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Enigma or blankness? / Rosenblatt Recital Series: Dimitra Theodossiou / Wigmore Hall – 12 November 2012

14 Nov

I will have to admit at totally not “getting” this recital. The running order read like the tracklist for an Elena Souliotis CD and yet despite the fact that, Leonora,Desdemona,Anna, Elizabetta,Amelia, Santuzza, Mimi, Tosca and Lady Macbeth all appeared, only one made any impression with a distinct personality or mood. Theodossiou possesses a very interesting dark hued Verdian voice laced with well controlled very pronounced vibrato that can relay the extreme feelings in Verdi’s leading ladies with a surprising ferocity. Unfortunately this recital was lacking  atmosphere which was surprising owing to her considerable stage experience. The recital felt staid and old fashioned, like a slice of nostalgia not helped by her curiously camp stage presence. The long self congratulatory deepest bows also did not help.
When the first note I’ve put down on paper is ‘Hey someone is getting married’ you know you’re in for a strange journey. I do wonder if the lack of ambience can be attributed to the change of pianist from Simone Savina to Elda Laro. Who with her very sedate playing created too extreme a contrast. I know a lot of vocal recital fans would normally complain that the accompanist is too loud but in this instance and with the singer’s large voice the piano sound was drowned most of the time adding very little texture to the aural fabric.

Another aspect that became obvious as the night was progressing, was that programming, just large opera arias and scenes makes for odd recital material. The piano always feels like an approximation for the intricate textures that Verdi and Donizetti had in mind and the expected atmospheric underpinnings were not there, combined with Theodossiou’s fairly blank stage persona and distinct lack of charm on the night it made for a testing evening. I can only attribute it to her not feeling well on the night or being crippled by nerves and compensating by adopting a stage presence not unknown to divas of the pre-war era. The repertoire choices were up there with what Rosa Ponselle would have programmed for a recital in the 1920s and that distinct lack of modernity was the aspect that left me puzzled for evermore.

Starting a recital with Pace, Pace is a serious statement of intent and she pulled it off with great style but badly let down by the over-dramatic and formulaic hand gestures that detracted from the very accomplished singing. Her chest voice is a marvellously vibrant creature of the night, caressing the darker corners of Verdi’s writing with knowing elegance and agreement. But ultimately leaving us puzzled at where was Leonora’s personality in all this. Had she trusted more the delivery with simpler pared down gestures and a more genuine attempt to built audience rapport, instead of the feeling of forced reverence this would have been an absolute show stopper.

Her voice describing the darkest moments of Desdemona’s stage life seemed an inappropriate choice, her far too dark timbre, ever so slightly lightened by heavy use of  her head voice could not mask the lack of sweetness and gentleness that is so important in this part. Having heard the delicious rendition by Ailyn Perez back in March in another Rosenblatt recital and the incredible Anja Harteros at Covent Garden I was left wanting. Intriguingly her sudden 90 degree turn had me worried that she may indeed jump in the piano after the willow song, which thankfully was not to happen!

The programme continued with a very pale Anna Bolena that gave us a hint of how exciting she must be in a darkened opera house, her voice riding the orchestra. Unfortunately in recital the sound felt uneven and at times thin. Again we saw more of madam performing than Anna suffering. The same can be applied to her Elisabetta from Roberto Devereux, sang with panache but lacking in the all important interpretive content. Also the singing was far from perfect with obvious signs of breath control and pitch problems.

By the interval the only way I would describe her stage presence would be with a single Greek word, monolithic. And while being the still centre of a changing world can be a wonderful quality on an operatic stage on the recital platform it just read as blankness. Was pinning my hopes the second half would find her in more relaxed form and would allow for some gusto to creep in.

It was a shame we did not get the wonderfully dark introduction to Ecco l’orrido campo which would have put us in the mood properly, but thankfully her delivery (aside from the camp stage act) was full bloodied  and more characterful than in the first half. She seems to respond to the more histrionic, faster paced arias with much more immediacy and flair.

Her Santuzza was a wonderful sentimental creature and sung with disarming honesty and for the first time in the evening we got to see a bit of herself invested in the music. Her delivery was not flawless but the emotional content and the thrilling climax were a handsome pay off.

We were treated to the preludes of La Traviata and Aida in between the last three items in the programme and a very odd addition they were. Laro’s charming but underpowered delivery, drove a gentleman in front of me back to reading his novel through both her appearances.

Mimi and Tosca may not be the most demanding of operatic roles but they seem to have caused considerable problems for Theodossiou and the evident lack of charm they were sang with left me wondering why she actually chose them for this recital. Her Mimi was imprecise and laboured sounding and Tosca while being reasonably passionate did not pack enough excitement.

Thank heavens for the La luce langue and the darkness and terror it brings, this seemed the natural vehicle for Theodossiou who delivered the goods with true bravado without sacrificing her attention to the text and employed some ingenuous colouring. This was a terrifyingly big voiced Lady Macbeth with a tone of destruction and malice. It was deeply satisfying even though it arrived on the eleventh hour of this recital.

The encore was Puccini’s setting of Salve Regina and she appeared much more relaxed than previously and was able to channel a lot more charm in those three minutes than during the previous hour. Her voice is not the sound Puccini would have expected but it was a good postscript to this in many ways splendid but flawed recital.

The performance was recorded by Sky Arts and will be broadcast in early 2013, looking forward to seeing how she comes across on screen. The live experience was a very variable and at times puzzling affair. Not sure if I should consign her to the enigmatic divas camp or just to the dramatically unaware.

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