An old proverb names Munich as the northernmost city in Italy. As odd as this may seem, it makes some sense when considering the arches of the mock-Italian loggia in Odeonsplatz, modeled after the one in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. It was fitting that this was the setting for the Klassik am Odeonsplatz's final concert, a so-called "Notte Italiana" ("Italian night"), featuring the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (BRSO) conducted by Andris Nelsons, along with soprano Kristine Opolais and tenor Joseph Calleja.

© Golran Nitschke
© Golran Nitschke

Unfortunately, one difference between Germany and Italy is the likelihood of rain at an open-air concert. The program was severely curtailed by the purported threat of inclement weather, a storm that after the premature finale failed to materialize. With 8,000 audience members on folding chairs filling Odeonsplatz, though, the organizers' caution was perhaps understandable. The orchestral portions of the program remained intact, which turned out to be for the best.

I would accuse Andris Nelsons of playing for the TV cameras (who were broadcasting live on air as well as to large screens around the square), but I know from experience that he always conducts like this. His giant gestures and animated facial expressions are perfect for a big screen but also worked well with the orchestra. The BRSO is a first-rate group, and their choir is also excellent. Nelsons summoned unusually refined performances of the overture and opening chorus of Verdi's Nabucco. Despite amplification that tended to favor the winds, brass, and percussion, the precision of the playing came through, and the brass in particular played with burnished tone.

Nelsons' enthusiasm proved infectious during the colorful opening of Respighi's Pini di Roma ("Pines of Rome"), which the orchestra played with magical sparkle and lightness. The ghostly catacombs of the second movement were handled with subtlety and finely blended sound. In the third movement's bird call, the camera seemed to decide that this moment was not of the music but outside it, panning outward over the vast crowd towards the nature of the Hofgarten, only to stop short and inexplicably focus on Tambosi, the square's Italian coffee house. In the final movement, Nelsons engineered an exciting crescendo and again avoided bombast in music that is very bright and big.

The vocal selections were dizzyingly reshuffled. While both fine artists, the singers proved poorly matched to their material and to each other. Opolais' steely soprano can be raw and unsure of pitch, but rather exciting in high drama, while Calleja lets astonishingly beautiful tone do the work with minimal interference from matters of character or specific expression. Opolais had the poor luck to start with the difficult Easter Prayer from Cavalleria rusticana, which Nelsons took at a dignified pace. While the giant chorus sounded monumental, she sounded shaky and unsure of pitch in the solo passages. The orchestra then gave a pristine rendition of the Intermezzo from the same opera.

The focus was then switched to Puccini. Opolais rendered the popular chestnut "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi with an overwrought tremulousness that did its sweet simplicity no favors. This turned out to be her only solo selection, and one wonders if she was just having a bad night or some of the cut selections such as "Addio, addio, mio dolce amor!" from Edgar would have displayed her talents to better advantage.

If Opolais is a singer who had too much voice, Calleja gave the impression of having too little. He is an elegant singer of bel canto, but with music tending towards the melodramatic, on a stage this big, he was faceless and flat, or perhaps exhausted (his Twitter indicated that he had sung another, full, concert in his native Malta the previous night). His "E lucevan le stelle" (from Tosca) had some beautiful arching phrases but failed to project over the orchestra in the lower passages. His "Vesti la giubba" had an unconventional calm sadness, but ultiamtely was just not very interesting. In neither case did he create the drama of the doomed character, prefering to make mere beautiul music. He joined Opolais in "O soave fanciulla" from La Bohème, which found both singers in better form, he showing some more attention to the words and situation and the rapturous music better suiting her voice.

The finale was entrusted to the orchestra and choir, the Triumphal March and Hymn from Aida, where Nelsons produced just enough bombast for the occasion. The encores were conventional: the Brindisi from La traviata, with Calleja peacefully executing faultless turns and Opolais doing her best to throw herself into the music, and a solid "Va, pensiero" from Nabucco by the gigantic choir. While the weather can be capricious, some choices made in summer concerts are entirely predictable.