Ghada Ghanem: A Disappointing Bel Canto Performance with the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra

Nelida Nassar  10.13.2014

The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, led by maestro Walid Mousallem, performed with gusto the second concert of the season, which began with the magnificent overture to Mozart’s Le Nocce di Figaro. The orchestra brought out all the grandeur, beauty, and joy of this piece, clearly articulating the distinct colors of the opera’s many emotions, and Mousallem displayed restraint and a refined understanding of the music.

The awaited lyric soprano Ghada Ghanem that I had enjoyed immensely in two previous concerts at the Pierre Abu Khater auditorium followed. As an opera singer and a performer of ballads and pop songs (most of them in Arabic attributed to Asmahan, Fairuz and Leyla Murad) delivered in classical voice, Ghanem is more talented than many of the singers who devote themselves exclusively to opera.

Among those who make their careers in the performing arts, opera singers face particularly daunting challenges. They study for many years to develop voices which must sound beautiful, resonant and seamless across a range that can be more than twice that
of any other type of singers in Western music. They learn how to use their instruments to convey, in at least four different languages, every possible emotion that a human being can feel. And the miraculous thing is that, without the aid of any electronic amplification, they are able to do all of this over the sound of a large orchestra in spaces big enough to hold hundreds of people. As if that were not sufficiently remarkable, they also create
fully-rounded and widely varying characters during performances that last for several hours, often while wearing uncomfortable costumes and negotiating their way around awkward sets.

Throughout all of this they have to retain the beauty of their voices and the integrity of their techniques. However, in this concert, Ghanem, alas, delivered a somewhat bland, and undifferentiated performances of popular tunes from several well-known operas: Porgi Amor, from Le Nocce di Figaro; Io son, from Adriana Lecouvreur; Io son l’ulmile acella, from Cilea; and three arias by Puccini Quando m’en vo, from La Bohème, O mio babbino caro, from Gianni Schicchi, and ending with the most famous aria in Madama Butterfly, Un bel di.

Her voice achieved great success with O mio babbino caro – as her clean attack and well focused, pleasing timber dispatched ornate embellishments. She sang it melodiously, eschewing a loose vibrato all with beautiful lyrical elegance. By contrast, in Quando m’en vo, her notes ran together until they were indistinguishable, or even entirely omitted, lacking graceful phrasing and limpid diction. She repeatedly fell out of synch with the orchestra; and her two terrified screams at the end that pass for high notes omitted the light tone in the higher registers. Unfortunately, the other three arias were delivered with huge dollops of reverberation to mask some flaws in her technique and to smooth out the unevenness in her voice. Ghanem was not convincing in the dramatic roles portrayal of the Countess Rosina, Adriana, Musetta or Cio-Cio San. Let us hope that the soprano was just having a passing bad evening.

The orchestra then played Haydn’s joyful Symphony No.100, called the Military. A wise choice by the maestro since the great master of the classical period, Haydn, is none other than the harbinger of Mozart. In the second movement, the score calls for percussion instruments that are considered to be ‘Turkish’ (triangle, cymbals, bass drum), and these reinforce the martial rhythm which gives the symphony its name. The last movement introduces a fantastic development whose use of solo timpani, stirring modulations, and expressive and dramatic silences often leaves the audience wondering which direction the music will take next. It was on this cheerful and refreshing note – of the kind which so often occurs in Haydn – that the evening concluded.

5 thoughts on “Ghada Ghanem: A Disappointing Bel Canto Performance with the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. A rapier like analysis of poor Ghada’s performance, which one hopes will spur this obviously talented soprano to immerse herself in the characters she portrays, says `haynes. And as for Sossine, she is enthralled by opera and also demands the highest quality of performance from her `Lebanese compatriots.

  2. Bel canto or the “beautiful voice” is not for the faint hearted nor the one that lack the proper technique…. To tackle this repertoire one should excel at it.

  3. This opinion is not voicing Amal Dibo who teaches at AUB, and who is an unconditional supporter of Ghada Ghanem who I am proud of her restless efforts, -and of her multifaceted voice,who is present free of charge and graciously striving – with a bunch of all of us who are trying our best to make this country a better place to be! Amal Dibo

  4. The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra program lists Ms. Ghanem as known to have a mixture of the technique of Maria Callas, the strength of Asmahan, the nostalgia of Fairuz, and the sweetness of Leyla Murad. What a roaster of qualifiers. Alas the comparaison with the great diva Callas is way far fetched. A bit of modesty and restraint is imperative.

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