The Belgian Opera Programme 2019/2020

Compared to previous years the opera programmes in Belgium for the 19/20 season are a bit disappointing in my view. If the Flemish Opera or the Liege Opera somehow balanced the Monnaie/Munt’s predilection for modern works, this isn’t always the case in the new programmes.

For Brussels one world creation would seem adequate, two already a bit too much. But this year we get 3 (three) world creations: one by Dusapin, one by Attahir, and one by Kwiecinski. Funnily enough, in this 200th anniversary of one of Poland’s most beloved composers, Stanislav Moniuszko, we don’t get to hear an opera BY Moniuszko, but an opera ABOUT Moniuszko (sic). The three modern creations are counterbalanced by the umpteenth staging of the Da Ponte trilogy. I hope in a more pleasant staging than the last ones i saw. The presentation of the trilogy in the programme booklet flings words such as sexual morality, de Sade and #MeToo. I can’t wait… The program is rounded off by two more 20th century operas (R. Strauss and Honegger) and furthermore by the only two operas I really look forward to: Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama and Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. The Monnaie/Munt doesn’t seem to want to offer its paying public a diversity in ballet either, maintaining a modern ballet-only policy.

The Flemish Opera, winner of the 2019 Opera Award for best Opera Company, presents the season of the new artistic director Jan Vandenhouwe. More diverse than the Munt, though I don’t see the need for two Verdi operas in one season (Don Carlos and Macbeth), and Cosi fan tutte again!! Two further titles are disguised as opera but are really a potpourri of music by Verdi and Wagner (Platel’s Choeurs) and the scenes from Goethe’s Faust by Mendelssohn. What stands out is an Schrecker opera (Der Schmied von Gent), a schoolopera by Brecht/Weill (Der Jasager), the Sheharazade/heure espagnole dyptic by Ravel and a welcome Rusalka by Dvorak. Interesting enough 3 productions (Rusalka, Choeurs and the Ravel dyptic) are mentioned under “opera” as well as under “ballet”. This year also the Flemish Opera offers a modern-only programme for ballet (!!).

Overall the most diverse programme with the more interesting names come from Liège. Although yet another Don Carlos is given in parallel to Gent (I would help if thew talked to each other…) together with a second Verdi (Nabucco), the singers are the experienced Gregory Kunde, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Yolanda Auyanet and Kate Aldrich. Rossini’s Cenerentola has the interesting newcomer Tenor Sekgapane in its cast, Bellini’s Sonnambula the wonderful Nino Machaidze, Barbera and Mimica. A rare Alzira (a third but at least a rare Verdi) and an even rarer Lakme (with Jodie Devos in the title role) are also on the programme, which includes also a Pecheurs de perles with Annick Massis, a Candide in concert version and Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice. 10 operas are played in Liège, a quantity which I sometimes found detrimental to quality. I could have done with a Verdi less, But at least the programme is diverse.

https://www.operaliege.be/saison_19_20/

https://www.demunt.be/nl/program

https://operaballet.be/nl/het-huis/blog/ontdek-seizoen-2019-2020

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Magic Flute by Castellucci @ Brussels

The season at the Munt opened with Mozart’s Magic Flute. A season which, for a change, includes two 19th century Italian staged opera’s which are neither Verdi nor Puccini and has a mere 30% of contemporary operas. Unfortunately, Meyerbeer’s grand opera is not staged (though we are still waiting for the coproduced-but-never-staged Muette de Portici, or a re-staging of the wonderful Py/Minkowsky Huguenots with a excellent 2nd cast headed by John Osborn).

Magic flute, then, a very traditional title, directed by an unconventional director. Magic flute is one opera, which, in my opinion, HAS to be re-interpreted. The sun against the darkness, Pamino in search of Pamina, Monostatos, are the symbols of the progressive/active patriarchy against the evil/passive matriarchy, the manipulation of the natural for its own good, with a hint of racism and misogyny. An odious text, which got an enlightening new vest in last year’s Gent production by David Herman. On another planet we are with Castelluci’s view on the subject. While the overture stands for the darkness (all in black, a neon tube light is shattered etc), Act I is all in white. And when I say all, I mean everything. The people, the clothing, the shoes, the background, the props, the floor, everything. All singers and all dancers act with small and slow movements. The singers have doubles, which mirror their movements and even lip sync, the dancers behind them dance slowly, creating intertwined choreographic forms which are enhanced by the use of feathers and of slowly rotating platforms. No spoken dialogue, just one musical piece after the other. At the end of act one bizarre shapes (architectural forms designed by algorithms by Swiss architect Michael Hansmeyer) move together with the singers, dancers and the doubles creating a huge, white, barock cathedral.

Act two is totally different in that the setting has contemporary features. It starts with eerie music while pregnant women pump their milk from both breasts. I was too busy looking at the technicality of the process to read the text projected above them so i missed the philosophical point. However, with these ladies the mother figure started to get its recognition (the Mother/Queen of the night was also the only figure which was not doubled). The setting was not white anymore but all-beige, the floor, a separating wall, the clothes even the hair. The music starts, but while Act I was played without text, in act two newly created text is interposed into the musical pieces and recited. First by five women, later by five men. The women, one by one, tell us, within 1 minute each, about the moment they became blind, who at a small age, who suddenly while on a plane etc. They tell about the world they see, a world made of shadows and darkness. The men on the other hand tell about the moment in their lives when their skin was burnt, who through scalding oil, who through fire, an explosion etc, a world made of desperation, scarring skin and the moment of “too much light”. Latest by then it becomes clear that Castellucci opposes the moment of lights to those of shadows and pulls a parallel to the darkness and light of the Queen and Sarastro.

Castellucci certainly finds a way to make us think and breaks with conventions, but the message is so overwhelming that the music and the libretto lose all connection with their creators. The orchestra, which includes 18th century brass and timpani, has not much life, I heard Manacorda direct much better. None of the singers have any particular flaws but none are really memorable or touched me in any way.

Muzikale Leiding-Antonello Manacorda, Regie, Decor, Kostuums, Belichting-Romeo Castellucci, Choreografie-Cindy Van Acker, Algoritmische Architectuur-Michael Hansmeyer, Artistieke Medewerking-Silvia Costa, Dramaturgie-Piersandra Di Matteo, Antonio Cuenca Ruiz, Koorleider-Martino Faggiani, Sarastro-Tijl Faveyts, Tamino -Reinoud Van Mechelen, Sprecher-Dietrich Henschel , Königin Der Nacht-Jodie Devos, Pamina-Ilse Eerens , Erste Dame-Tineke Van Ingelgem, Zweite Dame-Angélique Noldus, Dritte Dame-Esther Kuiper, Papageno-Georg Nigl, Papagena-Elena Galitskaya, Monostatos/Ein Mohr-Elmar Gilbertsson, Erster Priester/Zweiter Geharnischter Mann- Guillaume Antoine, Zweiter Priester / Erster Geharnischter Mann-Yves Saelens, 20/09/18, pictures from movie-stills published on demunt.be

Lucio Silla @ Brussels

Mozart was 16 when he composed Lucio Silla but it remained the last opera he wrote for Italy for after the opera premiered during the Carneval season of 1773, the Regio Ducal Teatro (for whom Mozart wrote Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba) did not commission any more operas to Mozart. The opera has no easy or proper plot, which is not uncommon in operas of that period. Although the librettist Giovanni de Gamerra went on to play a small role in the development of what was to become romantic opera, the characters in Lucio Silla are very static. Mozart composed a varied palette of music, some conventional pieces, others remarkably deep, using some new and elaborate forms, a considerable amout of recitativi accompagnati-a more dramatic form than the recitativo secco-and expanding the orchestra with trumpets, giving the orchestra more elaborate writings then relegate it to a standard accompaniment. Recitivi were written when still in Salzburg while the arias were composed tailormaid to the strengths of the singers. They all turned up in Milan between end of November and beginning of December 1772. The first Cecilio was the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, while the first Giunia was Anna de Amicis, equally famous. De Amicis “was very satisfied with the arias, and Mozart introduced in them passages which are very unusual, unique and extremely difficult and which she sings amazingly well…” father Mozart reported, who was in Milan with his son. Giunia and Cecilio each sing in 7 pieces. And Mozart gives them a wonderful duet to close Act I. Lucio Silla himself sings only in 3 pieces, which is either due to his text written to be conveyed dramatically by the recitativo or by the fact that the originally intended star had to be replaced last minute with a lesser known singer, or both. The new tenor arrived December 17th and the next day Mozart had composed the two arias for him. Cinna has also only 3 arias but has the privilege to sing the first, while Celia’s role lightens the atmosphere, seen that she is not included in the political plot. The full orchestra rehearsals were done the 18, 20 and 22 December, the dress rehearsal the 23rd and the opera was performed the 26th and run for 26 performance, a considerable amount. Mozart was pleased with both Anna de Amicis and Venanzio Rauzzini, and for the latter, around the 15th January, he composed the famous motet Exultate, jubilate.

The director sets the story in modern days and when the curtain rises, one sees a modern house (which later revolves) and tress around it, very much like in Pizzi’s Pietra del paragone, but less stylish. But the plot is quite thin, the da capo arias very long and Tobias Kratzer really only asks for very conventional movements (except for much cutting of veins and a dog running around) and the little action on stage starts boring very soon. The orchestra played the ouverture swiftly and nervously (maybe a bit too nervously?) but Manacorda directed and accompanied very well. I thought Jeremy Ovenden was just acceptable. His lower register weak, his interpretation extremely thin. Much better Lenneke Ruiten. Her role has extreme demands and she manages well with a beautiful and bright top register. In one of the most difficult arias ever written Ah se il crudel periglio she convinces much less (drops a note every now and then to breath). Anna Bonitatinus gave a lovely recital of Rossini songs a couple of weeks back. A forgotten repertoire that she rendered beautifully. But her Cecilio was not as convincing. Her tight vibrato is a bit unpleasant and it seems to me Cecilio is a size too big for her. Her 2nd entrance aria was sung with much transport and fury and was a joy to hear, as was her last aria, but there are constant struggles with pitch. Marvellous Simona Saturova as Celia. She sings  her four arias wonderfully and with great taste. I had big hopes for the opening aria but i had to wait for Ilse Eerens to sing her other two arias which allows her to show her bravura. I like her beatiful timbre and clear top notes. Good also Carlo Allemano but untidy roulades.

Conductor-Antonello Manacorda, Director-Tobias Kratzer, Set And Costume Design-Rainer Sellmaier, Lighting-Reinhard Traub, Video–Manuel Braun, Dramaturgy-Krystian Lada, Lucio Silla-Jeremy Ovenden, Giunia-Lenneke Ruiten, Cecilio-Anna Bonitatibus, Celia-Simona Šaturová, Cinna-Ilse Eerens, Aufidio-Carlo Allemano. 7/11/17, pictures by  www.demunt.be

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

Belgium’s 2017/2018 opera season

(This article replaces the original one about the Brussels-only season with the present one about Belgium)

Brussel’s The Monnaie’s 2017-2018 opera season was recently announced. Although, with half of the 12 titles, La Monnaie/De Munt always leans towards modern music (and with modern I roughly mean the music around and after 1900) the choices are more varied than last year. We have a Wagner, of course, (Lohengrin) but at least we are spared Verdi and Puccini. I smile at Peter de Caluwe’s fear of staging Rossini and his overall mistrust in early 1800 music. So Tancredi in concert version, not the most original choice (it would if staged, though) but  always a pleasure to hear. Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci is a nice change considered it was given in Brussels 14 years ago (and Michieletto is always welcome). Lucio Silla is an inheritance from last year’s season, where it was programmed but not staged (as is also the Bartok) due to the delay in the renovations of the main stage. It is a rare but not minor Mozart – musically speaking, because action wise it is very thin (so why not this one in concert version?) – and performed far too rarely. Leonore (Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio) is given as concert version and I would much more appreciate a staged version in exchange of one of the modern opera’s, say Rihm or Boesmans. Conductor-wise I find the choices good, director-wise conventional and singer-wise there are some that are questionable but I am happy to be persuaded. An enjoyable rarity will be Dvorak’s Requiem while ballet wise I keep regretting the total absence of classical ballet. Let me finish with something that bothers me every year: is it not strange that there is not a single subscription that allows to see all opera’s?

 

Nicer surprises come from the two other opera houses in Belgium, the Opera de Liège and the Vlaamse Opera. I find the choices quite balanced with some very appealing surprises. In Liege we get the touching Donna del lago by Michieletto and the rarity Le domino noir by Auber. La favorite by Donizetti also contains lovely music and is rarely performed. Singer-wise the program is also very appealing although I remember Liege announcing a star only by replacing it last minute by someone less captivating (and not once). In Gent we get the extremely rare Das Wunder der Heliane, Donizetti’s Le Duc d’Albe next to a Clemenza di Tito and of course Verdi and Wagner (Falstaff and Parsifal). The Flemish Opera “continues its fascinating exploration of Russian opera” with The Gambler by Prokofiev. I am waiting impatiently for Dargomyzhsky, Cavos, Glinka, and Verstovsky….

Already available also the program of the Midsummer Mozartiade, which this year presents Don Giovanni at the Theatre de Martyrs.

The Bozar season also contains some vocal evenings.

Madame Butterfly @ Brussels

de-munt-mzcwmtu3mdu4mgExcept for a Japanese-looking roof which hangs mid-air, the stage is empty. But this becomes the strength of the production, which plays with lighting, panels and props being taken on and off stage swiftly, and this results in a flexible and lively, never boring change of moods and feelings. Many scenes turned out beautifully, such as the binoculars with projected boat during the waiting scene or the flowers during the women’s duet. The fact that Butterfly was a doll throughout the show maneuvered by 3 puppeteers, while Miss Voulgaridou stood at the corner of the stage dressed in a kimono, impressed me less.

de-munt-mjuyntq4mzazoqThe musical part was less exciting. I don’t know which of the many reviewed versions was played (after the fiasco of the first 1904 production in Milan, Puccini changed the score several times) but the second and third act are interminable and one of the reasons not to play Puccini too often. I enjoyed all singers except Pinkerton, who had a very tremulous voice with a top register reached only with strain. The conductor did a good job also but I sometimes felt a drop in emotional participation. Oh and by the way, the humming chorus is supposed to hum, not sing on the “u”, small detail, but changed the mood completely.

Muzikale leiding-Roberto Brizzi-Bignoli, Regie-Kirsten Dehlholm (Hotel Pro Forma), Artistiek medewerker-Jon R. Skulberg, Decors-Maja Ziska, Kostuums-Hernik Vibskov, Belichting-Jesper Kongshaug, Cio Cio San-Alexia Voulgaridou, Suzuki-Ning Liang, Kate Pinkerton-Marta Beretta, B.F. Pinkerton-Marcelo Puente, Sharpless-Aris Argiris, Goro-Riccardo Botta, Il Principe Yamadori-Aldo Heo, Lo zio Bonzo-Mikhail Kolelishvili, Il commissario/l’ufficiale-Wiard Witholt, Yakusidé-René Laryea, Madre di Cio Cio San-Birgitte Bonding, Zia di Cio Cio San-Rosa Brandao, Cugina di Cio Cio San-Adrienne Visser

Mitridate, re di Ponto @ Brussels

UntitledThe musical part was very good in this Mitridate given by the Monnaie/De Munt in the tent of Tour and Taxis. Of course the problems of the venue are always the same: the cooling system (which either did not work. properly or it was turned On too late, either way it was far too hot) is too loud, one can hear the street and air traffic and the size of the venue is far too big for a Mozart opera. Smaller voices are therefore greatly disadvantaged, as it was the case for David Hansen, who already has a weak lower register, but his voice is also quite small, making it very difficult to compete with the orchestra in a regular theatre (and Rousset certainly does not cover voices), let alone under the circumstance of the Monnaie’s tent. Slightly better Yves Saelens as Arbate with an understandable Italian but an unrefined phrasing. Aspasia and Sifare, the loving couple, sing well, but Sifare’s coloratura is flattened, his Italian non-understandable. The small role of Marzio is sung by Sergey Romanovsky. Overall he sings his only aria very well with a beautiful and full voice, although lightening his voice a bit more would have made his coloratura more fluid. Mitridate is Michael Spyres and in this very difficult role that requires all the skills from rapid notes to jumps and a variety of affections he is almost exceptional.  Absolutely extraordinary I find Simona Saturova as Ismene. Her intonation, her support of the voice, her breath regulation, her coloratura, all perfectly studied, a voice with a beautiful timbre, equal on top as in the lower register, and never forced. All singers are supported with perfect musicality by Christophe Rousset.

The directors, chosen through a public competition because Robert Carsen pulled out due to the location, set the plot in modern day Brussels, with meetings being organized by country presidents to avoid “Pontexit”, news journalists following the events, screens showing breaking news etc.  For the lovers of the genre….

Muzikale leiding-Christophe Rousset, Regie en kostuums-Jean-Phiilppe Clarac & Olivier Deloeuil, Le Lab, Decors en belichting-Rick Martin, Video-Jean-Baptiste Beïs, Mitridate-Michael Spyres, Aspasia-Lenneke Ruiten, Sifare-Myrtó Papatanasiu, Farnace-David Hansen, Ismene-Simona Saturova, Marzio-Sergey Romanovsky, Arbate-Yves Saelens

Béatrice et Bénédicte @ Brussels

Anne-Catherine Gillet (Héro), Lionel Lhote (Somarone), Chœurs de la Monnaie/Koor van de Munt, Etienne Dupuis (Claudio)

Another rarity was offered this season by the Monnaie/Munt. The seldomly performed Béatrice et Benedicte by Berlioz. Played successfully for the first time in Baden Baden in 1862 under the composer’s baton, it is based on Shakespear’s Much Ado About Nothing, though heavily pruned and with the addition of one character. Still, Berlioz created a wonderfully melodious, almost bel-canto-style, though still very French opera. A master in orchestration, Berlioz used a smaller orchestra than he usually used, which benefits the opera tremendously, resulting in a flexible, spirited, and often sensual score.
The all-French-speaking cast is certainly beneficial for a comic opera which contains so much spoken dialogue. Having said that, the opera was given in the tent set up at Tour & Taxis, which is worse than the Cirque Royal. The sound expands too much inside, and from outside one could hear helicopters flying, ambulances passing and at certain points the rain lashed so heavily one could barely hear what was said or sung on stage. All dynamics were heavily reduced, a piano sounded like pianissimo.

Intermezzo-Gillet-Beatrice-et-Benedict-Monnaie-Bruxelles-750x350Nevertheless, I enjoyed the production a lot. the conductors Jeremy Rohrer and Samuel Jean are excellent in depicting all the different atmospheres, they are forceful and lively, supple and gentle. The director Richard Brunel creates one fixed setting which is a bit cold to be Sicily, nevertheless it changes its aspect thanks to various props being moved around. The characters are very well directed, single ones ore whole masses move on stage with simplicity and naturalness. To all that Brunel added a few lovely ideas such as Héro slowly hovering in on her wedding chorus, just to mention one.

The main singers were also excellent; I would like to mention the ladies. Anne-Catherine Gillet and Sophie Karthäuser were both delicate Héro, excellent pronunciation, varied phrasing, voice never forced. Excellent both Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Michèle Losier as Béatrice, as well as Eve-Maud Hubeaux as Ursule, which make the Nocturne duet and the terzett in act II marvellous pieces. Sebastien Droy as Bénédict (replacing a sick Julien Dran) was not a powerful Bénédict with a modest top. He had a more delicate approach, nonetheless sang and acted well. The rest of the cast went rather unnoticed.

Conductor-Jérémie Rhorer, Direction-Richard Brunel, Decors-Anouk Dell’Aiera, Costumes-Kostuums-Claire Risterucci, Lights-Belichting-Laurent Castaingt, Dond Pedro-Frederic Caton, Claudio-Etienne Dupuis, Bénédict-Sébastien Droy, Don Juan-Sébastien Dutrieux, Léonato-Pierre Barrat, Héro-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Béatrice-Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Samarone-Lionel Lhote, Ursule-Eve-Maud Hubeaux (30/3/16), Conductor-Samuel Jean, Héro-Sophie Karthäuser, Béatrice-Michèle Losier (06/04/16)

Old meets new in the 2016/17 season of La Monnaie/De Munt, Gent and Liege

imagesAfter a very interesting and varied 2015/16 opera season I hoped in a change of course, in an innovative and original new season. In a newly renovated opera house. Instead, the renovations, which were supposed to be finished by the end of the current season, will protract until the second title of the new season. But from December, the direction hopes, the opera house will be reopened. The program on the other hand is not new, not original, not imaginative, it’s a déjà vu, deja entendu, dozens of times. I am not pretending Portogallo, Graun, van Maldere or other forgetten (though still very valid and worthwile) composers, I am not even pretending more familiar names such as Boildieau, Haydn, Adam, Glinka, Vivaldi. But what is wrong with an Esclarmonde, a Siége de Corinthe, a Roberto Devereux, a Robert le Diable. But a Wagner, a Verdi, a Puccini and a Strauss… (and not the most original ones either): Do they still have something to say? Macbeth was even given only recently at the Munt. Matsukaze as well.

gent_vlaamseoperaThe more interesting operas in Brussels are the Golden Cockerel, Lucio Silla, Pénélope (Faure) and Il ritorno di Ulisse. Half of these are given in concert version!! And again, of the 11 productions, more than half are compostions of the 20th century. And AGAIN, no classical dance is offered!! Thank God there is Ghent (where we can hear Rossini, Halevy, Mussorgski, Tchaikovsky) Liège (which dares to give Auber, lesser known Rossini, Wolf-Ferrari, Ponchielli…), Lille (a staged Vivaldi, this year) which are not very far and which offer quite varied seasons… Well, usually… In the next season we are flooded with Verdi and Puccini there as well: 3 Verdi and 2 Puccini, as if nothing would draw people to the opear. Otello and Don Giovanni are planned for Liege, were given in Gent and Brussels this year and last year, respectively. Die Zauberflöte next year in Gent, was given this year in Liege. And so on…Disappointed is only one of the words that suggests itself.

visu_Even_02Oh, by the way. What happened to La muette de Portici? Co-produced with the Opéra Comique in 2011, it was supposed to be staged also in Brussels. Only… ‘It isn’t the right time,’ said Peter De Caluwe, ‘because it would raise the question of whether or not we need Belgium’. I think this is utter nonsense. The creation of Belgium following its staging in 1830 is a lovely story to tell your grandchildren but an opera was never and will never be able to split or unify a country. So: when are we gonna hear it?

L’opera seria-Gassmann-Jacobs in Brussels

gassmannFlorian Leopold Gassmann, although nowadays practically unknown to most, was one of Vienna’s court composer and organized one of the first associations of public concerts. Admired by Mozart, he was a prolific Bohemian, composing 25 or so operas, more than 50 symphonies, overtures, chamber music etc., who worked with famous librettists and composers such as Metastasio, Goldoni, Salieri. He composed operas for Vienna, Venice, Florence, and was able to merge the characteristics of the Venetian style and the German taste. The opera L’opera seria, written on a libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi, is not seria at all, but a brilliant and hilarious rendering of the rehearsal and staging of an opera, the vanity of singers, the greed of impresarios, and the whims of dancers, composers and librettists. It is part of a widespread and appreciated satirical genre that flourished between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and describes the inconveniences of opera companies and which has examples galore in prose, drama and opera alike (Il teatro alla moda by Benedetto Marcello, Le convenienze e inconvenienze teatrali by Donizetti, La prova dell’opera by Da Ponte, L’opera in prova alla moda by Latilla, L’impresario in angustie by Cimarosa, Prova di un opera seria by Gnecco, and many others).
castrato-illo_2013257aThe plot evolves around the impresario Fallito (!) who commissions an opera to a pretentious composer and librettist (Mr. Sigh and Delirium), three primadonnas (Miss Off-Key Trill, Miss Simpering, and Porporina, which show up with their respective mothers), the primo uomo and the dancer, and who are all only driven by their personal and individual glory. Act I and II sees them complain abut the libretto, the music , the costumes. They rehears among disastrous directions, singers complaining about the orchestra and ornamentation….chaos: The final act finally sees them catastrophically perform the opera on stage only to finally realize that the impresario run off with the money.
 

Calzabigi and Gassmann hide numerous musical gags in the opera (endless long introductions, a comparison aria, useless coloraturas, incompatibility of text and music, whims of singers) but one did not have to be an expert in musical history, so clever and transparent was the direction by Martinoty (who passed away less than a month ago), which I was lucky enough to  see during the Festwochen der Alten Musik in Innsbruck. The Austrian audience laughed with tear filled eyes throughout the performance and bestowed a triumph to music and staging. The latter intelligent and lively, with brilliant ideas and a flow in the narration which kept the public roaring laughing till the end. And except the very funny libretto, the music is amazingly rich, varied, brilliant and descriptive. Rene Jacobs (who didn’t “recently discover” the opera as stated in the Monnaie’s program) couldn’t be better suited to conduct this opera, which he performed in Schwetzingen, Berlin and Innsbruck in the 90s. He directs lively and virtuosistically and is even part of the show.

Patrick Kinmonth, on the other hand, fails miserably to bring the opera to life. The setting is nice but the direction is horribly flat and dull, and more than the dreadfully insipid ideas and piteously silly and trivial gags which have nothing or little to do with the  opera and utterly miss the spirit of the satire, it’s the missed opportunities that bother me: merely the music itself and the libretto are source of amusement.

 

Some of the singers are excellent. Spagnoli is simply wonderful, his style, his pronunciations, the nuances he puts in every line, his taste in phrasing, every inflection, every word is in its right place and his voice doesn’t seem to have lost any of its brilliance. I found Alex Penda and Mario Zeffiri equally good, both with their own qualities, they charm with actorial talent, and musically nail their hugely difficult roles, Zeffiri clearer in his diction and jauntier on stage, Alex Penda impressive with her wide vocal range. I also enjoyed Robin Johannsen, especially in her “son fatta cosi”. Sunhae Im was an acceptable Porporina, but I would have wished a more understandable Italian and a fuller voice. A vocally correct but scenically unmotivated Marcos Fink and an good Thomas Walker complete the cast with 3 decent countertenors in the role of the primadonnas’ mothers and Nicolay Borchev as dance master.

For an opera that is based so much on a  funny libretto I felt quite annoyed that so little importance was put in the text. The dreadful acoustics of the Cirque Royal didn’t help either and affected also the music, which lost its brilliance and clarity.

 Music director-Rene Jacobs, Staging, set design and costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Andreas Grüter, Choreography-Fernando Melo, Dramaturgy-Olivier Lexa, Fallito-Marcos Fink, Delirio-Pietro Spagnoi, Sospiro-Thomas Walker, Ritornello-Mario Zeffiri, Stonatrilla-Alex Penda, Smorfiosa-Robin Johannsen, Porporina-Sunhae Im, Passagallo-Nicolay Borchev, Bragherona-Magnus Staveland, Befana-Stephen Wallace, Caverna-Rubert Enticknap