Is there anything that Ildar Abdrazakov cannot do with his voice? In a programme that began with Giordani (Caro mio ben) and finished with Rachmaninov (Spring Waters) he visited coloratura and patter songs, sang the longest of phrases, and displayed the most extraordinarily dulcet pianissimi contrasting with laser-sharp fortissimi. And although it was all so (ostensibly) comfortable it's a control that is exciting, not blandly mechanical.
Abdrazakov is made for the recital platform — he has great charm, but never overplays his hand, and he brings intensity and an accomplished actor's craft to each song. He keeps everything simple. No waving of the arms or overexplanatory acting out of the lyrics, no pacing or rocking back and forth, just effortless communication between singer and audience.
The Italian opening to the programme saw Schubert's charming Drei Gesänge set to verses by Metastasio. Schubert dedicated the three songs to the renowned Italian bass Luigi Lablache. They are Italianate in style, more Rossini than Schubert, and Abdrazakov was suitably Italianate in his delivery of them.
A French section included a bewitching rendition of Fauré's Après un rêve and an intense Élégie by Massenet, a melody still lingering in the auditorium after the recent run of the ballet Manon in which it's used as a leitmotif.
The Russian singer was on home territory in the second part: Glière, Sviridov, Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov. Remarkably for La Scala, which can be inappropriately noisy with its strong component of tourists and businesspeople, there were no dropped programmes, coughs or whispering. Abdrazakov's spell enabled his breathtakingly long final note of Shostakovich's Separation to linger undisturbed, and the high-lying pianissimo at the end of Rachmaninov's In the Silence of the Secret Night to float away untroubled. Magical.
He was accompanied by the delightful Mzia Bachtouridze, who now lives in Milan, and whose musicianship and slightly quirky personality have endeared her to the La Scala audiences. As she returned to the piano during the encores it was presumably one of her students who called out “Brava Mzia!” and she wrapped the sheet music around her face to cover her embarrassment.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.