Guillaume Tell @ De Munt/La Monnaie

About two performances I did not report. One was the lovely Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, where Kovalevska, Lungu and Calleja all gave their best. Most memorable for me, however, was the enthusiasm of the American public, who carefully followed the text and reacted with laughter and clapping to show their appreciation and enthusiasm. It’s the kind of public we sometimes miss in Europe, where opera is sometimes just an occasion to be seen. Public is also more critic towards, well…almost everything (especially the Italians :-)), rather then just enjoy the performance. Of course this is sometimes due to a more traditional staging in the US than Europe…but here I open a whole new door….
I open a sidebar to praise and recommend the small and cosy Japanese restaurant Minca (536 E 5th St) where I had the best vegetarian Ramen I have ever tasted.

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Another beautiful show was Janacek’s Jenufa at De Munt in Brussels. The director Alvis Hermanis presented Act 1 of the action with the singers at the front of the stage, while at their back the stage was horizontally divided in half with traditional-style dancing at the bottom. On the top, beautiful colorful pictures link the story. Sometimes the screen would lift to show us the chorus, also in beautiful costumes. This is in opposite contrast to Act 2, where Hermanis transports us into a cold, communist-like setting of the 60’s. Although much criticised, this setting worked well for me, it kind of led me towards the drama which was about to unfold. This is not really my musical territory but I liked all the singers, among which i want to single out the Jenufa of Sally Matthews, the Laca of Charles Workman, Nick Spence as Steva and Carole Wilson as Kostelnicka. All together a wonderful experience. Mr Morlot, in an interview he claimed Jenufa is among his top 10 prefereed opera’s, was also more inspired than usual.

IMG-20140305-00322And now to Guillaume Tell. This is the 4th time I hear this opera in the last 11 months. But the music still amazes and moves me. The libretto is in its infancy of Grand Opéra and somehow a bit tedious. So let’s concentrate on the music and the performance at De Munt. Personally I think Evelino Pidò did a great job. He accompanied the singers well, gave them all the time to carve their interpretation, to develop their musical phrases. On rare occasions I would have wished the orchestra would follow Pidò’s gesticulation when he urged the orchestra to play piano (Sombre forêt), but otherwise the orchestra was in good shape with a delicate English horn, a sound brass, and a motivated timpani player, and accompanied well. The chorus was equally inspired and had an excellent diction, although I am always missing a bit of zest in the Italian repertoire in orchestra and chorus (and I consider Rossini as Italian also in his Paris years).
The bass Nicola Alaimo has not a big voice but rendered a very convincing interpretation of Guillaume and a moving Sois immobile. I found Michael Spyres in much better shape than in Wildbad. His diction is excellent and hearing him sing makes look Arnold’s part like a piece of cake. But the tessitura for the heroic Arnold, which Spyres interprets with vigor rather then boldness, lies very high, and Spyres resolves this with a cleverly used mixed voice.  I was less satisfied about Ermonela Jaho’s Mathilde. Nothing REALLY dramatically wrong vocally (although her coloratura in the Act III aria was very smudged), just her interpretation did not convince me. I particularly enjoyed Nora Gubisch’s luscious mezzo, Eerens’ clear soprano, Marco Spotti’s authoritative Walter Furst (in both the approach of the character and voice), the assertive and full-voiced Gesler of Vincent Le Texier and Julien Dran’s secure acuti of the fisherman Ruodi. Jean-Luc Balestra has a very strong and powerful, smooth voice, which, when skillfully used, can be adapted to a wide range of characters and emotions. I was less taken by Roberto Covatta’s Rodolphe.
All in all an evening above average with the Brussels public at its most typical, with no or hardly any applause during the opera (applause at the end of Arnold’s Act IV aria sounded like one applauds von Winter’s chamber music) with the a few “obbligato” bravo-shrieks.

La Boheme, The Metropolitan Opera NY, Conductor-Stefano Ranzani, Production-Franco Zeffirelli, Costumes-Peter J. Hall, Lighting-Gil Wechsler, Mimi-Maija Kovalevska, Musetta-Irina Lungu, Rodolfo-Joseph Calleja, Marcello-Alexy Markov, Schaunard-Joshua Hopkins, Colline-Christian van Horn, Benoit/Alcindoro-Donald Maxwell, Officer-Joseph Turi, Sergeant-Jason Hendrix, Parpignol-Daniel Clark Smith, 18/01/2014
Jenufa, De Munt Brussels, Muzikale Leiding-Ludovic Morlot, Regie en decor-Alvis Hermanis, Kostuums-Anna Watkins, Belichting-Gleb filshtinsky, Video-Ineta Sipunova, Jenufa-Sally Matthews, Laca Klemen-Charles Workman, Steva Buryja-Nick Spence, Kostelnicka Buryjovka-Carole Wilson, Starek-Ivan Ludlow, Rychtar-Alexander Vassiliev, Rychtarka-Mireille Capelle, Karolka-Hendrickje van Kerckhove, Pastuchnyna-Beata Murowska, Jano-Chloé Briot, Barena-Nathalie van de Voorde, Tetka-Maria Beretta, 24/01/2014
Guillaume Tell, De Munt, Music direction-Evelino Pidò, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Guillaume Tell-Nicola Alaimo, Hedwige-Nora Gubisch, Jemmy-Ilse Eerens, Mathilde-Ermonela Jaho, Arnold-Michael Spyres, Melchtal-Jean Teitgen, Gesler-Vincent Le Texier, Walter Furst-Marco Spotti, Ruodi-Julien Dran, Leuthold-Jean-Luc Balestra, Rodolphe-Roberto Covatta, 05/03/2014
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Una porcheria tedesca (or La Clemenza di Tito) by W. A. Mozart @ De Munt/La Monnaie

incendio-roma-64-031791 is an important year in Mozart’s life. It’s the year where he composes Die Zauberflöte, the Requiem, the clarinet concerto, his last piano concerto (nr 27) and it is also the year of his death. The clarinet concerto was written for Anton Stadler, a clarinet virtuoso who also played the obbligato clarinet parts in La clemenza di Tito (there are two of them in this opera, one for Sesto’s aria “Parto, parto…” and one for Vitellia’s rondo “Non piu di fiori”).

Prague, 6 September 1791, just a few hours after the coronation of the emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia: La clemenza di Tito, opera composed by W. A. Mozart for the coronation festivities has its premiere at the Estates Theatre in Prague (the same theatre as Don Giovanni, 4 years earlier). The public gave it a cool reception, the emperor loved it (or the soprano, more likely), his royal wife belittles it as Una porcheria tedesca (“German crap” or “swinishness”).  As does the court diarist (….: “At 5 o’clock to the theatre in the Old Town, to the opera which is given by the Estates [the government of Bohemia] […] The court did not arrive until after 7:30 and we were regaled with the most tedious spectacle, La clemenza di Tito). This was the start of a criticism hard to die.

titoThough it had some decent success in the following years, la Clemenza was always regarded as an “old fashioned”, “cold” opera, a piece of “stale routine”. This was probably due to Metastasio’s libretto, a didactic plot in which betrayal, treachery, and political machination end with the example of the ruler who forgives everybody and rules with wisdom and humanity.  Partly maybe to the two already mentioned “Non piu di fiori” and “Parto, parto“, which were regarded as mere concert pieces and therefore emotionally detached from the singers’ characters. Undoubtedly it is different to the opera’s composed by Mozart in the previous years. A nostalgic look back to the opera seria? Maybe, but the mastery with which Mozart crafts the single pieces has an astonishing dramatic approach and, as Mozart’s first biographer Niemetschek already saw…”a sense of characterization and delicate taste”. (Just listen to the Terzetto “Vengo…aspettate….”, the following quintet which closes the first act, and Sesto and Vitellia’s aria’s). This was in part also thanks to Caterino Mazzolà, who took the libretto written by Metastasio, shortened it from three to two acts, added ensembles instead of only aria’s and worked with Mozart to add a theatrical grip and emotional complexity more adequate to the time. In our time, one recognizes and appreciates Mozart’s style in almost all pieces. How not appreciate the short (less than a minute) duettino between Sesto and Annio,  the delicate and moving S’altro che lacrime, and the monstruous “Non piu di fiori“, who demands a quick coloratura, lyrical singing and an enourmous range (low G to high D). In this example Della Jones does an excellent job.

Ensemble-wise the quintet who closes Act I is a masterpiece. It depicts a fire on the Capitoline Hill. The characters enter one by one and take up the same melodial phrase as they arrive, in different keys, both major and minor. Between these fall the cries of the chorus, who is off stage. The orchestral mass breaks in, leads to various key changes to a brilliantly conceived Andante, almost a funeral march (after all Tito is believed to be stabbed to death), which closes act I in piano.

The singers are pretty good altogether. Although Alexandrina Pendatchanska (or Alex Penda as she likes to be called today) has a tight vibrato and a somewhat metallic edge  which makes her pronunciation difficult to understand, she acts very well and pulls off the role quite well, using often her chest voice, which I don’t dislike. Tito is Charles Workman who has an excellent pronunciation. His voice slightly strained in the very high notes is powerful and he moves and acts with ease. Although his coloratura is not flawless, his sings and acts convincingly. Simona Saturova is perfect. A wonderfully sweet and impeccable Servilia, her whole register is equally smooth, her voice round and fluid, and Mozart and his contempararies fit her voice excellently. Alex esposito sings in the small role of Publio which seems under his capacities. I wish Peter de Caluwe would use the fee and pay Esposito for some Rossini serio. Sesto and his friend Annio are Michele Losier who has a nice timbre and Frances Bourne who complete the sextet. They both sing acceptably

IMG-20131011-00129The setting by Ivo van Hove is one room (bedroom and bureau) with colours kept in dark brown, mostly. The whole action is also filmed. Vitellia and Sesto mainly from above, the others side wise. However, the filming adds little to the concept. Moving as it is in Servilia’s joy and Tito’s understanding looks, it is pointless in the rest of the opera. Furthermore van Hove seems to have difficulties in knowing what to do with the singers on stage. There is very little movement and the little there is is oddly conventional.
And yet this would all be acceptable, if the musical direction would be satisfactory. But Ludovic Morlot is like I remember him in Cosi fan tutte: he beats time like a Chinese lucky cat: this results in the music being tedious, slow and without pulsating vigor.

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-Charles Workman, Vitellia-Alex Penda, Servilia-Simona Saturova, Sesto-Michele Losier, Annio-Frances Bourne, Publio-Alex Esposito, Orchestra and Chorus of De Munt/La Monnaie, 11 october 2013

Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno @ Stadttheater Bern

KONZERT THEATER BERN

What music I find most boring? Anything by Wagner and Haendel, really. However, I can imagine that the whole baroque machinery might take the drag off: Dolphin-drawn sun chariots, ocean waves, thunderstorms and lightnings, a herd of cherubs descending from heaven, sea monsters, floods. Also, singers were able to wildly vary the da capo sections, dresses were stupendous and spectacular.

During that time.

What do we hear and see today? Regietheaters, Wilsons and wanna-be’s and their lame pantomimes, unimaginative and lifeless shows. Singers without a hint of fantasy, or unable to master two rapid notes in sequence. This is why Haendel to me is but a snore (I suppose not only to me as the theatre was only half full).

Haendel was 22 when he composed the oratorio to this allegorically-charged text (by no less than cardinal Benedetto Pamphili) in 1707. The plot is quite simple: Beauty (Bellezza) realizes she will not remain beautiful forever but Pleasure (Piacere) assures her she will, so Beauty swears eternal fidelity to Pleasure. But Time and Disillusion (Tempo e Disinganno) start a moral and philosophical dispute to lure Beauty into their world of penitence rejecting Pleasure.

In Bern we see staged the ideas of enfant-terrible Calixto Bieito, who is shocking to some, crazy to others, weird to most. He is original, to say the least. Bieito keeps the allegorical character, but his very personal way: a fun fair represents life in which the characters interact, where Pleasure gives herself over to the pleasures of life (shopping, smoking, sapphic love, copulation with Beauty, etc), where Disillusion cuts herself to bleeding wounds, where pleasure gives teddy bears as presents to children on the carousel under a rain of colours in a vortex of joy etc etc.

STAATSOPER STUTTGART "Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno"

Bieto has an interesting, never obscene, point of view. You don’t have to accept it. But if you are able to get into his world, you swallow the meager text much more easily. And without his staging this opera-evening would just be an expensive nap.

The singers, unfortunately, are not up to the baroque style. When they are not covered by the orchestra one can hear a very inadequate coloratura so that the da capo arias are like watching paint dry. A real drag and the evening passes only thanks to Bieito’s spirited and stimulating staging.

The orchestra articulates poorly and the director is probably not much more inspired by the music as I am: all sounds dull, dreary, lethargic and insipid.

Musikalische Leitung -Sébastien Rouland, Regie-Calixto Bieito, Bühne-Susanne Gschwender, Kostüme-Anna Eiermann, Licht-Reinhard Traub, Dramaturgie-Xavier Zuber, Bellezza-Hélène Le Corre, Piacere-Christina Daletska, Disinganno-Maria Prudenskaja, Tempo-Charles Workman

Bern 12/6/13