Diva!

Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava’s recital last night at Koerner Hall felt like stepping into something of a time warp.  The diva sweeps on stage in a ginormous cape (all that was missing was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue).  The first half of the programme is Russian art song (Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov) but there are no surtitles or translations or words of introduction which is a bit hard on non Russian speakers.  There’s tumultuous applause after every damn song (and sometimes in the middle); accepted with gracious condescension and grand gestures.  On the odd occasion the pianist is invited to accept applause she demurely takes three steps backward lest she should be seen to share the limelight.  It’s all a bit like watching Lady Catherine de Bourgh accompanied by her talented but penniless niece.  I have no idea whether this is the “real” Hibla Gerzmava or some sort of act that she or her promoters think the Russian diaspora expects but it felt very weird.

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The second half was split between Italian opera arias (Donizetti, Verdi and Bellini) and French art song (Hahn and Fauré).  Still no texts, intros or surtitles but at least the material was more familiar.  Then the obligatory standing O, flashy encores and enough flowers to stock an industrial scale florists.

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So how was the singing?  The art song was, I think, quite excellent.  Ms. Gerzmava does have a very velvety smooth voice and it looks like she knows how to tell a story though since I couldn’t understand the words how could I really tell?.  With surtitles this could have been really very good.  Ekaterina Ganelina at the piano was pretty much the ideal accompanist.  Gerzmava’s French art song was good too with quite precise diction.  The opera arias I was less convinced by.  The Verdi; “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from La forza del destino, was excellent; full blooded and passionate.  The bel canto; the mad scene from Anna Bolena and “Casta Diva” from Norma were a bit mixed.  Again, some rather beautiful singing but coloratura doesn’t seem to be her strong suit.  Maybe it’s just too big and rich a voice to navigate quick runs?

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Summing up, the whole thing had a rather old fashioned quality.  Most singers nowadays try to connect with the audience on a human level rather than position themselves as an object of worship.  I guess she knows her audience.  Chacun a son gout.

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Photos by Vladimir Kevorkov.

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