning of “Infelice e tuo credevi” from Ernani. His easy, straightforward phrasing was satisfying.

Salsi is the kind of singer who puts the emphasis on characterization and drama; he seems always close to parlando. The musical lines in Rigoletto’s “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” (he will sing the role at the Met in December) and “Nemico della patria” from Andrew Chénier, were often unclear, but this is the kind of old-fashioned opera performance that brings the fans to their feet.

The musical star of the evening might have been Brunello, who was excellent. His accompaniment was crystal clear, with superb articulation and absolute sensitivity to not just every moment in the music but to what the singers were doing. His dynamics and tempos were perfect all evening.

And at the closing ovation, Salsi helped general manager Cecilia Gasdia clamber up on stage where she acknowledged the applause and then dashed to the piano to lead a group sing along of” O sole mio,’” complete with audience participation. It was like closing time at a sober saloon.

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS