Berlioz – Requiem @ Bozar

MI0001454913“Following my usual suspicion, I stayed behind Habeneck and, turning my back towards him, I watched the group of timpanists, which he could not see, the moment approaching when they would all take part in the piece. There are perhaps a thousand bars in my Requiem. But precisely during the one I just mentioned, the one where the movement expands, the one in which the brass instruments launch their terrible fanfare, on the main bar in which the action of the conductor is absolutely essential, Habeneck lowers his conducting stick, quietly takes his snuff box and started to take a pinch of snuff. I always had an eye on him; at that moment I quickly turn around, rush in front of him, I extend my arm and I mark the four main tempi of the new movement. The orchestras follow me, everything is in order, I conduct the piece to the end, with the effect that I had hoped for. When, with the last words of the choir, Habeneck sees the Tuba mirum rescued “What a cold blood’ he said, “without you we would have been lost!” – Yes, I know, I replied, staring at him. I did not add a word … Did he do it on purpose? … Is it possible that this man, in agreement with Mr. XX., who hated me, and friends of Cherubini, would dare to meditate and attempt to commit such a low villainy? … I do not dare to think … But I do not doubt it. God forgive me if I insult him”

This was the account that Berlioz gave in his Memoires when his Requiem was first performed. …”terrible fanfare” he mentions…. but there was no such thing in the Bozar. Especially in the tuba mirum I expect the heaven to open, the earth to part, the blinds to see, the toupets to fly and the elderly to hear. No such thing. In fact had I not read the score, I would not have known that there are 4 extra brass bands, as I did not properly hear them. I barely did in fact and only because they were slightly out of sync. Maybe the orchestral forces should have followed Berlioz’ advise: On top of the 400 musicians that are required “if space permits one can double or triple the vocal mass and increase the orchestral mass proportionally”. Of the 400 required I counted around 200 which one can argue whether they were able to give the requested effect.

But except for the fact that the Requiem was a bit too well-behaved, everybody involved was excellent. The chorus powerful, the orchestra adequate. The tenor Steve Davislim had audible difficulties with the extreme top notes but he has the benefit of replacing his colleague last minute. The music was sublime. It is always a joy to hear such wonderful pieces as the Rex tremendae, the Lacrimosa and the Dies irae and I am pleased that the La Monnaie/De munt put this work on the program.

Music direction-Alain Altinoglu, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Tenor-Steve Davislim, Orchestra-De Munt Symphony Orchestra, Chorus-De Munt, De Munt Academy, Vlaams Radio Koor


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


Bozar in Brussels – Paisiello and Berlioz

What De Munt/La Monnaie doesn’t offer in terms of variety this year (50% is 20th century music and the remaining 50% are the omnipresent Haendel, Mozart and Verdi, though still one interesting Fierrabras – albeit in concert version) was given at the Bozar with only a couple of days from each other, organized by the Klarafestival.

IMG_1664Il barbiere di Siviglia. Not the well-known rossinian version, but Giovanni Paisiello’s, composed over 30 years earlier for the court of Saint Petersburg. Petrosellini’s libretto (which was set to music also by Francesco Morlacchi) is almost equal to Cesare Sterbini’s libretto for Rossini, and I was amused when I heard the same scenes, and in some cases the  exact same words. Paisiello’s genius doesn’t show as much in the Barbiere as it does in other works like Nina or Fedra. But the music is delightful, with heights in the Pace e gioia ensemble, Rosina’s music lesson, Bartolo’s Vuoi tu Rosina. The singers also follow stage directions and act the respective roles so the evening is almost as enjoyable as a staged opera. The cast rests on Pietro Spagnoli’s shoulder who’s rendition of Bartolo is perfect: excellent diction, wonderful singing technique, versatile actor. The rest of the cast are solid professionals with Mari Erismoen as Rosina, André Schuen as Figaro and Fulvio Bettini as Don Basilio. I didn’t enjoy Topi Lehtipuu very much, whose voice I found weightless and dry. Renee Jacobs gives a personal but lively and sparkling rendition of the score making it a highly enjoyable evening.


IMG_1691The other vocal work given at Bozar only a couple of days later is Romeo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz. It is described as a symphonie dramatique and includes 3 soloists and a choire and is regarded as one of Berlioz most admirable works. Richard Wagner was present at the premiere on 24 November 1839 and it must have made an impression on him if 20 years later he sent Berlioz the printed version of his Tristan and Isolde with the inscription Au grand et cher auteur de Roméo et Juliette, L’auteur reconnaissant de Tristan et Isolde.

Isabelle Druet’s and Jean-François Borras’ roles are rather short and confined to the beginning and neither have particularly marked my mind. Jerome Varnier’s voice was a bit absent and I felt it didn’t give the big recitative and aria of père Laurence the gravity it needed. François-Xavier Roth, who directed an interesting Christophe Colombe (by Félicien David) in Gent which I much enjoyed, chiseld the wide variety of emotions perfectly, from the whirling “fête” to the sweet and delicate love duet (Romeo and Juliet are impersonated by the orchestra) and the stirring final “serment”