ZOUK MIKHAEL: It didn’t get any cooler for the close of the Zouk Mikhael International Festival Wednesday evening. Accompanied by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Spanish maestro David Gimenez, Spanish tenor Jose Carreras and Bangladeshi-Russian-American soprano Monica Yunus sent a sirocco through the sultry air of the Roman-style amphitheater.
The program of this year’s ZMIF was nothing if not eclectic – ranging from classic American blues to Lebanese pop music to opera. The advantage of such a diverse program is that each performance was a one-of-a-kind show. It’s also not inappropriate for a country like Lebanon, whose citizens pride themselves on the country’s diversity.
Carreras and Yunus show was a sonorous echo of last year’s operatic duet between Virginia Tola and Placido Domingo – who, with Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, was one third of the Three Tenors. The amphitheater was as packed for Carreras and Yunus as it had been for Tola and Domingo.
In his long career Carreras has performed in many international venues – Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala, New York’s Metropolitan Opera House and London’s Royal Opera House. Though much younger, Yunus too has some prestige gigs behind her – at Carnegie Hall, the Los Angeles Da Camera Society and Spain’s Manuel De Falla Hall.
Carreras opened the show with his rendition of Francesco P. Tosti’s “L’Ultima Canzone” (“The Last Song”) – perhaps an ironic choice as an opening number.
His powerful tenor voice was immediately brought to the fore, setting the venue atremble. His fixed posture was testimony to the intensity of his vibrato voice.
Dressed in a beautiful green gown at the beginning of the show, a radiant Yunus took the stage to deliver a stirring interpretation of the song “Je Veux Vivre” (“I Want to Live”), from the waltz of Charles Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet.”
Critics have described Yunus (who happens to be the daughter of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus) as “captivating” and identified her as being among “America’s most promising young sopranos.”
Evidently a thespian at heart, her delivery is quite unlike that of Carreras, punctuated by embracing gestures of her arms – she addresses her audience to the right and left, acting her lines as much as singing the tune – and the luminosity of her smile.
The sensuality of Yunus’ high timbre gave goose bumps to many audience members and many an admiring “Bravo!” arose from the spectators after her onstage contributions.
The range and rich texture of her tessitura made the walls of the amphitheater tremble.
Tourists and locals alike embraced both Carreras and Yunus, whose cosmopolitan repertoire – with libretti in French, Spanish and Italian – depicted everything from passionate encounters to battles.
Conductor Gimenez led the LPO with the precision and vigor of an admiral guiding a fleet through battle, earning frequent onstage acknowledgements from Carreras and Yunus.
One of the highlights of the evening saw both artists take the stage together to perform “Duo y Jota” in duet. Yunus’ dynamism, combined with Carreras’ posture, as solid as the Rock of Raouche, made for an appealing study in contrast.
Taken from Manuel Fernandez Caballero’s 1893 musical “El Duo de la Africana,” this piece focuses on a love triangle among the soprano Antonelli, entrepreneur Querubini and tenor Giuseppini.
The two opera stars also paid a tribute to Giacomo Puccini with “Qando M’en Vo” (from “La Boheme”), Furio Rendine’s “Vurria,” Luigi Arditi’s “Il Bacio” and “Me Llaman la Primorosa” (“They call me the Exquisite”) by Pablo Luna’s opera “El Barbero de Sevilla” (“The Barber of Seville.”)
Carreras and Yunus’ performance gifted the Zouk Mikhael International Festival with a wonderful, almost magical conclusion.