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10 jun. 2013

EL ELISIR DE JOANNA

foto: Facebook Ambrogio Maestri

Ever since the moment that it was announced on the blog that Rolando would return to Barcelona to reprise his role as Nemorino, I determined that somehow, someway, I was going. Clearly the stars had aligned: Barcelona, the villazonistas, dear Teresa, the Liceu, L’elisir d’amore, and Rolando in one of his signature roles. This was not to be missed! Yes, this meant coming four thousand miles for two performances lasting a few hours, shedding serious doubts on the sanity of an otherwise fairly rational human being. Fortunately, I didn’t have to rob a bank to do this, although a few years in jail would have been well worth the price of this trip.

The pleasures of this experience were countless, but amongst the most memorable were being able to meet so many villazonistas in person. Somehow, upon meeting, we began talking in mid sentence as though we had known each other for years. Meeting Teresa was very special to me. I could write a separate essay about that, but perhaps another time and in another context. (I can’t help smiling as I write this, dear Teresa!) So here we were, coming from near and far, for Rolando. For Rolando!

I had first come to know Rolando from the Vienna recording of L’elisir d’amore, so this opera has always been particularly dear to me. Then followed the Barcelona recording and those iconic performances. Teresa pointed out in the post following the premier that the expectations for Rolando were huge. It crossed my mind that Rolando must be a masochist: who in his right mind would take on this risky business? I knew these performances would not be a repeat of those of 2005, but who would this Nemorino be?

First the premier. It was a given that this night would be staggering for me, so I entered el Gran Teatre del Liceu, found my seat, then stopped to take in the grandeur of the Teatre. What a difference from the massive and overwhelming cavern that is the Metropolitan Opera! The Liceu, for all of its magnificence, seemed friendlier and warmer, sized for human beings, not giants.

I waited…and waited…for what seemed an eternity.

Then the lights dimmed and the “birds” began to sing. There is Nemorino at the window, soon making his way down the stairs. The first thing that strikes me is Rolando’s movement on the stage. Athletic, graceful, agile, fluid. He “works” the stage with such ease, and no movement is wasted. Everything is there for a reason, and it contributes to the character.  On a DVD, you cannot appreciate the extent of his command of the stage because the camera is not always on him. But now you can see the range of what he does. Then comes “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara.” There is that voice that you can pick out of a thousand with ease! Right there, live, in front of me. We have all attempted in vain to describe that voice to no avail, so I won’t even bother to attempt it here. Well, you’ll permit me one more analogy, then I promise I’ll stop that futile business: a warm blanket on a cold night. Ah! There. No more.

I’ve always thought that there are two critical attributes to a great Nemorino: he must be both adorable and poignant. From the very first moments, Rolando is working his magic, drawing the audience in, compelling us to adore Nemorino whether we want to or not. A large part of this is irresistible charm and pure physical comedy, manifested at every turn. You can’t take your eyes off of him, or you will miss a gesture, a detail, a look that is like no other. 

Rolando’s flair for physical comedy is dazzling. The stairs on both sides of the stage are one of Rolando’s main props for gags. Whether he’s bouncing down the stairs on his posterior or ascending, taking a sharp turn on the landing, or hanging precariously on the railing (gasp!), he’s taking every advantage of whatever is on stage. One of the new gags occurs when Nemorino is attempting to eavesdrop on the conversation between Adina and Belcore as they plan their wedding. So as not to be seen, he slides down the steps on his stomach head first. Really? Yes, head first! I shake my head: only Rolando. Genius. Brilliant. Dangerous. The stunts of Harold Lloyd come to mind.

As the first act progresses, you grasp the heart of the matter: Rolando makes you care about Nemorino. You feel for Nemorino. What happens to him matters to you. Is the audience irresistibly drawn in? You find the answer in the scene in which the date of the wedding has been moved up to that very night. Nemorino sings, “Adina! Quest'oggi…No!” The way he utters that “No” is so touching, so poignant, that the whole audience as one murmurs “Aww,” in support of their unlikely hero. At that moment, I’m finding it hard to hold things together.

“Una furtive lagrima” is heartbreaking, luminous, and full of longing. It begins with the simple but powerful gesture of extending his hand up to the balcony across the stage, reaching out to Adina, who is so near and yet so far. The aria concludes, and the audience erupts into a thunderous roar. The warmth and tender affection shown by the audience to their Nemorino and the joy on Rolando’s face melt your heart.

The program ends with a swirl of images and sounds: Rolando clapping enthusiastically and encouraging us to clap in unison with him, hugs and kisses all around, and a final wave goodbye to the delighted audience. The television review the following day described it as a “real party.” What an understatement!

The second performance (the 30th) held its own very different set of surprises. Teresa has described the hubbub created by the royals and the less than cordial welcome they received. This is not an audience of tepid responses.

All these fireworks subsided, and my second and final performance began. The first performance was so overwhelming for me that I missed some of the details that I observed in the second performance. This time I could focus on the new Nemorino that Rolando had created. What struck me the most had to do with that second critical attribute, the one much more difficult to convey: the poignancy of our hero. In this Nemorino, I saw the poignancy that only experience brings. The poignancy of life when it doesn’t go as expected, not necessarily in a bad way, or a feeling of hope slipping away. The poignancy of life experienced intensely, with both joy and melancholy intertwined. It was clear to me that Rolando, both the human being and the artist, had been someplace, many places, and had something very new and very wonderful to offer in this Nemorino.

The vehicle of this poignancy is the poetry of the character and the artist: the extended arm, the longing gaze, the exquisite lyrics, and the sweet music, all so full of emotion. Music and poetry are the languages of emotion, but they succeed only when they move us. For that infinitesimal moment, time and the boundaries between human beings are suspended, and we partake of something that is bigger than we are and realize what is quintessentially human in us.

Never was this more apparent than in the second act when Rolando began to show signs that he was clearly  fighting a cold. Despite not feeling his best, Rolando dug deeply within himself to continue. And it was what he made of this moment that mattered.  Yes, some of Rolando’s notes were not perfect, but “Una furtiva lagrima” was something given to us with his whole body and soul, with everything that he had, through sheer force of will, heart, and determination. It was the gift of himself. Perhaps it was flawed, but it was so full of feeling and raw emotion, that we saw ourselves in him. Not a machine, but a human being.  The audience knew EXACTLY what was going on, and as he concluded, he was showered with cheers and bravos that equaled if not exceeded those of the 27th. Clearly moved by this outpouring of affection, Rolando placed his hand on his heart and beamed at his adoring public in thanks for a warm embrace of unconditional love that I have never, ever, seen before in a theatre. It made me think of Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles): “It was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.” It may not have been a flawless performance, but I would not have traded it for another, nor for the world.

Once again, the evening ended in a blur of cheers, bravos, and applause, making it clear that the real royalty present that night was there before us on the stage. With Rolando, the human being and the artist are two sides of the same royally-minted coin, the mould for which was shattered after that one and only use. It was a privilege to be there both nights and a cherished memory of our one and only Nemorino that I will never forget. 


Joanna from New York

30 comentarios:

  1. Querida Joanna, cálido, emocionante, riquísimo comentario... fluído en palabras y descripciones...una frase:"adorable y conmovedor Nemorino"...exactamente eso es Rolando/Nemorino...los puristas que critican y descalifican, se pierden de "sentir" el regalo artístico de Rolando en el escenario.
    Para los que no estuvimos gozando ésta actuación, nos queda la esperanza de 1 DVD (habrá?)para disfrutar de los gags, que cuentas.
    Gracias Joanna y gracias Teresa porque siempre eres generosa dando oportunidad a Villazonistas para que se expresen.
    Dos abrazos

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    1. Dear Nilda, you are so right: those who choose to criticize lose a great gift that should be cherished. Thanks so much.

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  2. Janet from Massachusetts11/6/13 4:32

    Joanna, Of all your many wonderful posts, I think this one is the very best! How eloquently and how precisely you have captured and described the magic of what Rolando creates on the stage both as a singer and an actor. Your description of him slithering down the stairs on his stomach to eavesdrop on Adina and Belcore, I can almost see it, but really can't believe it!
    Isn't it wonderful to go all those miles to see him perform and isn't it worth every single mile?! I've done this four times already: seeing him as Lenski in Berlin, Werther in London, and Hoffmann in Munich. And best of all: Nemorino in his comeback in Vienna in 2010!!Yes, that warm embrace of unconditional love from the audience — it was certainly there that night in Vienna as the audience cheered for 6 minutes after "Una furtiva"! And it's like no other experience in the theater just as Rolando is like no other performer!
    Looking forward to meeting you at the Met in November for "Eugene Onegin"!
    P.S. Your quote from "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" is perfect!!

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    1. Dear Janet, yes! It was worth every inch of those miles to see the magic. And I look forward to meeting you at the Met for Onegin! No wheelchair this time, please! They say no one dies on stage like Rolando. I can't wait to see him die! No wait, that came out wrong. ;))) See you in a few months!

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  3. AgenteGDL11/6/13 7:24

    Dear Joanna.

    For 15 minuts, I was there. Thank you very much.

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  4. absente depuis 8 jours ! Merveille Joanna (quel bonheur de vous avoir rencontré ) nous fais revivre cet Elixir .
    Merci pour cette belle description,cet échange vrai,passionné ,passionnant ,juste .Rolando même avec quelques faiblesses reste unique de par sa présence ,son jeu ,sa drôlerie ,sa sensibilité et son timbre unique .
    Joanna votre sourire reste un heureux moment de la belle soirée du 27 mai.
    Rencontres plurielles qui m'ont enchantées.Merci Térésa de nous permettre de vivre des moments magiques .

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    1. It was a pleasure to meet you, too, Claudine! What a night! What a week! Thank you.

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  5. What a heartfelt report of two ideas. Rolando is not just a singer, he is an artist of special format. An artist, as it rarely gives him and for everyone who can see and hear him again and again an unforgettable experience that you will not forget and the heart opens wide. Thank you for this report, although I could not be there, I can be a bit witness.

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    1. Thank you, Anna! I completely empathize when you talk about all those who cannot be there in person. I am certain that he appreciates the love and support even though he cannot see each individual face.

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  6. Thanks Joanna, merci beaucoup pour ton récit qui décrit si justement les moments uniques et si intenses que de voir Rolando sur scène dans un opéra.
    La magie de la présence de Rolando sur scène ne peut être rendue par un DVD.
    Chaque geste, expression, n'est pas toujours captée par la caméra, Rolando : il ne faut pas le quitter des yeux une seconde.
    J'en ai eu l'expérience avec les contes d'Hoffmann à Munich, où il était éblouissant (comme toujours) et où la caméra n'avait pas réussi à retransmettre la présence intense de Rolando.
    J'ai eu un énorme plaisir de faire ta connaissance, chère Joanna, tu es telle que je l'imaginais grâce à tes récits, pleine de sensibilité, d'intelligence, d'humour.
    J'ai hâte de lire ton récit sur Teresa je prévois de beaucoup rire, et le rire est souverain.....
    kisses, besos,bisous

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    1. Dear Daniele, it was a pleasure to meet you, too! We didn't need any formal introductions, did we? I have already told Teresa that I know the title of my story about her: "Teresa Escorts Joanna to the Best Catalan Restaurant in Barcelona where the Silly American Becomes Ill Despite the Fantastic Food. Yikes!" Stay tuned for the mini-series: "A Pathetic American in Barcelona."

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  7. Endless thanks, Joanna, for this chronicle.
    You are able to describe every breathtaking, stunning, fabulous moments, our feelings while listening to the VOICE, all this touching, emotive, poignant atmosphere Rolando creates vocally, but also physically with his stage presence.

    In Barcelona we had a wholly new conception of Nemorino. I felt that especially strongly on June 2nd and 5th. Rolando offered us a human being giant and extremely vulnerable at the same time.

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    1. Thank you, dear Eleonore! An unforgettable week with unforgettable performances by the one and only Rolando!

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  8. Catherincita11/6/13 11:13

    Difficile d'ajouter un commentaire autre qu'un "MERCI", même si ce simple mot semble dérisoire . Ta chronique, chère Joanna, m'a émue profondément tant les mots choisis coulent avec aisance,sincérité et spontanéïté.
    Tellement de tendresse et d'admiration exprimées, tellement de remarques "vraies" pour décrire le magnétisme exercé par Rolando sur le public, la poésie de son interprétation, sa fantaisie aux multiples facettes et son naturel incroyable qui séduisent les spectateurs, individuellement et ensemble pour, au final déclencher une explosion d'enthousiasme et de bonheur.
    Oui, écouter et voir Rolando se résument en un mot : BONHEUR !
    Many thanks dear Joanna !
    Muchas gracias querido Rolando !

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    1. Thank you, dear Catherine! I've never experienced what I saw those nights, the magic of it all. It's still a kaleidoscope, and I'm still dazzled by it all. But mostly moved. Yes, mostly moved.

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  9. Gracias querida Joanna, es un narración maravillosas, imagino toda esa magia descrita sobre Rolando y la disfruto muchísimo, una vez más gracias por compartir está grata e inolvidable experiencia.

    Teresa muchas gracias.

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    1. Thank you, Monika! It was my pleasure. And, yes, endless thanks to dear Teresa, without whom none of this is possible.

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  10. Dearest Joanna,
    I was out all day, so it is only now that I can react to your fantastic story and article ! Your talent is there and remains unchanged. You always find the right words, to express the feelings and emotion not only of yourself, but you have the talent to describe these also of the other Villazonistas, who have been able to assist so many times to l'Elisir of Rolando.You give a psychologic, philosophic , human , and appreciative and caring review, and you transmit to us a Rolando/Nemorino as a lively person, as one of us, actually !
    I hope you had the opportunity to meet Rolando, so that he himself could have told you how wonderful your stories in general are and I am so sure that, when he reads your review, this time, he will be thrilled and amazed to discover how well you know him and that you are able to reveal and describe all his feelings, gestures, and emotions.

    You are a born writer; an excellent observer, an empathic and sensible person. Must be, looking at all your wonderful literary masterpieces.
    Please, dearest, give us more of all this. And I have to tell you how happy I was to have met you and I hope it will not be the last time.

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    1. Dear Mariù, thank you for all your kind words. It was lovely to meet you, and I am sure that we will see each other at another Rolando event in the future!

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  11. I just head the CD "Zarzuelas" by Rolando and that jokes me think that I hove discussed with my joy . My friends the say Rolando is lo longer what he was. I say then, ofter such a serious operation
    with this incredible risk can nothing like before.
    But his voice is again so beautiful and his personality on the stage so unique that it would be an incredible loss not to see him, I not say When Rolando no longer sings for us, we have we have a bad word!!

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    1. Yes, dear Anna, a world with Rolando in it is definitely a good world! If your friends criticize Rolando, they are choosing to deprive themselves of the pleasure of knowing an amazing and unique artist. It is their loss.

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  12. Brava Joanna! I love reading your comments. Pope said genius is saying 'What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed'. It's funny that when I try to describe Rolando's art to friends I find it difficult. All I can say to them is that when I think of Rolando, in comparison to other singers, I think he is like a tiger to their nightingale 'burning bright'. Only poetry can really do Rolando justice. I find it hard to express how his art makes me feel but you do it so well. Thank you.:)

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    1. Thank you, dear silverrose! It is difficult to describe him: maybe all we can do is send him "cariño" (the most beautiful word in the Spanish language) and support him. In the end, I think that's what matters most to him.

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  13. MariaAngélica12/6/13 7:51

    Es realmente emocionante leer estas crónicas sobre Rolando. Desde ARGENTINA los felicito a todos los Villazonistas y casi diría los envidio, como quisiera ser uno de Ustedes y estar ahi, viendo en directo al maravilloso. único, gigante ROLANDO VILLAZÓN. Gracias JOANNA, tu excelente crónica ayuda mucho a sentir realidad este deseo. Dios las bendiga, porque con TERESA, mantienen inalterable a través de este BLOG, el merecido y destacado sitio que tiene ROLANDO en la lírica mundial.

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    1. Dear MariaAngelica, thank you so much for your kind words. I totally understand how important it is to have news of Rolando when you are far away. So many times, I've read these accounts from far, far away, enjoying each detail of Rolando's adventures. It's a pleasure to be able to do the same for my fellow villazonistas.

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  14. Joanna, thank you very much to share your thoughts and feelings of this your first time seeing and listening to our very much loved Rolando. It's always a pleasure to read you and this time that pleasure is doubled by your trip to Barcelona. Kisses.

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    1. Thank you, dear Gabriela. As it happens, this is not my first time seeing Rolando--I had that pleasure in Philadelphia for the Verdi Requiem last October. But, every time you see Rolando is like the first time--it is so fresh, alive, and full of surprises!

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  15. Dear Joanna ...
    What a vibrant description of your “Elisir” experience with Rolando! As you rightly say, there is nothing like a live performance – but as I’m at the other ends of the earth, it was nice to share your insight. As some of the others have already said, I felt like I was there!
    For the better part of 30 years Nemorino has been one of my favourite opera characters. I think those who dismiss him as the “village idiot” do him a great injustice. To me he has an inborn and instinctive wisdom that transcends formal education, and one only has to listen to his first duet with Adina to see that he has a poet’s soul. In years past I always enjoyed the CD recording of José Carreras and Katia Ricciarelli – but never found a video/DVD performance that embodied the right mix of playfulness and poignancy that this lovely opera deserves … until I saw the wonderfully-cast 2005 Vienna State Opera DVD with Rolando and friends. Here at last was “my” Nemorino, just as I’d always envisaged him!
    He made me laugh and cry … and still does, every time I watch the opera. Later I added the 2005 Liceu DVD to my collection, and have watched Rolando’s brilliant 2012 Baden Baden “Wild West” production on YouTube. In both of them I see new and beautiful facets of Nemorino – but the Vienna performance will always be special to me. The whole cast seemed to reach inside themselves and draw out the true essences of their characters.
    As for the ongoing debate about “changes” in Rolando’s voice – it’s interesting to read the comments of some people – but, for goodness sake, every singer’s voice changes over the years, with or without surgery! As for me, I don’t waste time in making comparisons … I listen to the irresistible exuberance of the young Rolando, I listen to the maturity and depth of the older Rolando … and I love them both!
    Best Regards from Shelley in Australia

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  16. Dear Shelley from Australia, thanks for the comments! I, too, have adored this character for a long time. I've loved the DVDs with Pavarotti/Battle (the Met) and Alanga/Gheorghiu--both brilliant. But once you've seen Rolando's Nemorino, he becomes, as you nicely put, "my Nemorino." There's no going back! And as far as the tedious comments about Rolando's voice, I often find them extremely superficial, one-dimensional, and not worth the effort to read them. I agree: forget the comparisons! Revel in the glory of Rolando, the ever-evolving artist!

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