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
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Rosmonda d’Inghilterra @ Bergamo

15181585_10157702911585307_2885008798243261315_nA belcanto opera that doesn’t close with one of the main characters’ aria!! The Rosmonda d’Inghilterra performed in Bergamo was the one revised for a Naples production, which changes mainly queen Leonora’s role: a different aria for the introduction and no final aria at the end. In fact it finishes in pianissimo and this makes the opera appear a bit crippled. Nonetheless I must thank the Donizetti Festival for staging such a rare opera, which contains much beautiful music. Unfortunately the tenor has an ugly timbre, his voice strains as soon as the line touches the first high notes and the few runs are very stiff. The Arturo of Raffaella Lupinacci is adequate but disappears in ensembles. I liked both the warm-voiced Ulivieri and Mei, good for the respective roles. Eva Mei (who sang from the curtain with a mime acting in Act I), a bit good-natured to sing the jealous queen and determined to kill her rival, nonetheless has a good voice also in the low notes and in her middle to high register she becomes more convincing as the voice rises. Jessica Pratt, although always a bit cold on stage, was vocally perfect for the role of the unfortunate Rosmonda. All pieces, includig her entrance aria, Perché non ho del vento (used by Donizetti for French version of Lucie de Lammermoor and written for the same primadonna as Rosmonda, namely Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani), were sung with aplomb and exemplary technique, reaching high notes with ease.

The setting was extremely simple, two sliding panels which separate rooms from scene to scene, a table and a chair. But this didn’t do much harm. The chorus, I thought, was better directed than the singers and the beautifully designed costumes provided a nice contrast to the black background. The conductor supported all singers well without overindulging in spirit.

 

Direttore-Sebastiano Rolli, Regia-Paola Rota, Scene e luci-Nicolas Bovey, Costumi-Massimo Cantini Parrini, Assistente alla regia-Irene Petris, Assistente ai costume-Jessica Zambelli, Rosmonda-Jessica Pratt, Leonora-Eva Mei, Enrico-Dario Schmunck, Clifford-Nicola Ulivieri, Arturo-Raffaella Lupinacci

Picture from Jessica Pratt’s facebook page

Maria de Rudenz @ Wexford Festival

rudenz1The topic of Maria de Rudenz was derived from “La nonne sanglante”, a blood-steeped gothic drama, that did not go down well in the public’s taste and which  was accepted by the Presidency of the Fenice-where the opera was first staged – only reluctantly. The music itself did not even please Donizetti himself, and the great tenor Nourrit, present at the dress rehearsal and the first performance wrote “It can only be called a complete fiasco…. Except for three pieces that are good….the whole opera is extremely pallid….you cannot imagine the stupidity of the libretto…” It was never clear why Donizetti accepted the libretto in the first place. One theory is that over this text where no love can be found, Donizetti poured all the grief and desperation of his wife’s death, only a few months earlier. The opera was given only one additional performance in Venice, truly one of the biggest fiascoes in Donizetti’s life. Surely not helped by the intricacy of the plot and the complexity of the characters. The opera was never staged on important theatres such as London, Vienna or Paris, but was played a couple of dozen times around the world up to 1870.

MARIA de RUDENZ by Donizetti; Wexford Festival Opera; NationalOpera House; Wexford, Ireland; 21 October 2016; Maria de Rudenz - Gilda Fiume; Matilde di Wolf - Sophie Gordeladze (rt); Corrado Waldorf - Joo Wan Kang; Conductor - Andrew Greenwood; Director - Fabio Ceresa; Set Designer - Gary McCann; Costume Designer - Giuseppe Palella; Lighting Designer - Christopher Akerlind; Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL;

In Wexford, the scene consisted of a simple exterior/interior façade in Castle-style which were in fact sliding doors behind which the set could be swiftly changed from scene to scene. This set consisted of revolving 3-storey-high cubes with a different location on each side. This worked extremely well and very exciting was, in more dramatic scenes, to see the revolving itself. An idea of the director was to use puppets to mimic some scenes of the prior events or of stories that are told each other. This, in my opinion, could have been avoided as it added nothing to the already excellent direction, in fact if anything it added only cringy moments of ridicule. But overall the sets and costumes were beautiful and the direction excellent, proving that masses CAN be moved around to add flow to the plot.
Gilda Fiume, though a bit cold in her overall approach, is an excellent singer with a pure, smooth and creamy voice over the whole range who adds additional empathy in the highest range of her voice by playing with dynamics.
Very good also Joo Wan Kang as Corrado, who sang with a warm timbre. Jesus Garcia was adequate until he had to reach the higher notes of his role, which he reached a bit strained. Andrew Greenwood kept everything together quite well, minor roles were well cast and the chorus sang also very well.

Conductor-Andrew Greenwood, Director-Fabio Ceresa, Set Designer-Gary McCann, Costume Designer-Giuseppe Palella, Lighting Designer-Christopher Akerlind, Chorus Master-Errol Girdlestone, Maria de Rudenz-Gilda Fiume, Matilde di Wolf-Sophie Gordeladze, Corrado Waldorf-Joo Wan Kang, Enrico-Jesus Garcia, Rambaldo-Michele Patti, Chancellor of Rudenz-Richard Shaffrey

Photo credit: Clive Barda

Lucia di Lammermoor @ Liège

12239972_1093581437327630_8124868623146702813_nIt is always a risky choice to perform the classics of the operatic repertoire. But the public flocks like sheep and fill the house, sometimes regardless of the quality. This Lucia unfortunately doesn’t stand out. The direction of Cobos is conventional and monotonous. He wakes up a bit ‘in the first finale but for the rest directs as if zapping through TV channels with his slippers on. The setting is beautiful, though, with the medieval tower in the center which can be rotated to see both the exterior and the interiour, with trees going up and down etc (Although the fountain in Lucia’s first aria seems like taken from a crib in the nativity scene made by a child in kindergarten). The singing is acceptable from most singers: Ivan Thirion as Enrico sings well but slightly throaty, his low register is weak and the voice doesn’t expand. Annick Massis sings well, the coloratura is clean and still exciting, but she sings very cautiously which doesn’t allow her to really immerse herself into the role. Her madness was accompanied by the always welcome glass harmonica. Celso Abelo sings quite well. The curse is effective, the pronunciation excellent and the singing bright and light. Roberto Tagliavini’s short role of Raimondo was excellent but Alisa, Arturo and Normanno barely acceptable. The direction of Mazzonis di Pralafera is at times ridiculous. I think it is always very delicate to show the actual killing of Arturo. In Liege in the few minutes between the end of the duet Arturo/Enrico and the moment Lucia sings her madness-aria we see Lucia and Arturo enter their nuptial room, Lucia stab him with a knife, take a sword from a shield that adorns the wall, stab him again on the floor, Raimondo enter the room acting all surprised, dash down to give the news (Dalle stanze ove Lucia) and Lucia appear on stage….with Arturo’s head (!!!)… Additionally Enrico, with his exaggeratedly sudden aggressiveness, pushing people, grabbing them at the collar etc, was farcical and ludicrous. It was all very Benny Hill-like: the least you want in a dramatic opera. All in all not fully convincing.

Direction musicale-Jesus Lopez Cobos, Mise en scène-Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, Décors-Jean-Guy Lecat, Costumes-Fernand Ruiz, Lumières-Franco Marri, Lucia-Annick Massis, Edgardo-Celso Albelo, Enrico-Ivan Thirion, Raimondo-Roberto Tagliavini, Arturo-Pietro Picone, Alisa-Alexise Yerna, Normanno-Denzil Delaere

L’elisir d’amore @ De Munt/La Monnaie

InleidingThe lovely light opera L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti was recently given at the awful Cirque Royal in Brussels. Having a round stage there is no optimum place, not for the orchestra and not for the singers: acoustically speaking, one will inevitably be in the way or unbalanced. The setting was redesigned for a round stage, however and together with the direction is absolutely worth seeing. This is by the talented Damiano Michieletto and has travelled much in the last few years (Madrid, Palermo, Graz, Valencia). Traditional-setting-aficionados will be disappointed as there are no Basque countries, no farms, no washerwomen, no garrison sergeants etc, instead we see the beach, a lifeguard (Nemorino), a beach kiosk, beach vendors etc. The skilfully transposed setting however works well due to a setting that everybody can relate to, a sparkling and funny direction and an astonishing work on the personalities and traits of the characters. Characters that Donizetti puts also in music. The sighs, the laughs, it’s all in the score. The conductor  keeps the music going, but very little chiselling is done in terms of getting the details out of the score. Also, in a period of increasing musical phylology, the elimination of the repetition of strettas and cabalettas is unacceptable.

elisirThe cast is mostly doubled. Anne-Catherine Gillet is an artist with discontinuous results. But I found her Adina good, her lower register is strong enough to avoid a soubrette-like voice and her coloratura fluid. Her Achilles heel is the top register which is hard and at the verge of shrill so “Vieni, per me sei libero” is sung like walking on eggs instead of being a sparkling outbreak of joy for the found love. But throughout the performances her confidence grew and Gillet displayed a very convincing Adina. On stage her Adina is a bit shrew-ish with an angry body language. Olga Peretyatko on the other hand is charmingly fickle and whimsical. Vocally she is more at ease with the belcanto style. About pronunciation I will refer to Donizetti; When L’elisir d’amore had its premiere in 1832, he wrote about his primadonna something that fits like a glove also to the two ladies here: La donna ha bella voce ma cio che dice lo sa lei (The primadonna has a beautiful voice but only she knows what she is saying). Antonio Poli and  Dmitry Korchak both offer a very compelling Nemorino, melancholic or strong as required, their phrasing varied, and their acting credible as clumsy and melancholic admirer. Armando Noguera and Riccardo Novaro are both very convincing on stage and sing well although the voices are sometimes lost in the space of the Cirque Royal. Aris Argiris acts very well but has some difficulty with the higher register and his vocalises are not fluid. Simon Orfila is an excellent Dulcamara, a fine actor and his voice uniform over the whole range. Giannetta is vocally and scenically well embodied by Maria Savastano.

Music director-Thomas Rösner, Director-Damiano Michieletto, Set design-Paolo Fantin, Costumes-Silvia Aymonino, Lighting-Alessandro Carletti, Adina-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Olga Peretyatko, Nemorino-Antonio Poli, Dmitry Korchak, Belcore-Armando Noguera, Aris Argiris, Dulcamara-Riccardo Novaro, Simon Orfila, Giannetta-Maria Savastano

Don Giovanni (Brussels), Lucia di Lammermoor (Verona), Così fan tutte (Ghent)

don n giovanni1The Don Giovanni in Brussels under the direction of Warlikowski was awful. I recommend  this director to read the libretto the next time. Da Ponte’s libretto offers a multitude of double meaninsg. No need to descends into pornography just for the sake of it. Musically things were not exciting either with a very disappointing Barbara Hannigan as Donna Anna. As much as she is acclaimed in modern music, she didn’t convince me at all in the classical style. I couldn’t find full enjoyment in any of the other singers (Don Giovanni-Jean-Sebastien Bou, Il commendatore-Sir Willard White, Don Ottavio-Topi Lehtipuu, Donna Elvira-Rinat Shaham, Leporello-Andreas Wolf, Masetto-Jean-Luc Balestra, Zerlina-Julie Mathevet) Don Giovanni never seemed such a drag…..

 

I rather preferred the Lucia di Lammermoor in Verona, which, with its thrifty set, gave a more complete and satisfying reading than the Mozart opera. Musically wonderful with a (to me) unknown Maria Grazia Schiavo who sang with a full deep  and a good upper register. The slightly unpitched top notes from the first two musical pieces didn’t affect the overall thrilling performance. An equally wonderful Piero Pretti as Edgardo and a very good Marco di Felice as Enrico made this a lovely afternoon. The cast was completed by Alessandro Scotto di Luzio as Arturo, Sim Insung as Raimondo, Elisa Balbo as Alisa and Francesco Pittari as Normanno.

 

cosi1A quite boring night in Gent with Cosi fan tutte followed in January. Musically not very convincing. A very good Dorabella and Guglielmo (Maria Kataeva and Riccardo Novaro), an acceptable Fiordiligi and Despina (Christina Pasaroiu Aylin Sezer) an inadequate Don Alfonso and Ferrando (Umberto Chiummo and Sebastien Droy) and a drab conductor (Jan Schweiger) make this evening rather easy to forget. Was it not for the director… Guy Joosten spoiled yet another Mozart opera. I am totally in the dark when it comes to understand what this amateur is trying to tell us in Mozart (or in any opera for that matter). The scenes are filled with slapstick and inconsistent ideas that could be used (and be equally out of place) in any other opera. Joosten hits the bottom when he made Despina awaken the two lovers by hitting them with the Mesmer stone in the groin. No idea what to do with the singers either when they don’t sing except letting them sit or stand still. The set is lovely (the bar/reception of a hotel) though not consistent (“in casa mia” sings Fiordiligi, which is not translated into subtitles. Are they the hotel owners?)