Marina @ Teatro de la Zarzuela

Marina was composed as a zarzuela in 2 acts and when the famous tenor Enrico Tamberlick wished to add Marina to his repertoire it was converted to an opera in 3 acts with pieces replaced and rewritten and with a more dramatic approach. Marina is not often heard of and I did not have high expectations. The music is light and popular at times but surprisingly also very descriptive (the wavers, the breeze the birds etc.) with a dramatic cut and references of Donizetti. It contains wonderful melodies, lyrical arias, drinking songs, night scenes, dances such as the seguidilla and the tango, a final soprano coloratura aria, everything one can wish for musically. The musical pieces are never too long, and tune after tune the evening flies.

The director Ramon Tebar is excellent in depicting the different atmospheres, he keeps the flow going light but energetic and accompanies the singers with delicacy. The sets are beautiful and functional, with a very present sea, the characters move effortlessly and the plot is easily followed. The light coloratura soprano has a nice voice, but has slight pitch issues in act 1. The heroic tenor Jorge, who gets quite some arias has a good middle register but his voice thins when ascending. My full interest went to the woman-loathing Roque who, with his beautiful voice brought both lightness and depth, his character is very interesting as it portrays both the bitter and lighter side of life and is musically very present.

A beautiful surprise which would deserve to be played on bigger stages and of which I can only repeat the words of my neighbour behind me: “Me está gustando más de lo que esperaba”

Conductor-Ramón Tebar, Stage director-Ignacio García, Sets-Juan Sanz and Miguel Ángel Coso, Costumes-Pepe Corzo, Lights-Paco Ariza, Marina-Olena Sloia, Jorge-Alejandro Del Cerro, Roque-Damián Del Castillo, Pascual-Ivo Stanchev, Alberto-David Oller. Pictures from the Teatro de la Zarzuela. 21/06/17

 

Le timbre d’argent @ Opéra Comique

Another rarity is presented yet again by the very courageous Opera Comique. Le timbre d’argent, Saint-Saens first ever composed opera, created in 1865…but for various reasons not performed until 1877. The last revision by the composer (chosen for the present revival) was performed in Brussels in 1904. Overall I was extremely happy to hear such an operatic rarity and a few minor glitches in the libretto (banally moralistic in christian sauce) the music (has some drops in tension and lacks some lyricism probably due to the fledging opera-composer) or the setting (a bit cheap looking) did not lessen the high quality of the performance.

The story evolves around the painter Conrad loved by Hélène but not loved in return. Conrad is poor, very sick and in love with the dancer Fiammetta. The devilish doctor visits him while Hélène and her sister Rosa, who is about to marry Bénédict, pray to the virgin for his recovery. The doctor returns as the devil, gives Conrad a silver bell which, when struck, will give him Fiammetta’s love and richness at the cost of a death. Throughout the  plot, the devil tempts Conrad to strike the bell for money, the first death is Hélène’s father, the second Bénédict who dies during the wedding ceremony. At the end Conrad breaks the bell which breaks the spell and he wakes up to Hélène  and Rosa singing the beginning’s prayer, and he realizes that all was dream. General praise to God, hallelujah and curtain

The conductor François-xavier Roth  was almost excellent, from the very bubbly overture throughout the entire score (maybe a bit more rubato would have underlined some crucial parts of the score), marvellous in displaying the richness of Saint-Saens orchestration and colours.  Hélène Guilmette and Tassis Chrystoyannis were very good as Hélène and the devilish Spiridion. A pity that Edgaras Montvidas’ tenor had no Hoffmannesque ringing top notes but rather hard and dry ones, reached with some strain. Excellent the Bénédict of Yu Shao and Jodie Devos’ Rosa. Such a pity that the good voices of Hélène, Rosa and Bénedict received such short roles at the cost of Fiammetta, a mute dancer’s role. The setting department was clearly on a budget, but nonetheless it was effective enough in some scenes although a higher regard to the mysterious and devilish would have been much appreciated and I could have done without some of the magic tricks. All in all a highly satisfying and enjoyable rediscovery.

Direction musicale François-Xavier Roth, Mise en scène Guillaumes Vincent, Décors-James Brandily, Création video-Baptist Klein, Costumes-Fanny Brouste, Lumières-Kelig Le Bars, Chorégraphie-Herman Diephuis, Effets magiques-Benoît Dattez, Circe/Fiammetta-Raphaelle Delaunay, Conrad Edgaras-Montvidas, Hélène-Hélène Guilmette, Spiridion-Tassis Chrystoyannis, Bénédict-Yu Shao, Rosa-Jodie Devos, 11 juin 2017, pictures Pierre Grosbois.

 

Vivaldi’s Arsilda @ Lille

Intricate plot, this one, with an extensive-need-to-know-background information in order to fully understand it (as so often in baroque opera) but it’s worth outlining it to understand the intention of the director: Tamese and Lisea are the twins of queen Antipatra of Cilicia. Tamese loves Arsilda, queen of Ponto but is victim of a shipwreck. As the throne of Cilicia is for males only, Antipatra  announces the death of Lisea and disguises her as Tamese. The opera opens with the engagement festivities of Arsilda and Tamese/Lisea. Survived the shipwreck, the real Tamese arrives in Cilicie disguised as a gardener. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings which involves also Barzane, the king of Lydia, first in love with Arsilda, then with the real Lisea. At the end of the opera everybody is revealed as themselves.

Vocally, although not excellent, the cast is reasonably good. As Lisea, musically and psychologically the most complex character Lucile Richardot slips into the different passions with ease displaying a beautiful contralto voice. The difficulty of the role of Cisardo showed the esteem Vivaldi must have had for the talented bass Angelo Zannoni and Lisandro Abadie, a baritone, if not entirely at ease with the lowest notes sings the difficult embellishments very well. Tamese has also some fiendishly difficult arias and Fernando Guimaraes has this weired way of singing parts of rapid runs louder than others which makes the musical line sound very uneven (Siano gli astri a me tiranni). The voice is a bit colourless, but  nonetheless the singing is overall very good. Olivia Vermeulen did a fair job but her low notes are a bit empty and her approach a tad monochromatic. I really loved the Mirinda of Lenka Macikova. Nice voice and naturally at ease on stage, Io son quel Gelsomino was one of the highlights. The Barzane of Kangmin Justin Kim disappointed in some off-key notes but convincend with a beautiful range and velvety voice. A well pronounced Italian would be a balm for the ears especially in a opera where voices are not covered by the orchestra.

If the singing was not convincing throughout, direction and conduction were excellent. Vaclav Luks conducts the Collegium 1704 enthusiastically without excesses, chooses the correct tempi and leads the orchestra through the evening with a light hand. I would have appreciated a harder edge but it’s just personal taste.

I particularly enjoyed the staging by David Radok. The unique set is a grey box with a narrowing perspective. The different locations of the plot are hinted at by opening and closing of doors and windows scattered around the box which give a partial view of beautifully painted panes. The first act is the most gripping with all characters dressed in baroque clothing and wigs,  and with dancers providing for some very clever moments (they dance, they enact the doe, the birds etc etc). As the plot evolves and the characters are stripped of their (false) identity, the singers are also stripped of their baroque cloths, gradually appearing in everyday apparel. Radok directs the singers well, scrupulously intertwining chorus and dancers in a satisfying and very pleasurable aesthethic.

Direction musicale-Václav Luks, Mise en scène et scénographie -David Radok, Peinture-Ivan Theimer, Costumes-Zuzana Ježková, Chorégraphie-Andrea Miltnerová, Lumières-Premysl Janda, Lisea-Lucile Richardot, Arsilda-Olivia Vermeulen, Barzane-Kangmin Justin Kim, Tamese-Fernando Guimarães, Cisardo-Lisandro Abadie, Mirinda-Lenka Máciková, 19/05/17, fotos by Petra Hajska from the Slovak National Theatre.

Verdi’s Aida and Telemann’s Orpheus @ Brussels

Aida…one of those mysteries….everybody knows the title. But it’s not that there were less or more empty seats than when rarities of Cherubini, Berlioz or Gassmann were played at De Munt/La Monnaie….still, it was choosen to stage a famous title such as Aida (where the libretto never takes off, the action is succinct and stripped to a minimum and for which the music is quite long) without having the necessary forces to do so: If one does not have a perfect match of conductor, director and singers, the opera starts to bore at very early stage. In this production the setting is not without interest. Greek actor/director Stathis Livathinos puts a huge rock on stage which changes colour and becomes translucent with different types of lighting and which is used to sing and act on and around. Except for a cement square just above said rock the scene is completely empty but Livathinos’ setting is suggestive and evocative in using balanced colours, lighting and movements. Dancers are present on scene but they barely move. Although the director used some interesting ideas the setting did not conceal the shortcomings of the overall poor musical interpretation (at least of the cast I heard on that particular day). The voices displayed various opprobrium’s that ranged from wide vibrato singing, screams, poorly projected voices, sinking notes, no legato, … and if this was not enough, when the final chords of a piece ended, or when there were large passages of pianissimo (such as in Immenso Fthà) one was immersed in rumble of noises from outside like screaming children, chirping birds, quacking ducks, roaring airplanes and the like. Altinoglu, who I usually appreciate, was not able to get the imprecise orchestra inspired. The heat (27°C) did the rest so I left at the interval.

Refreshing therefore, to see an non-professional performance of an opera at Bozar. It is always a pleasure to hear singers of an opera academy. It has the benefit, except for the singers to get exposure, for the public to hear forgotten rarities, for which the main opera house is too cautious, and, I feel, too dismissive of the music. But Telemann’s music is varied, colourful, descriptive, heterogeneous, and although the main text is German, he adds arias in French and Italian language and style, which he perfectly assimilated, and merged with great taste.

Although the title of the ancient legend, Orpheus, refers to the unfortunate lovers, Telemann’s plot really evolves around queen Orasia, who provokes Euridice’s death, makes the Bacchantes kill Orpheus when repudiated and guild-ridden kills herself. The thing with fresh voices is that although there is already a great degree of professionalism, inexperience or nerves might explain an over-cautious approach, a little lack of colours, sometimes a weak projection or unfocused low or high notes etc. Nonetheless I feel some of the voices have amazing potential and I much enjoyed the beautiful timbre of Julie Gebhart and Sylvie Bedouelle, the emotional variety of Morgane Heyse and the vocal range of Louise Kuyvenhoven. All showed an acceptable coloratura although the German pronunciation could be improved during the sung pieces. Arthur Rozek was most appreciated in the more delicate passages. The setting was simple but effective. Only shame that Guy Joosten every now and again falls into the traps of most modern directors: platitudes, orgies, singing in underwear etc etc. and funny that the confidant is usually unkind (Ismene to Orasia, Alisa in Lucia, etc….). Musically, although not vibrant or energetic, Korneel Bernolet keeps it light, conducts with the right tempi, attention to fluidity and supports the singers well.

Aida: Direction Musicalea-Alain Altinoglu , Mise En Scène-Stathis Livathinos, Décors-Alexander Polzin, Costumes-Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, Éclairages-Alekos Anastasiou, Chorégraphie-Otto Pichler, Chef Des Chœurs-Martino Faggiani, Aida-Monica Zanettin, Radamès-Gaston Rivero, Amneris-Ksenia Dudnikova, Amonasro-Giovanni Meoni, Ramfis-Mika Kares, Il Re-Enrico Iori, Una Sacerdotessa-Tamara Banjesevic, Un Messaggero-Julian Hubbard, 17/5/17, Picture from the Facebook page of DeMunt/LaMonnaie

Orpheus: Dirigent-Korneel Bernolet, Regie-Guy Joosten, Decor, kostuums en licht-Roel Van Berckelaer, Orasia-Morgane Heyse, Orpheus-Artur Rozek, Eurydice-Julie Gebhart, Eurimides-Sylvie Bedouelle, Ismene-Louise Kuyvenhoven, Pluto-Dominic Kraemer, Cephisa-Ana Sofia Ventura,  Ascalax-Boris Kondov, 16/5/17

Meyerbeer’s Le prophète – Essen

Le prophète had its premiere in Paris in April 1849 and it was another immense success after Robert le Diable and Les Huguenots. Again Meyerbeer was able to combine all the parameters of the grand opéra such as a historic events, interpolations of personal conflicts, inclusion of ballets, rich instrumentation effects, alternation between crowd and solo scenes with lighting, spectacular costumes and scenic effects which all contribute to the grandeur of the staging. What makes Meyerbeer so special is the combination of musical languages: Meyerbeer was born in Germany, assimilated wonderfully the Italian style during his stay in Italy and acquired the French taste when he moved to Paris. Although not as “grand” as Les Huguenots, Le prophète still remains one of the most successfull operas at the time (comparable to a musical in our days), staged for hundreds and hundreds of times in all the major European cities until the beginning of the 20th century and stayed in oblivion for years only because it required great voices, a conductor able to keep the suspense for several hours and singers able to sustain the huge demand of the score. A compliment therefore to the opera houses who stage Meyerbeer operas. The plot of Le prophète evolves around John of Leiden, who moved to Münster, became the leader of  Anabaptists, held the city against the pope for over a year until he was captured in 1535, tortured and executed. Against this historic drama develops the relationship of John of Leiden (Jean de Leyde) with Berthe, his beloved and Fidès, his mother.

I thougth the Tcherniakov Trovatore in Brussels was absolute nonesense, but at least the decor was well designed. For Le prophète in Essen we have a rotating stage divided in three compartments. They are fully grey, including the parting walls, and most of the time rather empty. In Act I there is a huge table and in Act II the choir dances between crates stapled on pallets while Jean waits beers. Except Jean’s room (matras on the floor) and a few props, there is not much more. But empty can work if there is a director who knows how to direct, which in this case we clearly lacked. The problem, I think, is that Vincent Boussard has no clue whatsover what to do with all the people on stage: The choir was motionless most of the time. Which, if we consider the importance of the masses in grand opera is astounding, to say the least. During the sermon of the anabaptists  in Act I (“Ad nos”….), Berthe and Fides are chatting away as if exchanging recipes (sic…). During Berthe’s romance (Un jour dans les flots de la Meuse) Berthe sings standing on the table with Oberthal playing with her hair (because he has her in his power????) and when Fides sings her pertichini, the tutu ballerina shushes her (!). Jean goes home to play his e-guitar, the same rock music-like pose he strikes at the end of Act III with the cross in his hands (dream of celebrity?? Please!!!). Jonas vomits on the floor just before Zacharie’s aria (!!!), during the dances Zacharie and the two ballerinas run after each other on the rotating stage, the ballerinas making confused movements with a knife and an iron in their hands (!!!), the hat of Zaccaria pops a mini firework during the Trio bouffe (!!!). And so on and so on and so on, one imbecility after the other. The costumes are between a not better defined end of the XXth century and gothic-like underground.

Luckily the musical part was much better. Fides is Marianne Cornetti. Cornetti has a good technique, her strong voice is projected well and equal in all registers. Her singing is a tad cautious but admirable. Seen the difficulty of the score, especially her Grande Air in Act V, the rendering was fabulous. And even the odd unfocussed note does not affect the overall perfomance. The Berthe of Lynette Tapia has little colours, is a bit nasal, and she lacks the weight to convincingly pull off the recitatives (especially important in Act V) but overall interprets an acceptable Berthe with a light top register. Beautiful the slow part of her duet with Fidès. John Osborne forges the voice to his will and is excellent in the lyrical and delicate as well as the passionate passages. The acuti sure and resounding, the voice powerful yet flexible, his French impeccable. I felt he was somewhat distant, something i never felt observed with Osborne before. Maybe caution (he will sing the same part in Toulouse in a month or so)? Karel Martin Ludvik is a bit short in the lower register but sings well, as do Albrecht Kludszuweit, Pierre Doyen, and Tijl Faveyts as the anabaptists. Carella was in dazzling shape. The tempi were perfect, the sound he was able to create with the excellent orchestra was scintillating with timbrical colours and dramatic tension, the sound had luminous fluidity  and was at the same time light  (the orchestra was transparent down to the timpani) and vigorous, accompanying the alternating sentiments with unequalled sensitivity. If we didn’t get the grand from the staging, it was Carella who delivered it.

 

Musikalische Leitung-Giuliano Carella, Inszenierung-Vincent Boussard, Bühne-Vincent Lemaire, Kostüme-Vincent Boussard, Elisabeth de Sauverzac, Licht-Guido Levi, Dramaturgie-Christian Schröder, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Marianne Cornetti, Berthe-Lynette Tapia, Jonas-Albrecht Kludszuweit, Mathisen-Pierre Doyen,
Zacharie-Tijl Faveyts, Graf von Oberthal-Karel Martin Ludvik. 29th April 2017, Pictures from the site of the Aalto Theatre Essen.

Belgium’s 2017/2018 opera season

(This article replaces the original one about the Brussels-only season with the present one about Belgium)

Brussel’s The Monnaie’s 2017-2018 opera season was recently announced. Although, with half of the 12 titles, La Monnaie/De Munt always leans towards modern music (and with modern I roughly mean the music around and after 1900) the choices are more varied than last year. We have a Wagner, of course, (Lohengrin) but at least we are spared Verdi and Puccini. I smile at Peter de Caluwe’s fear of staging Rossini and his overall mistrust in early 1800 music. So Tancredi in concert version, not the most original choice (it would if staged, though) but  always a pleasure to hear. Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci is a nice change considered it was given in Brussels 14 years ago (and Michieletto is always welcome). Lucio Silla is an inheritance from last year’s season, where it was programmed but not staged (as is also the Bartok) due to the delay in the renovations of the main stage. It is a rare but not minor Mozart – musically speaking, because action wise it is very thin (so why not this one in concert version?) – and performed far too rarely. Leonore (Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio) is given as concert version and I would much more appreciate a staged version in exchange of one of the modern opera’s, say Rihm or Boesmans. Conductor-wise I find the choices good, director-wise conventional and singer-wise there are some that are questionable but I am happy to be persuaded. An enjoyable rarity will be Dvorak’s Requiem while ballet wise I keep regretting the total absence of classical ballet. Let me finish with something that bothers me every year: is it not strange that there is not a single subscription that allows to see all opera’s?

 

Nicer surprises come from the two other opera houses in Belgium, the Opera de Liège and the Vlaamse Opera. I find the choices quite balanced with some very appealing surprises. In Liege we get the touching Donna del lago by Michieletto and the rarity Le domino noir by Auber. La favorite by Donizetti also contains lovely music and is rarely performed. Singer-wise the program is also very appealing although I remember Liege announcing a star only by replacing it last minute by someone less captivating (and not once). In Gent we get the extremely rare Das Wunder der Heliane, Donizetti’s Le Duc d’Albe next to a Clemenza di Tito and of course Verdi and Wagner (Falstaff and Parsifal). The Flemish Opera “continues its fascinating exploration of Russian opera” with The Gambler by Prokofiev. I am waiting impatiently for Dargomyzhsky, Cavos, Glinka, and Verstovsky….

Already available also the program of the Midsummer Mozartiade, which this year presents Don Giovanni at the Theatre de Martyrs.

The Bozar season also contains some vocal evenings.

The Snow Maiden @ Paris Opera Bastille

Snegurochka was Korsakov’s favourite opera and for its composition he moved to a country house close to Louga to listen to nature’s voices, as he mentioned in his autobiography (“…an abundance of field flowers, continuous chirping of the birds, all this harmonized particularly with my pantheistic state of mind then, and my enthusiasm for the subject of Snegouochka. Some trunks of trees, large and twisted, or covered with moss, appeared to me like spirits of the woods…”). The opera was heard first in Saint Petersburg in 1885 and in 1893 in Moscow.
Korsakov went as far as to write the libretto himself. The story of Snegurochka revolves around Snow Maiden, the daughter of Spring Beauty and Frost, who wants to find love and live with the humans, the nomadic tribe of the Berendays. She finds love in Lel, who rejects her but is wooed by Mizgir, who sees her when he was just about to marry Kupava. The rejected Kupava appeals to the tsar who declares that whoever successfully woes Snow Maiden will be rewarded. At the end Kupava finds love in Lel while Snow Maiden melts under a ray of sun and the Berendays praise the return to the cycles of nature. The libretto is a bit unbalanced, with parts that move very slow and others almost ridiculously fast. The music, I found, never completely takes off with many declamatory passages and slow arias and what struck me most with little variations in tempi, which plunges the whole action in a long dreamlike almost monotonous flow. I guess Tcherniakov was not behind this although adapting the score to his vision is not new to him: In Snegurochka he makes Lel a countertenor instead of a mezzosoprano, he cuts the lively dances and makes Snegurochka declare her final lines to Lel instead of Mizgir making the plot even more confusing. I know I go against mainstream judgement but all in all I found the opera a bit long-winded and less inspired than for eg. The Golden Cockerel, which I recently saw in Brussels.

Tcherniakov sets the prologue in a dance school and all the rest in the forest. The Berendays live in caravans and dress colourfully (a mix of flower power, pagan sect, Russian traditions and camping outfit). The “tsar” is the leader of the pack. Nonetheless Tcherniakov makes them inhabitants of the 21st century (the sneakers, the photo flashes of mobile phones…) maybe to point at the universality of the plot. The sets are beautifully designed, well lit, and the costumes gorgeous. Snegurochka was not only Korsakov’s favourite opera but one Tcherniakov always wanted to do, he claims. Funnily enough I feel the inspiration was not the highest, the masses were not moved with such elegance and power as, say, in Borodin’s Prince Igor. Beautiful was the set change from the school to the forest, and the circling trees.
The orchestra played beautifully under Tatarnikov’s hand, showing off beautiful and sparkling colours. The singers were all very good or even excellent. Aida Garifullina and Martina Serafin have beautiful and strong soprano voices which fill the huge Bastille with ease. Yuriy Mynenko lacks the necessary projection but his voice is never covered as Lel’s orchestration is always delicate. A bit unrefined the baritonal voice of the charisma-lacking lover Thomas Johannes Meyer and the tsar of Maxim Paster. Adequate all others including the robust mezzo of Elena Manistina. Excellent the choir.

Direction musicale-Mikhail Tatarnikov, Mise en scène et decors-Dmitri Tcherniakov, Costumes-Elena Zaitseva, Lumières-Gleb Filshtinsky, Snegourochka-Aida Garifullina, Lel-Yuriy Mynenko, Kupava-Martina Serafin, Le Tzar Berendeï-Maxim Paster, Mizguir-Thomas Johannes Mayer, La Fée Printemps-Ekaterina Semenchuk, Le Bonhomme Hiver-Vladimir Ognovenko, Bermiata-Franz Hawlata, Bobyl Bakula-Vasily Gorshkov, Bobylicka-Carole Wilson, L’Esprit des bois-Vasily Efimov, Premier Héraut-Vincent Morell, Deuxième Héraut-Pierpaolo Palloni, Un Page-Olga Oussova. 22nd April 2017. Pictures Elisa Haberer from the Opera National de Paris.

Sullivan’s Cox and Box and The Zoo @ Arenbergschouwburg

Cox and Box and The Zoo are both one-act comic operas. Cox and Box was written by Arthur Sullivan 5 years before he started collaborating with W. S. Gilbert; It was a huge success in its time and is relatively frequently performed . The plot revolves around a landlord who rents one room to two people, one who works at night and one who works during the day. When one of them has a day off, they meet with hilarious consequences. The Zoo’s plot is about two pairs of lovers, a nobleman wooing the girl who sells snacks in the zoo and a young chemist who believes he has poisoned his beloved (all commented by the visitors of the zoo).

Volksopera in co-production with Zuidpool gives us a simple but lovely performance. The staging is very scarce. in fact, there is none in Cox and Box, just one or two props, such as the pipe or the pistols; The zoo is a bit livelier with colourful summer clothing and a bit more action. But what made the evening very entertaining was in fact very simple: the singers not only had good voices but were also motivated actors and a dozen instrumentalists performed flawlessly and kept it light and airy. Unfortunately the Arenbergschouwburg in Antwerp was only half full. A missed opportunity for the lovers of the genre seen the overall good quality of the performance.

Stijn Saveniers, Jorgen Cassier, Anne Cambier, Lien Haegeman, Geoffrey Degives, Kris Belligh, Fabrice Pillet, Eloïse Mabille, Naomi Beeldens, Mathis Van Cleynenbreugel, Lars Corijn en tienkoppige ensemble The Tourist Attraction Company (Antwerp, 4/4/17, Picture from Zuidpool.be)

Orlando furioso @ Tourcoing

If one has to travel to Tourcoing to hear Vivaldi, one does so with pleasure, seen how little Vivaldi is performed. The orchestra is the well known “La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy” with Jean-Claude Malgoire as its conductor. Judging by this performance, the reputation is better than the quality, but then it could just be a bad day. The choice in tempi is poor, dynamics are unvaried, the playing tedious. Add to this a very scholastic rendering of the orchestra with many mistakes, and the pleasure quickly dwindles to disappointment. Slighly better the singers (but only slightly): voices that are either barely audible (Angelica) or flat when they descend to lower notes (Orlando). Ruggiero was good in his flute aria but Come l’onda sounds colourless with a little projected voice. Much better Clemence Tilquin, the only with a more homogeneous voice and some lovely acting that inflated Alcina with personality. All in all a performance with very little variations or nuances with an incomprehensible Italian pronunciation. The costumes were very well designed while staging consisted in several painted panels  which were moved up and down to bring us into the different settings or slid side-wards to make the singers appear and disappear. Simple and effective.

Direction musicale-Jean Claude Malgoire, Mise en scène-Christian Schiaretti, Adaptation scénographique-Fanny Gamet, Costumes-Emily Cauwet-Lafont, Orlando-Amaya Dominguez, Angelica-Samantha Louis-Jean, Alcina-Clémence Tilquin, Bradamante-Yann Rolland, Medoro-Victor Jimenez Diaz, Ruggiero-Jean Michel Fumas, Astolfo-Nicolas Rivenq (2/4/17) Picture from http://www.atelierlyriquedetourcoing.fr/

Jerusalem @ Opera de Liège

Like many other Italian composers before him (Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti just to mention the main contemporary ones), Verdi was invited to compose for the Parisian stages. It was decided to stage a grand opéra as it was fashionable since the 1830’s. But instead of composing a brand new opera, Verdi adapted one of his earlier operas, I lombardi alla prima crociata. The writers of the libretto Royer et Vaëz  rewrote the plot (which makes more sense than the Lombardi one) while Verdi re-adapted and rewrote bits and pieces. The result is not really a grand opéra in the sense of Meyerbeer, Halevy et al. It sounds like any contemporary Verdi with all his characteristics and flaws. So if you like Verdi you probably liked this one as well, if you were expecting a grand opéra you probably were disappointed. Mazzonis di Pralafera and Jean-Guy Lecat provide red-bricked columns on each side, a wall at the back and a painted decor with an otherwise empty stage (except cushions for Gaston’s aria in act III, hastily removed for the ballet). Beautiful the costumes shaped as idealized and colourful Middle Ages apparel. The ballet was the only modern bit in an otherwise traditional setting and although i liked some parts, the performers danced in a modern, hectic, nervous kind of style.

Speranza Scappucci does her best to keep it going though I again miss the extra bit to make the music sparkle. Marc Laho’s voice expands well, his registers equally even; a fine interpretation. Elain Alvarez and Roberto Scandiuzzi both had some issues with very low or high notes in act I. Maybe not warm enough? But in the following acts Scandiuzzi developed his beautiful bass voice and was a delight as Roger (and hermit). Elain Alvarez has a somewhat “slow” voice, her embellishments not very light and and the interpretation lacked the punch of the Verdi heroines. Overall i preferred her Hélène to her Elvira 2 years ago, but was not fully convinced either.

Director-Stefano Mazzonis Di Pralafera, Conductor-Speranza Scappucci, Set Designs-Jean-Guy Lecat, Costume Designs-Fernand Ruiz, Lighting Designs-Franco Marri, , Gaston–Marc Laho, Hélène–Elaine Alvarez, Roger–Roberto Scandiuzzi, Comte De Toulouse-Ivan Thirion, Raymond-Pietro Picone, Isaure–Natacha Kowalski, Adémar De Montheil-Patrick Delcour, A Soldier-Victor Cousu, A Herald-Benoît Delvaux, Emir Of Ramla-Alexei Gorbatchev, An Officer-Xavier Petithan; 21/03/17