REVIEW: Joyful concert under full moon – Towards the Gala opening ceremony of the sixty-second Ohrid Summer Festival

In the rich history of the Ohrid Summer Festival many a name of world renowned artists have been inscribed as part of the programmes of the gala opening ceremonies and concerts of the Festival. The presence of artists from the sphere of vocal art, many renowned opera performers, singers from all around the world have enriched the variety of the most significant musical and performing manifestation in Macedonia. Undoubtedly, the energy of Ana Lipsha Tofovikj, who in 1961 inspired the spirit of the festival, transfers through the numerous Ohrid Summer Festivals and guides new audiences in expectation of unveiled opera stars from all meridians. Elena Obraztsova, Jose Carreras, Jessie Norman, Dmitry Hvorostovsky, Elina Garanca are only one part of those who, with their vocals, ennobled the magical podiums of the Ancient Theatre and the St Sophia church in Ohrid. Artists come to Ohrid, bestow audiences with their interpretations, and in the same time take sips from the unique beauty of our pearl which inspires and creates desire for coming back again.

This sixty-second Ohrid Summer Festival, according to the established tradition, on 12th July, St. Peter’s Day, started with concerts of the young, but already affirmed “Four Italian Tenors”, the Orchestra of the National Opera and Ballet from Skopje and the conductor Lorenzo Bizzarri from Italy. A first glance to the programme tells us that this time the artistic-organizational management of the Ohrid Summer Festival opted for a relaxed concept that will reach a wider audience and at least for a moment will inject joy and optimism to the thousands spectators at the Ancient Theatre. There is no doubt that the “Four Italian Tenors” will be put on the large list of followers of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. Those legendary artists from the 90s of the last century at a large scale gave the world a new interpretation of the art of opera. It was a tendency to “take out” the opera from the tight circles of the old European theatre houses, to breathe in it the breath of popular music through well-known pop melodies and in that way to create a new artistic form resembling the ultra-modern Broadway musicals, or the charming “medley” prepared by fancy singers at the San Remo Festival. Puritan criticism had its tries to discredit and annihilate these performances, but all in vain, new times and the pop culture expansion set the famous tenors on a pedestal and they became favourites of millions. Completely predictable, their entertaining concept was gladly accepted by many young artists, soloists, who trying to position chose the already tested “receipt” and became their followers. All around the world!

The young “Four Italian Tenors”, which we heard at this gala opening of Ohrid Summer Festival, obviously follow this way. Attending their solo and joint performances at opera stages, gala concerts as well as at the Ohrid Summer Festival, we can conclude that they give performances full of emotion and open desire to animate the audience, include a dose of humour, likeability and charm in their expression.

Conceived as a collage of classical opera arias and well-known Italian, Neapolitan and Spanish songs and instrumental pieces, the repertoire we heard ranged from: the classical opera scene in the Verdi’s majestic overture from the opera “Carmina Burana”, the arias“Il lamento di Federico“ from the opera “L’arlesiana” by Francesco Cilea, “Una fortiva lagrima“ from “L’elisir d’amore” by Donizetti, the Verdi’s timeless “La donna e mobile“, “Nesun dorma“ by Giacommo Pucinni, a playful entertaining musical with the songs  “La Spagnola“, “Granada“, “Volare“, “Mama“ “Torna a Suriento“, the inevitable “O Sole mio”, up to the humorous Neapolitan tarantella by Luigi Denza “Finiculi, Finicula”, which leads us in the world of the joyful Italian wedding fiesta. We are not surprised by any means, knowing that the careers of the “Four Italian Tenors” is managed by one of the world centres of fun and show business – Broadway!

However, if we direct our focus on the artists’ performance, the view on this joyful spectacle gains another dimension, because each genre in any sphere of music gets raised by a quality interpretation. It provides the artistic creation with a real vision. The concert for the Gala opening of the sixty-second Ohrid Summer Festival given by the Italian tenors and the Orchestra of the National Opera and Ballet was an aesthetic experience and a call for celebrating life and enthusiasm.

The audience sang along the popular arias with the Italian tenors, obviously delighted, and we heard them originally. The interpretation was a complete reflection of the Italian ‘bel canto’ singing which embraces, above all, intonation stability, emphasized romantic art expression and exaggerated innate musicality. Alessandro Di Acrissa, Fecerico Serra, Giovanni Maria Palmia and Hugo Tarquini are not a unique formation and belong to the list of many similar ensembles inspired by the style of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, but each of them possesses a specific vocal peculiarity and excellent vocal technique, so their performance has an authentic energy and intensity. In Alessandro Di Acrissa that is a high and light tenor color, Federico Serra is a lyric tenor with a velvet, gentle vocal especially likeable in the pianissimo parts, Giovanni Maria Palmia enchants the audience with expressive passionate singing, whereas Hugo Tarquini with his powerful vocal. The popular solo aria and songs were performed in excellent arrangements for duos, trios and quartets, which filled the Antic Theatre with voluminous sound resonance.

As a personal impression we can point out that a special star of the performance was the conductor Lorenzo Bizzarri, who, with his charm, obvious musicality, but also his excellent sense and knowledge of the music matter, made a great synergy with the musicians in the Orchestra of the National Opera and Ballet, in a way that the whole ensemble sounded compact, energetic and elated. The artists on stage, connecting well, managed to pass a strong joyful energy to the audience. The evening under full moon at the back was one more magical décor.

We mark this concert as an important cultural event which passed messages for peace, for the humane dimension of the music, giving the core essence of life, but also as a reminder of the features of the Macedonian national identity. From the scene of the Antic Theatre, their messages gave the President and patron of the Festival, Stevo Pendaroski, the Minister of Culture Bisera Kostadinovska – Stojchevska, as well as the baritone Goran Nachevski. We can only add that the existence of this renowned cultural event in its own way contributes to the building of our cultural identity. It is because Ohrid Summer Festival is our unique Macedonian podium where worldwide artistic creations of different authors intersect.

Vikica Kostoska – Peneva – musicologist