Meyerbeer’s Le prophète – Essen

Le prophète had its premiere in Paris in April 1849 and it was another immense success after Robert le Diable and Les Huguenots. Again Meyerbeer was able to combine all the parameters of the grand opéra such as a historic events, interpolations of personal conflicts, inclusion of ballets, rich instrumentation effects, alternation between crowd and solo scenes with lighting, spectacular costumes and scenic effects which all contribute to the grandeur of the staging. What makes Meyerbeer so special is the combination of musical languages: Meyerbeer was born in Germany, assimilated wonderfully the Italian style during his stay in Italy and acquired the French taste when he moved to Paris. Although not as “grand” as Les Huguenots, Le prophète still remains one of the most successfull operas at the time (comparable to a musical in our days), staged for hundreds and hundreds of times in all the major European cities until the beginning of the 20th century and stayed in oblivion for years only because it required great voices, a conductor able to keep the suspense for several hours and singers able to sustain the huge demand of the score. A compliment therefore to the opera houses who stage Meyerbeer operas. The plot of Le prophète evolves around John of Leiden, who moved to Münster, became the leader of  Anabaptists, held the city against the pope for over a year until he was captured in 1535, tortured and executed. Against this historic drama develops the relationship of John of Leiden (Jean de Leyde) with Berthe, his beloved and Fidès, his mother.

I thougth the Tcherniakov Trovatore in Brussels was absolute nonesense, but at least the decor was well designed. For Le prophète in Essen we have a rotating stage divided in three compartments. They are fully grey, including the parting walls, and most of the time rather empty. In Act I there is a huge table and in Act II the choir dances between crates stapled on pallets while Jean waits beers. Except Jean’s room (matras on the floor) and a few props, there is not much more. But empty can work if there is a director who knows how to direct, which in this case we clearly lacked. The problem, I think, is that Vincent Boussard has no clue whatsover what to do with all the people on stage: The choir was motionless most of the time. Which, if we consider the importance of the masses in grand opera is astounding, to say the least. During the sermon of the anabaptists  in Act I (“Ad nos”….), Berthe and Fides are chatting away as if exchanging recipes (sic…). During Berthe’s romance (Un jour dans les flots de la Meuse) Berthe sings standing on the table with Oberthal playing with her hair (because he has her in his power????) and when Fides sings her pertichini, the tutu ballerina shushes her (!). Jean goes home to play his e-guitar, the same rock music-like pose he strikes at the end of Act III with the cross in his hands (dream of celebrity?? Please!!!). Jonas vomits on the floor just before Zacharie’s aria (!!!), during the dances Zacharie and the two ballerinas run after each other on the rotating stage, the ballerinas making confused movements with a knife and an iron in their hands (!!!), the hat of Zaccaria pops a mini firework during the Trio bouffe (!!!). And so on and so on and so on, one imbecility after the other. The costumes are between a not better defined end of the XXth century and gothic-like underground.

Luckily the musical part was much better. Fides is Marianne Cornetti. Cornetti has a good technique, her strong voice is projected well and equal in all registers. Her singing is a tad cautious but admirable. Seen the difficulty of the score, especially her Grande Air in Act V, the rendering was fabulous. And even the odd unfocussed note does not affect the overall perfomance. The Berthe of Lynette Tapia has little colours, is a bit nasal, and she lacks the weight to convincingly pull off the recitatives (especially important in Act V) but overall interprets an acceptable Berthe with a light top register. Beautiful the slow part of her duet with Fidès. John Osborne forges the voice to his will and is excellent in the lyrical and delicate as well as the passionate passages. The acuti sure and resounding, the voice powerful yet flexible, his French impeccable. I felt he was somewhat distant, something i never felt observed with Osborne before. Maybe caution (he will sing the same part in Toulouse in a month or so)? Karel Martin Ludvik is a bit short in the lower register but sings well, as do Albrecht Kludszuweit, Pierre Doyen, and Tijl Faveyts as the anabaptists. Carella was in dazzling shape. The tempi were perfect, the sound he was able to create with the excellent orchestra was scintillating with timbrical colours and dramatic tension, the sound had luminous fluidity  and was at the same time light  (the orchestra was transparent down to the timpani) and vigorous, accompanying the alternating sentiments with unequalled sensitivity. If we didn’t get the grand from the staging, it was Carella who delivered it.

 

Musikalische Leitung-Giuliano Carella, Inszenierung-Vincent Boussard, Bühne-Vincent Lemaire, Kostüme-Vincent Boussard, Elisabeth de Sauverzac, Licht-Guido Levi, Dramaturgie-Christian Schröder, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Marianne Cornetti, Berthe-Lynette Tapia, Jonas-Albrecht Kludszuweit, Mathisen-Pierre Doyen,
Zacharie-Tijl Faveyts, Graf von Oberthal-Karel Martin Ludvik. 29th April 2017, Pictures from the site of the Aalto Theatre Essen.

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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.

The Snow Maiden @ Paris Opera Bastille

Snegurochka was Korsakov’s favourite opera and for its composition he moved to a country house close to Louga to listen to nature’s voices, as he mentioned in his autobiography (“…an abundance of field flowers, continuous chirping of the birds, all this harmonized particularly with my pantheistic state of mind then, and my enthusiasm for the subject of Snegouochka. Some trunks of trees, large and twisted, or covered with moss, appeared to me like spirits of the woods…”). The opera was heard first in Saint Petersburg in 1885 and in 1893 in Moscow.
Korsakov went as far as to write the libretto himself. The story of Snegurochka revolves around Snow Maiden, the daughter of Spring Beauty and Frost, who wants to find love and live with the humans, the nomadic tribe of the Berendays. She finds love in Lel, who rejects her but is wooed by Mizgir, who sees her when he was just about to marry Kupava. The rejected Kupava appeals to the tsar who declares that whoever successfully woes Snow Maiden will be rewarded. At the end Kupava finds love in Lel while Snow Maiden melts under a ray of sun and the Berendays praise the return to the cycles of nature. The libretto is a bit unbalanced, with parts that move very slow and others almost ridiculously fast. The music, I found, never completely takes off with many declamatory passages and slow arias and what struck me most with little variations in tempi, which plunges the whole action in a long dreamlike almost monotonous flow. I guess Tcherniakov was not behind this although adapting the score to his vision is not new to him: In Snegurochka he makes Lel a countertenor instead of a mezzosoprano, he cuts the lively dances and makes Snegurochka declare her final lines to Lel instead of Mizgir making the plot even more confusing. I know I go against mainstream judgement but all in all I found the opera a bit long-winded and less inspired than for eg. The Golden Cockerel, which I recently saw in Brussels.

Tcherniakov sets the prologue in a dance school and all the rest in the forest. The Berendays live in caravans and dress colourfully (a mix of flower power, pagan sect, Russian traditions and camping outfit). The “tsar” is the leader of the pack. Nonetheless Tcherniakov makes them inhabitants of the 21st century (the sneakers, the photo flashes of mobile phones…) maybe to point at the universality of the plot. The sets are beautifully designed, well lit, and the costumes gorgeous. Snegurochka was not only Korsakov’s favourite opera but one Tcherniakov always wanted to do, he claims. Funnily enough I feel the inspiration was not the highest, the masses were not moved with such elegance and power as, say, in Borodin’s Prince Igor. Beautiful was the set change from the school to the forest, and the circling trees.
The orchestra played beautifully under Tatarnikov’s hand, showing off beautiful and sparkling colours. The singers were all very good or even excellent. Aida Garifullina and Martina Serafin have beautiful and strong soprano voices which fill the huge Bastille with ease. Yuriy Mynenko lacks the necessary projection but his voice is never covered as Lel’s orchestration is always delicate. A bit unrefined the baritonal voice of the charisma-lacking lover Thomas Johannes Meyer and the tsar of Maxim Paster. Adequate all others including the robust mezzo of Elena Manistina. Excellent the choir.

Direction musicale-Mikhail Tatarnikov, Mise en scène et decors-Dmitri Tcherniakov, Costumes-Elena Zaitseva, Lumières-Gleb Filshtinsky, Snegourochka-Aida Garifullina, Lel-Yuriy Mynenko, Kupava-Martina Serafin, Le Tzar Berendeï-Maxim Paster, Mizguir-Thomas Johannes Mayer, La Fée Printemps-Ekaterina Semenchuk, Le Bonhomme Hiver-Vladimir Ognovenko, Bermiata-Franz Hawlata, Bobyl Bakula-Vasily Gorshkov, Bobylicka-Carole Wilson, L’Esprit des bois-Vasily Efimov, Premier Héraut-Vincent Morell, Deuxième Héraut-Pierpaolo Palloni, Un Page-Olga Oussova. 22nd April 2017. Pictures Elisa Haberer from the Opera National de Paris.

Sullivan’s Cox and Box and The Zoo @ Arenbergschouwburg

Cox and Box and The Zoo are both one-act comic operas. Cox and Box was written by Arthur Sullivan 5 years before he started collaborating with W. S. Gilbert; It was a huge success in its time and is relatively frequently performed . The plot revolves around a landlord who rents one room to two people, one who works at night and one who works during the day. When one of them has a day off, they meet with hilarious consequences. The Zoo’s plot is about two pairs of lovers, a nobleman wooing the girl who sells snacks in the zoo and a young chemist who believes he has poisoned his beloved (all commented by the visitors of the zoo).

Volksopera in co-production with Zuidpool gives us a simple but lovely performance. The staging is very scarce. in fact, there is none in Cox and Box, just one or two props, such as the pipe or the pistols; The zoo is a bit livelier with colourful summer clothing and a bit more action. But what made the evening very entertaining was in fact very simple: the singers not only had good voices but were also motivated actors and a dozen instrumentalists performed flawlessly and kept it light and airy. Unfortunately the Arenbergschouwburg in Antwerp was only half full. A missed opportunity for the lovers of the genre seen the overall good quality of the performance.

Stijn Saveniers, Jorgen Cassier, Anne Cambier, Lien Haegeman, Geoffrey Degives, Kris Belligh, Fabrice Pillet, Eloïse Mabille, Naomi Beeldens, Mathis Van Cleynenbreugel, Lars Corijn en tienkoppige ensemble The Tourist Attraction Company (Antwerp, 4/4/17, Picture from Zuidpool.be)

Orlando furioso @ Tourcoing

If one has to travel to Tourcoing to hear Vivaldi, one does so with pleasure, seen how little Vivaldi is performed. The orchestra is the well known “La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy” with Jean-Claude Malgoire as its conductor. Judging by this performance, the reputation is better than the quality, but then it could just be a bad day. The choice in tempi is poor, dynamics are unvaried, the playing tedious. Add to this a very scholastic rendering of the orchestra with many mistakes, and the pleasure quickly dwindles to disappointment. Slighly better the singers (but only slightly): voices that are either barely audible (Angelica) or flat when they descend to lower notes (Orlando). Ruggiero was good in his flute aria but Come l’onda sounds colourless with a little projected voice. Much better Clemence Tilquin, the only with a more homogeneous voice and some lovely acting that inflated Alcina with personality. All in all a performance with very little variations or nuances with an incomprehensible Italian pronunciation. The costumes were very well designed while staging consisted in several painted panels  which were moved up and down to bring us into the different settings or slid side-wards to make the singers appear and disappear. Simple and effective.

Direction musicale-Jean Claude Malgoire, Mise en scène-Christian Schiaretti, Adaptation scénographique-Fanny Gamet, Costumes-Emily Cauwet-Lafont, Orlando-Amaya Dominguez, Angelica-Samantha Louis-Jean, Alcina-Clémence Tilquin, Bradamante-Yann Rolland, Medoro-Victor Jimenez Diaz, Ruggiero-Jean Michel Fumas, Astolfo-Nicolas Rivenq (2/4/17) Picture from http://www.atelierlyriquedetourcoing.fr/

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

La Cenerentola @ Cosenza

Bellina questa Cenerentola realizzata in coproduzione con il Teatro del Giglio di Lucca. Partendo dai costumi di Lele Luzzati (realizzati per una Cenerentola negli anni 70), Aldo Tarabella ed Enrico Musenich hanno realizzato scene molto belle con parti mobili che vengono spostati e ricomposti a vista, pannelli che sono dipinti su più lati per essere arrotolati e srotolati e dare cosí vita a diversi interni in modo veloce. Tutto ciò in uno stile che ricorda Lele Luzzati.

Pessimo il conduttore Marco Balderi che dirige con poca grinta e piglio svogliato un orchestra, benché volenterosa, a tratti imprecisa e dove spesso la musica vocale era sconnessa dall’accompagnamento orchestrale (ma parecchie volte).

Pablo Ruiz é bravo nella coloratura e corretto nel canto. Leggermente più in difficoltà ma comunque bravo l’Alidoro di Matteo d’Appolito. Leggermente gigionante il don Magnifico di Clemente Antonio Maliotti con dizione perfezionabile ancorché vocalmente corretto. Sia in Alidoro che in Don Magnifico mi sono mancate le sfumature dei personaggi, ma bon, con un conduttore che faticava a dare attacchi precisi non potevo certo sperare in una interpretazione piu marcata con i cantanti . Il tenore Li Biao ha voce piccola e fissa che si inasprisce appena inizia a salire. Voce molto bella e brunita con una coloratura scorrevole la brava Paola Gardina anche se gli acuti sono perfezionabili e le zone di passaggio non sempre morbide. Simpatiche e corrette le due sorelle.

Un plauso a chi sta riportando la lirica a Cosenza e forse il pubblico inizierà ad apprezzare. Per il momento ho trovato il pubblico poco entusiasta, con alcuni disinteressati che parlano a voce alta, controllano cellulari e lasciano la suoneria ad alto volume (poco prima del rondo finale).

Conduttore-Marco Balderi, Regia-Aldo Tarabella, Scene-Enrico Musenich, Luci-Marco Minghetti, Costumi-Lele Luzzati, Don Magnifico-Clemente Antonio Galiotti, Don Ramiro-Li Biao, Dandini-Pablo Ruiz, Angelina-Paola Gardina, Clorinda-Giulia Perusi, Tisbe-Isabel de Paoli, Alidoro-Matteo D’Appolito. Rappresentazione del 3/3/17

Foto da https://www.connessiallopera.it di Andrea Simi

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

A new view on Die Zauberflöte @ Gent

34A0339How many Zauberflöte can one watch without start to be bored? I mean…the  priggish Sarastro is unbearable, the writing of the libretto awful with much racism and sexism, the horrible duet for the two priests etc etc etc etc… So well done David Hermann in giving the story a completely new interpretation. This was not without a proper tweak at the libretto, but OK….the horrible duet of the priests stayed horrible, but it was the first Zauberflöte (after my first and the Kosky one), where I did not leave somewhere before said duet.

diezauberflote-03-mg-4839-cannemieaugustijns-webExcept for the opening scene, which looks a bit post-apocalyptic and where the three ladies are constantly in contact with each other, moving like a menacing blob, the sets bring us to what looks like rural America, a small house in the prairie (I guess where people are held hostage and tortured). Sarastro is the ruthless, misogynistic leader who is into taxidermy, abusive of Pamina, and heartlessly kills the Queen and the ladies at the end. Papagena is a handicapped hostage in wheelchair and Papageno is an ape-like creature that crutches when frightened and hisses like a cat when he is scared. He brings hunted birds to the three ladies at the beginning. The ladies don’t offer a flute and glockenspiel to Tamino and Papageno, but a revolver and gas bombs, the latter of which Papageno uses to knock out Monostatos. The opera ends with Sarastro smoking a cigar on his patio (after killing the Queen and the ladies); Pamina and Tamino come back and shoot him dead, presumably ending the cycle of horror. It’s one of these staging which reading would have made me think it’s a bad Regietheater. Regietheater it is, but a refreshing interpretation well thought through. The sets are beautifully designed, alternate at almost every scene and the changes are swift.

34A0571The orchestra gave a beautiful performance, playing clear and transparently with Jan Schweiger at its head, who made me fear the worst with the too solemnly played opening bars, but who excellently conducted with vibrant dynamism. Tarver has a hard time to find delicacy in the higher notes, Miss Sabirova was not completely fluid with a barely touched f in O zittre nicht, Josef Wagner also a bit hefty as Papageno, but overall the cast was very good. Lore Binon interpreted a beautifully sung, pure and clear-voiced Pamina. I’d love to hear more of her. Sarastro doesn’t seem to have secrets for Ante Jerkunica, who displays an attractive and warm timbre, especially in the deepest register, the best Sarastro I’ve ever heard.

Muzikale leiding-Jan Schweiger, Regie-David Hermann, Décor, Kostuums-Christof Hetzer, Belichting-Bernd Purkrabek, Dramaturgie-Luc Joosten, Sarastro-Ante Jerkunica, Koningin van de nacht-Hulkar Sabirova, Tamino-Kenneth Tarver, Pamina-Lore Binon, Papageno-Josef Wagner, Papagena-Morgane Heyse, Monostatos-Michael J. Scott, Erste Dame-Hanne Roos, Zweite Dame-Tineke Van Ingelgem, Dritte Dame-Raehann Bryce-Davis, Sprecher-Evgeny Solodovnikov, Priester/Geharnischter-Evgeny Solodovnikov, Priester/Geharnischter –Stephan Adriaens, Knaben-Katrijn Van Cauwenberghe, Merel De Coorde, Giulia Schoofs

200th birthday for Rossini’s Otello in Naples

49889-myimageRossini’s Otello was one of the most represented operas of the XIX century, it was written in Naples for some of the best singers of Italy. Isabella Colbran, soon to become Rossini’s wife, was famous for the big range of her voice as well as her actorial skills, depicting heroins “with real sentiment and great passion” as Spohr penned down when he heard her in Elisabetta. All operas that were composed for Isabella Colbran had long and elaborated scenes which allowed her to show off her dramatic skills. In fact, Rossini made his Otello an opera about Desdemona, frail in the first act, the second act is centered around her distress and excitement while the third act intensifies her personal tensions and emotions even more, bringing the opera to a tragic close. Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David were two famous tenors. David the flexible tenore contraltino, usually employed for the lovers’ roles, and Nozzari the baritonal tenor, usually the temperamental antagonist. For these voices he created most of his Neapolitan operas who are regarded as his masterpieces, such as La donna del lago, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Zelmira, Armida etc. It was in Neaples where Rossini could be the most creative, opening to new musical forms and modernizing the repertoire which was not possible elsewhere. Otello also finishes with a death on stage, something that was unthinkable in other parts of Italy (although just a few months before Carafa composed Gabriella di Vergy with tragic ending, which had a tremendous success).
Otello was performed first in the Teatro del Fondo (now Teatro Mercadante) on 4th December 1816 as the main Neapolitan stage, the Teatro di San Carlo, burnt down a year earlier but was moved to the San Carlo the 18th January 1817. Although the libretto was criticized for not being completely faithful to Shakespeare, the opera was a complete and utter triumph that pleased people all over Europe for decades, making Desdemona the warhorse for such primadonnas as Ronzi, Pasta, Malibran and Grisi, just to mention a few (I refer to another blog for an extensive article on Rossini s Desdemona http://ilcorrieredellagrisi.blogspot.be/2008/07/il-mito-della-primadonna-desdemona-di.html). The public and critics praised especially Isabella Colbran’s interpretation of Desdemona emphasizing that “….this unequaled actress inspires in all minds the most affectionate feelings of melancholy, and the strongest commotions of the tragic terror. Ms. Colbran, great in the so-called bravura pieces, most praised in the arpeggios and the rapid coloratura, has no equal in the tragic or declamatory music or in the difficult talent of expressiveness”. (Giornale delle due Sicilie). Well done therefore, the Teatro di San Carlo, which staged Otello exactly 200 years after its premiers and the excitement was great to hear it in exactly the same location.

untitledThe settings are beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti, who brings us from a ship interiour in the first act , to a big room with fire place in 16th century Venice in the Act II to Desdemona’s bedroom in the third act (well, a carpet with a few cushions…). Set, costumes and colours matched all very well. I was less enthusiastic about the direction. Amos Gitai wants to link Otello’s story with today’s immigrant issue and projects war landscapes, boats full of immigrants and the likes in regular frequency (3 or 4 times if i remember well). But these projections feel a bit like a “mistake”, in the sense that it felt like someone switched on the projections by accident, and then turned them off again so that the show could continue…very bizarre… And this is all the director could think of as the singers move very conventionally and the chorus is motionless.

49890-otello-gaia-petrone-nino-machaidze-c-luciano-romano-san-carlo-cropI enjoyed all singers of the first cast. Excellent Nino Machaidze, though with an harsh timbre and not always an exemplary legato, the voice moves effortlessly over the whole range and displays remarkable coloratura. Features that she shares with John Osborne, who i remember more audacious in other productions i saw him in, but nonetheless an exquisite Otello. Somewhat careful Dmitry Korchak as Jago but very very enjoyable nonetheless in a very difficult role. A bit short in the higher register Mirco Palazzi. Gaia Petrona had a nice warm timbre and convinced as Emilia. Of the second cast I particularly enjoyed Sergey Romanovsky, a tenor to watch carefully, as his rendering of Otello was very exciting with no problems neither in the baritonal register or in the coloratura with an agreeable timbre. I found Carmen Romeu not as convincing as when she sang the same role in Gent a few years back with a voice more tired and her usual issues with intonation. Rodrigo was a role too big, I felt, for Giorgio Misseri, who had slight issues in the runs as well as the high register.

Worst was the conductor though, who dragged everybody into an expensive nap. Nomen est omen I would say, for Ferro (it: iron). Except for strette, which get a bit speedier, he directs with crawling tempi, rolls over the score with flattening carelessness, without rubati, without emotion. Even when the singers accelerate a little because the music requires it, he beats tempi like he would stir polenta. With unclear beats the orchestra shows unclean cues. A disaster is the whole finale of act I where several different pieces follow one another with different tempi, different emotions. In theory! Because Ferro, with metronomic lethargy, beats the rhythm with no crescendo, rallentandi, accelerandi, oblivious to the whole armamentarium to create a pulsating and exciting sound. The recitativi are ever so boring as Ferro adds so many little pauses between the beats and everything seems endless. What a catastrophy!

Direttore-Gabriele Ferro, Regia-Amos Gitai, Regista collaborator-Mariano Bauduin, Scene-Dante Ferretti, Costumi-Gabriella Pescucci, Light Designer-Vincenzo Raponi, Videoproiezioni-Alessandro Papa, Otello-John Osborn/Sergey Romanovsky, Desdemona-Nino Machaidze/Carmen Romeu, Rodrigo-Dmitry Korchak/Giorgio Misseri, Jago-Juan Francisco Gatell, Emilia-Gaia Petrone, Elmiro-Mirco Palazzi, Il Doge-Nicola Pamio, Il gondolier, Lucio-Enrico Iviglia. Naples 2 and 3 december 2016.