Rarities (Macbeth Underworld and Silence des ombres@Brussels, Donizetti festival@Bergamo, Ercole amante@Versailles, Ermione@Naples

A disappointing start of the season, this 19/20 opera season in Belgium. In Brussels the first 2 operas were from the 21st century, none of which will leave any mark. Macbeth Underworld was quite gripping stage-wise but musically superficial, I felt that this opéra had not much to add to opera literature. Le silence des ombres played in the KVS to a house empty by a third. Musically for me it all merges into the same really so nothing visionary or exciting in any of those pieces. Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice in Liège had a very interesting setting by Aurélien Bory with a mirror against the back wall which, dimly lit, allowed for some interesting effects, but the direction of van Waas was lethargic. Varduhi Abrahamyan sang Orfeo with no involvement and conviction. So I left there disappointed as well. Much better was the Don Carlos in Gent. The setting was a mix of computer-generated background sets, landscapes creeping into sight, and geometric design objects wheeled in and out and used by an almost childish Don Carlos. Vocally I much admired Leonardo Capalbo as Don Carlos and Kartal Karagedik as Posa and their voices merged beautifully in the famous duet Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes. The opera was very well directed by Alejo Pérez. I am no Verdi fan but i didn’t get bored, that’s a touchstone. Macbeth in Gent on the other hand…

Luckily travelling has gotten easy, and refreshing productions are in fast reach, such as the Fernand Cortez in Florence and Rameau’s Les indes galantes in Paris. Why Brussels gives no barock opera is another mystery yet to be cracked. Something marvelous i saw in Bergamo, which hosts the annual Donizetti festival and this year it was the very first time in modern times that L’ange de Nisida was given a stage performance. Donizetti got the commission from Anténor Joly for performances at the Salle Ventadour in Paris in 1940. But when the theatre went into bankruptcy, Donizetti used parts of the score for La Favorite. Musically, though parts of it are known, the opera stands fully on its own legs and I’d love it to be part of a standard repertoire. A concert performance was given in London last year. Bergamo planned the absolute first staging in the renovated Donizetti theatre this year. However, unforeseen circumstances delayed the completion of the works so the staging took place in the stalls with the public looking down arena-like all around from the boxes. What made the Bergamo production a top of the art evening was the energy and emotion of all the parties. One will always find small smudges in an opus with so many players, but for the combination of operatic novelty, musical unity, singer involvement, setting, direction, costume design and lighting, this was one of the most interesting and moving opera production I’ve seen in years.

Difficult to trump such an evening and indeed Pietro il grande and Lucrezia Borgia were both a nudge less interesting. If Pietro il Grande saw a somewhat weird staging in bright colours and overly-charged 80’s design, the music was not very inspired. Clearly Donizetti tried to emulate Rossini but in the quest to find his own style a not very coherent patchwork was the result. Much better Lucrezia Borgia, at least vocally. The staging was (again) an all black setting (even most of the costumes were, except Lucrezia’s yellow) and included some very unpleasant manhandling of Lucrezia (who was pushed around like a scally, though a pope’s daughter and noblewoman). Though not the most beautiful of timbres, Carmela Remigio sings correctly, with fluid embellishments and a great stage presence. Xavier Anduaga fills the space easily with a beautiful voice. Very good all others, directed with some lengths by Riccardo Frizza.

The San Carlo in Naples gave Rossini’s Ermione. The opera had its premiere on this very same stage exactly 200 years ago. The setting was in a clean and linear white but the direction was a bit flat, with people just walking in and out and the chorus static. De Marchi’s conducted metronomically. Vocally there was really only John Irving who i found weak for Pirro’s part, and this mainly because he was inaudible. Teresa Iervolino was not as convincing as I found her in Semiramide but she has a beautiful, flexible voice and a stage presence which gave Andromaca an almost title-importance. Siragusa and Venditelli were almost excellent, radiant and charismatic voices, who portrayed the love-blind Oreste and the somewhat manipulative Ermione excellently, especially Ermiones final aria which jumps from one state of mind to another. If anything, the Naples staging confirmed Rossini’s visonary genius.

Another rarity i had the joy of seeing was Cavalli’s Ercole amante. Valérie Lesort and Christian Hecq have staged a wonderful Domino noir by Auber (one of those must-see stagings), and Ercole amante confirmed their gift of staging complicated plots with technically astonishing ideas making it charming and entertaining. They recreated the fascination of barock staging with magnificent costumes, machinery flying in and out, hatches opening, palms growing onstage, flowers becoming human, appearances, disappearances, phantastic creatures etc etc. A feast for the eye. And musically exceptionally directed by Raphael Pichon and sung by a string of baroque specialists.

Ercole amante, Direction musicale-Raphaël Pichon, Mise en scene-Valérie Lesort, Christian Hecq, Decors-Laurent Peduzzi, Costumes et machines-Vanessa Sannino, Lumieres-Christian Pinaud, Collaboration aux mouvements-Rémi Boissy, Realisation des marionettes-Carole Allemand, Sophie Coeffic, Valérie Lesort, Ercole-Nahuel di Pierro, Giunone-Anna Bonitatibus, Dejanira-Giuseppina Bridelli, Iole-Francesca Aspromonte, Hyllo-Krystian Adam, Pasithea, Clerica, Terza Grazia, Secondo Pianeta-Eugénie Lefebvre, Venere, Bellezza, Cinthia-Giulia Semenzato, Nettuno, Eutyro-Luca Tittoto, Il paggio-Ray Chenez, Licco-Dominique Visse, Prima grazia-Marie Planinsek, Seconda grazia, Primo pianeta-Perrine Devillers, Terzo pianeta-Corinne Bahuaud, Prima aura-Olivier Coiffet, Seconda aura, un sacrificatore-Renaud Bres, Ruscello, Busiride, un sacrificatore-Nicolas Brooymans, foto Stefan Brion

Pietro il grande, G. Donizetti, Bergamo, 23 novembre 2019, Teatro Sociale , Conductor-Rinaldo Alessandrini, Direction, machines and scenery by-Ondadurto Teatro – Marco Paciotti e Lorenzo Pasquali, Costumes-K.B. Project, Lighting design-Marco Alba, Pietro il Grande-Roberto De Candia, Caterina-Loriana Castellano, Madama Fritz-Paola Gardina, Annetta Mazepa-Nina Solodovnikova, Carlo Scavronski-Francisco Brito, Ser Cuccupis-Marco Filippo Romano, Hondedisky-Marcello Nardis, Firman Trombest-Tommaso Barea,

Lucrezia Borgia, G. Donizetti, Bergamo, 22 novembre 2019, Teatro Sociale, Conductor-Riccardo Frizza, Directed-Andrea Bernard, Scenery-Alberto Beltrame, Costumes-Elena Beccaro-, Lighting design-Marco Alba-, Don Alfonso-Marko Mimica, Donna Lucrezia Borgia-Carmela Remigio, Gennaro-Xabier Anduaga, Maffio Orsini-Varduhi Abrahamyan, Jeppo Liverotto-Manuel Pierattelli, Don Apostolo Gazella-Alex Martini, Ascanio Petrucci-Roberto Maietta, Oloferno Vitellozzo-Daniele Lettieri, Gubetta-Rocco Cavalluzzi, Rustighello-Edoardo Milletti, Astolfo-Federico Benetti

L’ange de Nisida, G. Donizetti, Bergamo, 21 novembre 2019, Teatro Donizetti, Direttore -Jean–Luc Tingaud, Regia -Francesco Micheli, Scene -Angelo Sala, Costumi -Margherita Baldoni, Lighting design -Alessandro Andreoli, Don Fernand d’Aragon-Florian Sempey, Don Gaspar-Roberto Lorenzi, Leone de Casaldi-Konu Kim, La comtesse Sylvia de Linarès-Lidia Fridman, Le Moine-Federico Benetti, foto di Gianfranco Rota

Ermione, G. Rossini, Napoli, 10 novembre 2019, San Carlo, Direttore-Alessandro De Marchi, Maestro del Coro-Gea Garatti Ansini, Regia-Jacopo Spirei, Scene-Nikolaus Webern, Costumi-Giusi Giustino, Luci-Giuseppe Di Iorio, Ermione-Arianna Vendittelli, Andromaca-Teresa Iervolino, Pirro-John Irvin , Oreste-Antonino Siragusa, Pilade-Julian Henao, Fenicio-Ugo Guagliardo, Cleone-Gaia Petrone , Cefisa-Chiara Tirotta, Attalo-Cristiano Olivieri, foto Francesco Squeglia

Don Carlos, G. Verdi, Gent, 25 october 2019, De Vlaamse Opera, Conductor-Alejo Pérez, Direction-Johan Simons, Set and video-Hans Op de Beeck, Costumes-Greta Goiris, Lighting-Dennis Diels, Dramaturgy-Jeroen Versteele, Jan Vandenhouwe, Don Carlos, infant d’Espagne-Leonardo Capalbo, Élisabeth de Valois-Mary Elizabeth Williams, Philippe II, roi d’Espagne-Andreas Bauer Kanabas, Rodrigue, marquis de Posa-Kartal Karagedik, La princesse d’Eboli-Raehann Bryce-Davis, Le Grand Inquisiteur-Werner Van Mechelen, Un moine (Charles V)-Justin Hopkins, Thibault, page d’Élisabeth, une voix céleste-Annelies Van Gramberen, Le comte de Lerme-Stephan Adriaens, Un héraut royal-Stephan Adriaens, photos by Annemie Augustijns

Orphée et Eurydice, C. W. Gluck, Liege, 20 octobre 2019, Opera de liege, Direction musicale-Guy van Waas, Mise en scene et decors-Aurélien Bory, Dramaturgie-Taïcyr Fadel, Décors-Pierre Dequivre, Costumes-Manuela Agnesini, Lumières-Arno Veyrat, Orphée-Varduhi Abrahamyan, Eurydice-Melissa Petit, Amour-Julie Gebhart,

Les Indes galantes, J. P.. Rameau, Paris, 8 October 2019, Bastille, Conductor -Leonardo García Alarcón, Director-Clément Cogitore, Choreography-Bintou Dembélé, Set design-Alban Ho Van, Ariane Bromberger-Costume design, Wojciech Dziedzic, Lighting design-Sylvain Verdet, Musical dramaturgy-Katherina Lindekens, Dramaturgy-Simon Hatab, Orchestre Cappella Mediterranea, Chœur de chambre de Namur, Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine / Chœur d’enfants de l’Opéra national de Paris, Compagnie Rualité, Hébé, Phani, Zima-Sabine Devieilhe, Bellone, Adario-Florian Sempey, L’amour, Zaire, -Jodie Devos, Osman, Ali-Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Émilie, Fatime-Julie Fuchs, Valère, Tacmas-Mathias Vidal, Huascar, Don Alvar-Alexandre Duhamel, Don Carlos, Damon-Stanislas de Barbeyrac,

Le silence de l’ombre, B. Attahir , Brussel, 29 september 2019, KVS , Muzikale Leiding-Benjamin Attahir, Regie-Olivier Lexa, Decor En Kostuum-Milena Forest, Clémentine Gomez Geil, Charlotte Hermant, Arnaud Mathieu, Léa Pelletier, Gabrielle Ritz, Marco Sanchis, Lynn Scheidweiler, Charlotte Seegmüller – Studenten Van De Afdeling Scenografie Van École Nationale Supérieure Des Arts Visuels De La Cambre, Begeleid Door Véronique Leyens & Simon Siegmann, Belichting-Alexander Koppelmann, Tintagiles/Aladin-Julia Szproch, Astolain/Ygraine/Marie-Raquel Camarinha, Sœurs/Bellangère/Marthe-Clémence Poussin, Ablamo/Aglovale-Renaud Delaigue, Sœurs/Servantes-Morgane Heyse, Gwendoline Blondeel, Sarah Théry, Palomides/Un Paysan-Pierre Derhet•, Medecin/L’étranger-Sébastien Dutrieux, Le Vieillard-Luc Van Grunderbeeck

Macbeth Underworld, P. Dusapin, Brussel, 25 September 2019, De Munt, Muzikale Leiding -Alain Altinoglu, Regie -Thomas Jolly , Medewerking Regie -Alexandre Dain , Decor Bruno -De Lavenère , Belichting -Antoine Travert , Kostuums -Sylvette Dequest , Dramaturgie -Katja Krüger , Lady Macbeth -Magdalena Kožená, Macbeth -Georg Nigl , Three Weird Sisters -Ekaterina Lekhina, Lilly Jørstad, Christel Loetzsch , Ghost -Kristinn Sigmundsson , Porter -Graham Clark , Archiluth -Christian Rivet , Child -Elyne Maillard, Naomi Tapiola,

Donizetti Festival 2018 @ Bergamo

Although Donizetti composed 2 small vocal pieces in 1817, Enrico di Borgogna was the first piece to be put on stageThe opera was written for the re-opening of the Teatro San Luca in Venice after extensive renovation works and was given its first performance the 14th November 1818. Very brief was the critic of the Gazzetta privilegiata di Venezia who wrote that the opera “Pleased but was not fully enjoyed” and wrote about the composer that he was “with good talents provided”. The critic of the Nuovo Osservatore Veneziano gave us a clearer picture: “a trio in the first act, a duet in the second was strongly applauded….. one would perhaps have applauded more, if the sudden indisposition of Signora Adelaide Catalani had not forced to omit her aria of the second act as well as two duets between her and Ms. Eckerlin.” He then went on describing “the merit of music after these bitter events” and said that the public “knew how to distinguish the merit of the composition from that of the execution. . ….. for which the audience wanted to greet Mr. Donizetti on stage with applause” Overall a very successful result for unknown “Donizelletti”’s (sic) first staged opera. The libretto, written by Bartolomeo Merelli (who would later commission Verdi’s first 3 operas) is dramaturgically very thin but this allows the director of the Bergamo production to avoid the historic setting: During the overture we are backstage of a theatre and see several chairs with the characters’ name (Enrico, Elisa, Guido…) with the name of the  opera’s first performers (Fanny Eckerlin, Adelina Catalani etc….) It becomes clear we are at Enrico di Borgogna’s own rehearsal in 1818, and  at the end of the overture we see the theatre on revolving for the singers to perform the opera within the opera. The effect is very pleasing especially as the singers, when acting within the performance, exaggerate their movements in an affected style. They all wear 18th century clothes and 18th century is also the theatre management-including the impresario going crazy in order to stage the opera without major incidents, and the stage machinery which hands over props, lowers painted backgrounds and moves sea waves. A beautiful example of metatheatre.

As the Teatro Donizetti is being renovated, the performances take place in the Teatro Sociale in Bergamo Alta. The theatre is not very big and this allows the singers to lighten their voice, look into depth for colors and details. All singers are very good including the smaller roles. Levy Sekgapane has a small voice but has an easy fling to the top and the quick embellishments are flawless specially in his 2nd act aria with choir. The buffo Luca Tittoto has a beautiful voice and sings both his arias with much verve and humor, his misogynistic aria was quite funny. The two ladies Ganassi and Bonitatibus sing very well, the voices are not forced and their act II duet is sung beautifully. Ganassi was quite amusing with the mix of theatrical over acting acting (when playing her own character’s first performer Catalani) and true feelings for Enrico (in the beautiful duet with Bonitatibus/Enrico/Eckerlin) The choir sings well, and the orchestra, which is excellently balanced with just 18 string players, is well directed under Alessandro de Marchi.

Il castello di Kenilworth (or Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth in its revised title) was composed for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. For his first encounter with the royalties of romanticism (fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century and a subject dear to Donizetti, who would compose such jewels as Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena) Donizetti shows dramatic intensity in many pieces such as the duets and the quartet of the second act. Donizetti, in a letter to his teacher and mentor Mayr, wrote after the first performance:
The faith of theatrical performances is always bizarre. I went on stage with Castello di Kenilworth on the sixth of this month (i.e. 6th July 1829), at the gala for her Majesty the Queen. And this opera, which has been applauded so much at every piece during the dress rehearsal was almost rejected at its first performance. I suffered very much because of it, all the more for having seen the rehearsals of what should’ve been an excellent first performance. Or perhaps it was the court etiquette, because they do not applaud on such evenings. The opera ended up neither very well perform nor very well listened to by the audience. Then la Tosi fell sick, and only on the 12th was it given again. It was Sunday, a beautiful day, the theatre packed, the singers in good spirits. I alone was uneasy. The king and queen of Piedmont came and applauded. Prince Leopold came and did likewise. The king and queen of Naples came and did likewise. Thus the singers were full of animation, the public could express themselves, and the result of all this was continuous applause! We were all called on stage, and the evening was most brilliant. Between us I would not give one piece of Il paria “ (the opera written for the San Carlo just 6 months earlier) for all of Kenilworth, but meanwhile: fate is bizarre.
The public seemed to think otherwise, though, as Il paria was given 5 performances, while Kenilworth was staged 12 times and re-staged at the end of the same year. Afterwards, however, the opera disappeared until 1989.

This year’s Bergamo production does the work full justice. It seemed to start as a two-chairs-and-a-table setting but the stage direction and the beautiful lighting compensated what turned out to be a well directed show with a interesting finale : Élisabeth, around which all intriguing revolved, sings her final aria while a golden grid detaches from the floor turning out to be the Queen’s own cage. Frizza doesn’t shine with fantasy but he accompanies well albeit with a little drag. The stars of the show are clearly the singers. Pratt as Elisabeth is more dramatic than usual. The role fits her like a glove, scenically and vocally she is excellent. Next to her Remigio is wonderful as actress as well as singer, hers is the showstopper in act II, an aria where she duets with harp and glassharmonica, an instrument Donizetti would later think of again for his Lucia di Lammermoor. Xabier Anduaga was equally excellent as Leicester. This very young tenor seems to be clear for stardom as he has a voice that is strong and expansive, his top notes bright and his coloratura clear nonetheless. Stefan Pop is a fine Warney.

Enrico di Borgogna, Direttore-Alessandro De Marchi, Regia-Silvia Paoli, Scene-Andrea Belli, Costumi-Valeria Donata Bettella, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Enrico-Anna Bonitatibus, Elisa-Sonia Ganassi, Guido-Levy Sekgapane, Pietro-Francesco Castoro, Gilberto-Luca Tittoto, Brunone-Lorenzo Malagola Barbieri, Geltrude-Federica Vitali, 23/11/18
Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, Direttore-Riccardo Frizza, Regia-Maria Pilar Pérez Aspa, Scene-Angelo Sala, Costumi-Ursula Patzak, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Elisabetta-Jessica Pratt, Amelia-Carmela Remigio, Leicester-Xabier Anduaga, Warney-Stefan Pop, Lambourne-Lorenzo Barbieri, Fanny-Federica Vitali 24/11/18, Pictures by Gian Franco Rota

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

Clemenza di Tito, 2nd round

sleepingI went back to hear the other cast for this Clemenza production.

I was slightly disappointed by Anna Bonitatibus; I remember her as lovely Cherubino in London and Melibea in Genova with an outstanding musicality. But yesterday, after slight intonation problems, she sang monotonously with a limited dynamic range and a trembly voice. Also the coloratura was not very clean and fluid.

Similarly Veronique Gens, who has a very nice middle register but an inaudible lower register and a mushed coloratura, coupled with strained high notes which are pushed from below. If this was not too bad in “Non piu di fiori“, the terzetto “Vengo…aspettate“, was painful in “..io ge-lo o Diiii-o”, not to mention the last quavers of the terzet (“io gelo o dio d’orror”) with ascending and discending movement.

Kurt Streit has a clean pronunciation but he overaccentuates the vowels, which makes him sing in a very graceless and inelegant manner. His last aria in Act II (“Se all’impero”) didn’t convince.

Equally disappointing Ludovic Morlot. Never did the discending motive in semiquavers at the beginning of the ouverture after the opening bars seem so long, and we were only starting… Holding things together lacked a bit in “Quello di Tito é il volto” where each singer went one way, the orchestra not sure where to….

Music direction-Ludovic Morlot, Director-Ivo van Hove, Scenography-Jan Versweyveld, Costumes-An D’Huys, Video-Tal Yarden, Dramaturgy-Janine Brogt and Reinder Pols, Tito Vespasiano-Kurt Streit, Vitellia-Veronique Gens, Servilia-Simona Saturova, Sesto-Anna Bonitatibus, Annio-Anna Grevelius, Publio-Alex Esposito, Orchestra and Chorus of De Munt/La Monnaie, 23 october 2013