Tancredi @ Brussels

It’s always a pleasure to hear Rossini’s Tancredi, the effort Rossini put into the composition is evident, especially in the women’s arias and duets. For the premiere at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice in 1813 he had two leading ladies: Adelaide Malanotte as Tancredi and Elisabetta Manfredini as Amenaide, the latter sang in Ciro in Babilonia a year earlier and Rossini would also compose the soprano part for her in Sigismondo and Adelaide di Borgogna. The team put together for the two evenings in Brussels, one with the happy ending written for Venice and one with the Ferrara ending (where Tancredi dies at the end) is somewhat heterogeneous. Giuliano Carella was the conductor and he conducted as usual, with vitality and verve. At times the precision of the singers’ coloratura suffered from tempi that were too speedy. But overall there were no drops in tension. The orchestra was not disastrous but not far from it either: I felt that as simple as the accompaniment can be in Italian opera, the more difficult it is to sound appropriate. In this respect the orchestra sounded quite mechanical, no nuance, no subtlety had to be expected, and in vain were Carellas gestures to play more piano. What lacked in Marie-Nicole Lemieux was the coloratura, quite unsatisfactory, but there is not too much of it in Tancredi and what one can appreciate is the beautiful chest register which Lemieux uses unsparingly. Evident is the big personality but the interpretation is questionable and the important final aria before the happy ending does not fully convince. I much enjoyed Salome Jicia as Amenaide although this part requires a higher soprano (as all parts do written for the Manfredini) and the picchettati in the beautiful aria in act 2 put her under strain in terms of precision and intonation as well as the cabaletta of her entrance aria but this was in part due to Carella’s tempi. Very well Enea Scala. Although no ringing voice, there was a beautiful research in colours and easy coloratura paired with an impeccable pronunciation. Nonetheless I’d much prefer him not to choose for the higher top notes’ option as they have the tendency to sound a bit harsh. Excellent Blandine Staskiewicz in the small role of Roggiero, I thought her aria in act 2 was impeccable. A bit subdued Lena Belkina as Isaura. Very unrefined was Ugo Guagliardo’s singing as Orbazzano.

Director-Giuliano Carella, choir leader-Martino Faggiani, Argirio-Enea Scala, Amenaide-Salome Jicia, Tancredi-Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Orbazzano-Ugo Guagliardo, Isaura-        Lena Belkina, Roggiero-Blandine Staskiewicz, De Munt/La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus, 11/10/17, http://www.urfm.braidense.it/rd/04966.pdf

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Rossini Opera Festival 2017

The only person who really impressed me this year at the Viaggio a Reims was Roberto Lorenzi with a true bass voice and a fluid coloratura. Others were also enjoyable such as Oscar Oré as Belfiore or Noluvuyiso Mpofu as Cortese. Corinna and Folleville lacked substance and were a bit thin. Good all others. The conductor Michele Spotti was hugely applauded but I found his direction a bit flat, colours missing and not much variation. The mise en scene was the very effective one by Emilio Sagi and as always this Viaggio by the students of the Rossini Academy is a pleasure to watch, almost touching in the enthusiasm the young singers put into their singing and acting.

Torvaldo e Dorliska was this year’s most balanced opera I thought. Both the visual and musical side were satisfactory. The stage is nicely designed by Mario Martone, a forest behind a iron gate impress with the versatility it offers to move around it, and the delightful costumes by Ursula Patzak put us into the narrative immediately. Very well the young director Francesco Lanzillotta. He plays with colours, dynamics, and tempi to give the music the lightheartedness and tension it deserves. Salome Jicia, seemingly the Semiramide of the 2019 ROF, started on a wobbly foot with her first aria but her performance grew over time into a well performed Dorliska, though I felt her lower and middle register were not as strong as I remember them in Elena in last year’s Donna del lago. Very well Dmitry Korchak as her lover with a bright ringing voice he also had no difficulty to find his way through the rapid vocalisms, and the top notes were poured out with ease. Of Carlo Lepore I especially liked both the comic and tragic characterization of the character. Nicola Alaimo has not a huge voice but sings with great taste. Great fun was Filippo Fontana in his small aria Sopra quell’albero vedo un bel pero while I thought Raffaella Lupinacci was marvellous in the small role of Carlotta, her aria very well sung. Since i could not see the subtitles from where I was sitting, I especially appreciated how everybody put extra effort in the pronunciation as the plot was easily followed even without subtitles.

Le siège de Corinthe was a huge disappointment. The direction was given to La Fura dels Baus, who have created many memorable productions, but this opera did not tickle they inspiration at all I feel. They de-contextualized the plot, and the struggle for independence of the Greek from the Ottomans is interpreted by La Fura with the struggle for water. Although I get their point and can imagine the parallel somewhere, the show did not convince me in the least for the absence of a real storytelling, and boredom came up pretty soon. Furthermore 20L-water-bottles strung together into walls was visually not very pleasing. The costumes looked like there were paint stains on them. Furthermore, instead of the ballet one could read poems by Lord Byron projected on the wall. They certainly were congruent (and I rediscovered Byron’s touching “Darkness”) but it’s not a ballet, and the dancers came in only very late into the orchestral intermezzo. Abbado did not direct badly but I felt he was accompanying well (which is still a great achievement) rather than looking for exciting ways to interpret the newly edited score, and overall he was not able to lift the musical part above the abominable visual disaster. Nino Machaidze’s voice is well projected and she has a good enough coloratura, but she impressed me much more in her Neapolitan Desdemona. My issue with Luca Pisaroni is that he is not a real bass voice and that makes him lose credibility as Mahomet altogether, especially when he awkwardly tries to reach the lower notes. Much better the two tenors. Sergey Romanovsky has a beautiful and strong tenor voice and his last aria is sung very well. I hope he choses his repertoire well and doesn’t push too much on the top notes as it would be a pleasure to hear him in the Neapolitan Rossini in future. Convincing was also John Irvin as Pamyra’s father, in fact more convincing that the day before at the the 3 Tenors’ concert. Cecilia Molinari was barely audible but Carlo Cigni, Xabier Anduaga, and Omar-Iurii were all convincing.

La pietra del paragone’s conductor Daniele Rustioni is precies but not as light as needed. Margheri has the right physique du role for Count Asdrubale and a nice voice but he is somewhat flat in colours and a little clumsy with the agilities. Even worse Aya Wakizono, she is almost inaudible in the grave and center even with the orchestra playing pp. It is a disaster for a role that urges for the low notes of the voice. The coloratura is good but her pronunciation a bit scholarly and she really shines only when the variations bring her to the higher notes. Very good Paolo Bordogna who, though with a slight tight vibrato, is a great singer who’s Pacuvio does not find obstacles in the range, his agilities good and much fun on stage. Wonderful Davide Luciano, who I gladly saw again after the very positive impression he had made on me in the Inganno felice, an impression that was repeated: beautiful voice, sure in the agilities, excellent phrasing, but also a great actor who knows how to speak with body, gestures, and a simple look. The direction uses the whole setting of a modern house in a continuous flow of people that makes the plot glide fluidly, beautiful the lights and the costumes, the latter in colourful and elegant 70s style.

Il viaggio a Reims: Direzione-Michele Spotti, Elementi scenici-Emilio Sagi, Costumi-Pepa Ojanguren, Corinna-Beatriz De Sousa, Marchesa Melibea-Martiniana Antonie, Contessa di Folleville-Giorgia Paci, Madama Cortese-Noluvuyiso Mpofu, Cavalier Belfiore-Oscar Oré, Conte di Libenskof-Emmanuel Faraldo, Lord Sidney-Elcin Huseynov, Don Profondo-Roberto Lorenzi, Barone di Trombonok-Michael Borth, Don Alvaro-Francesco Auriemma, Don Prudenzio-Daniele Antonangeli, Don Luigino-Alasdair Kent, Delia–Francesca Tassinari, Maddalena-Valeria Girardello, Modestina-Marigona Qerkezi, Zefirino/Gelsomino-Ruzil Gatin, Antonio-Aleksandr Utkin, 16 agosto 2017, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Direttore-Francesco Lanzillotta, Regia-Mario Martone, Scene-Sergio Tramonti, Costumi-Ursula Patzak, Duca d’Ordow-Nicola Alaimo, Dorliska-Salome Jicia, Torvaldo-Dmitry Korchak, Giorgio-Carlo Lepore, Carlotta-Raffaella Lupinacci, Ormondo-Filippo Fontana, 18 agosto 2017, Le siège de Corinthe, Direttore-Roberto Abbado, Progetto Regia-La Fura dels Baus, Regia e Scene-Carlus Padrissa, Elementi scenografici e pittorici, Costumi e Video-Lita Cabellut, Mahomet II-Luca Pisaroni, Cléomène-John Irvin, Pamyra-Nino Machaidze, Néoclès-Sergey Romanovsky, Hiéros-Carlo Cigni, Adraste-Xabier Anduaga, Omar-Iurii Samoilov, Ismène-Cecilia Molinari, 19 agosto 2017, La pietra del paragone, Direttore-Daniele Rustioni, Regia, Scene e Costumi-Pier Luigi Pizzi, Marchesa Clarice-Aya Wakizono, Baronessa Aspasia-Aurora Faggioli, Donna Fulvia-Marina Monzó, Conte Asdrubale-Gianluca Margheri, Cavalier Giocondo-Maxim Mironov, Macrobio-Davide-Luciano, Pacuvio-Paolo Bordogna, Fabrizio-William Corrò, 20 agosto 2017. Pictures: Studio Amati Bacciardi/RossiniOperaFestival/www.Lafura.com

Le prophète @ Toulouse

For and introduction to Le prophète see the article about the Essen production.

It’s true that nowadays it is very difficult to find the money to stage an opera in a “grand” manner the way it was supposed to surprise and amaze the audience in the past (starting with the machinery of the 18th century). And in Toulouse the locations only hinted at the ones required in the libretto and one had to use a bit of imagination (the wheat field, Jean’s abode, the church) and also the final explosion was a bit minimal. But if I compare this one with the Essen staging, then this was quite grand altogether, though a bit conventional. But the masses moved, the singers acted, the costumes were nice, the lighting adequate…I was quite happy.

 

Claus Peter Flor didn’t have the punch of Carella but accompanied well nonetheless albeit a bit unimaginative. There were also considerable and objectionalbe cuts such as Jean’s second act aria. Excellent both the orchestra and the chorus.

Nothing more to add to John Osborn’s singing I didn’t already say. His interpretation is not of an insolent, audacious Jean, rather a Jean victim of circumstances, singing with a soft and flexible voice. Excellent the two female characters. Sofia Fomina has a full, strong, lyrical soprano voice with a lush centre and an easy top. Kate Aldrich was an immense surprise. I always heard her in mezzo roles and was a bit skeptic as of whether she could manage the descends to the lowest notes the role required. But it was a first rate performance with resounding top notes fluid coloratura (in Fides’ last aria) and a mesmerizing stage presence.

direction musicale-Claus Peter Flor, mise en scène-Stefano Vizioli, décors et costumes -Alessandro Ciammarughi, lumières -Guido Petzold, mouvements chorégraphiques -Pierluigi Vanelli, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Kate Aldrich, Berthe -Sofia Fomina, Jonas -Mikeldi Atxalandabaso, Mathisen -Thomas Dear, Zacharie -Dimitry Ivashchenko, Le Comte d’Oberthal-Leonardo Estévez. 30th June, 17, pictures by Patrice Nin.

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.