Ecuba by Nicola Manfroce @ Martina Franca

Nicola Manfroce was a man of talent. Born one year before Rossini in the Calabrian Palmi, he moved his first musical steps in Rome. Aged 19 he presented a cantata in honour of Napoleon (the reference to France is important) and an opera, Alzira, interpreted by the already famous Isabella Colbran, who would become a key figure in Naples for the operas Rossini would compose for her interpretative and vocals skills. Impresario Domenico Barbaja’s nose for excellent talents (he also “discovered” Rossini and Bellini) commissioned Ecuba for the San Carlo, which went on stage in December 1812. Manfroce died only a a few months later aged 21. His insight of the French style is evident from the ouverture, where he masterfully combines the French musical language with Italian melodic inspiration. Throughout, the tragédie lyrique of Spontini also comes to mind. A profound musical chiselling of the tormented characters is achieved with dramatic ariosi and accompanied recitatives in forms that run smoothly into the actual musical numbers.

I was looking forwar to hear Carmela Remigio but unfortunately she was indisposed. as was the conductor Fabio Luisi. Sesto Quatrini took over the musical direction and although he did well, I felt that precision was missing especially in the string section and a research in colours and details was absent. Lidia Fridman as replacement in the role of Ecuba was successful. A slightly tensed top register did not affect the overall musical rendition and dramatic interpretation of the tragic figure with a good technical baggage and a generous voice: I especially enjoyed Roberta Mantegna as Polissena, beautiful timbre and well projected voice. Norman Reinhardt interprets Achilles credibly with a bold vigor and tender reading in his duets with Polissena . Though the timbre of the second tenor is more agreable, the interpretation of Priamus by Mert Süngü needs to wait Act II to be fully convicing. Pizzi’s setting was credible and powerful, almost grand in its linear and static nature. The chorus was placed at the two outside corners while the main action happned in the central section. Movements are predictable but the whole works. Pizzi gets single boos at the courtain call, all others are applauded with enthusiasm.

Conductor-Sesto Quatrini; Direction-Pier Luigi Pizzi, Light design-Massimo Gasparon; Achille-Norman Reinhardt, Priamo-Mert Süngü, Ecuba-Lidia Fridman, Polissena-Roberta Mantegna; Teona-Martina Gresia; Antiloco-Lorenzo Izzo, Duce greco-Nile Senatore, 30th July; Photo by Clarissa Lapola

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Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2019

A highlight, the Matilde di Shabran of this year’s opera in Bad Wildbad, given during its yearly Rossini Festival. Rossini composed the opera for the Teatro Apollonia in Rome. Last minute changes and time constraints made him ask the composer Giovanni Pacini to help out with 3 musical numbers. When the opera was later staged in Naples, Rossini exchanged the numbers written by Pacini with own  compositions. The Bad Wildbad Festival decided to stage the opera in its first Roman version, with the Pacini numbers, among which the Matilde-Edoardo duet in act 2 and the Introduction to Act II. The director of this production was Stefania Bonfadelli, who I fondly remember as excellent soprano. As director she brings us into a journalistic, men-dominated newsroom, tyrannized  by the choleric Corradino. The sets are nice in its grey, straight lines, which could represent Corradino’s cold soul (before meeting Matilde). The text is not always properly mirrored but overall the setting works. It was musically however, that the opera took off. Although the orchestra (new to Bad Wildbad) was not at its best, José Miguel Pérez conducted with much inspiration. Very good Michele Angelini as Corradino. The agility did not seem to pose the slightest problem and the voice is tender in its more lyric passages. Where Sara Blanch was slightly more convincing as Matilde is the ease she moves on stage, almost with a bit of cockiness in her inspired rendering of Matilde. Equally at ease with coloratura she moves up and down the pentagram as if it was the most natural thing in the world. With such singers their musical numbers were an absolute pleasure, Corradino’s entrance aria with its almost frantic runs, Matilde’s closing aria and most of all the quintet in act 1. Victoria Yarovaya had a warm voice which merged well with the soprano in Pacini’s duet No, Matilde non morrai. All other singers also contributed significantly to the success of the opera.

Two minor operas at this year’s festival, but nonetheless worth seeing, were L’accademia di musica by Giovanni Simone Mayr and I tre gobbi by Manuel Garcia. L’accademia di musica, though a thin libretto, had an excellent cast. Two of the singers, Maria del Mar Humanes and César Cortes were members in the masterclass which Bad Wildbad organizes every year. I particularly liked the agile though firm voice and the sparkly stage presence of Maria del Mar Humanes. Filippo Morace combines good actorial skills with a good technical preparation, while Ricardo Seguel sings well his part of Cecchino. Correctly sung and excellently interpreted was the Momoletto of Filippo Pina Castiglioni. Nicola Pascoli directs with much verve. Eleonora Bellocci is one of these voices to follow closely, strong in its middle register, excellent top notes, clear coloratura and refined interpretation. She interpreted also the role of Vezzosa in the one-act opera I tre gobbi by Manuel Garcia (who was Rossini’s first Count Almaviva and father of Maria Malibran) on a libretto by Goldoni and accompanied by one piano. The libretto is extremely modern for its time (a woman, finding herself wooed by three men, the rich Parpagnacco, the beautiful Bellavita and the good Macaco, not being able to chose, decides to live with the 3 of them) and Garcia composes lovely melodies for this spirited libretto. I already said about the positive impression of Eleonora Bellocci, I also enjoyed the three men, especially the nice timbre and agile voice of Javier Povedano. All four were accompanied on the piano by Andres Jesus Gallucci with much empathy, liveliness and passion.

Matilde di Shabran, Conductor-José Miguel Pérez-Sierra, Director and costumes-Stefania Bonfadelli, Scenes-Serena Rocco, Lights-Michael Feichtmeier, Corradino-Michele Angelini, Matilde di Shabran-Sara Blanch, Raimondo-Lopez Shi Zong, Edoardo-Victoria Yarovaya, Aliprando-Emmanuel Franco, Isidoro-Giulio Mastrototaro, Contessa d‘Arco-Lamia Beuque, Ginardo-Ricardo Seguel, Egoldo-Julian Henao Gonzalez, Rodrigo-Julian Henao Gonzalez 27 Juli, 2019, Photo von Patrick Pfeiffer

L’accademia di musica, Musikalische Leitung -Nicola Pascoli, Regiekonzept -Lorenzo Regazzo, Szenenbild -Dragan Denda, Kostüm -Raffaella Marinelli, Licht-Oliver Porst, Guglielmo -Filippo Morace, Valerio-César Cortes, Annetta -Eleonora Bellocci, Cecchino -Ricardo Seguel, Vespina -Maria del Mar Humanes, Momoletto -Filippo Pina Castiglioni, 27 Juli 2019

I tre gobbi: Musikalische Leitung-Andres Jesus Gallucci, Regie-Jochen Schönleber, Kostüm-Martin Warth, Licht-Oliver Porst, Madama Vezzosa-Eleonora Bellocci, Il conte Bellavita-Patrick Kabongo, Il barone Macaco-Emmanuel Franco, Il marchese Parpagnacco-Javier Povedano, 26 Juli 2019, Photo by Fabio Salmeri

Moniuszko’s The Haunted Manor @ Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki

Stanisław Moniuszko is regarded as Poland’s national composer. Although Chopin is maybe the internationally most renowned one, Moniuszko’s operas are closer to the country’s heart. He composed several opéras, the most famous ones being Halka and The Haunted ManorMoniuszko style in the latter, first performed in Warsaw in 1865, includes echoes of Italian and French music (and a Meyerbeer citation), a mix of easily recognizable melodies and sensual atmospheres. The score is fully convincing but is qualitatively miles above the silly libretto. The opera includes a variety of musical forms including arias and several ensembles, and for a varied array of singers (coloratura soprano, a light tenor, a deep bass, etc) including Polish dances. This folkloric little grand-opera deserves to be better known also outside Poland. 

The greatly acclaimed staging by Pountney is minimal but was praised for including popular Polish elements and symbols. Pountney puts the plot in the 20’s and 30’s, keeps the gaiety of the libretto, works with tableaux vivants which he frames in the style of paintings and which he moves on stage. The staging is very lighthearted, full of humour and colourful and the singers are all well directed.

Straznw dwor, The Haunted Manor, is a ensemble opera. Except for the soprano and the tenor, who both have long and difficult aria’s, the opera consists mainly of ensemble pieces or shorter arias. I especially admired the nice and full voice of Elżbieta Wróblewska as Jadwiga. I liked Edyta Piasecka as Hanna though maybe the characterization was  a bit poor in dynamics. Arnold Rutkowski offered a beautifully sung Cisza dokoła, Aleksander Teliga as Skoluba was vocally very convincing in Ten zegar stary, while Adam Kruszewski has a somewhat strained voice but was much applauded in his famous polonaise Kto z mych dziewek serce której’.

Conductor-Grzegorz Nowak, Director-David Pountney, Set Designer-Leslie Travers, Costume Designer-Marie-Jeanne Lecca, Choreography-Emil Wesołowski, Lighting Designer-Fabrice Kebour, , Sword-Bearer-Adam Kruszewski, Hanna-Edyta Piasecka, Jadwiga-Elżbieta Wróblewska, Damazy-Mateusz Zajdel, Stefan-Arnold Rutkowski, Zbigniew-Wojtek Gierlach, Chmberlain’s Wife-Anna Lubańska, Skołuba-Aleksander Teliga, Maciej-Zenon Kowalski, Marta-Joanna Motulewicz, Grześ-Damian Wilma, Katarzyna Zimak, 12/05/19, pictures Krzysztof Bielinski from https://teatrwielki.pl/en/

The Belgian Opera Programme 2019/2020

Compared to previous years the opera programmes in Belgium for the 19/20 season are a bit disappointing in my view. If the Flemish Opera or the Liege Opera somehow balanced the Monnaie/Munt’s predilection for modern works, this isn’t always the case in the new programmes.

For Brussels one world creation would seem adequate, two already a bit too much. But this year we get 3 (three) world creations: one by Dusapin, one by Attahir, and one by Kwiecinski. Funnily enough, in this 200th anniversary of one of Poland’s most beloved composers, Stanislav Moniuszko, we don’t get to hear an opera BY Moniuszko, but an opera ABOUT Moniuszko (sic). The three modern creations are counterbalanced by the umpteenth staging of the Da Ponte trilogy. I hope in a more pleasant staging than the last ones i saw. The presentation of the trilogy in the programme booklet flings words such as sexual morality, de Sade and #MeToo. I can’t wait… The program is rounded off by two more 20th century operas (R. Strauss and Honegger) and furthermore by the only two operas I really look forward to: Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama and Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. The Monnaie/Munt doesn’t seem to want to offer its paying public a diversity in ballet either, maintaining a modern ballet-only policy.

The Flemish Opera, winner of the 2019 Opera Award for best Opera Company, presents the season of the new artistic director Jan Vandenhouwe. More diverse than the Munt, though I don’t see the need for two Verdi operas in one season (Don Carlos and Macbeth), and Cosi fan tutte again!! Two further titles are disguised as opera but are really a potpourri of music by Verdi and Wagner (Platel’s Choeurs) and the scenes from Goethe’s Faust by Mendelssohn. What stands out is an Schrecker opera (Der Schmied von Gent), a schoolopera by Brecht/Weill (Der Jasager), the Sheharazade/heure espagnole dyptic by Ravel and a welcome Rusalka by Dvorak. Interesting enough 3 productions (Rusalka, Choeurs and the Ravel dyptic) are mentioned under “opera” as well as under “ballet”. This year also the Flemish Opera offers a modern-only programme for ballet (!!).

Overall the most diverse programme with the more interesting names come from Liège. Although yet another Don Carlos is given in parallel to Gent (I would help if thew talked to each other…) together with a second Verdi (Nabucco), the singers are the experienced Gregory Kunde, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Yolanda Auyanet and Kate Aldrich. Rossini’s Cenerentola has the interesting newcomer Tenor Sekgapane in its cast, Bellini’s Sonnambula the wonderful Nino Machaidze, Barbera and Mimica. A rare Alzira (a third but at least a rare Verdi) and an even rarer Lakme (with Jodie Devos in the title role) are also on the programme, which includes also a Pecheurs de perles with Annick Massis, a Candide in concert version and Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice. 10 operas are played in Liège, a quantity which I sometimes found detrimental to quality. I could have done with a Verdi less, But at least the programme is diverse.

https://www.operaliege.be/saison_19_20/

https://www.demunt.be/nl/program

https://operaballet.be/nl/het-huis/blog/ontdek-seizoen-2019-2020

Rarities in March (Paer’s Agnese and Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable)

A wonderful little rarity by Ferdinando Paer was staged by the Teatro Regio in Torino; Paer is one of many transition composers between Mozart and Rossini, who wrote excellent music, today unfortunately rarely performed. His Agnese was first performed in 1809 and then all over Italy and Europe until the 1820’s.  The plot revolves around Agnese who elopes with Ernesto, fact which drives her father into madness believing her dead. Hen Ernesto leaves Agnese she goes back to her father to ask for forgiveness (with her little daughter whom she gave birth to in the meantime). The plot has a happy ending with the father regaining his mind and Ernesto asking for forgiveness. Diego Fasolis kept the music exciting and crisp with an orchestra of the Regio at its best and beautifully played solos.
The director’s setting are huge old-style tin boxes which open and reveal the different interiours: the mental institute where Agnese’s father is treated, the forest, Pasquale’s cabinet etc.  Muscato’s direction is wonderful. The opera is semi serious and Muscato reflects it in the characters. Agnese and her father are heartbreaking, Ernesto with his over-dramatic movements hilarious. The doctor, Vespina the maid and Pasquale are well characterised and the chorus moves extremely well on stage.

The most impressive singers where Markus Werba as the father Uberto and Edgardo Rocha as Edgardo the repentant lover. Both brought a beautiful palette of colours to their interpretations. Markus Werba was incredibly touching as the father, elegant, never over the top, beautiful phrasing. Edgardo Rocha displayed a refined belcanto technique and on stage the over-the-top acting was irresistible. All other singers contributed also greatly to the success of this rarely staged opera. The musical direction, together with the heartwarming staging and the enthusiastic singers made this a rare and lovely opera experiences.

Another rarity was presented in Brussels, albeit in concert version, Robert le diable by Meyerbeer. I was very excited when I read about it as I think Meyerbeer composed wonderful music, melodic, dramatic, romantic. Less excited when I heard the names. Korchak (is he really up for the role?) Pidó (eye rolling) Auyanot (pouting with scepticism), Courjal (who?) Dral (who??). And who was the soprano again? But I must admit the performance was one of the best I’ve ever heard. Pidó conducted with incredible energy an orchestra that was in top shape, he also accompanied the singers very well. Korchak surprised me with a resounding voice, an admirable stamina, flexibility  and extension he kept from beginning to the end. It was the first time I heard Courjal but I find his warm voice very pleasant. He certainly is very good in the part of Bertram, though maybe not very diabolic. Another very good singer I really admired was Julien Dran in the role of Raimbaut. His voice light and flexible, he sang an impressive top note in his duet with Raimbaut. Yolanda Auyanet was very dramatic and well suited to the role of Alice. The soprano was of course Lisette Oropesa, who i remember well from her adina in Pesaro and even better from her Marguerite in Paris’ Les Huguenot. I thought she was stunning. Simply stunning. The timbre might not be as warm, but all notes, from the low to the high and top ones, all are there. The coloratura comes with apparent easy, the character of Isabelle well interpreted with beautiful colours and musicality. A very moving interpretation. A shame it did not come in a scenic version.

Direttore d’orchestra-Diego Fasolis, Regia-Leo Muscato, Scene-Federica Parolini, Costumi-Silvia Aymonino, Luci-Alessandro Verazzi, Agnese-María Rey-Joly, Uberto-Markus Werba, Ernesto-Edgardo Rocha, Don Pasquale-Filippo Morace, Don Girolamo-Andrea Giovannini, Carlotta-Lucia Cirillo, Vespina-Giulia Della Peruta, Il custode dei pazzi-Federico Benetti, 17/03/19, photos from Edoardo Piva@Teatro Regio

Conductor-Evelino Pidó, Chorus master-Martino Faggiani, Robert-Dmitry Korchak, Bertram-Nicolas Courjal, Raimbaut-Julien Dran, Alberti/Prêtre-Patrick Bolleire, Isabelle-Lisette Oropesa, Alice-Yolanda Auyanet, Héraut/Maître de cérémonie-Pierre Derhet, picture from Lisette Oropesa facebook page. 2/4/19

January in Belgium (Les pecheurs des perles@Gent, Faust@Liège, Gioconda@De Munt/La Monnaie)

I saw two very nice productions last month, one in Gent and one in Liège. Although I am not fond, for different reasons, of either Bizet’s Les pecheurs des perles or Gounod’s Faust, both were very satisfying in terms of singers, conductors and directors and resulted eventually in very pleasing opera evenings.

Les pecheurs des perles was told in a sort of flashback: from an elderly home, Zurga and Nadir re-live the past and their love for Leila. The past is then visualized by a huge sea wave and three dancers. The stage rotated regularly from present to past and in some occasions the two merged, such as when the dancers representing Nadir and Leila, were actually cuddling on a table in the elderly home, surrounded by the seagulls. A very lovely and touching moment of magic realism. From all the voices it was Elena Tsallagova’s Leila who stood out while David Reiland delivered a direction underlining the languish aspect of the score throughout the opera, which was played without pause (a habit I support).

Liège showed us a production of Faust by Stefano Poda already performed in Turin. It’s a symbolic and philosophical vision. The stage is dominated by a giant ring, which turns and lifts and around which everybody moves. The effect is stunning, the idea brilliant, the content and position of the ring vary along the acts and it allows movement of singers and masses. The visual and light effects are beautiful and underline each scene efficiently,  the costumes are very nice and adequate and the Walpurgis ballet was beautifully choreographed. Patrick Davin directs with beautiful colours a score that I find far to “nice” for the subject. The cast was very good with a wonderful interpretation and a generous voice by Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Mephisto and a good Faust by Marc Laho. Anne Catherine Gillet, except for a few pushed high notes in act 5, charms with a beautiful fleshy timbre.

I saw a less convincing Gioconda, too. “Py Makes it a sinister tale”, they wrote about the director,  or…”chooses for…black“. I’m not sure, however, the intentional choice is much in Py’s power. There are recurring themes and objects such as the all-black, the dog masks, the feeling of grim and oppressive. Sometimes this works well-where Py is indeed able to add more than a setting (Les Huguenots were excellent, Les dialogues des Carmelites impressive)-sometimes it doesn’t (Hamlet or this Gioconda). The continuous black was a bit monotonous, then nudity became a recurrent contrivance and trash came into the picture (having sex on a table, while holding a frying pan with a fish in it?) plus a group rape during the dance scene (ok we got it: sex and violence is a constant in this Py-world, wherever it is). I was bored halfway through the first part. Vocally the two casts weren’t exciting either. None of the two Gioconda’s were fully convincing, one because of the colourless interpretation, the other due a certain distance to the character. Of the two Laura’s I liked the warm voice of Szilvia Vörös in the second cast. Really credible were the Enzo and Barnaba of Stefano La Colla and France Vassallo. The latter vocally and scenically also very convincing. Carignani’s direction is dry and nervous with no space for sentimentality. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall two unsatisfactory evenings.

Les pecheurs de perles, Dirigent-David Reiland, Concept, regie & scenografie-FC Bergman, Regie-Stef Aerts, Marie Vinck-Thomas Verstraeten, Decor en belichting-Thomas Verstraeten, Joé Ageman, Kostuums-Judith Van Herck, Dramaturgie-Luc Joosten, Leïla-Elena Tsallagova, Nadir-Charles Workman, Zurga-Boris Statsenko, Nourabad-Stanislav Vorobyov. 15/01/19, photo-Annemie Augustijns

Faust, Conductor-Patrick Davin, Director, Set Design, Costume Design, Lighting, Choreography -Stefano Poda, Faust-Marc Laho, Marguerite-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Méphistophélès-Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Valentin-Lionel Lhote, Siebel-Na’ama Goldman, Dame Marthe-Angélique Noldus, Wagner-Kamil Ben Hsaïn Lachiri, 30/01/19, photo Edoardo Piva Ramella&Giannese

La Gioconda, Muzikale Leiding-Paolo Carignani, Regie-Olivier Py, Decor En Kostuums-Pierre-André Weitz, Belichting-Bertrand Killy, , La Gioconda- Béatrice Uria-Monzon /Hui He, Laura Adorno-Szilvia Vörös/Silvia Tro Santafé, Enzo Grimaldo-Andrea Carè/Stefano La Colla, Barnaba-Franco Vassallo/Scott Hendricks, La Cieca-Ning Liang, Alvise Badoero-Jean Teitgen, Isèpo-Roberto Covatta, Zuane / Un pilot-Bertrand Duby, Un Barnabotto/Una Voce-Bernard Giovani, Un Cantore-René Laryea, Una Voce-Alejandro Fonté, 30/01 and 01/02/19. Pictures from http://www.Lamonnaie.be

Le Comte Ory @ Liège

Before Rossini’s last opera Guillaume Tell, a project came up which intended to re-use the music of Il Viaggio a Reims. This latter opera was written exclusively for the coronation of Charles X and was staged only a limited number of times. Le Comte Ory, the second last opera by Rossini, was staged with success from 1828 to the mid-19th century for approx. 400 times. Liege’s staging is a coproduction with the Opera Comique which had a set of very good singers. Antonino Siragusa, except for his dynamic  poverty, has a luminous voice which he combines with a solar appearance, easy coloratura, excellent musicality and an instinctive acting. A pleasure to see and hear him. Jodie Devos has a beautiful voice, her timbre velvety and soft, her high and top notes clear, her embellishments delicate and light. The entrance cavatina was sung beautifully with the sensual voice matching the character’s melancholy. The cabaletta was not as sparkling though, partially due to the tempi, partially due to dubious variations. José Maria Lo Monaco makes for a good Isolier, and the two basses Laurent Kubla and Enrico Marabelli sing their respective arias with great taste.

The setting is not the one originally conceived (the time of the crusades), Podalydès puts it around the time of the opera’s composition, so that religious puritanism plays a bigger role. The stage design is simple with the interior of a church in Act 1 and the walls of the castle in Act 2. But there is basically very little action if not for the traditional singers’ movements. The (very) rare gags serve only their own purpose, there is no concept except for the temporally shifted setting. The opera works because the libretto is well written, but the staging is a but dull and clearly the singers don’t always know how to move. What to say about the musical direction of Jordi Bernacér. The tempi are extremely slow. So slow I rarely heard any opera directed (maybe Otello by Ferro in Naples, where I was equally bored). The effect is of a big long boring musical piece after another. The aria of the governor seemed endless. None of the pieces had any energy any vigour; the music sounded repetitive and tedious. This production didn’t do Rossini any justice, it’s nothing like Rossini should sound like.

Direction Musicale-Jordi Bernàcer, Mise En Scène-Denis Podalydès, Décors-Eric Ruf, Costumes-Christian Lacroix, Lumières-Stéphanie Daniel, Le Comte Ory-Antonino Siragusa, La Comtesse Adèle-Jodie Devos, Isolier-Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Raimbaud-Enrico Marabelli, Le Gouverneur-Laurent Kubla, Dame Ragonde-Alexise Yerna, Alice-Julie Mossay, Mainfroid-Stefano De Rosa, Gérard-Xavier Petithan, 02/01/19, photo by https://www.operaliege.be/spectacle/le-comte-ory/

Don Pasquale @ La Monnaie/De Munt

Donizetti, as many other belcanto composers, is not very loved in Brussels, neither comic nor serious operas. Except for sporadic stagings of Elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale over the last 50 years (including the beautiful Kaaitheater staging with a viguros De Marchi and a young Diana Damrau), we have to go back to 1991 and 1982 for concert performances of La favorite and Anna Bolena, or 1979 for a duca d’Alba. Two additional but awful stagings of Lucia and Lucrezia but that’s about it since at least the 1840’s . But the beautiful dramatic operas such as Devereux, Maria Stuarda, Maria de Rohan, Pia etc are missing (unless we look into the 19th century). So even a comic opera is welcome.

The setting of this Don Pasquale is beautifully designed by Pelly and his team. It’s a section of a room rotating on stage in and around which everything evolves. In act II don Pasquale’s life is put upside down by the arrival of Norina, Pelly takes this literally and puts the house ….upside down. I liked the staging and the direction, which was much inspired by Feydeau. Unfortunately there is a lot of overacting, door slamming, stomping etc…far too much and all a bit unrefined, the opposite of donizetti ‘s music, and mostly visible in the overly aggressive Norina of Anne Catherine Gillet. Nonetheless I much enjoyed her beautifully warm timbre, her ease in singing the embellishments and her pronunciation. I would have liked to see also Ms De Niese but she was indisposed the night I went. Excellent are both Don Pasquales, a character which is exceptionally delivered by Pertusi and Spagnoli with much humanity. Pertusi is a wonderful singer with a beautiful round voice, excellent musicality who delivers a touching Don Pasquale with many vocal colours. Where I slightly prefer Pietro Spagnoli is in his spontaneity, in the depiction, often with a simple gesture, of the joys and troubles of the poor old fooled man (hilarious the way he lets himself melt on the armchair when he sees Norina). Impeccable in his delivery of  a wide palette of emotions only through his speaking, the text is articulated in such a way that one can almost hear a comma, a parenthesis, a question mark. I much enjoyed Pogossiov and his lovely open baritone voice. Like a fish out of water Lionel Lhote with his aspirated t’s and double consonants where there weren’t. Dangerously leaned towards off key notes and with a short high register, both tenors are just acceptable though scenically credible. The Munt’s Orchestra, whose playing-together is very unclean, has a scholastic approach and plays with little nuances.

Muzikale leiding-Alain Altinoglu, Regie en kostuums-Laurent Pelly, Decor-Chantal Thomas, Belichting-Duane Schuler, Don Pasquale-Michele Pertusi/Pietro Spagnoli, Dottor Malatesta-Lionel Lhote/Rodion Pogossiov, Ernesto-Joel Prieto/Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, Norina-Anne Catherine Gillet, Un Notaro-Alessandro Abis, 13+14/12/18. photos ©Baus

Semiramide @ La Fenice

Semiramide comes back to La Fenice, for which it was composed in 1823. It was Rossini’s last opera for Italy. The setting by Ms Ligorio is quite interesting as it changes from a superficial all-golden all-beautiful in the first act to a dark and black in the second, when all mysteries are unveiled. The dark represents, I imagine, the bleak future and dark emotions of almost all characters starting from Idreno who sees his throne snatched away by Arsace, Azema who is forced by the tenor to love him, Arsace discovering the awful truth and Semiramide brought to justice. The dancers are unconnected but bring some movement to the otherwise static plot.

The title role is adequately sung by Jessica Pratt. In the second act she brings a wider pallet of colours to the part and her top register shines but I felt the first act was less emotional and the variations in the repeats were of dubious taste. Enea Scala has some dryness in the high register, I think Idreno is more suited to a tenore di grazia and his push in the upper register make him lack colours but the boldness he approaches the role with is stunning. Esposito is excellent as actor and singer though the character of Assur- I guess-allows him to pull only a limited amount of registers. Teresa Iervolino has a strange enthusiams to attack some notes from below instead of straight on, but except for this she was my overall favourite. Arsace allows for a whole range of emotions and I was touched throughout, the low range of her voice is warm and generous and her coloratura comes with enviable ease. Smaller roles are adequately cast and they all sing well, I especially enjoyed the clear voice of lovely Azema. Frizza directs.

Direttore-Riccardo Frizza, Regia-Cecilia Ligorio, Scene-Nicolas Bovey, Costumi-Marco Piemontese, movimenti coreografici e ballerina-Daisy Phillips, Semiramide-Jessica Pratt, Arsace-Teresa Iervolino, Assur-Alex Esposito, Idreno-Enea Scala, Oroe-Simon Lim, Azema-Marta Mari, Mitrane-Enrico Iviglia, L’ombra di Nino-Francesco Milanese, 27/10/18, photos by Michele Crosera

Donizetti Festival 2018 @ Bergamo

Although Donizetti composed 2 small vocal pieces in 1817, Enrico di Borgogna was the first piece to be put on stageThe opera was written for the re-opening of the Teatro San Luca in Venice after extensive renovation works and was given its first performance the 14th November 1818. Very brief was the critic of the Gazzetta privilegiata di Venezia who wrote that the opera “Pleased but was not fully enjoyed” and wrote about the composer that he was “with good talents provided”. The critic of the Nuovo Osservatore Veneziano gave us a clearer picture: “a trio in the first act, a duet in the second was strongly applauded….. one would perhaps have applauded more, if the sudden indisposition of Signora Adelaide Catalani had not forced to omit her aria of the second act as well as two duets between her and Ms. Eckerlin.” He then went on describing “the merit of music after these bitter events” and said that the public “knew how to distinguish the merit of the composition from that of the execution. . ….. for which the audience wanted to greet Mr. Donizetti on stage with applause” Overall a very successful result for unknown “Donizelletti”’s (sic) first staged opera. The libretto, written by Bartolomeo Merelli (who would later commission Verdi’s first 3 operas) is dramaturgically very thin but this allows the director of the Bergamo production to avoid the historic setting: During the overture we are backstage of a theatre and see several chairs with the characters’ name (Enrico, Elisa, Guido…) with the name of the  opera’s first performers (Fanny Eckerlin, Adelina Catalani etc….) It becomes clear we are at Enrico di Borgogna’s own rehearsal in 1818, and  at the end of the overture we see the theatre on revolving for the singers to perform the opera within the opera. The effect is very pleasing especially as the singers, when acting within the performance, exaggerate their movements in an affected style. They all wear 18th century clothes and 18th century is also the theatre management-including the impresario going crazy in order to stage the opera without major incidents, and the stage machinery which hands over props, lowers painted backgrounds and moves sea waves. A beautiful example of metatheatre.

As the Teatro Donizetti is being renovated, the performances take place in the Teatro Sociale in Bergamo Alta. The theatre is not very big and this allows the singers to lighten their voice, look into depth for colors and details. All singers are very good including the smaller roles. Levy Sekgapane has a small voice but has an easy fling to the top and the quick embellishments are flawless specially in his 2nd act aria with choir. The buffo Luca Tittoto has a beautiful voice and sings both his arias with much verve and humor, his misogynistic aria was quite funny. The two ladies Ganassi and Bonitatibus sing very well, the voices are not forced and their act II duet is sung beautifully. Ganassi was quite amusing with the mix of theatrical over acting acting (when playing her own character’s first performer Catalani) and true feelings for Enrico (in the beautiful duet with Bonitatibus/Enrico/Eckerlin) The choir sings well, and the orchestra, which is excellently balanced with just 18 string players, is well directed under Alessandro de Marchi.

Il castello di Kenilworth (or Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth in its revised title) was composed for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. For his first encounter with the royalties of romanticism (fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century and a subject dear to Donizetti, who would compose such jewels as Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena) Donizetti shows dramatic intensity in many pieces such as the duets and the quartet of the second act. Donizetti, in a letter to his teacher and mentor Mayr, wrote after the first performance:
The faith of theatrical performances is always bizarre. I went on stage with Castello di Kenilworth on the sixth of this month (i.e. 6th July 1829), at the gala for her Majesty the Queen. And this opera, which has been applauded so much at every piece during the dress rehearsal was almost rejected at its first performance. I suffered very much because of it, all the more for having seen the rehearsals of what should’ve been an excellent first performance. Or perhaps it was the court etiquette, because they do not applaud on such evenings. The opera ended up neither very well perform nor very well listened to by the audience. Then la Tosi fell sick, and only on the 12th was it given again. It was Sunday, a beautiful day, the theatre packed, the singers in good spirits. I alone was uneasy. The king and queen of Piedmont came and applauded. Prince Leopold came and did likewise. The king and queen of Naples came and did likewise. Thus the singers were full of animation, the public could express themselves, and the result of all this was continuous applause! We were all called on stage, and the evening was most brilliant. Between us I would not give one piece of Il paria “ (the opera written for the San Carlo just 6 months earlier) for all of Kenilworth, but meanwhile: fate is bizarre.
The public seemed to think otherwise, though, as Il paria was given 5 performances, while Kenilworth was staged 12 times and re-staged at the end of the same year. Afterwards, however, the opera disappeared until 1989.

This year’s Bergamo production does the work full justice. It seemed to start as a two-chairs-and-a-table setting but the stage direction and the beautiful lighting compensated what turned out to be a well directed show with a interesting finale : Élisabeth, around which all intriguing revolved, sings her final aria while a golden grid detaches from the floor turning out to be the Queen’s own cage. Frizza doesn’t shine with fantasy but he accompanies well albeit with a little drag. The stars of the show are clearly the singers. Pratt as Elisabeth is more dramatic than usual. The role fits her like a glove, scenically and vocally she is excellent. Next to her Remigio is wonderful as actress as well as singer, hers is the showstopper in act II, an aria where she duets with harp and glassharmonica, an instrument Donizetti would later think of again for his Lucia di Lammermoor. Xabier Anduaga was equally excellent as Leicester. This very young tenor seems to be clear for stardom as he has a voice that is strong and expansive, his top notes bright and his coloratura clear nonetheless. Stefan Pop is a fine Warney.

Enrico di Borgogna, Direttore-Alessandro De Marchi, Regia-Silvia Paoli, Scene-Andrea Belli, Costumi-Valeria Donata Bettella, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Enrico-Anna Bonitatibus, Elisa-Sonia Ganassi, Guido-Levy Sekgapane, Pietro-Francesco Castoro, Gilberto-Luca Tittoto, Brunone-Lorenzo Malagola Barbieri, Geltrude-Federica Vitali, 23/11/18
Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, Direttore-Riccardo Frizza, Regia-Maria Pilar Pérez Aspa, Scene-Angelo Sala, Costumi-Ursula Patzak, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Elisabetta-Jessica Pratt, Amelia-Carmela Remigio, Leicester-Xabier Anduaga, Warney-Stefan Pop, Lambourne-Lorenzo Barbieri, Fanny-Federica Vitali 24/11/18, Pictures by Gian Franco Rota