Donizetti, L’Elisir d’Amore
The National Opera of Albania hit the stage of the Palace of Culture of Tirana this evening with Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Almost everything screamed “high school” theater about this production. The auditorium is the same one used for orchestra concerts, and even with the stage retracted partly to open an orchestra pit, the space is just not that large and the acoustics are not so great. But sitting directly in front, I could hear (friends sitting a few rows back said they could not hear).
More importantly, I could see (well, I did have to shield my eyes from some of the stage lights pointing at wrong angles): this cast had fun. What they lacked in talent they more than made up for in enthusiasm, and that counts for a lot to make a performance enjoyable. I did not expect much, so just having a fun night at the opera hit the spot.
The Adina, Eriola Gjyzeli Dragoicea, was actually rather good. Vladimir Sazdovsky as Dulcamara had a lively, if not large, baritone voice and Elson Braha as Nemorino had a very pleasant tenor voice as long as he did not try to project it (every time he tried to project, his voice cracked, but when singing softly he sounded very nice indeed). Everyone else on stage clearly had a good time, and the stage director allowed them to do so. I think he went to the market to buy the props, and told the cast to just bring odd clothes from their own closets to use as costumes, so there was no logic to the staging other than giving the singers the chance to ham it up, which they did.
The orchestra, under Eddi de Nadai, provided a useful accompaniment when playing underneath the singers, although the exposed orchestral parts were less pleasant.
A colleague from work brought her not-quite-five-year-old daughter, who also had fun. So it was clearly contagious.
I finally decided to venture into the Tirana Palace of Culture for a concert this evening. I think the last time I attended a concert in the Balkans, it was the Kosovo Philharmonic in Pristina’s dismal Red Hall, of which about all I could say was they knew how to hold their instruments. Today with the Albanian Radio-Television Orchestra was certainly better. The Palace of Culture, a depressing building, was also better. But I was starved for live music, so I will go back.
The Palace of Culture was originally designed by Russian Communists, which is about all you need to know to understand the design concept. However, after construction began, nasty Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha decided that the Russians were no longer nasty enough, so he broke relations and the Palace of Culture was never finished, and even today looks like it did in the 1950s but even more run down. They’ve painted the inside red and black, so if they dimmed the lights I might have thought it was a large concrete brothel. Fortunately they kept the house lights up.
The orchestra was actually better than I expected. They do have proper music education in Albania, unlike in Kosovo, so people can be trained. But since they do not really pay, anyone good goes abroad. That said, the first chair woodwinds were OK. The rest sounded like a warped 45 lp vinyl record. Conductor Jetmir Babullushi was an animated sort.
The program was short, at a little over an hour without an intermission. The first work was the world premiere of Albanian composer Aleksandër Lalo’s “Jealosy” – a poem for guitar, cello, and orchestra. This was a tonal work of no particular interest and no discernible structure. The soloists, Admir Doçi (guitar) and Aristidh Prosi (cello) played into microphones, which threw the whole balance off. The piece was soon over.
For the main work, they chose the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. The orchestra performed with more drama than talent, particularly when the hero got guillotined in the fourth movement. At least everyone was smiling in the end, which meant that the atmosphere on leaving the concert was more pleasant than leaving a concert in Moscow, even if the music did not meet the standard.