Bozar programme 18/19

I always wondered, in Belgium’s cultural life, what Belgians were most interested in. And as listener to concertgoers’ comments and to various concerts, I’m coming to the conclusion that not the music is the most important thing but the artist. Looking at the previous years’ Bozar printed programs, it almost bothered me how the orchestra or the main artist not only had the biggest font, but were in bold AND underlined. The performers were just below, the font slightly smaller but still in bold, and listed one by one, each performer deserved a single line of course. The composers came afterwards, not bold anymore, and the  actual composition came in an even (slightlty) smaller font. Funnily enough sometimes even not listed separately, as if to save space. But hey, who was I to complain, all the info was there.Since nobody really seems to care what is actually played, Bozar this year decided to go a step further with the 2018/19 printed program of Bozar. The first pages are dedicated to the highlights – orchestras, artists etc. For a handful of them we see the full program of the evening. Next we 

have a calendar that spans over the whole season with a day by day listing and brief descritpion of orchestra and the composer. And that’s it! Nowhere are we told the actual composition. The somewhat startled lady behind the ticket counter advised me to look into the subscription folder, as almost everything is there. Of course it isn’t. Belgian surrealism got a small revival.

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,

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

Joyce Didonato “In War and Peace” @ Bozar in Brussels

front-cover-1600x1440The show starts even before the actual concert, as in the foyer one is handed over a Hallmark card in which Joyce Didonato asks us to reflect on what brings us piece in times of war. She and her topless male dancer are already on scene when the public enters the concert hall, she on an elevated stool, the dancer in a motionless dance-pose . The concert begins, the stage is barely lit, one can only discern the primadonna climbing off her stool in the back while the music starts. The first few pieces are by Purcell, Leo, Handel, and they are all very declamatory and  highly dramatic. They talk about war and are accompanied by theatrical red lighting and unclear black-and-white projections of what seem to be flames, smoke, war-like scenarios and pulses of lights. All this while wafts of vapor are blown onto the stage projectors. So the first part clearly talks about war and ends with the primadonna, genuflected on stage and looking all misterious, while pinkish petals are projected onto the wall falling down while Didonato sings Lascia ch’io pianga.

joyce16-edited-1067x1600Since a few years this fashion of dramatizing recitals is becoming a trend. I am just not sure what the purpose is. In this particular case my malicious mind made me want to think that Didonato had vocal flaws to hide. In the declamatory pieces she leaped and jumped from low to high notes with a voice not fully controlled, which resulted in notes being out of tune, screamed or sighed (“for dramatic purpose” I guess). The pronunciation was approximate also in English.

The second was the joyous part, with mainly Handel, but also an unknown (to me) Jommelli Par che di giubilo. A wonderful aria but which was full of picchiettati which didn’t seem to have a clear path, and again the jumps in the picchiettati were sometimes not fully in tune. Where Didonato was very good was Handel, especially the lyrical pieces and the coloratura. All was accompanied by different shapes of lighting propelled onto the ceiling, the background or the balconies. I think Didonato has more to offer than this. I would love to hear her in Vivaldi, Hasse, and all those composers between Vivaldi and Mozart, I think she would be excellent in it, Zingarelli, Portogallo etc. But in this particular evening everything was over the top, an Irish neighbour I had behind me leaned towards his friend asking her “what the fuck is the naked dancer about and what are these distracting helicopters (he meant the lights) for?” The Belgians erupted in thunderous  applause…..But then the Belgians would rapturously applaud also a French fry lying all tragically on stage if it’s famous.

After the awful setting of The Munt/La Monnaie’s Capriccio by David Marton (it was the direction that bothered me. David Marton clearly does not know what to do with singing people on stage), I kind of hoped for Didonato to lift my spirit, but she succeeded only by half.

Photos from the webpage.


“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).

Die Schöpfung @ Bozar

Collegium Vocale - GentWonderful is this composition of a Haydn who gets the first glimpse of romanticism. Wonderful in its alternation of short and varied arias, duets and trios. Sophie Karthäuser, and Maximilian Schmitt don’t have particularly voluminous voices, but all soloists including the baritone Johannes Weisser sing gracefully and with style. The orchestra B’Rock is wonderful. Sometimes they seem a 4th singing voice, from the delicate cello accompaniment  to the twirling woodwinds. René Jacobs chooses to underline dynamic contrasts, and the orchestra follows him in an onomatopoeic explosion of colours underlining the libretto from forceful vigour over poetic lyricism to languid peacefulness.

The choir, the Collegium Vocale Gent, deserves only the fullest appreciation, all pages reach the highest inspiration thanks to the dazzling richness of the interpretation. The final florid passages, given to the chorus rather than the soloists, are excellent. A breathtaking performance.

director-René Jacobs, Sopran-Sophie Karthäuser, Tenor-Maximilian Schmitt, Bariton-Johannes Weisser, B’Rock, Collegium Vocale Gent