Arts & Culture

Arthur Espiritu debuts as Pollione in Norma in Oper Klosterneuburg, Austria

Arthur Espiritu as Pollione in Norma.

Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu debuts as the Roman consul Pollione in the opera Norma by Bellini at Oper Klosterneuburg in Austria July 6 to August 4, 2024.

The other lead singers in the Bellini opera are Karina Flores, Margarita Gritskova and Beniamin Pop.

Norma is paired back to back with the new staging of Don Carlo with Espiritu in the title role as part of the opera festival offering.

The Bellini opera  will be conducted by Christoph Campestrini with direction by Monica I. Rusu-Radman with the Beethoven Philharmonic and the  Operklosterneuburg Choir.

An excerpt from the opera Norma was savored by Manila audiences when Romanian-British diva Nelly Miricioiu sang the opera’s famous aria, Casta diva with the Viva Voce choir under Camile Lopez Molina at the Ayala Museum in 2017.  La Miricioiu sang the Bellini favorite in one season of Rome Opera in the 90s.

Norma is described in the Vienna marketing teaser as a stirring drama full of love, intrigue and epic settings. “Enter a world where druid priestess Norma is torn between sacred duties and a forbidden love for a Roman proconsul. In the splendor of the imperial court, this story becomes an intense musical experience. Feel the dramatic tension when the conflict between duty and passion is brought to life in a symphonic production in the magnificent Klosterneuburg Abbey.”

Norma staging of 2024 is also described as a “cultural gem nestled within the majestic Imperial court of Klosterneuburg Abbey. Set against the backdrop of this historic abbey in Klosterneuburg, Austria, Norma presents an enchanting fusion of music, art, and history.

Arthur Espiritu as Pollione with Margarita Gritskova as Adalgisa in Norma.

As one of the most prestigious events in the region, Norma 2024 promises an immersive experience that transports you to another era. The Imperial court provides a grand and elegant setting for the performances, evoking the splendor of bygone times.”

The successful production of Don Carlo in 2023 is also back led by the outstanding opera star Günther Groissböck in the role of Philip II.

The Filipino tenor said there wasn’t much time when Oper Klosterneuburg presented the Bellini role to him. “As of the moment, it feels okay as long as I don’t listen to current singers singing this role now.  I find it exciting that I can still go for the notes that were originally written by Bellini.  Most of the heavier more dramatic tenors will opt to do the lowered options.  There are some melismas and coloratura passages and some great trios and duets in this opera. (Melismatic music is when a singer stretches a syllable to fit more than one musical note. A singer can turn syllabic music into melismatic music by decorating the melody with extra notes.) There are some very heartbreaking show of passages and sections in the music where I plan on taking advantage of.”

The tenor said he will probably take some risks on repeats and opt for high note replacements. “There is this beautiful duet with Adalgisa and the trio with both Norma and Adalgisa.  Bellini truly has a gift for beautiful melody writing. Moreover, these harmonies can go on for a long time without getting bored with it.  I plan on singing this with my own voice and we will see how it plays out.  So long as I maintain my lyricism, I think I will be on the right track.”

The open-air venue of the Oper Klosterneuburg where Arthur Espiritu will perform as Pollione in Norma. Photo from www.Oper Klosterneuburg

In the Klosterneuburg coming engagements, Espiritu is singing five Normas and and five Don Carlo.

It is bad enough that Don Carlo and Norma don’t have the same vocal demands. “Don Carlo is more lyric and higher for me, I think.  It fits my voice well at the time where my voice currently stands.  Norma requires more wholesome delivery and execution but it can be sung in a fuller lyric manner to make way for the more demanding higher extension of the tenor voice. Perhaps I should focus on executing the lower harmonics of the low to mid voicing of the lines.  Again, this will depend on the other singers which I’m quite sure they have the capacity to be more bel canto.”

As Espiritu does his research in who sings Pollione, he finds out there is great mixed bag of very dramatic tenors. “They all sound great but it does not have the ties to the old tenors such as one Domenico Donzelli whom Bellini wrote it for. It showed off his range from low D to high C.  But then Giacomo Lauri-Volpi upped it to new heights as well as Giovanni Martinelli. I believe that this can be done by such a tenor like myself.”

As he has done in the past, Espiritu pointed out he likes a good challenge. “I like to put myself in this position to see how competitive I can be with it. I can feel that excitement before opening night.   Such is how I view my artistic career thus far.  I take calculated risks.”

He admits the role of Pollione requires great technique and understanding of the bel canto style of singing.” It needs a great capacity for singing beautiful lines without it being too strident and pushed.  Not many can achieve this.  Especially on that number made famous by La Callas, Casta Diva.   Many singers of today try to emulate her because of her ability to abandon everything and to try to communicate to the audience in such delicate abandonment.  Only a number of sopranos make this so special.  Besides Callas, I would say Sutherland, and perhaps Caballe.”

As for his debut at the Polish National Opera as Rodolfo in La Boheme last April, he was stunned to see how big the theater is. “I had a wonderful time there.  I realized that I have been singing more than 60 performances of Boheme. I was not even thinking about it.”

Indeed, the Warsaw theater is very big and wide he would compare it to Paris Opera (Bastille). “You have to sing out and you can’t make unsupported tones.  You have to sing full front or else they will lose your sound.  It was a reminder for me that every theater is different and you must make the adjustments.”

As to why Boheme remains popular in the opera repertoire, the tenor said: “La Boheme is one of the most beautifully composed opera by Puccini. It is an organized chaos of an opera with so much truthfulness and reality in the story that people up to now can still relate to. Living in subpar conditions, barely making enough to just eat for the day. It is the plight of humanity in most countries of today.”