Belgium’s 2017/2018 opera season

(This article replaces the original one about the Brussels-only season with the present one about Belgium)

Brussel’s The Monnaie’s 2017-2018 opera season was recently announced. Although, with half of the 12 titles, La Monnaie/De Munt always leans towards modern music (and with modern I roughly mean the music around and after 1900) the choices are more varied than last year. We have a Wagner, of course, (Lohengrin) but at least we are spared Verdi and Puccini. I smile at Peter de Caluwe’s fear of staging Rossini and his overall mistrust in early 1800 music. So Tancredi in concert version, not the most original choice (it would if staged, though) but  always a pleasure to hear. Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci is a nice change considered it was given in Brussels 14 years ago (and Michieletto is always welcome). Lucio Silla is an inheritance from last year’s season, where it was programmed but not staged (as is also the Bartok) due to the delay in the renovations of the main stage. It is a rare but not minor Mozart – musically speaking, because action wise it is very thin (so why not this one in concert version?) – and performed far too rarely. Leonore (Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio) is given as concert version and I would much more appreciate a staged version in exchange of one of the modern opera’s, say Rihm or Boesmans. Conductor-wise I find the choices good, director-wise conventional and singer-wise there are some that are questionable but I am happy to be persuaded. An enjoyable rarity will be Dvorak’s Requiem while ballet wise I keep regretting the total absence of classical ballet. Let me finish with something that bothers me every year: is it not strange that there is not a single subscription that allows to see all opera’s?

 

Nicer surprises come from the two other opera houses in Belgium, the Opera de Liège and the Vlaamse Opera. I find the choices quite balanced with some very appealing surprises. In Liege we get the touching Donna del lago by Michieletto and the rarity Le domino noir by Auber. La favorite by Donizetti also contains lovely music and is rarely performed. Singer-wise the program is also very appealing although I remember Liege announcing a star only by replacing it last minute by someone less captivating (and not once). In Gent we get the extremely rare Das Wunder der Heliane, Donizetti’s Le Duc d’Albe next to a Clemenza di Tito and of course Verdi and Wagner (Falstaff and Parsifal). The Flemish Opera “continues its fascinating exploration of Russian opera” with The Gambler by Prokofiev. I am waiting impatiently for Dargomyzhsky, Cavos, Glinka, and Verstovsky….

Already available also the program of the Midsummer Mozartiade, which this year presents Don Giovanni at the Theatre de Martyrs.

The Bozar season also contains some vocal evenings.

Joyce Didonato “In War and Peace” @ Bozar in Brussels

front-cover-1600x1440The show starts even before the actual concert, as in the foyer one is handed over a Hallmark card in which Joyce Didonato asks us to reflect on what brings us piece in times of war. She and her topless male dancer are already on scene when the public enters the concert hall, she on an elevated stool, the dancer in a motionless dance-pose . The concert begins, the stage is barely lit, one can only discern the primadonna climbing off her stool in the back while the music starts. The first few pieces are by Purcell, Leo, Handel, and they are all very declamatory and  highly dramatic. They talk about war and are accompanied by theatrical red lighting and unclear black-and-white projections of what seem to be flames, smoke, war-like scenarios and pulses of lights. All this while wafts of vapor are blown onto the stage projectors. So the first part clearly talks about war and ends with the primadonna, genuflected on stage and looking all misterious, while pinkish petals are projected onto the wall falling down while Didonato sings Lascia ch’io pianga.

joyce16-edited-1067x1600Since a few years this fashion of dramatizing recitals is becoming a trend. I am just not sure what the purpose is. In this particular case my malicious mind made me want to think that Didonato had vocal flaws to hide. In the declamatory pieces she leaped and jumped from low to high notes with a voice not fully controlled, which resulted in notes being out of tune, screamed or sighed (“for dramatic purpose” I guess). The pronunciation was approximate also in English.

The second was the joyous part, with mainly Handel, but also an unknown (to me) Jommelli Par che di giubilo. A wonderful aria but which was full of picchiettati which didn’t seem to have a clear path, and again the jumps in the picchiettati were sometimes not fully in tune. Where Didonato was very good was Handel, especially the lyrical pieces and the coloratura. All was accompanied by different shapes of lighting propelled onto the ceiling, the background or the balconies. I think Didonato has more to offer than this. I would love to hear her in Vivaldi, Hasse, and all those composers between Vivaldi and Mozart, I think she would be excellent in it, Zingarelli, Portogallo etc. But in this particular evening everything was over the top, an Irish neighbour I had behind me leaned towards his friend asking her “what the fuck is the naked dancer about and what are these distracting helicopters (he meant the lights) for?” The Belgians erupted in thunderous  applause…..But then the Belgians would rapturously applaud also a French fry lying all tragically on stage if it’s famous.

After the awful setting of The Munt/La Monnaie’s Capriccio by David Marton (it was the direction that bothered me. David Marton clearly does not know what to do with singing people on stage), I kind of hoped for Didonato to lift my spirit, but she succeeded only by half.

Photos from the http://inwarandpeace.com webpage.

 

Macbeth against the rain in the Munt/Monnaie’s new production

de-munt-photo-de-production-mty3mja5mdixnaThe actual main character of this production of Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi was the rain. As soon as the director lifted his baton under the tent where now the Monnaie is located, there was a light drizzling noise. A delicate crescendo brought it to mezzoforte, and between the first duet and the end of act II it changed in dynamics between forte and fortissimo.
Both Banco and Macbeth lacked subtlety in their first duet. Whether this was due to the rain and a louder singing was not entirely clear. Also, the whole duet sounded like an emerging and immersing from and into the sound of rain. By the time Lady Macbeth had to sing the entrance aria the rain allowed to hear only the higher part of the melody: “Vieni! t’affretta… … … … … …. … … … … L’audace impresa… … … …” It was all a bit surreal.

de-munt-photo-de-production-mjc1otywnju0mwI am not very sure whether I liked the direction. Everything is set in a hotel in the 40s (approx). The rooms, the hall hall, the kitchen, everything is certainly pleasant to watch. What lacks is a proper direction of the singers. The chorus “Chi osó mandarvi a noi?” reminded me of Vizioli’s setting of Don Pasquale and the Witches’ introduction were models and men in drag dancing a (not too) extravagant dance. I probably missed the point as I left at the interval.

Muzikale leiding-Paolo Carignani, regie-Olivier Fredj, Grafisch art director-Jean Lecointre, Scenografie-Olivier Fredj, Gaspard Pinta, Massimo Troncanetti
Kostuums-Fréderic Llinares, Belichting-David Debrinay, Choreografie-Dominique Boivin, Macbeth-Scott Hendricks, Banco-Carlo Colombara, Lady Macbeth-Béatrice Uria Monzon
Dama di Lady Macbeth-Janny Zomer, Macduff-Andrew Richards, Malcolm-Julian Hubbard, Medico, Servo, Araldo-Justin Hopkins, Sicario-Gerard Lavalle, 15/09/2016

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)

Old meets new in the 2016/17 season of La Monnaie/De Munt, Gent and Liege

imagesAfter a very interesting and varied 2015/16 opera season I hoped in a change of course, in an innovative and original new season. In a newly renovated opera house. Instead, the renovations, which were supposed to be finished by the end of the current season, will protract until the second title of the new season. But from December, the direction hopes, the opera house will be reopened. The program on the other hand is not new, not original, not imaginative, it’s a déjà vu, deja entendu, dozens of times. I am not pretending Portogallo, Graun, van Maldere or other forgetten (though still very valid and worthwile) composers, I am not even pretending more familiar names such as Boildieau, Haydn, Adam, Glinka, Vivaldi. But what is wrong with an Esclarmonde, a Siége de Corinthe, a Roberto Devereux, a Robert le Diable. But a Wagner, a Verdi, a Puccini and a Strauss… (and not the most original ones either): Do they still have something to say? Macbeth was even given only recently at the Munt. Matsukaze as well.

gent_vlaamseoperaThe more interesting operas in Brussels are the Golden Cockerel, Lucio Silla, Pénélope (Faure) and Il ritorno di Ulisse. Half of these are given in concert version!! And again, of the 11 productions, more than half are compostions of the 20th century. And AGAIN, no classical dance is offered!! Thank God there is Ghent (where we can hear Rossini, Halevy, Mussorgski, Tchaikovsky) Liège (which dares to give Auber, lesser known Rossini, Wolf-Ferrari, Ponchielli…), Lille (a staged Vivaldi, this year) which are not very far and which offer quite varied seasons… Well, usually… In the next season we are flooded with Verdi and Puccini there as well: 3 Verdi and 2 Puccini, as if nothing would draw people to the opear. Otello and Don Giovanni are planned for Liege, were given in Gent and Brussels this year and last year, respectively. Die Zauberflöte next year in Gent, was given this year in Liege. And so on…Disappointed is only one of the words that suggests itself.

visu_Even_02Oh, by the way. What happened to La muette de Portici? Co-produced with the Opéra Comique in 2011, it was supposed to be staged also in Brussels. Only… ‘It isn’t the right time,’ said Peter De Caluwe, ‘because it would raise the question of whether or not we need Belgium’. I think this is utter nonsense. The creation of Belgium following its staging in 1830 is a lovely story to tell your grandchildren but an opera was never and will never be able to split or unify a country. So: when are we gonna hear it?

L’opera seria-Gassmann-Jacobs in Brussels

gassmannFlorian Leopold Gassmann, although nowadays practically unknown to most, was one of Vienna’s court composer and organized one of the first associations of public concerts. Admired by Mozart, he was a prolific Bohemian, composing 25 or so operas, more than 50 symphonies, overtures, chamber music etc., who worked with famous librettists and composers such as Metastasio, Goldoni, Salieri. He composed operas for Vienna, Venice, Florence, and was able to merge the characteristics of the Venetian style and the German taste. The opera L’opera seria, written on a libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi, is not seria at all, but a brilliant and hilarious rendering of the rehearsal and staging of an opera, the vanity of singers, the greed of impresarios, and the whims of dancers, composers and librettists. It is part of a widespread and appreciated satirical genre that flourished between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and describes the inconveniences of opera companies and which has examples galore in prose, drama and opera alike (Il teatro alla moda by Benedetto Marcello, Le convenienze e inconvenienze teatrali by Donizetti, La prova dell’opera by Da Ponte, L’opera in prova alla moda by Latilla, L’impresario in angustie by Cimarosa, Prova di un opera seria by Gnecco, and many others).
castrato-illo_2013257aThe plot evolves around the impresario Fallito (!) who commissions an opera to a pretentious composer and librettist (Mr. Sigh and Delirium), three primadonnas (Miss Off-Key Trill, Miss Simpering, and Porporina, which show up with their respective mothers), the primo uomo and the dancer, and who are all only driven by their personal and individual glory. Act I and II sees them complain abut the libretto, the music , the costumes. They rehears among disastrous directions, singers complaining about the orchestra and ornamentation….chaos: The final act finally sees them catastrophically perform the opera on stage only to finally realize that the impresario run off with the money.
 

Calzabigi and Gassmann hide numerous musical gags in the opera (endless long introductions, a comparison aria, useless coloraturas, incompatibility of text and music, whims of singers) but one did not have to be an expert in musical history, so clever and transparent was the direction by Martinoty (who passed away less than a month ago), which I was lucky enough to  see during the Festwochen der Alten Musik in Innsbruck. The Austrian audience laughed with tear filled eyes throughout the performance and bestowed a triumph to music and staging. The latter intelligent and lively, with brilliant ideas and a flow in the narration which kept the public roaring laughing till the end. And except the very funny libretto, the music is amazingly rich, varied, brilliant and descriptive. Rene Jacobs (who didn’t “recently discover” the opera as stated in the Monnaie’s program) couldn’t be better suited to conduct this opera, which he performed in Schwetzingen, Berlin and Innsbruck in the 90s. He directs lively and virtuosistically and is even part of the show.

Patrick Kinmonth, on the other hand, fails miserably to bring the opera to life. The setting is nice but the direction is horribly flat and dull, and more than the dreadfully insipid ideas and piteously silly and trivial gags which have nothing or little to do with the  opera and utterly miss the spirit of the satire, it’s the missed opportunities that bother me: merely the music itself and the libretto are source of amusement.

 

Some of the singers are excellent. Spagnoli is simply wonderful, his style, his pronunciations, the nuances he puts in every line, his taste in phrasing, every inflection, every word is in its right place and his voice doesn’t seem to have lost any of its brilliance. I found Alex Penda and Mario Zeffiri equally good, both with their own qualities, they charm with actorial talent, and musically nail their hugely difficult roles, Zeffiri clearer in his diction and jauntier on stage, Alex Penda impressive with her wide vocal range. I also enjoyed Robin Johannsen, especially in her “son fatta cosi”. Sunhae Im was an acceptable Porporina, but I would have wished a more understandable Italian and a fuller voice. A vocally correct but scenically unmotivated Marcos Fink and an good Thomas Walker complete the cast with 3 decent countertenors in the role of the primadonnas’ mothers and Nicolay Borchev as dance master.

For an opera that is based so much on a  funny libretto I felt quite annoyed that so little importance was put in the text. The dreadful acoustics of the Cirque Royal didn’t help either and affected also the music, which lost its brilliance and clarity.

 Music director-Rene Jacobs, Staging, set design and costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Andreas Grüter, Choreography-Fernando Melo, Dramaturgy-Olivier Lexa, Fallito-Marcos Fink, Delirio-Pietro Spagnoi, Sospiro-Thomas Walker, Ritornello-Mario Zeffiri, Stonatrilla-Alex Penda, Smorfiosa-Robin Johannsen, Porporina-Sunhae Im, Passagallo-Nicolay Borchev, Bragherona-Magnus Staveland, Befana-Stephen Wallace, Caverna-Rubert Enticknap

Un ballo in maschera @ De Munt/La Monnaie

ballo_maschera_091-1024x614In an interview Alex Ollé from La Fura dels Baus declares that he expected a more political dimension in the libretto of Un ballo in maschera. He sees conspiracy and political intriguing in it. He states that if Verdi would have been able to write the plot as he wished the libretto would contain more politcis. Ehmmm, really?…. In a letter to his librettist Antonio Somma we find him describing the subject for his new opera: Un soggetto bello, originale, interessante, con bellissime situazioni ed appassionato: passioni sopra tutto!…». So passions above all. In a subsequent letter he requires a libretto which is: «quieto, semplice, tenero: una specie di Sonnambula senz’essere un’imitazione della Sonnambula», “calm, simple and sweet: like a Sonnambula withouth being an imitation of Sonnambula“. No politics. However what Alex Ollé does well is to add a dramaturgic parallel without deranging the plot. Sure, Orwell’s 1984 isn’t a complete mismatch, under the totalitarian government of Riccardo (but then I tend to disagree, didn’t Verdi want to picture him as wise and enlightened?), just a bit monotone with its mask, its grey concrete slabs etc.

The singers were all honest professionals with adequate voices and Carlo Rizzi directed with insight as much as the score allowed. All in all a satisfactory evening on which I have to agree with the two ladies next to me, which stated “..not too bad this Ballo, compared to the things we usually see in Brussels” 🙂

Concept-Alex Ollé, Music direction-Carlo Rizzi, Staging collaboration-Valentina Carrasco, Set design-Alfons Flores, Costumes-Lluc Castells, Lighting-Urs Schönebaum, Video-Emmanuel Carlier, Gustav III-Stefano Secco, René Ankarström-George Petean, Amelia-Maria José Siri, Ulrica-Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Oscar-Kathleen Kim, Cristiano-Roberto Accurso, Ribbing-Tijl Faveyts, Horn-Carlo Cigni, Un giudice-Zeno Popescu, Un servo-Pierre Derhet

De Munt/La Monnaie season 2015/2016

MM_Home_EM_VruchtvleesjpgAn excellent 2015/2016 season was recently presented at De Munt/La Monnaie with a balanced choice in styles and good casts. The season starts off with a belcanto gem by Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore, under the direction of Damiano Michieletto, whom I admire much, and conducted by Thomas Rösner, who, if my memory serves me right, I enjoyed hearing in a lively Cosi fan tutte in Winterthur two years ago. The loving couple, Olga Peretyatko and Dmitry Korchak, are belcanto experts and the evening promises, at least on paper, to be a success.After L’elisir d’amore the operahouse will close to undergo renovation works.

Powder her face is an appreciated new entry. Composed in 1995 by Thomas Ades on a libretto by Philip Hensher, it tells the story of the “dirty duchess”  (I refer to the guardians article for details http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/27/thomas-ades-powder-her-face-sex-selfie). Musically it is an individual mix of different styles written for a small orchestra with a large  percussion section.

I am especially happy about the choice of La Vestale by Gaspare Spontini. Although an Italian, he perfectly merged the French declamatory and the Italian style, writing a milestone in French music which soon was extremely successful also outside France. Performed only rarely, Maria Callas was one of the great Giulias.

The Christmas spirit is brought by Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck, which is also a lovely opera. Pity it is given at the Bozar in a semi-staged version.

To be sung was created in 1994 on music by Pascal Dusapin, a composer who will present a world creation in April this year in De Munt/La Monnaie (Penthesilea). I am not fan of Dusapin and I would have preferred any of the cancelled proposals (Some of the pages in the program are grayed out, showing that these operas had to be cut due to the government’s financial change in subsidy policy. These opera’s are Die Dreigroschenoper by Weill, L’incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi and Die tote Stadt by Erich Korngold.

A Russian is also present this year, and a rare surprise with that, with Anton Rubinstein’s The demon. One of the last Russian Romantics, Rubinstein was mainly known as pianist and The demon, his only opera, has become a rarity. Such a pity it is a concert version. Another concert version is presented with another Italian, this time a verismo opera (the reason for the concert version is, according to the program, that it “is difficult to present onstage”…): Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Not heard very often in these latitudes. A welcome composition. Pity again, it is in concert form (Why are the Dusapins never in concert form?)

A florian_leopold_gassmannreal jewel is L’opera seria by Florian Leopold Gassmann; After having heard this opera in 1997 in Innsbruck under the direction of Rene Jacobs, I am extremely happy to see it again in Brussels. The plot is a mockery of opera habits in the 18th century, an opera in the opera, where an opera troup is rehearsing an opera seria, with its whimsical singers, it’s egomaniac dancers, its greedy impresari.

An original, and welcome, choice is Berlioz’s Beatrice et Benedicte, a far too rarely performed opera: “Je fis…l’opéra-comique Beatrix et Benedict (!). Il fut joué avec un grand succsès et sous ma direction, sur le nouveau théâtre de Bade, le 9 août 1862” writes Berlioz in his autobiography.

Mozart is always welcome, and although Mitridate, re di Ponto was given with Carsen’s direction in 2007, the opera, written by a 14-year old Mozart, will be a treat seen the chosen cast which includes Lenneke Ruiten, Myrtò Papatanasiu and the excellent Michael Spyres and Simona Saturova under the direction of Christophe Rousset.

The umpteenth world creation for the Munt/Monnaie is Frankenstein by Mark Grey. The idea came from La fura dels Baus, who will also take care of the direction, which, personally, is the reason to see the opera.

Picture1However, I can not refrain from some additional comments.

First-Belgium is a small country with 3 opera institutions. From Brussels, opera lovers travel to Gent or Antwerp and Liege. Why they sometimes give the same opera’s within the same season or the same year is a mystery to me. Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni are in the 2014/2015 season at Vlaanders Opera  while both operas were also given in the years 2013/2014 in Brussels. And this year we have L’elisir d’amore, in June in Liege and in September in Brussels.

Another thought I would like to share is about the Cirque Royal, a highly inappropriate venue for operas. The theatre is round and this poses problems on where to put the orchestra. Furthermore the singers sing in any direction, which results in a very peculiar sound. This is partially due to the renovation works and Peter de Caluwe “…takes this opportunity…to play with locations…matching them with the appropriate projects”. I hope he takes this opportunity only during the renovation works.

However, I must congratulate the Munt/Monnaie for an overall marvelous season, varied and with many rarities to look forward to. The absence of the various Joosten, Tcherniakov et similia  is also reassuring. The chief conductor Ludovic Morlot has resigned at the end of December. I am not sure this is such good news. Issues between the conductor the orchestra are a recurring thing and the orchestra could benefit (read: improve) from a stable baton. The concerts are also interesting and varied. These include recitals by Anna Caterina Antonacci, Simon Keenlyside, Matthias Goerne and Christophe Prégardien and concerts such as the Grande Messe de morts by Berlioz,

http://www.lamonnaie.be/en/502/Programme

Bozar in Brussels – Paisiello and Berlioz

What De Munt/La Monnaie doesn’t offer in terms of variety this year (50% is 20th century music and the remaining 50% are the omnipresent Haendel, Mozart and Verdi, though still one interesting Fierrabras – albeit in concert version) was given at the Bozar with only a couple of days from each other, organized by the Klarafestival.

IMG_1664Il barbiere di Siviglia. Not the well-known rossinian version, but Giovanni Paisiello’s, composed over 30 years earlier for the court of Saint Petersburg. Petrosellini’s libretto (which was set to music also by Francesco Morlacchi) is almost equal to Cesare Sterbini’s libretto for Rossini, and I was amused when I heard the same scenes, and in some cases the  exact same words. Paisiello’s genius doesn’t show as much in the Barbiere as it does in other works like Nina or Fedra. But the music is delightful, with heights in the Pace e gioia ensemble, Rosina’s music lesson, Bartolo’s Vuoi tu Rosina. The singers also follow stage directions and act the respective roles so the evening is almost as enjoyable as a staged opera. The cast rests on Pietro Spagnoli’s shoulder who’s rendition of Bartolo is perfect: excellent diction, wonderful singing technique, versatile actor. The rest of the cast are solid professionals with Mari Erismoen as Rosina, André Schuen as Figaro and Fulvio Bettini as Don Basilio. I didn’t enjoy Topi Lehtipuu very much, whose voice I found weightless and dry. Renee Jacobs gives a personal but lively and sparkling rendition of the score making it a highly enjoyable evening.

 

IMG_1691The other vocal work given at Bozar only a couple of days later is Romeo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz. It is described as a symphonie dramatique and includes 3 soloists and a choire and is regarded as one of Berlioz most admirable works. Richard Wagner was present at the premiere on 24 November 1839 and it must have made an impression on him if 20 years later he sent Berlioz the printed version of his Tristan and Isolde with the inscription Au grand et cher auteur de Roméo et Juliette, L’auteur reconnaissant de Tristan et Isolde.

Isabelle Druet’s and Jean-François Borras’ roles are rather short and confined to the beginning and neither have particularly marked my mind. Jerome Varnier’s voice was a bit absent and I felt it didn’t give the big recitative and aria of père Laurence the gravity it needed. François-Xavier Roth, who directed an interesting Christophe Colombe (by Félicien David) in Gent which I much enjoyed, chiseld the wide variety of emotions perfectly, from the whirling “fête” to the sweet and delicate love duet (Romeo and Juliet are impersonated by the orchestra) and the stirring final “serment”

Don Giovanni (Brussels), Lucia di Lammermoor (Verona), Così fan tutte (Ghent)

don n giovanni1The Don Giovanni in Brussels under the direction of Warlikowski was awful. I recommend  this director to read the libretto the next time. Da Ponte’s libretto offers a multitude of double meaninsg. No need to descends into pornography just for the sake of it. Musically things were not exciting either with a very disappointing Barbara Hannigan as Donna Anna. As much as she is acclaimed in modern music, she didn’t convince me at all in the classical style. I couldn’t find full enjoyment in any of the other singers (Don Giovanni-Jean-Sebastien Bou, Il commendatore-Sir Willard White, Don Ottavio-Topi Lehtipuu, Donna Elvira-Rinat Shaham, Leporello-Andreas Wolf, Masetto-Jean-Luc Balestra, Zerlina-Julie Mathevet) Don Giovanni never seemed such a drag…..

 

I rather preferred the Lucia di Lammermoor in Verona, which, with its thrifty set, gave a more complete and satisfying reading than the Mozart opera. Musically wonderful with a (to me) unknown Maria Grazia Schiavo who sang with a full deep  and a good upper register. The slightly unpitched top notes from the first two musical pieces didn’t affect the overall thrilling performance. An equally wonderful Piero Pretti as Edgardo and a very good Marco di Felice as Enrico made this a lovely afternoon. The cast was completed by Alessandro Scotto di Luzio as Arturo, Sim Insung as Raimondo, Elisa Balbo as Alisa and Francesco Pittari as Normanno.

 

cosi1A quite boring night in Gent with Cosi fan tutte followed in January. Musically not very convincing. A very good Dorabella and Guglielmo (Maria Kataeva and Riccardo Novaro), an acceptable Fiordiligi and Despina (Christina Pasaroiu Aylin Sezer) an inadequate Don Alfonso and Ferrando (Umberto Chiummo and Sebastien Droy) and a drab conductor (Jan Schweiger) make this evening rather easy to forget. Was it not for the director… Guy Joosten spoiled yet another Mozart opera. I am totally in the dark when it comes to understand what this amateur is trying to tell us in Mozart (or in any opera for that matter). The scenes are filled with slapstick and inconsistent ideas that could be used (and be equally out of place) in any other opera. Joosten hits the bottom when he made Despina awaken the two lovers by hitting them with the Mesmer stone in the groin. No idea what to do with the singers either when they don’t sing except letting them sit or stand still. The set is lovely (the bar/reception of a hotel) though not consistent (“in casa mia” sings Fiordiligi, which is not translated into subtitles. Are they the hotel owners?)