★★★☆☆ Alagna and Stagg are stellar, but staging, lighting and programme raise concerns.

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
July 21, 2016

I’d expected more from this concert. In fact, more opera for a start, for Roberto Alagna is one of the world’s top opera tenors. However, the bulk of the evening’s programme was Neapolitan song, and for me (and splendid though the better ones are) a little goes a long way. Happily for the audience, it was all just fine, as they cheered and clapped along with the more boisterous numbers and cooed dreamily elsewhere. 

Alagna’s singing was generous and full-throated, with thrilling top notes. He sings songs such as Santa Lucia and Finiculi Funiculà, to the manner born. (Luigi Denza wrote the famous song for the opening of the Naples funicular railway in 1880.) The operatic content was excellent, with Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg well matched with Alagna. Her solo items were among the best things of the night. From a moving O mio babbino caro by Puccini, to a dazzling Non ti Scordar di me by Ernesto de Curtis.

Siobhan Stagg © WinkiPoP Media

The pickup band was uneven, though with excellent strings, at their best during the Act 3 Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Elsewhere, such as during the impressive opening of Verdi’s Nabucco Overture, the brass playing let things down. Other welcome operatic moments were overtures to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Verdi’s Force of Destiny and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

The knockabout stage business, during which Alagna wooed the audience with sly winks and harmless innuendo, wore a bit thin after a while. Many of the items were accompanied by piano, which was very odd considering there was a large orchestra sitting mute nearby metaphorically twiddling its thumbs. Melbourne pianist, Giovanni Turcio, accompanied well. Then there were the lighting effects, which like the orchestra and the clumsy stage business, appeared under-rehearsed. This also meant that the light show rarely matched what was being sung and simply appeared puerile.

Alagna is a star turn, and can be allowed a bit of fun from time to time provided one knows what one is in for. The notes reminded us that “he began as a Parisian cabaret singer and still enjoys performing popular songs that reflect his unique background”. My companion at the concert enjoyed it all hugely, commenting that he thought “Alagna was a great cabaret artist with an almost Chaplinesque range of gestures and poses, using the Steinway as a prop with all the aplomb of Sinatra. I’d have preferred more variety in the choice of solo numbers, but I guess there must be a lot of people out there, even today, for whom those Sicilian songs are the pinnacle.” On the other side, a man in the coffee line during the interval was furious, complaining that he paid top dollar to hear a top tenor; he did not bargain for the wayward and distracting light show nor the use of microphones. Quite.

Roberto Alagna performs in Melbourne on July 27 and Brisbane on July 30


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