The Amenaide as ninja assassin Tancredi (Salzburg, 1992)
This draft has been biding its time since the Autumn of 2013 in the dark and mossy opera, innit? vault. Yesterday thadieu and Smorg showed unexpected interest in it and since I happened to have a day off, its day in the sunshine has come. Thadieu, I’m only talking about the bits you posted on youtube as I don’t have the rest.
Tancredi: Vesselina Kasarova
Amenaide: Nelly Miricioiu
Argirio: Donald Kaasch
Orbazzano: David Pittsinger
Isaura: Ruxandra Donose
Roggiero: Caroline Maria Petrig
Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg | Vienna State Opera Choir | ORF Symphonieorchester | Felsenreitschule | Salzburger Festspiele (August, 1992)
Given that it was performed at Felsenreitschule I mourn the fact that it was a concert performance (I can only imagine how they could’ve handled the boat). The ‘schule is such an odd, badass venue. And yes, the word that comes back again and again regarding this performance is badass. And odd.
As the story goes, back in ye olde early ’90s, Salzburger Festspiele thought they were cool (don’t they always?) and booked cult Tancredi Marilyn Horne as the slightly morose knight. Since things often don’t go as planned, she cancelled rather late in the game. I think the original Amenaide also dropped out but I can’t remember who it was (big name belcantist –
Katia Ricciarelli maybe? Edita Gruberova! Cheers, t & S). When Salzburger Festspiele saw themselves without main singers they chanced on the 27 year-old VK who was just then eager to pounce on the opera world, one long and difficult role at a time. Finally, belcanto gun for hire Miricioiu saved their Amenaide-less hide – for a terrible price 😉
Miricioiu’s Amenaide might’ve worn a balaclava considering her take-no-prisoners style. The woman had some badass coloratura chops, still a youthful tone and a powerful weapon with which ahe made the grand finale all her own (to amusing effect). Truth be told, this Amenaide doesn’t need a Tancredi; she sounds like she could take on her mean Orbazzano all by herself. So let’s say her Tancredi is a bit of a pretty boy.
Indeed, VK’s first Tancredi sounds younger than any other I’ve heard so far but also very distinctively optimistic and lively. This is not your usual mopey, bitter Tancredi, nor is he a macho man who won’t talk about his feelings – he must’ve grown up with sisters. This one really believes in a happy ending and he only briefly considers dying (when his gf seems unbearably aggravating 😉 ). Imagine Octavian on the battlefield.
Kaasch’s Argirio is quite amusing with his thin tenorino voice. The man tries his mightiest to cope with the high tessitura and infuse some volume but during the grand finale Rossini wins by KO. He’s the other reason Act II finale is a lough out loud moment.
Pittsinger’s Orbazzano sings low and is meaner than most. Good job! Whenever I hear a good Orbazzano I wish he had more to sing. I listened to Orbazzano and Argirio’s duet (si felice, vincitrice) from the intro more times than I can count (also good, manly choir).
Donose is a competent Isaura but we barely get to hear her, as she’s only featured in the intro (right at the beginning, just before the duettino between Argirio and Orbazzano) and the finale. She probably has the easiest job this side of Roggiero whom we don’t even hear.
Maestro Steinberg zooms through it all at a mean pace, but not quite as furiously as Maestro Spinosi (in the La pietra del paragone overture). The whole thing is lively and breezy instead of dark and broody. I can work with that; Tancredi can get a bit too serious for its own good. And, anyway, Maestro went for the happy ending finale.
Come dolce all’alma mia + preceding choir of hope for Siracusa: seeing as the saracens are at the gates, the manly choir is all relieved that former enemies Argirio and Orbazzano have finally formed a local coalition. In waltzes Amenaide, thinking about Tancredi. Everybody misunderstands her (this opera is a big misunderstanding) and thinks she’s just happy with the news and can’t wait to do her duty for the homeland.
Amenaide is a curious character, caught between the 18th century tradition of strong women and the emerging 19th century airy-fairy damsels in distress. Her music is thus somewhat of a combo – here of the airy-fairy persuation, though she still shows quite a bit of agency by secretely having tried to contact enemy of the state Tancredi (whom she met abroad, probably at some expat shindig in Constantinopole). For now Rossini makes her sound like she’s spinning around in a gauzy white gown going ooooh, I hope Tancredi gets my letter, wasn’t he the sweetest? whilst everybody thinks shucks, girl can’t wait to get married to big guy Orbazzano.
Oh, patria/Di tanti palpiti: it’s a breezy day at sea, the ship’s captain is showing off his skills at keeping the boat from slamming into jutting rocks. Tancredi jumps into the shallow water and gets all excited about the country of his birth. Then he remembers Amenaide, the real reason of his return. I like the freshness and enthusiasm in this rendition. The recit often drags, but VK aces the emotion and keeps it alive. Di tanti palpiti is sung very straight forward as far as fioriture but with effective colour. It simply rocks.
L’aura che intorno spiri: part of Argirio’s deal with Orbazzano was that Orbazzano would take over Tancredi’s assets. Not knowing this, Tancredi orchestrates a meeting with Amenaide. She pretends she doesn’t care about him anymore, hoping to convince him to leave and thus save himself. He doesn’t believe her and wants to know what’s going on. They have a proper lovers’ quarrel – which comes off really well – interpersed with sweet bits where the lovebirds are supposed to be swooning over each other (Go away, I don’t want you! Oh, but you’re so hot, I can’t let you go type thing). It’s one of those super complicated duets Rossini loved to write where there’s so much going on you’re happy yours singers make it to the other side of the ornament thicket. Emotion? Like I said, the quarrel is palpable, the lovin’ less so but it’s not completely absent.
Act I finale: compared to the Act I finale from Horne’s ’83 version, which ended up being my favourite part of that recording, this is almost absurdly fast. I mean, dear lord, how did these singers cope with the tempi in the coda???? It’s a feat but I think it could’ve been a little slower without losing the effect. In some ways this is beyond badass; in others was it really necessary? It feels like the mothership is about to take off.
Giusto dio che umile adoro: remember at the beginning of Act I Amenaide mentions she sent a secret letter to Tancredi? That letter was instead intercepted by Orbazzano’s vigilant police. It turns out that in spite of her supposed airy-fairy-ness, it wasn’t simply a love note. Orbazzano forces Argirio to read it in front of everybody only to reveal that Amenaide believes there’s only one person who can put things right in this country. Since Amenaide was crafty enough not to mention Tancredi’s name, Orbazzano assumes it was sent to Solamir, the leader of the saracens (one always assumes the worst).
Long story short, by the end of Act I Amenaide has been put on death row for high treason. It’s her lowest point, everybody including Tancredi thinks she’s political scum. She’s supposed to be lamenting her fate only Miricioiu’s Amenaide is not the kind to take things lying down. Since she’s no other weapons aside from those of the ninja assassin she uses her monster squillo to cut her ornaments through the chorus of seasoned warriors. This isn’t usually one of my favourite moments in Tancredi but Miricioiu’s strong woman in deep shite coupled with Maestro’s speedy take actually keeps me interested throughout. Have to give it to the lady, her coloratura precision and gutsy attitude pays off big time where other Amenaides have disolved into noodling lamentations.
Argirio/Tancredi duet: as per tradition, a lady on death row can be saved by a generous warrior who will fight for her honour. If he wins, she gets her pardon. Of course Tancredi (posing as an unknwon kinght) has volunteered to save her. He doesn’t believe she’s innocent but it’s in his job description as a knight to save anyone who qualifies as damsel in distress. Also, he hates Orbazzano’s guts (I think he found out he’s taken his land).
Argirio behaves very friendly and fatherly towards Tancredi, because although he is duty bound he still loves his daughter. I know I’ve poked fun at Kaasch up to this point, but he comes off credibly concerned for Amenaide in this duet. VK takes the chance of no Miricioiu in sight to show off her stuff with some impressive(ly secure) range leaps. The two of them work well together and the result is a nicely rounded duet, expressive both in the cantabile and the cabaletta (Argirio and Tancredi bond over their common concern for Amenaide).
Lasciami!/Ah, come mai quell’anima [Tancredi and Amenaide’s coyly sexy duet – one of my favourites in all opera]: verily, these two are a terrible match but they cope because they know how to sing with a partner. By that I mean Miricioiu only occasionally sings over VK in the cabaletta. The cantabile is rather pretty – as pretty as can be when there’s 0 chemistry between the singers. Both have beautiful voices1 and go for it each in their own way but their combined efforts won’t make you think Tancredi and Amenaide are secretly swooning over each other. It’s almost like they’re in an arranged marriage 😉
Amenaide sounds taunting more than pleading when she says se rea mi credi ancor. Later on she’s hilariously unfazed when Tancredi says Addio! There’s no panic in her Lasciarmi puoi? and her Seguerti!? sounds downright tentative, as if she’s thinking go with him?! What a daft idea! The most hilarious bit is the passive-aggressive battle of squilli. Miricioiu’s was louder but VK had quite a wayward one back in the ’90s and once unleashed it took on a life of its own. Then again, Felsenreitschule seems like the right kind of place to experiment with sonic weapons. The public loved it, judging by the applause they got.
Perche turbar la calma: VK sings Tancredi’s tantrum traditrice! io t’abbandono! with more venom than in the studio recording, no doubt because this Tancredi was thinking along the lines of dear god, why did I have to promise Amenaide’s mum that I’ll marry her daughter? These mail order brides are proper dark horses... But it’s fun to see that she could do venomous with the best of them even back then.
Non sa comprendere il mio dolor, which is the most beautiful bit, comes off gorgeously and this close to dead on in mood2. Vocally, aside from the boomerang squillo (her ovEEEE son io?! sounds like oh, shit, I’m on the battlefield and I haven’t even put my socks on!) I don’t know I can fault her for anything. Those ppps are to die for and her tone = buttah. The characterisation could’ve been more in depth, I do expect that from her.
Act II finale (the happy ending): Whatever happened up to this point, the finale belongs squarely to Miricioiu’s Amenaide. Her performance is a lesson in chutzpah. When everybody was already tired of either the very high tessitura or sheer amount of material to sing, Miricioiu simply launched her squillo and fioritura-ed all over the ensemble much like you would spray graffiti over a wall. It’s hilarious and badass; I often listen to it when I’m tired or sad and need an easy pick-me-up.
Verdict: so yea, an odd one, but fizzy and bright. If you like either Miricioiu or Kasarova or both or want a properly mean Orbazzano it’ll be fun. If you’re looking to pick up a random Tancredi there are more together ones out there. If you like martial arts with your belcanto this is the one for you 😉