Le toreador and L’heure espagnol @ Aachen

ec_3b4d9085b432f89d13e8ab0cb79a045fI believe it is always a good idea to have students of a music academy perform on an official stage, for at least two reasons: the students get the feeling of a formal public, and the public usually gets to hear operas that are rarely performed. In Aachen the music academy of Cologne performed Le toreador by Adolphe Adam and L’heure espanol by Ravel.

Both performances were, everything considered, extremely enjoyable. In Le toreador Larisa Vasyukina has a beautiful timbre and delivers all the difficulties of the florid part very well. I also enjoyed very much Agris Hartmanis although his voice is sometimes covered by the orchestra. Tobias Glagau has much potential, but he sometimes reverts to a throaty emission.

ec_9400d8b273166fa10dfe60e5aeb72bd2The cast of L’heure espagnole was equally good. The witty plot was very well sung by all cast members where I especially enjoyed Panagiota Sofroniadou and Fabio Lesuisse as Concepcion and Ramiro. All singers were also very good actors

Herbert Görtz directed with much verve and Raimund Laufen with charme an orchestra that played with much clarity and elan. Setting-wise, Le toreador was functional and enjoyable, L’heure espagnol beautiful.

Personally I found the evening a success and it left nothing to be desired. A praise to the Theater Aachen for including student performances into their season.
A practice that is very much desired if only for the sheer motivation of the singers.

Musikalische Leitung-Herbert Görtz (Le toreador), Raimund Laufen (L’heure espagnol), Inszenierung-Christian Raschke, Bühne-Detlef Beaujean, Kostüme-Lea Reusse, Licht-Eduard Joebges, Dramaturgie-Christoph Lang, Coraline-Larisa Vasyukhina, Tracolin-Tobias Glagau, Don Belflor-Agris Hartmanis, Caritea -Irena Orawiec, Concepcion-Panagiota Sofroniadou, Gonzalve-Soon-wook Ka, Torquemada-Tobias Glagau, Ramiro-Fabio Lesuisse, Don Inigo Gomez-Jan Schulenburg

Le Nozze di Figaro – Mozartiade @ Brussels

1529 Shadi_TorbeyThe theatre was only half full, I guess due to a disorderly organization, change of name half way through, relative little public attention and little communication on ticket sales. But the location is extremely suitable for an opera production, one has a cosy sense of intimate informality. Eric Gobin puts 3 doors on the stage and very few props but it works. The musical part was somewhat uneven. David Miller’s direction is flat and monotone and the lack of colours and variations spread to the singers as well, with few exceptions. From the singers Keith Tillotson as Bartolo acted over the top and sang with poor intonation, while Christine Schmidt as Marcellina had a wobbly-ish voice, but was overall acceptable. Pauline Claes and Gianna Cañete Gallo were convincing as Cherubino and Barbarina. Cécile Lastchenko as Susanna and Laura Telly Cambier as Countess sang well but with a horrendous, really horrendous pronunciation. Laurent Kubla and Shadi Torbey on the other hand were very good. (Except for the few unprecise colorature in the Count’s aria) they both had an extreme clear pronunciation, beautiful voice (which was perfect for the size of the theatre) and great singing. Both were truly enjoable (and Shadi Torbey was even announced sick). Good all other roles and the lovely girls of the choir. The royal Chambre Orchestra of Wallonia played well.

Director-David Miller, Mise en scene-Eric Gobin, Figaro-Shadi Torbey, Susanna-Cécile Lastchenko, Conte Almaviva-Laurent Kubla, Conteassa Almaviva-Laura Telly Cambier, Cherubino-Pauline Claes, Barbarina-Gianna Cañete Gallo, Basilio-John Manning, Don Curzio-Jean-Michel Van Oosten, Marcellina-Christine Schmidt, Bartolo-Keith Tillotson, Antonio-Yu-Hsiang Hsieh

Idomeneo @ The Flemish Opera

34A4055I don’t feel this Idomeneo had any particular faults so maybe I just was in a particularly scrupulous mood. I found Roberto Saccà throaty, Renata Pokupic gasping for air every couple of seconds with not even a hint  of a legato, Serena Farmocchia missing the vocal gravity for Elettra, and the direction at times a bit silly. Furthermore the opera had quite lengthy recitatives and I couldn’t understand almost anything. Singers without a proper pronunciation are, in my eyes, not complete, even the phrasing comes across a very approximate when words are not taken care of. On the other hand I appreciated the direction’s narrative clarity, the diction of Roberto Saccà (the only one),  Ana Quintans sweet timbre and beautiful singing. I also enjoyed the swift and crisp sound of the orchestra, prepared by Paul McCreesh and on this evening directed by Benjamin Bayl. Everything considered a good performance though not fully convincing.

Muzikale leiding-Benjamin Bayl, Regie-David Bösch, Decors-Patrick Banneart, Falko Herold, Kostuums-Falko Herold, Belichting-Michael Bauer, Idomeneo-Roberto Saccá, Idamante-Renata Pokupic, Ilia-Ana Quintans, Elettra-Serena Farnocchia, Arbace-Anton Rositskiy, Gran sacerdote-Adam Smith, La voce di nettuno-Leonard Bernard

Mitridate, re di Ponto @ Brussels

UntitledThe musical part was very good in this Mitridate given by the Monnaie/De Munt in the tent of Tour and Taxis. Of course the problems of the venue are always the same: the cooling system (which either did not work. properly or it was turned On too late, either way it was far too hot) is too loud, one can hear the street and air traffic and the size of the venue is far too big for a Mozart opera. Smaller voices are therefore greatly disadvantaged, as it was the case for David Hansen, who already has a weak lower register, but his voice is also quite small, making it very difficult to compete with the orchestra in a regular theatre (and Rousset certainly does not cover voices), let alone under the circumstance of the Monnaie’s tent. Slightly better Yves Saelens as Arbate with an understandable Italian but an unrefined phrasing. Aspasia and Sifare, the loving couple, sing well, but Sifare’s coloratura is flattened, his Italian non-understandable. The small role of Marzio is sung by Sergey Romanovsky. Overall he sings his only aria very well with a beautiful and full voice, although lightening his voice a bit more would have made his coloratura more fluid. Mitridate is Michael Spyres and in this very difficult role that requires all the skills from rapid notes to jumps and a variety of affections he is almost exceptional.  Absolutely extraordinary I find Simona Saturova as Ismene. Her intonation, her support of the voice, her breath regulation, her coloratura, all perfectly studied, a voice with a beautiful timbre, equal on top as in the lower register, and never forced. All singers are supported with perfect musicality by Christophe Rousset.

The directors, chosen through a public competition because Robert Carsen pulled out due to the location, set the plot in modern day Brussels, with meetings being organized by country presidents to avoid “Pontexit”, news journalists following the events, screens showing breaking news etc.  For the lovers of the genre….

Muzikale leiding-Christophe Rousset, Regie en kostuums-Jean-Phiilppe Clarac & Olivier Deloeuil, Le Lab, Decors en belichting-Rick Martin, Video-Jean-Baptiste Beïs, Mitridate-Michael Spyres, Aspasia-Lenneke Ruiten, Sifare-Myrtó Papatanasiu, Farnace-David Hansen, Ismene-Simona Saturova, Marzio-Sergey Romanovsky, Arbate-Yves Saelens

A very dark Hänsel und Gretel @ Music Conservatory of Antwerp

12985603_1260084287354726_1351612629243840063_nThe music Conservatory Antwerp presented a reworked version of Hänsel und Gretel by Humperdinck. The opera lasted exactly 1 1/2 hours and was arranged for 12 instruments (violin, viola, celle, soprano and alto sax, harp, piano and percussion). The director was Stany Crets, a Flemish actor, director and writer, who sees the fairy tale as a nightmare/psychological horror story. The plot is set in skid row: pallets, oil barrels, a few mattresses on the floor and tires represent the impoverished district. Hänsel has some sort of physical challenge and is wheeled around in a wheelchair by Gretel, dirty from working hard. Hänsel and Gretel are children of marginalized people. The mother drinks, and maltreats them before she sends them into the wood. Her suicide attempted with a gun shot in her mouth to escape the misery of life is interrupted by the arrival of the father. The father’s arrival with his uplifting optimism is pure sarcasm in a world without hope, where drug addiction and booze dominate life. The drunk, violent father stumbles and falls, sniffs cocaine, knocks his wife about and rapes her. Act two sees the children in the woods and one can hear screams of tortured and abused children. The Dew Fairy and the Sleep Fairy’s only task is to lure the children to the witch’s house by drugging them with pills and syringes. There is no witch but rather a sadistic couple which share the witch’s dialogue. Being in Belgium one thinks immediately of Marc Doutroux and Michelle Martin, the couple who sexually abused and tortured 6 children in the 90s. And in fact the scenes of sex and violence follow one another with Hänsel and Gretel tied to a “bed”, violently hit and sexually abused (even with a broomstick). When the children finally kill their tormentors, the meeting with the parents does not give the sense of relief that it gives in the traditional story. Relief that is partially lifted only when the children throw their parents into the fire, with which the story ends. The interpretation in a dark key was interesting but the director chooses they easy way out by continually shocking with physical and sexual violence. This becomes monotonous and boring as it is the single only idea the whole story is based on.

12998473_1260084277354727_8197667351791838855_nMusically the evening was more interesting. The arranged orchestra was adequate although the saxophone (or the arrangement) sometimes gave it a kurt Weill-sound. But the voices were well accompanied. Some of the voices were a bit coarse, with many harsh edges, especially in the top notes and when the acting required a more “realistic” feel. But some of them are very promising. Personally I loved Lisa Newill-Smith as Gretel (who had also an good German pronunciation) and enjoyed the “female witch” Lisa Willems. All in all an interesting evening. I hope the conservatory will repeat this experience, although I would much prefer an original orchestration and an easier opera that wouldn’t strain the voices too much.

IMG_5272[1]Regie-Stany Crets, Conductors-Mart Aus en Jaume-Blai Santonja Espinos (Act 1 and 2), Stijn Paredis (Act 3), Instrumentation-Jasper Charlet, Ewa Demianiuk, Vigdis Elst, Eduardo Bemelmans, Bianca Bongers, Liesbeth Decrock, Fábio Tiago Carneiro Videira, Tom Collier, Bram Rooses, Scenografie-Hugo Moens, Kostuums-Cleo Foole en Cisse Royens, studenten Kostuumontwerp van de Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Hänsel-Laure-Catherine Beyers, Gretel-Lisa Newill-Smith, Vater-Lars Corijn, Mutter-Astrid Joos, Knusperhexen-Lisa Willems, Mathis van Cleynenbreugel, Sandmännchen-Sara-Anne Rousseau, Taumännchen-Isabelle Storms, Viool-David Bester, Altviool-Pablo Corcoles Ramos, Veerle-Demey, Cello-Beatriz Laborda Gonzalez, Saxofoon-Eduardo Bemelmans, Dries Meerts, Harp-Marjolein Vernimmen, Piano-Polina Bogdanova, Robert Van Heek, Percussie-Sander Van der Kloot, Benjamin Verstraete, Maarten Warson (performance of 21/04/16)

Manon Lescaut by Auber @ Liège

manon_lescautYes, not Puccini, not Massenet. By Auber is this Manon Lescaut, altogether set on a lighter note by the simplified libretto by Scribe and by Auber’s sparkling melodies. Meyebeer attended the premiere at the Opera Comique and wrote about it…”full of freshness and invention, melodious and witty…the opera gave me much pleasure”. By the way the opera’s first Manon was Marie Cabel, a Belgian soprano and Manon Lescaut was played in Liège as early as February 1875.

manon_lescautdFourny’s setting starts from a university library (!), part of which is seen throughout. The clothings are 17-18th century and all move well on stage. Cyril Englebert supports the singers well but when the orchestra is alone I would have wished a bit more sparkle and more rubato as the musical language comes over metronomic. Sumi Jo needed most of the conductor’s support. Her voice has lost almost all glitter and sparkle which the role requires. Sumi Jo has to walk on eggs to reach all the right notes. She certainly does, and her singing is still very elegant, but this Manon is a bit unexciting. Wiard Withold on the other hand surprises with a beautiful warm timbre and excellent singing, which make the couplets and the duet of Act 2 the most interesting part of the evening. A singer with potential is also Enrico Casari with bold top notes. All other singers sang also very well.

Conductor-Cyril Englebert, Director-Paul-Émile Fourny, Set designs-Benoît Dugardyn, Costume designs-Giovanna Fiorentini, Lighting designs-Patrick Méeüs, Manon Lescaut-Sumi Jo, Marquis d’Hérigny-Wiard Witholt, Des Grieux-Enrico Casari, Lescaut-Roger Joakim, Marguerite-Sabine Conzen, Madame Bancelin-Laura Balidemaj, Gervais-Denzil Delaere, Renaud-Patrick Delcour

Béatrice et Bénédicte @ Brussels

Anne-Catherine Gillet (Héro), Lionel Lhote (Somarone), Chœurs de la Monnaie/Koor van de Munt, Etienne Dupuis (Claudio)

Another rarity was offered this season by the Monnaie/Munt. The seldomly performed Béatrice et Benedicte by Berlioz. Played successfully for the first time in Baden Baden in 1862 under the composer’s baton, it is based on Shakespear’s Much Ado About Nothing, though heavily pruned and with the addition of one character. Still, Berlioz created a wonderfully melodious, almost bel-canto-style, though still very French opera. A master in orchestration, Berlioz used a smaller orchestra than he usually used, which benefits the opera tremendously, resulting in a flexible, spirited, and often sensual score.
The all-French-speaking cast is certainly beneficial for a comic opera which contains so much spoken dialogue. Having said that, the opera was given in the tent set up at Tour & Taxis, which is worse than the Cirque Royal. The sound expands too much inside, and from outside one could hear helicopters flying, ambulances passing and at certain points the rain lashed so heavily one could barely hear what was said or sung on stage. All dynamics were heavily reduced, a piano sounded like pianissimo.

Intermezzo-Gillet-Beatrice-et-Benedict-Monnaie-Bruxelles-750x350Nevertheless, I enjoyed the production a lot. the conductors Jeremy Rohrer and Samuel Jean are excellent in depicting all the different atmospheres, they are forceful and lively, supple and gentle. The director Richard Brunel creates one fixed setting which is a bit cold to be Sicily, nevertheless it changes its aspect thanks to various props being moved around. The characters are very well directed, single ones ore whole masses move on stage with simplicity and naturalness. To all that Brunel added a few lovely ideas such as Héro slowly hovering in on her wedding chorus, just to mention one.

The main singers were also excellent; I would like to mention the ladies. Anne-Catherine Gillet and Sophie Karthäuser were both delicate Héro, excellent pronunciation, varied phrasing, voice never forced. Excellent both Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Michèle Losier as Béatrice, as well as Eve-Maud Hubeaux as Ursule, which make the Nocturne duet and the terzett in act II marvellous pieces. Sebastien Droy as Bénédict (replacing a sick Julien Dran) was not a powerful Bénédict with a modest top. He had a more delicate approach, nonetheless sang and acted well. The rest of the cast went rather unnoticed.

Conductor-Jérémie Rhorer, Direction-Richard Brunel, Decors-Anouk Dell’Aiera, Costumes-Kostuums-Claire Risterucci, Lights-Belichting-Laurent Castaingt, Dond Pedro-Frederic Caton, Claudio-Etienne Dupuis, Bénédict-Sébastien Droy, Don Juan-Sébastien Dutrieux, Léonato-Pierre Barrat, Héro-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Béatrice-Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Samarone-Lionel Lhote, Ursule-Eve-Maud Hubeaux (30/3/16), Conductor-Samuel Jean, Héro-Sophie Karthäuser, Béatrice-Michèle Losier (06/04/16)

Old meets new in the 2016/17 season of La Monnaie/De Munt, Gent and Liege

imagesAfter a very interesting and varied 2015/16 opera season I hoped in a change of course, in an innovative and original new season. In a newly renovated opera house. Instead, the renovations, which were supposed to be finished by the end of the current season, will protract until the second title of the new season. But from December, the direction hopes, the opera house will be reopened. The program on the other hand is not new, not original, not imaginative, it’s a déjà vu, deja entendu, dozens of times. I am not pretending Portogallo, Graun, van Maldere or other forgetten composers, I am not even pretending more familiar names such as Boildieau, Haydn, Adam, Glinka, Vivaldi. But what is wrong with an Esclarmonde, a Siége de Corinthe, a Roberto Devereux, a Robert le Diable. But a Wagner, a Verdi, a Puccini and a Strauss… (and not the most original ones either): Do they still have something to say? Macbeth was even given only recently at the Munt. Matsukaze as well.

gent_vlaamseoperaThe more interesting operas in Brussels are the Golden Cockerel, Lucio Silla, Pénélope (Faure) and Il ritorno di Ulisse. Half of these are given in concert version!! And again, of the 11 productions, more than half are compostions of the 20th century. And AGAIN, no classical dance is offered!! Thank God there is Ghent (where we can hear Rossini, Halevy, Mussorgski, Tchaikovsky) Liège (which dares to give Auber, lesser known Rossini, Wolf-Ferrari, Ponchielli…), Lille (a staged Vivaldi, this year) which are not very far and which offer quite varied seasons… Well, usually… In the next season we are flooded with Verdi and Puccini there as well: 3 Verdi and 2 Puccini, as there is nothing else that draws people to the opera. Otello and Don Giovanni are planned for Liege, were given in Gent and Brussels this year and last year, respectively. Die Zauberflöte next year in Gent, was given this year in Liege. And so on…Disappointed is only one of the words that suggests itself.

visu_Even_02Oh, by the way. What happened to La muette de Portici? Co-produced with the Opéra Comique in 2011, it was supposed to be staged also in Brussels. Only… ‘It isn’t the right time,’ said Peter De Caluwe, ‘because it would raise the question of whether or not we need Belgium’. I think this is utter nonsense. The creation of Belgium following its staging in 1830 is a lovely story to tell your grandchildren but an opera was never and will never be able to split or unify a country. So: when are we gonna hear it?

“Seven words” of Pergolesi and Haydn @ Bozar

pergolesiTwo settings of The last seven words of Christ on the cross followed one another in the Bozar, one by Pergolesi, one by Haydn. Pergolesi’s music is varied enough with many obbligato accompaniments, especially brilliant the first tenor aria and the cello-accompanied baritone aria Consummatum est. The orchestra played brilliantly although I found René Jacobs not as inspired. Absolutely stunning  the young Prégardien, secure over the whole range, light, dramatic and varied. Less convincing the other three singers, partially monotonous in phrasing, uneven when the vocal line rose or dropped. Correctly sung the second part of the concert, the Stabat mater by Pergolesi.

 

haydnThe other seven words I saw after two days, were by Haydn. Haydn’s biographer Griesinger reports: it was certainly one of the most difficult tasks, to compose 7 Adagio’s which follow one another, that do not fatigue the listener, and arouse in him all sensations which are in the spirit of each word uttered by the dying saviour. Haynd found the work as one of his most successful. And indeed the music is absolutely wonderful. The 4 soloists did not make a big impression mainly because they always sang together (except for a few bars now and then) and blended in with the choir. Herreweghe and his Orchestra of Champs Elysée played very well. The choir on the other hand was impressive. Exceptionally correct and expressive singing as always, the Collegium Vocale Gent were a marvel of passion and fervour.

Pergolesi: Director-René Jacobs, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Soprano-Sunhae Im, Alto-Christophe Dumaux, Tenor-Julian Prégardien, Baritone-Johannes Weisser (12/3/16). Haydn: Director-Philippe Herreweghe, Sopran-Sarah Wegener, Alt-Maria-Henriette Reinhold, Tenor-Robin Tritschler, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Collegium Vocale Gent (14/3/16).

L’opera seria-Gassmann-Jacobs in Brussels

gassmannFlorian Leopold Gassmann, although nowadays practically unknown to most, was one of Vienna’s court composer and organized one of the first associations of public concerts. Admired by Mozart, he was a prolific Bohemian, composing 25 or so operas, more than 50 symphonies, overtures, chamber music etc., who worked with famous librettists and composers such as Metastasio, Goldoni, Salieri. He composed operas for Vienna, Venice, Florence, and was able to merge the characteristics of the Venetian style and the German taste. The opera L’opera seria, written on a libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi, is not seria at all, but a brilliant and hilarious rendering of the rehearsal and staging of an opera, the vanity of singers, the greed of impresarios, and the whims of dancers, composers and librettists. It is part of a widespread and appreciated satirical genre that flourished between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and describes the inconveniences of opera companies and which has examples galore in prose, drama and opera alike (Il teatro alla moda by Benedetto Marcello, Le convenienze e inconvenienze teatrali by Donizetti, La prova dell’opera by Da Ponte, L’opera in prova alla moda by Latilla, L’impresario in angustie by Cimarosa, Prova di un opera seria by Gnecco, and many others).
castrato-illo_2013257aThe plot evolves around the impresario Fallito (!) who commissions an opera to a pretentious composer and librettist (Mr. Sigh and Delirium), three primadonnas (Miss Off-Key Trill, Miss Simpering, and Porporina, which show up with their respective mothers), the primo uomo and the dancer, and who are all only driven by their personal and individual glory. Act I and II sees them complain abut the libretto, the music , the costumes. They rehears among disastrous directions, singers complaining about the orchestra and ornamentation….chaos: The final act finally sees them catastrophically perform the opera on stage only to finally realize that the impresario run off with the money.
 

Calzabigi and Gassmann hide numerous musical gags in the opera (endless long introductions, a comparison aria, useless coloraturas, incompatibility of text and music, whims of singers) but one did not have to be an expert in musical history, so clever and transparent was the direction by Martinoty (who passed away less than a month ago), which I was lucky enough to  see during the Festwochen der Alten Musik in Innsbruck. The Austrian audience laughed with tear filled eyes throughout the performance and bestowed a triumph to music and staging. The latter intelligent and lively, with brilliant ideas and a flow in the narration which kept the public roaring laughing till the end. And except the very funny libretto, the music is amazingly rich, varied, brilliant and descriptive. Rene Jacobs (who didn’t “recently discover” the opera as stated in the Monnaie’s program) couldn’t be better suited to conduct this opera, which he performed in Schwetzingen, Berlin and Innsbruck in the 90s. He directs lively and virtuosistically and is even part of the show.

Patrick Kinmonth, on the other hand, fails miserably to bring the opera to life. The setting is nice but the direction is horribly flat and dull, and more than the dreadfully insipid ideas and piteously silly and trivial gags which have nothing or little to do with the  opera and utterly miss the spirit of the satire, it’s the missed opportunities that bother me: merely the music itself and the libretto are source of amusement.

 

Some of the singers are excellent. Spagnoli is simply wonderful, his style, his pronunciations, the nuances he puts in every line, his taste in phrasing, every inflection, every word is in its right place and his voice doesn’t seem to have lost any of its brilliance. I found Alex Penda and Mario Zeffiri equally good, both with their own qualities, they charm with actorial talent, and musically nail their hugely difficult roles, Zeffiri clearer in his diction and jauntier on stage, Alex Penda impressive with her wide vocal range. I also enjoyed Robin Johannsen, especially in her “son fatta cosi”. Sunhae Im was an acceptable Porporina, but I would have wished a more understandable Italian and a fuller voice. A vocally correct but scenically unmotivated Marcos Fink and an good Thomas Walker complete the cast with 3 decent countertenors in the role of the primadonnas’ mothers and Nicolay Borchev as dance master.

For an opera that is based so much on a  funny libretto I felt quite annoyed that so little importance was put in the text. The dreadful acoustics of the Cirque Royal didn’t help either and affected also the music, which lost its brilliance and clarity.

 Music director-Rene Jacobs, Staging, set design and costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Andreas Grüter, Choreography-Fernando Melo, Dramaturgy-Olivier Lexa, Fallito-Marcos Fink, Delirio-Pietro Spagnoi, Sospiro-Thomas Walker, Ritornello-Mario Zeffiri, Stonatrilla-Alex Penda, Smorfiosa-Robin Johannsen, Porporina-Sunhae Im, Passagallo-Nicolay Borchev, Bragherona-Magnus Staveland, Befana-Stephen Wallace, Caverna-Rubert Enticknap