Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Villanzon survives Sutherland

I finally caught up with the SF Opera's current staging of
Verdi's "La Traviata", starring Ruth Ann Swenson and
Rolando Villanzon.

It has been reported that Villanzon was a Merola
Opera Program participant here in SF back in 1998,
yet before hearing him tonight, I simply had no
recollection whatsoever of previous local exposure
to his name, or even the face in the pictured in the
program bio.

But last night, once Alfredo started singing, I
immediately recalled that voice in an almost eerie
way. Yes, I have heard Villanzon before, it was at
a masterclass given by none other than Dame Joan
Sutherland, sponsored by the Merola Opera Program
back in 1998. Even then, the young Villanzon had
good poise, a very memorable and distinctive dark
timbre, as well as a ringing quality that is
remarkably similar to that of Placido Domingo.

At that particular open masterclass, I remember
feeling a great urge to tell the Dame to shut up,
not because she made any xenophobic remarks
about immigrants, but because over the course of
a three hour session Sutherland had absolutely
nothing of value to impart upon the youthful singers.

She stopped Villanzon's beautiful "Pourquoi me
reveiller" every other bar, sometimes to share little
tales that had precious little to do with what was
being attempted at hand.

It was simply appalling; it was as if the Dame wasn't
interested in any of these singers, and didn't even
want to extend them the courtesy of pretending that
she was. Constantly talking about herself, she even
found a way of dissing criticism of her diction,
written some 20 years before.

Villanzon has obviously overcome that sorry session,
and his pairing with Ruth Ann Swenson in this Traviata
was very satisfying. He is shows quite a bit of stage
magnetism for a guy that's got a relatively small
physique. He sings in well shaped phrases and polished
vocalism, and like Swenson, the delivery is impressive.

Vocally, the only fault of these two is that yet every vocal
trick sounds a bit on the safe side; everything is so
securely rendered that the performance lacks a little
in "danger," and the adrenaline that comes with it.


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