Amsterdam, Il viaggio a Reims

New Picture - CopyIn 1825 Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. Rossini ‘s music had taken Paris by storm in the 1820’s, the crème de la crème of Rossini singers were in Paris at that time and many of them sang in the premiere of Il viaggio a Reims ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro. The insubstantial plot is basically only an excuse to hail Charles X and to deploy each singer’s musical skills: We are in the hotel “Il giglio d’oro” in Plobmbières-les-Bains, where a bunch of people are awaiting the carriages who will bring them to Reims for the coronation of Charles X. However they will wait in vain as the carriages will never arrive. Additional story lines make the plot quite confusing: the Spanish admiral and the Russian general fighting over the Polish widow, the English colonel secretly in love with Corinna, the Roman poetess, an overturned stagecoach which brings the fashionable French lady in distress etc.

The direction of this largely plotless opera is by Damiano Michieletto. A director who I admire much. In the Amsterdam version we are in the museum “Gallery Golden Lilium” under the direction of an anxious (read hysteric) Madama Cortese, and all characters are either people working in the museum or painted characters which come to life. The already complicated plot becomes even more intricate as the real and fictitious characters interact. I feel this particular direction is not Michieletto’s best but all in all it is cleverly conceived and put together. An intelligent creation and brilliantly thought through with remarkable effects.

And the music?

New Picture (1)There are many characters, and at least 10 of the singers need to be top performers (At the premiere they included Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Nicolas Levasseur and Ester Mombelli). Each of the numbers is a little gem and one of the highlights is a piece for 14 singers: the Gran Pezzo concertato a 14 voci. In Amsterdam I much liked Eleonora Buratto as Corinna, Juan Francisco Gatell as Belfiore and Bruno de Simone as Trombonok. I feel they are the only who do the music justice. In my opinion Gatell has improved a lot in the last years in terms of interpretation and diction and Buratto’s floating high notes are a pleasure to hear. Bruno de Simone is a stage lion, one of the few where words were understandable without harming the sung part. All have a good coloratura. Roberto Tagliavini as Lord Sidney, Anna Goryacheva as Melibea and Michael Spyres as Libenskof all displayed very fine singing. I liked Spyres less in the first act although I am not sure whether this was due to his voice or the vastness of the set (the museum). I would have liked a stronger voiced Sidney and Melibea but this might be the conductor’s fault, as we will see. Nino Machaidze as Contessa di Folleville manages the musical part adequately, as does Carmen Giannattasio as Madama Cortese. None of them are musically truly convincing. Nicola Ulivieri lacks the low notes and goes through what could be one of the funniest aria (Madaglie incomparabili) trivially and unconcerned. Mario Cassi as Don Alvaro is very mediocre, his entry (Questa vaga e amabil dama) is smudged and the Spanish song at the end was not really “Dell’Iberia il dolce canto“.

New Picture (2)In an interview the conductor Mr. Montanari stated that the most difficult part is to find the balance between the orchestra and the stage (oh really?) but he certainly was not a bit able to achieve this. I sometimes could barely hear the voices, let alone understand a word they were saying. The problem here is not one bad singer that spoils his aria. The problem here is that Mr Montanari reminds us throughout the evening of his vision, namely Rossini music as not light, brilliant and graceful but loud and heavy. No need for the singer to interpret, to sing the embellishments, to pronounce properly, because one can hardly hear them anyway. Add to this the following catalogue of absurdities: He adds glissandi, embellishments or chords with the cembalo during sung pieces (not only during recitativi)! He abruptly changes tempi to his liking, he even changes the rhythm (for e.g. in the accompaniment of the stretta in the duet Oh! Quanto ingannasi between Corinna and Belfiore, he puts accents on the 4th beat!! He also stomps his feet during Don Alvaro’s “Omaggio all’augusto duce” in a Spanish manner!!! And if he doesn’t have time to synchronize all these tasks, he sticks the baton between back and shirt by the backside of his collar. I hope I won’t have the sadness to see him wave at noise again.

Muzikale leiding-Stefano Montanari, Regie-Damiano Michieletto, Decor-Paolo Fantin, Kostuums-Carla Teti, Licht-Alessandro Carletti, Corinna-Eleonora Buratto, La Marchesa Melibea-Anna Goryachova, La Contessa di Folleville-Nino Machaidze, Madama Cortese-Carmen Giannattasio, Il Cavaliere Belfiore-Juan Francisco Gatell, Il Conte di Libenskof-Michael Spyres, Lord Sidney-Roberto Tagliavini, Don Profondo-Nicola Ulivieri, Il Barone di Trombonok-Bruno De Simone, Don Alvaro-Mario Cassi, Don Prudenzio-Biaggio Pizzuti, Don Luigino-Carlos Cardoso, Delia-Maria Fiselier, Maddalena-Teresa Iervolino, Modestina-Florieke Beelen, Zefirino / Gelsomino-Jeroen de Vaal, Antonio-Tomeu Bibiloni

Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2014

kktbwI was convinced i would hear Adelaide di Borgogna life for the first time when i ordered tickets in Bad Wildbad for the yearly festival dedicated to Rossini. A quick glance at my list of visited performances told me i saw the Pesaro performances as well. The cast at the time was “stellar”: Jessica Pratt and Daniela Barcellona. But I must admit I rarely listen to the CD with the wonderful Mariella Devia and Martine Dupuy either as the music has little appeal to me and the libretto is very insipid. The Bad Wildbad performance is enjoyable enough, Margarita Gritskova as Ottone has a smooth voice over the whole range, a clear enough diction and a fair coloratura. Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Adelaide and Baurzhan Anderzhanov as Berengario are also convincing. Luciano Acocella directs well. Antonio Petris is responsible for the mise en scene and he follows Schönleber’s bad taste.

morlacchiThis year the operatic rarity (which is analways welcome project) was Tebaldo e Isolina by Francesco Morlacchi. Tebaldo e Isolina premiered 1822 in Venice and was one of the major successes of the Perugia-born composer. Morlacchi’s score clearly assimilates the Rossinian writing, made evident by the structures of the musical numbers (for e.g. Isolina’s aria in the first act has several sections, cello introduction, the reading of a letter, pertichini and choir) and the fine orchestration. It is not a masterpiece if we compare it with the operas by Rossini of the same period, but the composition has beautiful pieces like the finale of the 1st act and the romance for Tebaldo “Caro suono lusinghiero”.
Sandra Pastrana is Isolina. Her voice is a clean and clear but at times one wishes more dramatic weight. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s Boemondo was a very positive surprise to me. He has a naturally clear diction, (even for Italians this is not that evident) and a very pleasant voice. The coloratura is very fluid and the high notes clear and sure. Tebaldo’s role (which was written for the castrato Giovanni Battista Velluti, for whom Rossini composed the role of Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira and Meyerbeer the role of Armando in Il crociato in Egitto) was interpreted by Laura Polverelli. Polverelli has slightly worn high notes but a full and warm middle and lower register and the coloratura is fluid. The orchestra plays well and the director gives the singer time to develop the musical phrases.

Bad Wildbad-20140725-00947For the belcanto recitals, young singers perform in the recently renovated royal theatre (which seats 200 people). Some of the singers, which are students of Lorenzo Regazzo’s masterclasses (who joins in a terzetto from l’inganno felice), sing also minor roles in the opera’s in Bad Wildbad, many of them can be heard in the Viaggio a Reims, also performed in Bad Wildbad this year. They are all young and beautiful, they are all motivated and they all fully give themselves also in acting out their respective roles (I must say i was rarely moved so much during a recital). Some are very nervous and the heartily applause and cheering after each piece brings a clear relief and joy. The young artists are Cornelius Lewenberg, Guiomar Cantò, Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Matija Meic, Yasushi Watanabe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Olesya Chuprinova, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Silvia Aurea De Stefano, Carlos Cardoso, Lucas Somoza Osterc, Graziano Dallavalle, Anna Werle, Muriel Frankhauser, Alessandra Contaldo, Gheorghe Vlad, Miriam Zubieta. They were well accompanied on the piano by Michele D’Elia and Marco Simionato, Nicola Pascoli, Dimitri Candoni and Rossella Fracaros.

But if one thing is to enjoy their voices in carefully selected pieces, another is to endure a whole opera. Il viaggio a Reims’ score has been re-discovered only in 1984, and since then the opera serves as showcase for professionals and students alike.  But with singers which are not able to satisfy Rossini’s writing (it was composed for the best singers of the time, reunited in Paris for the coronation festivities of Charles X) a music director who hastily runs through the score and a scene director who fills the scenes with slap-sticks and buffoonery and clearly struggles with the amount of people on the stage, boredom and anger come up quickly. I will not describe the musical interpretation as the singers are young and full of enthusiasm (and some of them have remarkable qualities). But could another, easier opera not be chosen? This kind of operations are not in the interest of Rossini’s music, or the arts, or the singers themselves (among which I’d only single out Bruno Praticò and his experience). How difficult it is to cope with the Rossinian style was also recently shown in a scandalously poor performance of La gazzetta, given on a professional stage like the Liege Opera (Opéra Royal de Wallonie). I would, however, very gladly welcome the help of a film or drama school to take over the staging of operas.