So what's the opera like in Albania?

1 Maj 2023, 18:32Culture Jonathan Sutherland

The Opera House, built during the Hoxha dictatorship, has a Communist-bunker feel about it. The acoustics were thin, dry and totally devoid of resonance. Public areas are non-existent and the only bar is located in the Opera Cafe next door.

The orchestra consisted of fewer than 50 players in the pit, including 6 first violins and only 2 contrabasses. The singing diction was poor. It took me 15 minutes into Act 1 to realise they were actually singing Sannt-Saens Samson et Dalila in the original French.

There were surtitles in Albanian for those who didn’t speak French and surtitles in French for French speakers who couldn’t understand a word. The staging was minimal – to put it kindly. Six wobbly Stonehenge-ish monoliths comprised the entire three act mis-en-scène with small additions of a future fornicating bed for Dalila in Act 2 and some steps in Act 3.

The director decided to minimalize textual fidelity. Rather than slaying Abimélech with his own sword, the indominatable Israelite merely renders the smarmy Satrap inanimate with a fatal nudge on the shoulder. There were no nefarious Philistines lurking behind Dalila’s bedroom to give the horny hero a buzzcut and blinding. Samson simply walked out of Dalilas bedroom and came back in Act 3 with a coupe balkanique and raccoon eyes. Instead of a small boy leading Samson to the pillars as specified in the libretto, two Philistine soldiers tie him to two sides of the temple, enabling the one-man wrecking ball to wreak havoc. The Spring-loving priestesses of Dagon seemed as miserable as the enslaved Hebrews. The orgiastic Bacchanal had the eroticism of a Sunday afternoon barn dance in an old folks home. There were no programmes so the names of the singers remain a mystery.

The extremely tall Samson had an interesting timbre strongly reminiscent of Luciano Pavarotti but with serious technical shortcomings. Anything softer than mezzo-forte became ugly and swallowed but the top B-flats were clarion. One hopes a work in progress. At the conclusion, the audience rose (almost) as one in a standing ovation. One wonders how they would react to a semi-decent performance.

Lini një Përgjigje