Arena di Verona
In fair Verona, we lay our scene. So naturally, this concert of love duets in the city’s famous arena had to start with Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.
That fills nearly the first half-hour of the 101-minute disk, followed by three popular Puccini pieces from Tosca, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly, one from Manon by Massenet and the Libiam’from Verdi’s La Traviata.
Short intervals between the singers’ numbers are filled with romantic interludes, the Meditation from Massenet’s Thais, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut Intermezzo, and the Entr’acte from Carmen by Bizet.
After the exciting, brassy overture, enter Vittorio Grigolo as the star-crossed lover, a role he performed at the Met, since which time a personal issue means he’s not been heard so often.
Grigolo sings with great delicacy and lovely dynamic control as he gazes up at Juliet’s imaginary window, even if the top of his range sounds a little forced. In his expansive delivery, it seems as if he is yearning for absent listeners as well as his absent lover, and he gives a passionate performance throughout, one that is highly, at times overly demonstrative.
But the real star is Sonya Yoncheva, who enters in a jaw-dropping gown, as startling as her opening phrases of Juliet’s fourth-act Amour, ranime mon courage. The sound is thrilling, the voice large enough to fill the sparsely-filled, socially-distanced arena.
There is little sexual chemistry between the two stars, but for Yoncheva, the drama and passion is all in the vocal expression, from the dramatic jealousy of Tosca to the frailty of Mimi in act 3 of La Boheme, a role she performed marvellously on the recently released Royal Opera DVD.
But my favourite track is Butterfly’s Un bel di which Yoncheva delivers with the softness of a whispered prayer. It’s a heart-rending moment, before the concert finishes in celebratory style with the La Traviata drinking song—to which Grigolo invites some inevitably ill-timed clapping.
The duo are joined in that by soprano Mihaela Marcu and baritone David Luciano, whose fleeting appearances slot in nicely without detracting from the principals.
The concert performance, intercut with costumed video clips, is pleasantly staged with the arena orchestra conducted by Placido Domingo placed in the central area where the audience would sit in pre- and hopefully post-COVID times. The sound quality is excellent.
Reviewer: Colin Davison