Do national musical styles still live on in an age of cultural globalization?
This proposition was put to the test at the Teatro alla Scala Academy Orchestra’s concert Wednesday night at Strathmore. The young musicians, students at the school associated with the most fabled of Italian opera houses, performed a mostly traditional, all-Italian program.
The program comprised the greatest operatic hits of Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, with a film score standing in for the 20th century. With its abundance of overtures and arias and interludes, the event took on the air of an end-of-year school recital: occasionally inspired, occasionally forgettable and generally competent, with a few forgivable bobbles and flubs.
With his lean, taut and propulsive readings, conductor Daniele Rustioni clearly sought to situate himself in a particular Italianate tradition. Rustioni cultivated a sound favoring clarity and rhythmic drive, yet too often the playing was clean to the point of blandness, wanting for more color and expressiveness, particularly in the strings. Rustioni’s podium histrionics only intermittently carried over to his players, most strikingly in an ebullient performance of the jazzy, syncopated circus music from Nino Rota’s “La Strada” suite.
South Korean tenor Jaeyoon Jung has a clear, sweet and attractive voice, yet in Donizetti’s iconic aria, “Una furtiva lagrima,” offered an overly square reading and failed to sustain a true legato line. The Act I love duet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” also revealed an undersized voice lacking in the requisite warmth, generosity and ardor.
Brazilian soprano Ludmilla Bauerfeldt showed promise as a lyric coloratura singer, with mostly strong trills and mostly clean runs in “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” She offered vivid, dramatic singing yet needs to tame her unwieldy upper register.
Is there still such a thing as a distinctive Italian school of music? On the basis of the academy’s recent performance, we must grade the results as incomplete.
Chin is a freelance writer.