Norma @ Liège

An pleasing enough Norma was given at Liege this week. I did not like everything of Davide Garattini-Raimondi’s direction. It had the merit of being on 3 levels which allowed to play with movements of the single versus the masses, but I found the paper mache-looking setting a bit unrefined, although I guess deliberate. Personally I did not see the necessity of the overly made-up faces and neither of the dancers who hopped also in the most inappropriate scenes. To me it looked a bit silly.

It was clear even before hearing her, that Patrizia Ciofi would be too light for Norma, “In mia mano alfin tu sei” for eg and all the lower passages was musically not very pleasing and at the end of the several evenings the voice sounded very tired. Having said that I found much dedication to the role, wonderfully floating acuti and a profound rendering. With her on stage was José Marina Lo Monaco who sang a beautiful and compassionate Adalgisa, and the two voices merged wonderfully in the duet of Act II. As Pollione we had Gregory Kunde who the role seemed to fit like a glove and the notes came out in apparent effortlessness from the lowest to highest, always a pleasure to hear. Andrea Concetti was a noble Oroveso, his second aria convinced more than the first. All were accompanied by the very capable hands of Massimo Zanetti; He kept the music going swiftly although the orchestra’s playing was not always neat and clean.

Conductor-Massimo Zanetti, Director-Davide Garattini Raimondi, Choreography & Director’s Assistant -Barbara Palumbo, Set And Lighting Design-Paolo Vitale, Costume Design-Giada Masi, Choirmaster-Pierre Iodice, Norma-Patrizia Ciofi, Pollione-Gregory Kunde, Adalgisa-Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Oroveso-Andrea Concetti *, Flavio-Zeno Popescu, Clotilde-Réjane Soldano, 25/10/17, Fotos: http://www.operaliege.be

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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.

Jerusalem @ Opera de Liège

Like many other Italian composers before him (Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti just to mention the main contemporary ones), Verdi was invited to compose for the Parisian stages. It was decided to stage a grand opéra as it was fashionable since the 1830’s. But instead of composing a brand new opera, Verdi adapted one of his earlier operas, I lombardi alla prima crociata. The writers of the libretto Royer et Vaëz  rewrote the plot (which makes more sense than the Lombardi one) while Verdi re-adapted and rewrote bits and pieces. The result is not really a grand opéra in the sense of Meyerbeer, Halevy et al. It sounds like any contemporary Verdi with all his characteristics and flaws. So if you like Verdi you probably liked this one as well, if you were expecting a grand opéra you probably were disappointed. Mazzonis di Pralafera and Jean-Guy Lecat provide red-bricked columns on each side, a wall at the back and a painted decor with an otherwise empty stage (except cushions for Gaston’s aria in act III, hastily removed for the ballet). Beautiful the costumes shaped as idealized and colourful Middle Ages apparel. The ballet was the only modern bit in an otherwise traditional setting and although i liked some parts, the performers danced in a modern, hectic, nervous kind of style.

Speranza Scappucci does her best to keep it going though I again miss the extra bit to make the music sparkle. Marc Laho’s voice expands well, his registers equally even; a fine interpretation. Elain Alvarez and Roberto Scandiuzzi both had some issues with very low or high notes in act I. Maybe not warm enough? But in the following acts Scandiuzzi developed his beautiful bass voice and was a delight as Roger (and hermit). Elain Alvarez has a somewhat “slow” voice, her embellishments not very light and and the interpretation lacked the punch of the Verdi heroines. Overall i preferred her Hélène to her Elvira 2 years ago, but was not fully convinced either.

Director-Stefano Mazzonis Di Pralafera, Conductor-Speranza Scappucci, Set Designs-Jean-Guy Lecat, Costume Designs-Fernand Ruiz, Lighting Designs-Franco Marri, , Gaston–Marc Laho, Hélène–Elaine Alvarez, Roger–Roberto Scandiuzzi, Comte De Toulouse-Ivan Thirion, Raymond-Pietro Picone, Isaure–Natacha Kowalski, Adémar De Montheil-Patrick Delcour, A Soldier-Victor Cousu, A Herald-Benoît Delvaux, Emir Of Ramla-Alexei Gorbatchev, An Officer-Xavier Petithan; 21/03/17

Don Giovanni @ Liége

don_giovanni_site_c_lorraine_wauters_-_opera_royal_de_wallonie-19-1It is the Belgian film director Jaco van Dormael who was in charge of the direction of the Liège Don Giovanni. The opera opens with Donna Anna swimming in her outside swimming pool, the balcony and the wide terrace dominated only by black. A huge tilted mirror allows to see the inside of the pool. With the appearance of Donna Elvira the huge mirror lowers (in fact a hidden platform) to show the interior of an office, again all in black. Jaco van Dormael sets the time in our days, Don Giovanni is a an avid office clerk that spends his money as quickly as he uses women, drinks alcohol, and of course uses cocaine. All works acceptably well, some of the singers are better actor than others and except for the all black set (who would even choose that??) a few laps in taste and a slow act I finale, the show is agreeable to watch. A comment for the Liège Opera house and whoever decides on the program booklet….I hated that Don Giovanni’s plot was told the way it’s directed: “Act II: Don Giovanni and Leporello have cocaine powder all over their faces”…. Really…???

don_giovanni_site_c_lorraine_wauters_-_opera_royal_de_wallonie-6_0-1Vocally the opening scene was not promising:  a hysteric-sounding Donna Anna that screamed rather than sang,  a Don Giovanni that reverted to talking, sang with an unfocused voice and quite some notes out of tune and a commendatore with an awfully dry voice made me fear the worst. But then things improved. Laurent Kubla, though a bit stiff on stage, portrayed a vocally acceptable Leporello. Salome Jicia as Donna Anna, after an uncertain start, displayed her vocal skills adequately. Well sang Veronica Cangemi as Donna Elvira, nice timbre and voice well controlled from top to bottom. From both ladies I would wish a more delicate emission. Alternate results from Leonardo Cortellazzi as Don Ottavio, in his Act I aria he displayed a wonderful timbre and sang especially touching, while the Act II aria was less convincing with a muddled coloratura. Celine Mellon is a sharp voiced Zerlina, well sung and acted. Only half convincing Roger Joakim as Masetto. I was not fully satisfied by Mario Cassi. Although scenically he is a credible Don Diovanni the role is a bit too low for him and the voice became less vibrant. Alessandrini sure kept it light and I never heard the orchestra of the Opera of Liege play, if not impeccably, at least delicate as this time.

 

22/11/16: Direction musicale-Rinaldo Alessandrini, Mise en scène-Jaco van Dormael, Décors-Vincent Lemaire, Costumes-Fernand Ruiz, Lumières-Nicolas Olivier, Don Giovanni-Mario Cassi, Leporello-Laurent Kubla, Donna Anna-Salome Jicia, Donna Elvira-Veronica Cangemi, Don Ottavio-Leonardo Cortellazzi, Zerlina-Céline Mellon, Masetto-Roger Joakim, Le Commandeur-Luciano Montanaro

 

 

 

Manon Lescaut by Auber @ Liège

manon_lescautYes, not Puccini, not Massenet. By Auber is this Manon Lescaut, altogether set on a lighter note by the simplified libretto by Scribe and by Auber’s sparkling melodies. Meyebeer attended the premiere at the Opera Comique and wrote about it…”full of freshness and invention, melodious and witty…the opera gave me much pleasure”. By the way the opera’s first Manon was Marie Cabel, a Belgian soprano and Manon Lescaut was played in Liège as early as February 1875.

manon_lescautdFourny’s setting starts from a university library (!), part of which is seen throughout. The clothings are 17-18th century and all move well on stage. Cyril Englebert supports the singers well but when the orchestra is alone I would have wished a bit more sparkle and more rubato as the musical language comes over metronomic. Sumi Jo needed most of the conductor’s support. Her voice has lost almost all glitter and sparkle which the role requires. Sumi Jo has to walk on eggs to reach all the right notes. She certainly does, and her singing is still very elegant, but this Manon is a bit unexciting. Wiard Withold on the other hand surprises with a beautiful warm timbre and excellent singing, which make the couplets and the duet of Act 2 the most interesting part of the evening. A singer with potential is also Enrico Casari with bold top notes. All other singers sang also very well.

Conductor-Cyril Englebert, Director-Paul-Émile Fourny, Set designs-Benoît Dugardyn, Costume designs-Giovanna Fiorentini, Lighting designs-Patrick Méeüs, Manon Lescaut-Sumi Jo, Marquis d’Hérigny-Wiard Witholt, Des Grieux-Enrico Casari, Lescaut-Roger Joakim, Marguerite-Sabine Conzen, Madame Bancelin-Laura Balidemaj, Gervais-Denzil Delaere, Renaud-Patrick Delcour

Il segreto di Susanna/La voix humaine @ Liège Opera

IMG_4708The opera de Liège put on stage a wonderful production of two rarely performed operas. Il segreto di Susanna and La voix humaine. The first is a short opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari where reminiscences of Debussy and Wagner mix skilfully with Italian melodiousness and Viennese light-hearted humour. Very good Vittorio Prato as Conte Gil, funny in “l’odore c’é”, delicate in the love duet, comically furious in the entries to and exits from the house, lovely voice and excellent diction. Anna-Caterina Antonacci also very good as frail and delicate Susanna. In La voix humaine, not very dramatic but rather heartbreaking in her approach as abandoned lover, in excellent French.

secret_de_suzanne_voix_humaine_-_site_opera_royal_de_wallonie_-_lorraine_wauters-44Patrick Davin directs with transparency and is able to render la voix humaine with a dramatic touch but even more so Il segreto di Susanna with bustling effervescence. Ludovic Lagarde creates a beautiful white and minimal setting which is simple in its versatility for is Segreto di Susanna, and rotates to reveal other rooms and to increase the sense of loneliness in La voix humaine.

Direction musicale-Patrick Davin, Mise en scène-Ludovic Lagarde, Décors-Antoine Vasseur, Costumes-Fanny Brouste, Lumières-Sébastien Michaud, Vidéo-Lidwine Prolonge, Susanna-Anna Caterina Antonacci, Conte Gil-Vittorio Prato, Le Serviteur-Bruno Danjoux, Elle (La voix humaine), Anna-Caterina Antonacci

Die Zauberflöte @ Liège opera

zauberflote-mario-cassi-anneke-luyten-sabina-willeit-et-beatrix-papp-c-opera-royal-de-wallonie-lorraine-wauters-31The wonderful Mise en scène, created for the very same Liège opera in 2010 by Cecile Roussat and Julien Lubek brings us into a dreamlike, surreal and phantastic world of moving bedsheets, acrobats, and furniture coming to life, which fits  the magic world of the libretto perfectly.

The day I went the tenor singing Tamino was absent und his role was sung by Matthew Newlin, while the director Julien Lubek acted out Pamino’s role on stage. Newlin sang Tamino a bit throaty, with little refinement and short in the top of the range. Anne-Catherine Gillet as Pamina, though affected by a light vibrato, charmed with a lovely timbre and a good pronunciation of the German. I can’t say Mario Cassi as Papageno didn’t sing well but the effort to pronounce well was big and I feel it affected the singing line and overall performance. (Similar problem for Sarastro). Acceptable were the performances of Burcu Uyar as Queen of the Night, though not very sternflammend and with strained top notes, as well as Monostatos. Lovely the Papagena of Inge Freisig and very well the Three Ladies.

zauberflote-c-opera-royal-de-wallonie-lorraine-wauters-8Personally I feel that this production didn’t quite achieve a high standard due to the direction of Paolo Arrivabeni, who directs lively, but orchestra and singers show poverty of colours and monotony of phrasing.

Direction musicale-Paolo Arrivabeni, Mise en scène-Cecile Roussat et Julien Lubek, Décors -Elodie Monet, Cecile Roussat et Julien Lubek, Costumés-Sylvie Skinazi, Lumières-Marc Gingold, Pamina-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Tamino-Matthew Newlin, Papageno-Mario Cassi, Königin der Nacht-Burcu Uyar, Sarastro-Gianluca Buratto, Papagena-Inge Dreisig, Monostatos-Krystian Adam, Erste Dame-Anneke Luyten, Zweite Dame-Sabina Willeit, Dritte Dame-Beatrix Krisztina Papp, Sprecher-Roger Joakim, Erster priester 2. Genarnischter-Arnaud rouillon, Zweiter priester, erster geharnischter-Papuna Tchuradze

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

Ernani at the Liege Opera

ernani-alexise-yerna-et-elaine-alvarez-c-opera-royal-de-wallonie-lorraine-wauters-3Some things just seem strange and I’d love somebody to explain me a few things. Take the last Ernani at the Opera Royal de Wallonie. This institution has many interesting titles this season, such as Manon Lescaut (the Auber one), a Mascagni mass, Il segreto di Susanna etc. There are also many public favourites such as Lucia di Lammermoor, Traviata, Boheme, Il barbiere di Siviglia. Additional titles include La scala di seta, Ernani, La Voix humaine, the Requiem by Mozart and two solo concerts, Olga Peretyatko and Elina Garanca. A rich programme. Many performers are world class stars, such as Annick Massis, Celso Abelo, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Sumi Jo, Patrizia Ciofi etc. Maybe not in their prime, but certainly able to move. So then… Why would we need additional titles with performers who are not able to reach similar standards? I understand the need to attract paying public, but does the public really need to swallow everything? Take yesterday’s Ernani. I thought the director was excellent in his swift and energetic direction. But then we have a soprano who doesn’t force her voice, has an appreciable range but a questionable timbre and a dubious legato, the tenor is on the verge of breaking any second and screams rather than sing, and baritone and bass are so little convincing that I leave the theatre after the interval disappointed and sad. An opening of the opera season could have been done with most of the titles: 9 (counting Susanna/voix humaine as one) for the entire season but I would be happy with eight titles if this means to have better performers.

Conductor-Paolo Arrivabeni, Director-Jean-Louis Grinda, Set designs-Isabelle Partiot, Pieri, Costume designs-Teresa Acone, Lighting designs-Laurent Castaingt, Ernani-Gustavo Porta, Elvira-Elaine Alvarez, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva-Orlin Anastassov, Don Carlo-Lionel Lhote, Giovanna-Alexise Yerna

Juan Diego Florez – French arias in Liège

Lamour-300x300A voice can sing anything. If Bartoli would sing fado or Lady Gaga yodel her way through the Tyrolean Alps……people would still applaud. Same with Florez singing French arias. And there is nothing really wrong with him singing French repertoire…. Technically speaking. But it is evident that in the more cantabile pieces his passion comes out the most. The first half of program was …ahem….discreet to say the least.  All French arias in the so called larmoyant style. So the first part was sentimentally charged to the point of rolling eyes to heaven. Were it not for the orchestra who interspersed the quieter, sung pieces with livelier ones . The second part started well with an Italian composing French (La favorite by Donizetti), it tickeled my interest with a rather rare Berlioz, briefly returned to the ranting-Frenchman-style with Gounod and finished off with a show stopper by Offenbach. It was not by coincidence, in my opinion, that the pieces which were not French came out with more enthusiasms. After all, it is in belcanto that Florez excels. And although he sells them all under a French hat, they do differ. Offenbach (a German, but let’s keep him as French)’s piece has a somewhat belcantistic imprint. As have the encore numbers by (the Italians) Verdi (Je veux encore entendre from Jérusalem) and Donizetti (Pour mon ame from La fille du regiment).

The orchestra does its best, as does the director, who dramatically sank in my esteem when he finished the ouverture to La Favorite with a decrescendo on the final chord. (at times it even was Florez who suggested the tempo though.). It’s always a pleasure to hear Florez sing, though the pleasure could have been increased by a program he excells in.

 

Adolphe Adam, Ouverture Le Toréador – Léo Delibes, Prendre le dessin d’un bijou, Lakme – Georges bizet, ouverture Carmen – Jules Massenet, O Nature, pleine de grâce, Werther – Jules Massenet, Pourquoi me réveiller Werther – Getano donizetti, Un ange, une femme inconnue La favorite – Gaetano donizetti, La favorite ouverture – Hector Berlioz, O blonde Cérès Les troyens – Hector Berlioz, Les troyens ballet – Charles gounod, Romeo et Juliette L’amour – Jacques offenbach, La belle Hélène Au mont Ida. Bis: Jerusalem Je veux la revoir, Verdi – Donizetti, La fille du regiment…Pour mon ame