Review: Yahoo for Ermonela Jaho! at Palau de la Musica Tribute to Victoria de los Angeles

Franz Schubert Filharmonia under Grau Celebrates in Style in Barcelona

By: Mar. 13, 2024
Review: Yahoo for Ermonela Jaho! at Palau de la Musica Tribute to Victoria de los Angeles
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It’s hard to compete with a dazzling concert hall like Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica Catalana—designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of Antonio Gaudi’s contemporaries in the modernista (i.e., Catalan Art Nouveau) style and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or, with the famed Catalan (yes, not Spanish) diva Victoria de los Angeles, a Met favorite, whose centenary was being celebrated. Nonetheless, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho did quite impressively in her house debut at the Palau with the Franz Schubert Filharmonia under Tomas Grau.

It was an old-fashioned program—even the new piece, Albert Guinovart’s “Simfonia dels Angels,” would have been at home in a more gracious time than our own. Yet, it seemed to bring great pleasure to the audience who came to hear what all the shouting is about with soprano Jaho, as well as pay tribute to de los Angeles, a “local girl” who made good on the world’s stages in her heyday of the late 1940s to the early ‘60s. (She partnered with famed Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling in a trio of classic recordings, LA BOHEME, I PAGLIACCI and MADAMA BUTTERFLY.)

The first half of the concert was devoted to a group of arias by Puccini, whose work has brought acclaim to Jaho in places like Covent Garden and the Paris Opera, as well as Barcelona’s own Liceu, among many others. (At the Met, she’s been Violetta in what the Times called “a sensitive, unique vision of a classic.”) It might not have been exactly the centenary of the birth of de los Angeles, which fell last November, but who’s counting? The two sopranos shared some of the same repertoire and Jaho is a fine singing-actress.

Following an orchestral interlude from Puccini’s EDGAR, which was the epitome of the composer's style in the careful hands of the Filharmonia and Grau, Jaho became a quintessential Mimi, in “Si. Mi chiamano Mimi,” floating the music like it had been written for her. She turned the aria into a mini-opera of its own, sometimes interacting with the conductor, as she let her voice bloom.

Though her voice isn't huge, she knows how to project so it sounds larger (similar to de los Angeles) and also how to bring out different vocal colors in each of the arias that she sings. For example, she darkened her sound considerably for Liu’s aria, “Tu che i gel sei cinta,” while she followed the orchestral intermezzo from SUOR ANGELICA with the opera’s famed aria, “Senza mama,” bringing a real poignance, yet with glimpses of happiness, to her portrayal.

She then turned to an aria that’s become something of a calling card for her: MADAMA BUTTERFLY’s “Un bel di,” which brought out a silky sheen in her singing and finished the printed part of her program with a charming version of GIANNI SCHICCHI’s “O mio babbino caro.” As an encore, Jaho returned for an almost hypnotic reading of a piece by…Verdi!...the "Ave Maria" from OTELLO, understated and gorgeous.

The second half of the program was the world premiere of Guinovart’s symphony dedicated to de los Angeles, for whom he’d been accompanist at one point in his life. (She died in 2005.) While I’m well aware of the differences in musical styles from country to country, more than that was involved in the kinds of sounds with which he filled the Palau. His "Simfonia" was an eclectic composition that seemed to have little of this century’s stamp on it: I thought I heard a little Tchaikovsky COQ D’OR, perhaps a bit of Bernstein’s “Miss Subways” from ON THE TOWN, etc.

Certainly, there was some beautiful orchestral writing—for the oboe, the flute, the trumpet, in particular—and Jaho was well featured in the symphony as well, showing that Guinovart knows how to write in a way that highlights the loveliest parts of a performer's voice. Maybe even de los Angeles would have liked it for herself. The music certainly seemed to leave the audience sounding happy.

Photo: Soprano Ermonela Jaho and conductor Tomas Grau

Credit: Marti E. Berenguer



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