This Saturday, Glyndebourne will present its first ever production of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera (Our review can be found here), with a cast including two of the most remarkable tenors around – one of them, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, very well known and loved by audiences for his many great roles, and the other, Joel Prieto, a house debutant from whom we confidently predict you’ll be hearing a lot more. Joel has already won all three ‘Operalia’ prizes and made a series of critically acclaimed debuts – if you’d like a sample, his Wigmore Hall recital includes ‘Una furtiva lagrima’… and he has attracted comparisons with another great Spanish-born singer, Alfredo Kraus.
Just a few days before opening night, we caught up with him as rehearsals were in full swing – and he’s in his element. “I’m seriously having the time of my life at Glyndebourne! This location is breathtaking – such a balanced and inspiring artistic place, and every corner is filled with beauty. This does not even feel like working – and I have to tell you that the production is amazing!”
Such a relatively obscure piece has its challenges, apart from convincing audiences that they should give it a try; it’s safe to say that we are in for a treat, with musical matters in the more than capable hands of Glyndebourne’s new music director, Robin Ticciati, and a director, Frederic Wake-Walker, who is a trained singer with notable production experience at Glyndebourne. Joel praises his “very well defined characters” and “brilliant” set and costumes. “It’s based on 18th century style but slowly turns into a more modern aesthetic in terms of movement and expression as the story goes on – it’s very cleverly done.”
The complex, convoluted plot makes Così seem like child’s play, and Joel’s character, Belfiore, is the beloved of the mayor’s garden attendant, Sandrina, disguised as Violante, who is searching for Belfiore after he had stabbed her and fled a year before, leaving her for dead. Arminda, the mayor’s niece, beloved by Ramiro, is being courted by Belfiore… got that? Not to worry – all will become clear. The part of Belfiore contains some of Mozart’s most challenging writing for the tenor voice – Joel says it’s “…particularly low in some passages and very high in others, but the music is so beautiful and the challenge is to bring to life the suffering of a man who has committed a crime, underneath all the falseness he expresses as a man of high society.”
Joel’s repertoire is exceptionally wide for so young a singer, with his central focus at the moment on Mozart – after his Glyndebourne season he’s off to Puerto Rico, then Santiago (for Die Zäuberflöte) and on to Barcelona for a new Così, and finally this season to Santa Fe for another Finta. He names Domingo as his greatest influence, not only for his singing but his humanity and work ethic, and clearly sees his own future developing along the lines of a very varied repertoire, mentioning Lenski and Alfredo as roles he’d like to take on.
He pulls no punches when asked about the knotty topic of appearance in opera: “I like to see talented people, no matter how they look. A great voice together with great acting and musical expressivity wins it for me. Looks are secondary if you can make the character believable.” As you can see, this is not a singer who is likely to have any problems in terms of credibility in romantic parts, and it’s easy to predict that he will find many admirers at Glyndebourne next week.