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)

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

L’elisir d’amore @ De Munt/La Monnaie

InleidingThe lovely light opera L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti was recently given at the awful Cirque Royal in Brussels. Having a round stage there is no optimum place, not for the orchestra and not for the singers: acoustically speaking, one will inevitably be in the way or unbalanced. The setting was redesigned for a round stage, however and together with the direction is absolutely worth seeing. This is by the talented Damiano Michieletto and has travelled much in the last few years (Madrid, Palermo, Graz, Valencia). Traditional-setting-aficionados will be disappointed as there are no Basque countries, no farms, no washerwomen, no garrison sergeants etc, instead we see the beach, a lifeguard (Nemorino), a beach kiosk, beach vendors etc. The skilfully transposed setting however works well due to a setting that everybody can relate to, a sparkling and funny direction and an astonishing work on the personalities and traits of the characters. Characters that Donizetti puts also in music. The sighs, the laughs, it’s all in the score. The conductor  keeps the music going, but very little chiselling is done in terms of getting the details out of the score. Also, in a period of increasing musical phylology, the elimination of the repetition of strettas and cabalettas is unacceptable.

elisirThe cast is mostly doubled. Anne-Catherine Gillet is an artist with discontinuous results. But I found her Adina good, her lower register is strong enough to avoid a soubrette-like voice and her coloratura fluid. Her Achilles heel is the top register which is hard and at the verge of shrill so “Vieni, per me sei libero” is sung like walking on eggs instead of being a sparkling outbreak of joy for the found love. But throughout the performances her confidence grew and Gillet displayed a very convincing Adina. On stage her Adina is a bit shrew-ish with an angry body language. Olga Peretyatko on the other hand is charmingly fickle and whimsical. Vocally she is more at ease with the belcanto style. About pronunciation I will refer to Donizetti; When L’elisir d’amore had its premiere in 1832, he wrote about his primadonna something that fits like a glove also to the two ladies here: La donna ha bella voce ma cio che dice lo sa lei (The primadonna has a beautiful voice but only she knows what she is saying). Antonio Poli and  Dmitry Korchak both offer a very compelling Nemorino, melancholic or strong as required, their phrasing varied, and their acting credible as clumsy and melancholic admirer. Armando Noguera and Riccardo Novaro are both very convincing on stage and sing well although the voices are sometimes lost in the space of the Cirque Royal. Aris Argiris acts very well but has some difficulty with the higher register and his vocalises are not fluid. Simon Orfila is an excellent Dulcamara, a fine actor and his voice uniform over the whole range. Giannetta is vocally and scenically well embodied by Maria Savastano.

Music director-Thomas Rösner, Director-Damiano Michieletto, Set design-Paolo Fantin, Costumes-Silvia Aymonino, Lighting-Alessandro Carletti, Adina-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Olga Peretyatko, Nemorino-Antonio Poli, Dmitry Korchak, Belcore-Armando Noguera, Aris Argiris, Dulcamara-Riccardo Novaro, Simon Orfila, Giannetta-Maria Savastano

Guillaume Tell by A. E. M. Gretry @ Opera Liege

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André Ernest Modeste Gretry is one of those fairly forgotten composers whose operas receive rare but regular revivals. Gretry was born in Liege in 1741. Then Principality of Liege, the city became part of France in 1795 when it was part of the Ourthe department. At the Fall of the First French Empire it became Dutch and in 1830 Belgian (we opera lovers know this story quite well. Thanks, Auber!!). Gretry wasn’t touched in the least with all this, as he left for Italy, Switzerland and Paris already in the 60’s of the 18th century. He became quite a famous composer, he knew Voltaire and Rousseau; later-guillotined Marie-Antoinette  made him court-composer of her husband, and he found a way to ingratiate himself with Napoleon who knighted him Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He died in 1813, is buried in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris but his heart rests in an urn, placed under the statue in his honour in front of the Opera Royal de Wallonie in Liege.

His most famous opera’s are Richard Coeur de LionZemire et Azor, and Pierre le GrandGuillaume Tell was premiered 9th April 1791 in Paris at the Comedie Italienne, two years after the French revolution. It was the same year of Mozart’s Zauberlföte (which he started to compose in April of that year), of La Clemenza di Tito, of the Clarinet Concerto and of Mozart’s death in December of the same year. Gretry’s biggest accomplishment lies in opera comique and his influence is still noticeable with Adam, Boildeau, Auber and others. For today’s ears (or MINE, anyway) he sounds fairly “light”. Although Gretry has been praised to have a gift for melody, the music overall sounds quite trivial, alternating more dramatic passages and characters with heroic and affectionate ones. He recurs to ariette (literally small aria’s), hopping rhythms and popular songs with simple accompaniment, using as couleur-locale a clarinet playing alpine music, octave leaps to imitate yodel and similar know-how, trying to merge italianism with German music and French declamato.

It is the Opera de Liege, who commemorates the 200th death anniversary of the composer. This opera house is doing a very good job in resuscitating rare opera’s, though with very alternating results.

If the audience expected to hear a famous finale, an even more famous gallop during the ouverture, and cry a little moved by tragic events, they probably mistook this with Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, composed 38 years later, although Rossini might have known the opera, which was staged in May 1828, the time Rossini worked on his Comte Ory (In an interview Scimone said that he noticed in the first bars of music the musical theme that Rossini used for his sumptuous finale (with a light difference in rhythm, he added).

The plot is well known to everybody: Tell refuses to salute a hat placed on a mast by the mean local lord and is forced to shoot an apple from his son’s head. The end is happy.

GuillaumeTell

The main set shows elements put one behind the other as to give a sense of depth. The set elements depict mountains, a village, a castle and even puppets of peasants and soldiers in a fighting scene etc. They are all mobile and quite beautifully created (Jean-Guy Lecat). They are moved by stagehands dressed as sailors, as, so tells us Mazzonis de Pralafera, at the time of Gretry, the ropes and strings were entirely moved by sailors (were they? really??). The result is very effective and charming. Costumes are averagely convincing. Di Pralafera makes the singer all act with overly-dramatic voices and gestures (to be funny one shall assume) but for my taste they achieve the contrary (the Belgian public is not amused or moved either, but then again….sometimes I wonder what does….)

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The singers are all Belgians, commemorating a Belgian composer in a Belgian opera house…..
Anne-Catherine Gillet is very well cast as Madame Tell. She is at the starting ramp of her career and is now adding Traviata’s to her repertory (sic!). M.me Tell, who is the only character to have an aria in the opera, sings with a strong voice over the whole range, though her voice sounds a bit metallic at times. Marc Laho as Tell has a clear voice with a pleasant timbre. Lionel Lhote never really convinced me as a singer (Figaro in Rossini’s Barbiere in Ghent, Dandini in Brussels etc), sometimes a bit unrefined and uneven with a backward voice. As Gessler he lacks the low notes required in his entrance piece but otherwise he sings with a pleasing timbre. Liesbeth Devos’ timbre reminds me a bit of Mady Mesplé’s, so not one you would define as round and mellow, but she sings the small role of Marie well. And so does the rest of the cast.

Scimone directs well though little theatrically, but orchestra and choir are both approximate and croaky.

This production is overall very interesting, it increases our knowledge of Grétry as a composer of music for the theatre  Nothing is really out of place, the production is sparkling and satisfying. A very pleasant evening.

Ouverture and excerpts of the Liege production can be viewed online

Musical direction-Claudio Scimone, Direction-Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, Set design-Jean-Guy Lecat, Costumes-Fernand Ruiz, Lightning-Franco Marri, Guillaume Tell-Marc Laho, Madame Tell-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Gessler-Lionel Lhote, Marie-Liesbeth Devos, Melktal senior-Patrick Delcour, Melktal junior-Stefan Cifolelli, The traveller-Roger Joakim

Liege, 7/6/2013