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

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Les Huguenots @ Opéra de Paris

Too rarely is this masterpiece performed. It has a considerable length (usually between 4 and 5 hours) but the plot is well constructed and the music has practically no drops in tension, Meyerbeer creating a vivid intuition of dramatic situations and varied orchestral colours. The production by Andreas Kriegenburg is visually very pleasing, the cube structure fills the stage but feels very sterile, the moving stage allows to see what happens in two different places at the same time, the costumes are also beautiful. But choreography wise it is a bit boring. In Kriegenburg’s production the singers are often motionless, which is the antithesis of grand opera with its dramatic plot and finales and its amount of characters including the masses, who play a huge role. Also, it is not clear why the action should play in 2064. Does he want to say this tragedy can happen anytime? Would this be the only reason? Mariotti conducts well. At least much better than in Berlin. And although i wished a more dramatic rendering of the gloomy and sinister atmospheres (and i also had hoped in some grandiloquence) I still enjoyed his interpretation. Pity for some of the cuts in music. Although Meyerbeer himself didn’t mind and even proposed some of them, as comparison I can say that for the same amount of time, Minkowsky in Brussels proposed an almost complete score).

Jaho as Valentine has a beautiful, luminous voice. In the higher register that is, but it sounds a bit empty the lower she goes and her low notes are insufficient for her duet with Marcel and the one with Raoul. Nicolas Testé misses the extreme low notes but sings overall very well. Yosep Kang has all my appreciation for having stepped in last minute. His voice has a nice timbre in the middle register, his French is good, and he fills the huge Bastille room, but the role is heavy and this is audible at the high notes where he pushes the voice to its limits. Excellent Lisette Oropesa (who also steps in last minute replacing Diana Damrau) but has no problems whatsoever, she runs up and down the pentagram with no problems, her voice equal over the whole range, she delivers a credible performance and gets a long and deserved applause after her 2nd act aria. I never quite understood why Karine Deshayes is so praised in her home country. I heard her in Rossini and was disappointed. Meyerbeer suits her much better. I also thought Florian Sempey was very good as Nevers. Overall this Huguentos were not as excellent as the Brussels production (I keep coming back to this one, but except for the ballet everything was perfect, from Minkowsky’s stylistically impeccable conducting, over Py’s dramatic direction to the second cast led by a superb John Osborne with Henriette Bonde-Hansen and Ingela Brimberg) but still a very enjoyable evening. And what a wonderful music!!

Conductor-Michele Mariotti, Director-Andreas Kriegenburg, Set design-Harald B. Thor, Costume design-Tanja Hofmann, Lighting design-Andreas Grüter, Choreography-Zenta Haerter, Marguerite de Valois-Lisette Oropesa, Raoul de Nangis-Yosep Kang, Valentine-Ermonela Jaho, Urbain-Karine Deshayes, Marcel-Nicolas Testé, Le Comte de Saint-Bris-Paul Gay, La dame d’honneur-Julie Robard‑Gendre, Une bohémienne-Julie Robard‑Gendre, Cossé, un étudiant catholique-François Rougie, Le Comte de Nevers-Florian Sempey, Tavannes, premier moine-Cyrille Dubois, Méru, deuxième moine-Michal Partyka, Thoré, Maurevert-Patrick Bolleire, Retz, troisième moine-Tomislav Lavoie, Coryphée, une jeune fille catholique, une bohémienne-Élodie Hache, Bois-Rosé, valet-Philippe Do, Un archer du guet-Olivier Ayault, Quatre seigneurs-John Bernard, Cyrille Lovighi, Bernard Arrieta, Fabio Bellenghi, 4/10/18, photos de https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/season-18-19/opera/les-huguenots#gallery

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.

Les Huguenots @ Deutsche Oper Berlin

downloadLes Huguenots is maybe the most perfect example of Grand Opéra and explains why, in recent years, has been Meyerbeer’s opera with the most revivals (and still not enough IMO). In Les Huguenots (Opéra, Paris 1836), everything blends perfectly together: a grand tragic event where personal conflicts and real historic events come together with much attention to details. Additionally Meyerbeer is master in musically blending French, German and Italian styles. The presence of ballets and the skillful maneuvering of alternate crowd and solo scenes only adds to the “Grand” of the opera. Directing tragic events such as the Saint Bartholomew’s massacre is certainly not easy, but Alden chooses to show us the more trivial things. A musically dramatic scene is shown with singers and choir still on stage which is extremely sad in the third act where the choir has such a prominent role. Not only because it’s a “grand” opera where it’d be nice if the choir moves at least to some extent but especially in Les Huguenots where there are two parties opposing each other. The story is impossible to follow like this. Other times the director makes the characters move in the music’s rhythm in silly movements (the cleaning ladies with dusting feathers…), which distorts the plot, and elicits laughs from the public.The characterization of the single characters, the mass movements, the body language that characters speak to each other, everything is so conventional, without any ideas, very boring. Furthermore the setting to me looked exactly like a granary or a warehouse where to store old, unused rubbish. The chairs folded on top of each other, the horses, the bell….everything seemed to confirm that view. There is a beautiful staging by Olivier Py, getting dusty in Brussels. Why reinvent the wheel (and a ugly wheel that is).

 

download-1Only half of the singers were convincing. I liked Ante Jerkunica. Although a bit short in the higher register, he has a nice bass voice and interpreted very well. Also short, but in the low notes, was Olesya Golovneva. But in her case being short is more damaging because of the importance of her role and additionally i would have wished a bit more colour in her interpretation. Beautiful ringing high notes, though, but not enough to make a good Valentine. Patrizia Ciofi has still some arrows to her bow and sings her entrance aria acceptably (ugly-ish final acuto though) but already her duet with Raoul loses lightness due to her stopping the flow as she is aiming her notes carefully. Juan Diego Florez sings very well, as usually, but coming from belcanto he lacks the right weight and personality and almost authority of the character rendering Raoul almost a bit unexciting. At the end one can hear the fatigue. But well he sings. Very well the Urbain of Irene Roberts in a part excellently sung with a voice well supported. Michele Mariotti, except for rhythmically more intricate pieces which would have required more clarity, supports the singers well but the score never really shines, is not exciting in its musical flow, the lines lose tension and are a bit emotionless.

26/11/16, Deutsch Oper Berlin, Musikalische Leitung-Michele Mariotti, Inszenierung-David Alden, Bühne-Giles Cadle, Kostüme-Constance Hoffman, Licht-Adam Silverman, Choreografie-Marcel Leemann, Dramaturgie-Jörg Königsdorf, Curt A. Roesler, Marguerite von Valois-Patrizia Ciofi, Graf von Saint-Bris-Derek Welton, Graf von Nevers-Marc Barrard, Valentine-Olesya Golovneva, Urbain-Irene Roberts, Tavannes / 1. Mönch-James Kryshak, Cossé-Jörg Schörner, Méru / 2. Mönch-John Carpenter, Thoré / Maurevert-Alexei Botnarciuc, de Retz / 3. Mönch-Taiyu Uchiyama, Raoul von Nangis-Juan Diego Flórez, Marcel-Ante Jerkunica, Bois-Rosé-Robert Watson, Ein Nachtwächter-Dong-Hwan Lee, Zwei Hofdamen/Zwei katholische Mädchen-Adriana Ferfezka, Abigail Levis

Fotos from the internet page of the Deutsch Oper Berlin

Vasco da Gama/L’Africaine @ Deutsche Oper Berlin

downloadMeyerbeer’s opera stagings are still very rare and I was very pleased to see L’africaine scheduled in this year’s season of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (or Vasco da Gama, as Meyerbeer intended to call the opera). Meyerbeer was once performed with the frequency and acclaim of today’s Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals but has almost fallen into oblivion. And stage it today as Meyerbeer intended it is difficult due mainly due to the costs of finding the appropriate singers of the often murderous roles, a conductor able to keep up the musical tension, and a director capable of making the, often several hour long, opera not fall into an interpretational disaster. Let’s start by the latter point. The set is interesting with the huge sails that dominate the scene, alternating with the huge black worldmap. But other than that the directions is disastrous showing us girls in underwear, a rape scene, people singing statically throughout the acts and ideas and messages that don’t relate to one another, but change aleatorically. A perfect example of a “modern staging”. Unfortunately there was no thread throughout the opera and I soon fell into indifference, boredom, and slight anger.

download (3)Not much better the conductor Enrique Mazzola. Or better, he directed well the more famous passages but failed to bring cohesion between the single numbers. Sometimes the orchestra was not synchronized with the singers, the colours of the score underlying the characters barely present, and unacceptable the cuts. Unacceptable for an opera house to spend all this money on an opera who only gives part of its potential and unacceptable for the singers, whose presence and importance is diminished. Cuts which might maybe have been agreed by the singers. Sophie Koch’s voice was smooth with a nice dark timbre but very inflexible, she goes as far as to flatten the singing line in the few florid passages, the phrasing is only approximate and the top notes are “difficult”. Clearly the role is a size too big for her. Roberto Alagna was very good, luscious timbre, moving interpretation, excellent diction. Overall quite convincing although also his top notes are a bit “pulled” (and what the heck was the long final top note at the end of act I, holding it as long as possible only to awkwardly yodel it down somewhere towards to final chord??).

download (2)A well deserved success that of Nino Machaidze, with no usual shrillness, a resounding voice with easy top notes, a good interpretation and a charming stage presence made her an ideal Ines. Seth Carico has a nice dark voice and sings well all over the range, his stage presence coupled with a very good vocal performance was one of the very few enjoyments of this production. Clemens Bieber had a very ungrateful timbre while Marcus Brück as Nelusco was acceptable with a powerful voice but approximate phrasing and problematic florid passages. Other theatres have tried to stage Meyerbeer and were more convincing Brussels with the Huguenots, Chemnitz with Africaine and to a certain extend Venice with Africaine. For the Deutsche Oper Berlin a completely missed opportunity.

IMG_4020[1]Musikalische Leitung-Enrique Mazzola, Inszenierung-Vera Nemirova, Regie-Mitarbeit-Sonja Nemirova, Bühne-Jens Kilian, Kostüme-Marie-Thérèse Jossen, Choreografische Mitarbeit-Bharti Ramdhoni, Silke Sense, Video-Marcus Richardt, Don Pedro-Seth Carico, Don Diego-Andrew Harris, Ines-Nino Machaidze, Vasco da Gama-Roberto Alagna, Don Alvar-Clemens Bieber, Der Großinquisitor-Dong-Hwan Lee, Nelusco-Markus Brück, Selica-Sophie Koch, Der Oberpriester der Brahmanen-Albert Pesendorfer, Anna-Irene Roberts, Matrosen 1-3-Paul Kaufmann, Gideon Poppe, Thomas Lehman, 4. Matrose /Gerichtsdiener-Michael Adams

 

Meyerbeer’s l’Africaine @ La Fenice or The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

IMG-20131126-00153La Fenice, Venice: Everything is perfect, the theatre is wonderful, the ceiling is stunning in its fabulous blue. One is about to hear a very rarely performed title and one can but congratulate the courageous artistic choice of choosing Meyerbeer’s l’Africaine, a Grand Opéra infrequently staged nowadays. The curtain rises. The first thing one notices, [or doesn’t notice, more likely] is the minimalist staging, which indeed might seem a perfect choice for a very unlogic plot [very low-cost-looking, I might add]. The ship- and the following “Pays merveilleux”-scene are quite beautiful with the blue floor, the colourful dresses and the golden lamps. [Crappy old carpet, though, did the 70’s not call to get it back??] The singers, they are all wonderful and give their best: Gregory Kunde, one of the great baritenors of our time, although 60 years old, has a powerful voice, acts well and pulls off the incredibly difficult part of Vasco da Gama with relative ease. Jessica Pratt has bright, full-bodied high notes and is a sweet and delicate Inés. [Who the hell composed the cadenza that closes her entrance aria? It’s just a bunch of embarrassing high notes, incoherently screamed together]. Veronica Simeoni’s part, Selika, is a monster role which requires stamina and overall Simeoni reaches all the required notes without too many problems and even has audible low notes. [Barely sufficient to be a great Selika]. The director not only gives the singers time to sing their lines but accompanies wonderfully pulling all the stops of the Fenice orchestra, which plays flawlessly, to display a whole array of human emotions.

IMG-20131126-00154

Especially the exciting finale of act I is well balanced [He can be quite long-winded and a bit heavy at times]. Veccia has the physique du role for a credible Nélusko. [That’s hardly enough to properly sing a role which requires sonorous and rich low notes and master the leaps to the high notes, all of which is lacking, sadly].

The chorus sings acceptably the beautiful melodies forged by Meyerbeer (Dieu que le monde révère…. Téméraire, téméraire etc) and moves fluidly across the stage conferring credibility to the choral passages. [Wanna talk about the useless video projections shown during the introduction and the entr’actes, which depict the themes touched by the librettist (slavery, conquests etc) in a 20th century gravy?]

Although I had mixed feelings (and overall Les Huguenots is musically more convincing) I praise La Fenice’s choice. Nice touch also, to commemorate two Rossinian farse, ~200 years after they have been composed-in Venice (although not for the same theatre).

Direttore-Emmanuel Villaume, Regia-Leo Muscato, Scene-Massimo Checchetto, Costumi-Carlos Tieppo, Light designer-Alessandro Verazzi, Video designer-Fabio Iaquone, Inès-Jessica Pratt, Sélika-Veronica Simeoni, Vasco de Gama-Gregory Kunde, Don Alvar-Emanuele Giannino, Nélusko-Angelo Veccia, Don Pédro-Luca dall’Amico, Don Diego-Davide Ruberti, Le grand inquisiteur de Lisbonne-Mattia Denti, Le grand-prêtre de Brahma-Ruben Amoretti, Anna-Anna Bordignon, Coro e orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, 26-11-13