Chivalry in a Basilica

ANNA WOŹNIAKOWSKA

Almost a month has passed since the concert, which I am about to describe, took place, however the emergence of a new portal dedicated to music events brought my thoughts back to this performance, which was undoubtedly one of the most significant Polish artistic events in May 2017.

On May 12, the 19th Ada Sari International Vocal Artistry Festival began. Ada Sari was an outstanding Polish coloratura soprano, an artists who in the 1920s and 1930s sung on such stages as La Scala in Milan, Teatro San Carlo in Naples and Carnegie Hall in New York, and who after the World War II educated a large group of excellent Polish singers. The culmination of the Festival is a three-stage International Vocal Artistry Competition, however Małgorzata Walewska, to whom in 2015 Helena Łazarska, the festival’s initiator, handed over the post of the artistic director, decided to give also the inauguration concert an appropriate significance. In 2015 the festival was inaugurated by a wonderful rendition of Symphony No. 2, also known as Resurrection Symphony by Gustav Mahler conducted by José Cura. 12th of May 2017 the International Vocal Artistry Festival opened with a concert performance of Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria rusticana.

I have to admit when I found out about this concert my first reaction was both joy and fear. The latter was caused mostly by presenting Mascagni’s work in such a location. The inauguration of the festival was supposed to take place in the gothic Basilica of St. Margaret. Will the opera find itself in these raw gothic walls? What will be the reaction of the music lovers of Nowy Sącz, who next to the guests of the festival, will be the main recipients of the concert? Music is heard often in the churches of Nowy Sącz, however for the first time it was to be an opera, furthermore a work saturated with often extreme emotions. Another concern was related to the orchestra involved in this project. Beethoven Academy Orchestra is admittedly one of the leading young Polish symphony orchestras, but its experience in the opera field was not big until now. Luckily, these concerns were to be proven wrongful, thanks to Francesco Bottigliero, who conducted Mascagni’s work on the 12th of May. A conductor, pianist, composer, as well as a philosopher and pedagogue, a disciple of Carlo Maria Giulini, skillfully used the acoustics of the temple and led Cavalleria rusticana with passion, however ensured clarity and color of the music by allowing it to resonate. Cautiously, he built beautiful dynamic gradations from delicate piano to powerful forte. Under his baton and in these acoustic conditions the Intermezzo sounded almost dreamy. He found a great connection with Beethoven Academy Orchestra and the Polish Radio Choir from Cracow, whose musicians correctly read his intentions. Above all else, however, he made them all without exception sound as one, he turned out to be a perfect partner for the soloists. And he worked with absolutely marvelous singers!

The character of Santuzza was created by Małgorzata Walewska. Full in color, dense, as though saturated with sunlight mezzo-soprano seems to be made for Mascagni’s music and the dramatic character of the abandoned Sicilian woman. The artist sung the part of Santuzza on the stage of Metropolitan Opera amongst others, hence she has deeply lived through every note, every word of this part which one could fully appreciate. Turiddu was sung by Arnold Rutkowski, one of the best tenor voices in Poland, the artist collaborates with prestigious opera and philharmonic stages of Europe. Second male part – Alfio – was performed by Mariusz Godlewski – I will repeat again – leading Polish baritone, whom audiences eagerly come to see on opera stages and in philharmonics, drawing attention with the beauty of his voice and an exceptional musical sensitivity. Also Dobromiła Lebiecka as Mamma Lucia and Wanda Franek – flirtatious Lola, though not as well known and titled as the main protagonists, equally with them created this wonderful spectacle. Because this Cavalleria rusticana, though a concert version, was a spectacle. The décor of the gothic temple created a frugal, raw but accurate scenography. After all, the action of Targioni’s, Menasci’s and Leoncavallo’s work takes place during Easter, largely in the shadow of a church. Easter procession counterpointed with Santuzza’s experiences make the most beautiful pages in Mascagni’s score. These prayer songs, on stage often treated in a banal way, inside the temple gained a new, almost sacramental dimension. In a strange way, they have made the story told by the librettist and composer more convincing.

Also the protagonists with outfits reminding of old rural clothing, more humble than at regular concerts, arranging the stage situations with spare gestures, and above all with their voices have built beautiful theatre, and because they were almost face to face with the audience, their emotions were absolutely readable to the public. Assisted by the conductor, who got all the beauty out of Mascagni’s score and wonderfully created dramatic tension with the music, they were flawless and credible in their artistic endeavor. And the audience? Around me instead of potential signs of outrage, I only saw moved faces, often with teary eyes. One can look in vain for such an emotional temperature on operatic stages, as I have found at the Cavalleria rusticana in Nowy Sącz.

 

The 19th Ada Sari International Vocal Artistry Festival
Soloists: Małgorzata Walewska, Arnold Rutkowski, Mariusz Godlewski, Wanda Franek, Bogumiła Lebiecka
Orchestra: Beethoven Academy Orchestra
The Polish Radio Choir
Conductor
: Francesco Bottigliero
Basilica of St. Margaret, 7 p.m.