Les contes d’Hoffmann @ Amsterdam

Kratzer’s Lucio Silla in Brussels let me cold, but I was looking forward to this new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann. The setting is actually beautiful. It represents a section view of several rooms in a three-story building. The central and biggest room was Hoffman’s bedroom. All the other smaller rooms around it change from one act to the other. Nicklausse stays in the middle room almost for the entirety of the opera, and keeps singing from the middle room even when dialoguing with other characters. This was a bit irritating also because filling a whole opera by one’s presence convincingly was clearly difficult. In the Olympia-act the top room is a cage where young, eyeless girls are kept captive, sleeping on the floor. In a short gory scene one of the girls’ face (Olympia) is sliced open (in the kitchen) in order to insert her eyes. Dressed up, she is pushed in front of the guests. She is scared, and every now and again, during her Oiseux aria, she searches shelter in the arms of Cochenille, but Spalanzani keeps pushing her back in front of the audience like an animal in the circus. Whenever she sings the other captive girls wake up, stick their arms through the cages, as if hoping they might be saved. I must admit it was very impactful. The Giulietta act is more traditional with empty rooms in 18th/19th style and wallpaper. Giulietta and Hoffman actually never meet and they sing from different rooms. Giulietta and Dappertutto also rarely meet. In the scene where Dappertutto is supposed to question her while she is in her room they DO meet, together with Crespel, who’s interjections sound a bit absurd as he is not supposed to see his daughter (very silly the whole thing I thought). I actually hate these inconsistencies. In my opinion, you either re-interpret it completely, give it another, deeper meaning, or you leave it as it is. In this case Kratzer’s “being original” was  so cringe-worthy in so many moments I felt like leaving.

Although the house is quite effective from a storytelling perspective, it has its limitations. First of all one cannot always see everything, only very centrally seated people can, otherwise the action is hidden due to the rooms being too small and deep. Secondly the acoustics is terrible. Once the singers turn their head slightly the sound and volume change. Vocally I thought the women were all wonderful. Jaho has an amazing beautiful, full bodied voice. Irene Robert’s Nicklaus was also very good though her voice got more brilliance in the higher register. Minasyan as Olympia had quite a beautiful timbre and was technically flawless. Christine Rice has a lush, luxurious voice which pairs excellently with the role of Giulietta. John Osborn is a singer I follow since I saw him Zurich’s Clari. He never disappointed me and also in Amsterdam his interpretation was spot on, his French excellent, his search for nuances impeccable. But I thought I missed expansion in his voice. The rooms’ acoustics again? I was not very impressed by Schrott, a bit distant character-wise and a bit too light for the evil characters but the comments from fellow listeners were overall favourable. Rizzi directs speedily and sometimes covers the voices, with only sporadic dramatic tension. .

Muzikale leiding-Carlo Rizzi, Regie-Tobias Kratzer, Decor en kostuums-Rainer Sellmaier, Licht-Bernd Purkrabek, Dramaturgie-Klaus Bertisch, Olympia-Nina Minasyan, Antonia-Ermonela Jaho, Giulietta-Christine Rice, La Muse-Irene Roberts, La Voix de la Tombe-Eva Kroon, Hoffmann-John Osborn, Lindorf/Coppelius/Le docteur Miracle/Le capitaine Dapertutto-Erwin Schrott, Spalanzani-Rodolphe Briand, Crespel/Maître LutherPaul Gay, Peter Schlémil-François Lis, Andrès/Cochenille/Frantz/Pittichinaccio-Sunnyboy Dladla, Nathanaël-Mark Omvlee, Hermann-Frederik Bergman, Wilhelm-Alexander de Jong – in het kader van DNO talent, Le capitaine des SbiresPeter Arink, 23/06/18, pictures from https://www.operaballet.nl/nl/opera/2017-2018/voorstelling/les-contes-d-hoffmann

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Terry Gilliam’s Benvenuto Cellini in Amsterdam

celliniI assisted at a wonderful performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Amsterdam. Personally I was attracted by the direction of Terry Gilliam and John Osborne as Cellini. The sets, the costumes, the choreography and the acting are an exuberant whirl of ideas, energetic and humorous, a wink to Monty Python and expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in black and white, with dooming video projections in the background. It is mainly thanks to Gilliam’s direction that this opera, considered difficult, is able to enthuse, as it did with the Amsterdam audience.

The singers were in superb shape, starting from Teresa, Benvenuto and Fieramosca. I have a predilection for John Osborn in almost everything he sings, the delicate lyrical pages, the heroic energy and the range. Mariangela Sicilia was a delightful surprise, she delivers a charming Teresa with a nice timbre and a beautiful voice. Naouri and all the rest of the cast are well chosen and deliver outstanding (or almost) performances. The thing I liked less was the direction of Mark Elder who, I found, directed on the slow side without the bite that the score requires. The chorus and the orchestra sang and played very well.

Conductor-Sir Mark Elder, direction-Terry Gilliam, choreography-Leah Hausman, decor-Terry Gilliam and Aaron Marsden, costumes-Katrina Lindsay, lighting-Paule Constable, Video-Finn Ross, Benvenuto Cellini-John Osborn, Giacomo Balducci-Maurizio Muraro, Fieramosca-Laurent Naouri, Le Pape Clement VII-Orlin Anastassov, Francesco-Nicky Spence, Bernardino-Scott Conner, Pompeo-André Morsch, Le Cabaretier-Marcel Beekman, Teresa-Mariangela Sicilia, Ascanio-Michèle Losier

 

Amsterdam, Il viaggio a Reims

New Picture - CopyIn 1825 Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. Rossini ‘s music had taken Paris by storm in the 1820’s, the crème de la crème of Rossini singers were in Paris at that time and many of them sang in the premiere of Il viaggio a Reims ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro. The insubstantial plot is basically only an excuse to hail Charles X and to deploy each singer’s musical skills: We are in the hotel “Il giglio d’oro” in Plobmbières-les-Bains, where a bunch of people are awaiting the carriages who will bring them to Reims for the coronation of Charles X. However they will wait in vain as the carriages will never arrive. Additional story lines make the plot quite confusing: the Spanish admiral and the Russian general fighting over the Polish widow, the English colonel secretly in love with Corinna, the Roman poetess, an overturned stagecoach which brings the fashionable French lady in distress etc.

The direction of this largely plotless opera is by Damiano Michieletto. A director who I admire much. In the Amsterdam version we are in the museum “Gallery Golden Lilium” under the direction of an anxious (read hysteric) Madama Cortese, and all characters are either people working in the museum or painted characters which come to life. The already complicated plot becomes even more intricate as the real and fictitious characters interact. I feel this particular direction is not Michieletto’s best but all in all it is cleverly conceived and put together. An intelligent creation and brilliantly thought through with remarkable effects.

And the music?

New Picture (1)There are many characters, and at least 10 of the singers need to be top performers (At the premiere they included Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Nicolas Levasseur and Ester Mombelli). Each of the numbers is a little gem and one of the highlights is a piece for 14 singers: the Gran Pezzo concertato a 14 voci. In Amsterdam I much liked Eleonora Buratto as Corinna, Juan Francisco Gatell as Belfiore and Bruno de Simone as Trombonok. I feel they are the only who do the music justice. In my opinion Gatell has improved a lot in the last years in terms of interpretation and diction and Buratto’s floating high notes are a pleasure to hear. Bruno de Simone is a stage lion, one of the few where words were understandable without harming the sung part. All have a good coloratura. Roberto Tagliavini as Lord Sidney, Anna Goryacheva as Melibea and Michael Spyres as Libenskof all displayed very fine singing. I liked Spyres less in the first act although I am not sure whether this was due to his voice or the vastness of the set (the museum). I would have liked a stronger voiced Sidney and Melibea but this might be the conductor’s fault, as we will see. Nino Machaidze as Contessa di Folleville manages the musical part adequately, as does Carmen Giannattasio as Madama Cortese. None of them are musically truly convincing. Nicola Ulivieri lacks the low notes and goes through what could be one of the funniest aria (Madaglie incomparabili) trivially and unconcerned. Mario Cassi as Don Alvaro is very mediocre, his entry (Questa vaga e amabil dama) is smudged and the Spanish song at the end was not really “Dell’Iberia il dolce canto“.

New Picture (2)In an interview the conductor Mr. Montanari stated that the most difficult part is to find the balance between the orchestra and the stage (oh really?) but he certainly was not a bit able to achieve this. I sometimes could barely hear the voices, let alone understand a word they were saying. The problem here is not one bad singer that spoils his aria. The problem here is that Mr Montanari reminds us throughout the evening of his vision, namely Rossini music as not light, brilliant and graceful but loud and heavy. No need for the singer to interpret, to sing the embellishments, to pronounce properly, because one can hardly hear them anyway. Add to this the following catalogue of absurdities: He adds glissandi, embellishments or chords with the cembalo during sung pieces (not only during recitativi)! He abruptly changes tempi to his liking, he even changes the rhythm (for e.g. in the accompaniment of the stretta in the duet Oh! Quanto ingannasi between Corinna and Belfiore, he puts accents on the 4th beat!! He also stomps his feet during Don Alvaro’s “Omaggio all’augusto duce” in a Spanish manner!!! And if he doesn’t have time to synchronize all these tasks, he sticks the baton between back and shirt by the backside of his collar. I hope I won’t have the sadness to see him wave at noise again.

Muzikale leiding-Stefano Montanari, Regie-Damiano Michieletto, Decor-Paolo Fantin, Kostuums-Carla Teti, Licht-Alessandro Carletti, Corinna-Eleonora Buratto, La Marchesa Melibea-Anna Goryachova, La Contessa di Folleville-Nino Machaidze, Madama Cortese-Carmen Giannattasio, Il Cavaliere Belfiore-Juan Francisco Gatell, Il Conte di Libenskof-Michael Spyres, Lord Sidney-Roberto Tagliavini, Don Profondo-Nicola Ulivieri, Il Barone di Trombonok-Bruno De Simone, Don Alvaro-Mario Cassi, Don Prudenzio-Biaggio Pizzuti, Don Luigino-Carlos Cardoso, Delia-Maria Fiselier, Maddalena-Teresa Iervolino, Modestina-Florieke Beelen, Zefirino / Gelsomino-Jeroen de Vaal, Antonio-Tomeu Bibiloni