Haendel dyptich in De Munt, Brussels

Tamerlano3_2005_1600x900Two operas by Haendel were given on two consecutive evenings in Brussels, Tamerlano and Alcina, both staged, directed and conducted by the same team. I did’t enjoy Tamerlano half as much as Alcina. Andronico (Delphine Galou) didn’t show a very colorful voice especially approaching the low register but has a good coloratura as shown by the aria “Piu d’una tigre altero“. Jeremy Ovenden as Bajazet is far too short in the lower register to properly sing some of his arias, some of the notes are just not there anymore. With his unrefined singing I find him quite misplaced in baroque. Musically much better I find Sophie Karthauser as Asteria although i missed a proper characterisation of her role. I much enjoyed Ann Hallenberg as Irene and Christoph Dumaux as Tamerlano. Both showed affinity with the baroque style, an even and warm voice, and decent coloratura.
The cast of Alcina was in average much better and homogeneous. Above all the Alcina of Sandrine Piau, who, although with good runs and trials, excelled especially in the lyrical and slower passages. I much enjoyed the rest of the cast and although not perfect, the team spirit sparked life to the score. The only big disappointment : the precious little interest the singers gave to Italian pronunciation. With subtitles that were turned off for the da capo part, it would have been nice to understand some of the text. Hélas.

Both operas were well directed by Christophe Rousset. Staging was a bit monotone in Tamerlano with narrowing panels on both sides of the stage to give a perspective depth. The same panels are used for Alcina (with foliage this time) with as only prop the same chair as in Tamerlano. And same descent of clouds shortly before the end. A change of set came 20 min before the end: the panels disappeared and wooden boxes remained on wooden floor all in warm colours and timeless white clothing. This staging by Pierre Audi was originally conceived for the famous Baroque theater in Drottningholm, which still uses original decors. But overall it was bit boring, considering that baroque operas are hard to listen to with their endless sequence of recitativo and aria (and even more so Haendel, who was rarely inspired in the orchestral part, unlike Vivaldi). So a visual activity in sets would have been welcome (and which was surely intended in Haendel’s time thanks to the famous theatre machinery). Pierre Audi’s stage directions were very varied with people entering and exiting frequently, easing some of the monotony. The question remains to why such operas like Tamerlano and Alcina should be played with the same set as they have little in common.

Tamerlano: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Tamerlano-Christoph Dumaux, Bajazete-Jeremy Ovenden, Asteria-Sophie Karthäuser, Andronico-Delphine Galou, Irene-Ann Hallenberg, Leone-Nathan Berg, Zaide-Caroline D’Haese
Alcina: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Alcina-Sandrine Piau, Ruggiero-Maite Beaumont, Bradamante-Angelique Noldus, Morgana-Sabina Puertolas, Oberto-Chloé Briot, Oronte-Daniel Behle, Melisso-Giovanni Furlanetto, Astolfo-Edouard Higuet

Advertisements

Letter to the BBC-Music Magazine

MTE1ODA0OTcyMDg0NDYzMTE3To be a critic is certainly not easy and there is even an article written by the BBC Music Magazine about it. But it is the kind of narrow-mindedness that I find inappropriate and irritating for every critic. Shouldn’t a critic be open to a wide choice and listen to everything with an unbiased ear and mind? Shouldn’t one judge with what one thinks, regardless what others think about the same piece? Are lesser known pieces by famous composers not worth discovering or listening to? I agree for example that Gluck is famous for the reforms he initiated in opera, but is his pre-reform period known as well as his reform operas? Do the pre-reform opera’s deserve oblivion because they were written before his reform? Should one not listen to them just because lesser known, albeit with a critic ear? (“Not worth listening to” was also said about Bach, Janacek and Rossini, among others). So why use the word “unfortunately” when talking about the selection of Daniel Behle’s Gluck arias in BBC Music Magazine nr 23/1: “Unfortunately, of the 11 arias he sings, the first 8 and the last one belong to what is known as the pre-reform Gluck with texts by the dreadful Metastasio”. With Behle we finally have somebody who breaks new ground, I would wish a music magazine (of the BBC nonetheless) to be more attentive with innovative choices. Because this is EXACTLY why I won’t renew my subscription: the constant reviewing of the same old. And by same old I am referring to the big public ‘s repertoire, the prevailing taste, the popular pieces, the Beethovens, the Brahms, the Williams, the Shostakovichs. But precious little interest for Fibich, Kalinnikov, Kalkbrenner, Mercadante, Finzi etc. A safe choice, certainly, but stale and repetitive on the long run. A follower and not a leader, they would say in business.

B12427565T12427570By the way what is so dreadful in Metastasio? Isn’t it a bit too easy to disperse derogatory comments without any explanation? Is the BBC Music Magazine not aware that Metastasio was one of the leading librettists of the time and that Gluck’s choice might have had several reasons, dreadful or not. A clear example of a mismatch of intentions. Also, are we sure that “Gluck could do things as well as other people”? What are the references? Other dreadful composers of the time? By the way the sentence “they (the arias) give Behle plenty of chance to show his phenomenal coloratura skill but none to show that, with his lovely voice, he is able to be powerfully expressive in the way that Gluck came to demand”. How can that be? Since the arias in question don’t represent Gluck in his reform operas how would the singer be able to be expressive in pre-reform operas in the manner of operas written in a later stage? And on top of that, is it implied that coloratura cannot be expressive? I suppose one can’t know if one refrains from listening to a wider repertoire. It is useful though, so that one is able to give e a more balanced account of music history. Incidentally, the review previous to this one lauded one of Gluck’s pre-reform operas.

If this is not enough the following article seems to belittle Livermore’s direction of Pesaro’s Italiana in algeri on the grounds that “the audience rarely laughed“. Equally funny or funnier opera by Rossini with better librettos were given in Pesaro the last decades. Did the audience laugh during those performances?  Do Italian ROF habitués even laugh at all anymore after knowing the libretto inside out? Do Japanese, German, and French spectators?