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Subject: My friend's review of the nutcase
From: Charles Handelman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Charles Handelman <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 22 Apr 2017 00:30:11 -0400
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I've gone to concerts and operas most of my life, but Tuesday night was a
first - a concert by two world class artists that was almost completely
devoid of artistic merit or integrity. Anything even resembling taste was
surely accidental. The concert in question was Vittorio Grigolo and Carmen
Giannatassio at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, and where the fault lies is
open to conjecture.

From first glance at the program, the worst was feared. How was it possible
that two singers who have known each other since their teens, have sung
together in numerous operas, and share a repertoire of several others were
scheduled to sing such a paultry amount. The first half of the concert
included not one, not two, but THREE overtures! And we are not talking about
an orchestra like the LA Phil or even the LA Opera - this was a pick-up
group, admittedly made up of many talented players. But nobody bought a
ticket to hear them play the overture to William Tell (a treacherous piece
to attempt to open a program with, given the large number of solos and
nuanced playing from a group not given ample rehearsal time). Two pieces
later, the Marriage of Figaro overture served one important purpose - it
showed exactly how talented the musicians of the orchestra were - balance
issues aside (they needed two more celli, and to swap 1st and 2nd stands,
and needed one more bass). These are fine musicians who clearly play chamber
music either in small or large groups and are used to listening and
following. That following has litte to do with the conductor, whose merits
were hard to gauge since it seemed at least the string players followed the
singers independantly. It was, by and large, nuance-free playing.

All that aside, Grigolo had the time of his life. Take all the mugging of
Pavarotti, the audacity of Bonisolli, and the mania of Villazon, multiply it
times one hundred, and that comes close to what Grigolo presented to the
audience. The duo's firs piece was the last part of the Lucia/Edgardo duet
(for reasons unknown). But instead of walking out with the conductor,
Grigolo thought it would fun to leap out from the wings to an ovation. But
it wasn't a good enough ovation, so he went back and got another one. He
sings well - very well in fact. But the actions were that of someone who
belonged in some kind of institution that has very little to do with music.
Giannatassio gave a glimpse of marvellous singing, from her covered timbre
and yet crystal clear fioritura. Would that they sang the entire duet.

After the Figaro overture, we got Carmen singing "Oh mio babbino caro" which
was fine, but unmemorable - and certainly continued the paucity of actual
singing from either of the soloists. Grigolo then came out and sang "Firenze
e come un albero Fiorito", also from "Gianni Schicci". Grigolo obviously
likes the episodic nature of this piece - most likely a hold over from his
conservatory repertoire - and manically ran back and forth across the stage,
much to the delight of the audience.

Time for another overture. Although what was billed as the Overture to "West
Side Story" was some odd melange designed to take up yet more time.
Giannatassio then came out to sing "Somewhere", which lay too low for her
and sat primarily in the passagio. She left with the conductor and then
Grigolo and maestro came out for a plausible "Maria" - although someone
should explain the difference between "S" and "SH" when singing in English.
Once again, conductor and soloist left the stage, and then came out with
Carmen to sing a truncated "Tonight", also from "West Side Story". And that
was the end of the first half.

Reflecting on the first half during intermission, the most vivid impression
I had was these people did a whole lotta walking! In fact, they did more
walking than actual singing. Maybe they had to get more steps in on their
Fitbit! Here's another observation - why, oh why, are singers and conductors
crossing IN FRONT of performers???? Does nobody teach this stuff in the
conservatory? The conductor walked in front of the soloists to get to the
podium. Grigolo kept crossing in front of Carmen...even AS SHE WAS SINGING
the Lucia duet. For her part, Giannattasio just looked bewildered, as if
wondering, "Maybe this is how they do it in America".

The second half was not much better. It kicked off with Grigolo singing
"Recondita armonia". Actually, strike that - it started with him making an
impromptu and largely inaudible speech. He said something about Carmen
(presumably Ms. Giannattasio and not the opera). And then said something
about singing Tosca at the Met next year, but wanting to try out the aria on
us because we were "like family".

Then, you guessed it - time for another orchestral piece. This was purported
to be the Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, but what I heard was a rare
Saint-Saens concerto for castanets and orchestra!

Grigolo then reappeared to sing "Pourquoi me reveiller". At this point, it
should be mentioned that despite all the extraneous gesticulations and
clownish behavior, he sang beautifully. He even took to conducting - he
gestured to change the beat and even quiet the orchestra constantly. But his
actual singing was quite thrilling - and that invasive fast vibrato which
hampered many of his previous performances appears to have worked itself out.

Giannattasio then came out to sing "Vissi d'arte" and came to horrendous
grief. One could see the problem a mile away - the tempo was just a tad too
slow and she constantly appeared to be doing everything to make it to the
end of phrases without running out of steam. Alas, she broke up a phrase
with a breath and by the time she got to the climactic "Signor"....she
started the note and then gasped. The rest of the measure and the subsequent
was a blur as she attempted to simply get to the end of the aria.

Of course, we needed another overture. This time, we got "Carmen". Maestro
left the podium to return with Grigolo for the flower aria. But Grigolo had
other things in mind. As the music started, he took off his jacket, sprawled
on the ground, and tried valiantly to wrestle a flower away from the hideous
arrangements at the foot of the stage. While singing about how much he
cherished this flower Carmen threw to him before being sent to prison, he
mangled it so much that by the end he sprinked the petals onto the audience
members in the front row. They loved every second of it.

Although the program listed "Overture (La Traviata)", we actually got the
prelude to act 3 of Traviata. Then, in an unlisted excerpt, Giannattasio
sang "Addio del passato" (preceeded by an awfully stilted reading of the
letter). The aria was beautifully crafted and gloriously sung. Of course,
after the aria she and the conductor left the stage only to emerge two
minutes later with Grigolo for "Parigi, o cara". Giannattasio, having just
sung the role at the Met, was in character, leaning into him for support,
and singing with a thread of a voice. Grigolo, on the other hand, ignored
her and had both arms in the air as if he just won a soccer game!
As for the inevitable encores, of course there was the Brindisi with the
clapping. Then Grigolo sang "Non ti scordar di me", Giannattasio sang "Torna
a Surriento", and then Grigolo ended with "A Vucchella".

All in all, it was a disheartening evening. Why? Because the people who were
there loved it. People talked about it being the best concert they had ever
seen, how much they loved the excitement, etc. I've always been of the
belief that as artists, we are obliged not only to entertain, but to educate
and enlighten. Schlocky performances and over the top grandstanding only
serve to diminish the art form. They may entertain the crowd, but I don't
believe they have a place in a serious concert - which this was not.

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