January in Belgium (Les pecheurs des perles@Gent, Faust@Liège, Gioconda@De Munt/La Monnaie)

I saw two very nice productions last month, one in Gent and one in Liège. Although I am not fond, for different reasons, of either Bizet’s Les pecheurs des perles or Gounod’s Faust, both were very satisfying in terms of singers, conductors and directors and resulted eventually in very pleasing opera evenings.

Les pecheurs des perles was told in a sort of flashback: from an elderly home, Zurga and Nadir re-live the past and their love for Leila. The past is then visualized by a huge sea wave and three dancers. The stage rotated regularly from present to past and in some occasions the two merged, such as when the dancers representing Nadir and Leila, were actually cuddling on a table in the elderly home, surrounded by the seagulls. A very lovely and touching moment of magic realism. From all the voices it was Elena Tsallagova’s Leila who stood out while David Reiland delivered a direction underlining the languish aspect of the score throughout the opera, which was played without pause (a habit I support).

Liège showed us a production of Faust by Stefano Poda already performed in Turin. It’s a symbolic and philosophical vision. The stage is dominated by a giant ring, which turns and lifts and around which everybody moves. The effect is stunning, the idea brilliant, the content and position of the ring vary along the acts and it allows movement of singers and masses. The visual and light effects are beautiful and underline each scene efficiently,  the costumes are very nice and adequate and the Walpurgis ballet was beautifully choreographed. Patrick Davin directs with beautiful colours a score that I find far to “nice” for the subject. The cast was very good with a wonderful interpretation and a generous voice by Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Mephisto and a good Faust by Marc Laho. Anne Catherine Gillet, except for a few pushed high notes in act 5, charms with a beautiful fleshy timbre.

I saw a less convincing Gioconda, too. “Py Makes it a sinister tale”, they wrote about the director,  or…”chooses for…black“. I’m not sure, however, the intentional choice is much in Py’s power. There are recurring themes and objects such as the all-black, the dog masks, the feeling of grim and oppressive. Sometimes this works well-where Py is indeed able to add more than a setting (Les Huguenots were excellent, Les dialogues des Carmelites impressive)-sometimes it doesn’t (Hamlet or this Gioconda). The continuous black was a bit monotonous, then nudity became a recurrent contrivance and trash came into the picture (having sex on a table, while holding a frying pan with a fish in it?) plus a group rape during the dance scene (ok we got it: sex and violence is a constant in this Py-world, wherever it is). I was bored halfway through the first part. Vocally the two casts weren’t exciting either. None of the two Gioconda’s were fully convincing, one because of the colourless interpretation, the other due a certain distance to the character. Of the two Laura’s I liked the warm voice of Szilvia Vörös in the second cast. Really credible were the Enzo and Barnaba of Stefano La Colla and France Vassallo. The latter vocally and scenically also very convincing. Carignani’s direction is dry and nervous with no space for sentimentality. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall two unsatisfactory evenings.

Les pecheurs de perles, Dirigent-David Reiland, Concept, regie & scenografie-FC Bergman, Regie-Stef Aerts, Marie Vinck-Thomas Verstraeten, Decor en belichting-Thomas Verstraeten, Joé Ageman, Kostuums-Judith Van Herck, Dramaturgie-Luc Joosten, Leïla-Elena Tsallagova, Nadir-Charles Workman, Zurga-Boris Statsenko, Nourabad-Stanislav Vorobyov. 15/01/19, photo-Annemie Augustijns

Faust, Conductor-Patrick Davin, Director, Set Design, Costume Design, Lighting, Choreography -Stefano Poda, Faust-Marc Laho, Marguerite-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Méphistophélès-Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Valentin-Lionel Lhote, Siebel-Na’ama Goldman, Dame Marthe-Angélique Noldus, Wagner-Kamil Ben Hsaïn Lachiri, 30/01/19, photo Edoardo Piva Ramella&Giannese

La Gioconda, Muzikale Leiding-Paolo Carignani, Regie-Olivier Py, Decor En Kostuums-Pierre-André Weitz, Belichting-Bertrand Killy, , La Gioconda- Béatrice Uria-Monzon /Hui He, Laura Adorno-Szilvia Vörös/Silvia Tro Santafé, Enzo Grimaldo-Andrea Carè/Stefano La Colla, Barnaba-Franco Vassallo/Scott Hendricks, La Cieca-Ning Liang, Alvise Badoero-Jean Teitgen, Isèpo-Roberto Covatta, Zuane / Un pilot-Bertrand Duby, Un Barnabotto/Una Voce-Bernard Giovani, Un Cantore-René Laryea, Una Voce-Alejandro Fonté, 30/01 and 01/02/19. Pictures from http://www.Lamonnaie.be

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