Date: January 28, 2011
Location: The Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Hong Kong.
Together with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, guest conductor Carlo Rizzi delivered a formidable all-French program: Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, Op. 7, and Debussy’s Images for the orchestra. Antonacci has recently made Les nuits her own, having sung the piece with Sir Colin Davis at Champs-Élysées, with Bruno Bartoletti in Parma, and with young superstar Tugan Sokhiev in Munich and Ferrara. The sultry timbre of Antonacci’s voice, her crisp vocal agility and her ability to secure low registers allow her to handle mezzo-like, technically daunting endeavors such as Les nuits with relative ease. But her performance tonight did not fit the bill: her timbre was somewhat banal and uninspiring, and her emotional colorings were the same whether she was singing about springtime love in Villanelle or a lover’s death in Sur les lagunes. Rizzi’s Images was not marginally better: all the notes were dutifully presented, but Rizzi’s rendition lacked the shade of “Frenchness” imprinted in Debussy’s works. Granted, Images carries geo-locational subtleties, but that Gallic absence seemed to betray Debussy’s mystical presence in his glittering, free-flowing passages. In a theme-less work such as Images, the lack of Debussy’s skeleton made the piece somewhat hollow and, to put it more bluntly, dragging to endure. The audience’s response was lukewarm, as much due to the fact that it was the Friday night before a long national holiday as it was a retort to the concert planners trying too hard to make possible an academically stimulating but hard-to-please program.