Some projects are doomed from the beginning. The interesting idea of replicating the 1916 première of Goyescas at the Metropolitan Opera (then in a double bill with Pagliacci) and vindicating Spanish operatic repertoire has become a nightmare after an unfortunate series of cancellations. First, the new production commissioned for the revival was cancelled and substituted by a concert version. Then, Plácido Domingo, who was to conduct Goyescas and make his debut as Gianni Schicchi, stepped down on personal grounds. A concert featuring Domingo and other singers from Gianni Schicchi’s cast was scheduled between the two operas as a last-minute solution to please the hundred of fans that had rushed once again to honour the local idol. The result was an awkward succession of three completely independent performances: an impossible pirouette that winds up an unimpressive season.

María Bayo © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
María Bayo
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Enrique Granados’ Goyescas is an interesting work that no doubt deserves more critical attention. Its dramatic clumsiness and its overwritten libretto are fully compensated by a fascinating score that masterfully blends national folklore and 20th century post-Romantic chromatism. Inspired in Francisco de Goya’s early paintings, it captures the chaotic excitement of a pilgrimage, where fans and blades cut the hot spring air of 18th century Madrid. Sadly, this performance is unlikely to reverse a century of neglect. The lack of staging did not help to make its dull plot attractive and the orchestra and chorus remarkably needed more rehearsing to master its challenging score. García Calvo’s conducting had some good moments (the intermezzo and the wonderful nightingale song) but he failed to make sense of the different levels of the score, whose more complex parts, such as the first scene, sounded too messy.

The cast was led by María Bayo, a true specialist in Spanish repertoire who has had a remarkable international career but who seems to be undergoing a sad decline. Her extraordinary musicality is still there, but the timbre in the middle and low range is almost gone. The constant effort to keep the vocal line, hampered by a short fiato, prevented any attempt to build up the character. Ana Ibarra stood out amid an otherwise correct cast.

After the concert, the empty stage was then completely filled by Plácido Domingo’s impressive dramatic personality. At 74, the usual suspects are there: short fiato (making impossible any sense of legato), lessened volume, slightly faded timbre and a general touch of weariness and urgency. It is though amazing how all the unorthodox features that made him one of the most popular tenors of his generation are still recognisable (including his inability to produce piano sounds). Although his turn to baritone repertoire is far from convincing, he is still able to address the memories that the audience have gathered after more than 40 years on stage and rekindle them with the exact same dramatic language. After a rushed “Nemico della patria”, he sang a surprising “Pietà, rispeto, amore” with fiery and brisk phrasing, and a plausible Germont in his long Act II duo with Violetta. He closed the concert with Luisa Fernanda’s “Luché la fe por el triunfo”, in which true emotion almost caused a vocal accident.

Plácido Domingo © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Plácido Domingo
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

Of the other singers who took part in the concert (Luis Cansino and Bruno Praticò), young Spanish soprano Maite Alberola was astonishing as Violetta, with a powerful voice, exciting timbre and passionate phrasing. She struggled to control her voice in the top notes, but the technique was almost flawless and genuinely Italian. One can only wonder why she is not getting leading soprano roles at Teatro Real.

After the interval someone pressed the reset button and room was made for a conventional opera performance. Woody Allen’s 2008 staging truly honours Puccini’s masterpiece, turning Gianni Schicchi’s characters into Italian-American cinematic stereotypes, an exhilarating twist that enhances the plot and the score. His precise and electric direction works perfectly inside Santo Loquasto’s crowded setting, where povero Buoso lived his last melancholy hours amid tacky Italian souvenirs and under a monstrous black-and-white postcard of Firenze. Giuliano Carella brought flavour and spark to the orchestra, which had its best night in months.

Tomeu Bilbiloni (Amantio), Nicola Alaimo (Gianni Schicchi), Elena Zilio (Zita), Luis Cansino (Marco) © Javier del Real / Teatro Real
Tomeu Bilbiloni (Amantio), Nicola Alaimo (Gianni Schicchi), Elena Zilio (Zita), Luis Cansino (Marco)
© Javier del Real / Teatro Real

The cast was led by Nicola Alaimo, a perfectly sung Schicchi who was not carried away by the character’s natural histrionism. Maite Alberola’s Lauretta was delightfully vulgar, with a perfectly sung, almost academic, O mio babbino caro. Albert Casals, on the other hand, was a disappointing Rinuccio, sung with enthusiasm but with poor voice projection and little volume. The team of supporting characters was more than correct, with great Elena Zilio as Zita, whose veteran voice resonated across the theatre, and Valeriano Lanchas, an authoritative Simone. It was overall a good performance that put the night back on track and provided much-needed relief, closing the season on a cheerful note.