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?)

 

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Daphne at The Munt/La Monnaie

c1 (2)I tend to avoid the filth of downtown Brussels but during an opera evening one can’t. And being on the square of the Munt is like being in a dump: homeless people roaming through the garbage, broken glass, plastic trash (used bags, wraps, bottles), newspapers, people spitting on the floor, a whiff of urine. The square itself was refurbished less than a year ago in a perfect example of a city’s sterilization. Worst of all is the 70’s office building across the square on what was once a beautiful example of old-Brussels. It must have given, however, the idea of the huge staircase that dominated the scene in Guy Joosten’s interpetation of Daphne. Within this enormous staircase (one set of stairs up to half the height of the stage, the other splitting in two up to the very top) was an equally huge tree, one could only see the immense stem and its branches. it seemed like the over-winning of nature over modern civilization, or, worse, the other way round. Go figure. The setting is Wall-Street-like, with Daphne fighting against a herd of ipod-carrying businessmen. The overall sight was quite impressive but the idea was not reasoned out.  And this is what bothers me with mediocre stage directors: an idea thrown in with very little or no dramatic continuity. And very quickly boredom comes up, interrupted only by several silly ideas (the satyr-looking guests on stilts with a strap-on dildos and Daphne’s mother as a drunk air hostess-lookalike, just to mention two). The singers however deliver a very good performance. Sally Matthews doesn’t charm with the timbre but is a very convincing Daphne. Eric Cutler is a heroic-sounding Apollo, Peter Lodahl and Iain Paterson fittingly interpret Leukippos and Peneios. I also likeed Birgit Remmert’s low notes. Tineke van Ingelgem and Maria Fiselier convincingly deliver their parts of the two maids. Lothar Koenigs’ directorial intentions are admirable but not followed by the orchestra which plays with a limited dynamic range.

The 2014/2015 season of De Munt/La Monnaie

The-Homer-Scream-by-meowzaAh, for crying out loud!! The new season of De Munt/La monnaie 2014/2015 is out….. Are they serious???? How does he manage, Peter de Caluwe, to mess up a whole season? I mean… there are always one or two, maybe three things one doesn’t really like in a whole opera season.
1) But although there are a few interesting things, novelties, like Fierrabras and Paisiello’s Barbiere, they are in concert-version. GREAT!!
2) Two World premieres: (Shell Shock and Penthesilea). TWO??Really?? REALLY??? (Shell shock is also listed in the Dance section….so….is it both…Two for the price of one??)
3) Daphne is interesting also, a rarely played opera (which, coincidentally I just saw in Frankfurt), but it is directed by Guy Joosten, who fucked up Lucrezia Borgia with so much trash I wished THAT one was in concert version. Equally bad were Lucia in Brussels a Barbiere in Ghent and a Freischütz in Liege. IMHO
4) Two more 20th century opera’s (Frank Martin and Rachmaninov) out of 9 (not counting the concert versions) result in almost 50%. You GOTTA be kidding me!
5) What is left are two Haendel. Not one Haendel and one Vivaldi slash Monteverdi slash Lully slash Rameau slash Treatta No, no…TWO Haendel and
6) A Don Giovanni, which, if directed by Morlot with equal passion as Cosi and Clemenza, I will leave before the first interval. Door slamming!!
7) Remains a Verdi (Ballo in maschera) directed by Rizzi and Fura dels Baus, which might be quite interesting. But take a good soprano, the mezzo, a fine tenor and the base and they could have mounted Roberto Devereux with the same director. I mean, how many times in a row will we be hearing Verdi in an opera season?
Sorry Mr De Caluwe, with a program like this I will not be renewing my subscription. I will come and see them, sure. But with the least costly places…in case (….) I wanna leave at the interval.

An 5-star Otello (Rossini) @ Flemish Opera/Vlaamse Opera in Ghent

What the major opera house in Belgium doesn’t dare to play, is bravely tackled by the two other two opera houses, the Opéra Liege and the Flemish Opera with its two houses in Antwerp and Gent. So while the money is ehm….spent in Brussels with the more conventional Italians with alternating success, Gent and Liege offer the possibility to broaden ones musical horizon with Rossini serio, rare Donizetti, Bellini etc. (Sidebar: in Brussels I saw the stupidest Trovatore by Tcherniakov…where the main characters tell each other the events which happened years earlier……Do me the favour, Mr de Caluwe!!! I suggest you use the same setting for all your future opera’s……… what better idea than having all characters telling each other the plot? with a setting that you can recycle for Tosca, Hoffmann, Norma, Carmen, Tristan, Zauberflöte……..)

otello2Rossini’s Otello presented in Gent is the one Leiser and Caurier created for the Opernhaus in Zürich and staged with Osborn, Camarena and Bartoli. This setting is quite good in mixing dramatic with more lyrical moments, and the portrayals of the different characters is well balanced also, from Desdemona’s disobedience and independence to Otello’s lost trust and desperation. I particularly like act 2, (where we see the moor Otello, who, although a respected military man, still does not deserve more than to hang out in a shady bar, fighting with racial prejudices) or the willow song, where Desdemona thinks of happier times listening to the harp intro from an old record player.

Musically the performance is way above average from what one would expect from a provincial theatre. And although the orchestra starts the overture awfully (with the violin accompanying the oboe solo playing the descending motives as eights instead of triplets of sixteenths ) the overall rendition is correct and the orchestra accompanies with precision a difficult but colourful score (Rossini had to shorten the horn solo to Desdemomas’s entrance at its Neapolitan premiere as even the horn player of the San Carlo deemed it too difficult). The orchestra, prepared by Alberto Zedda, is led through the sublime music by Ryuichiro Sonoda.

otello1Also the voices offer great pleasure. Otello is the marvelous Gregory Kunde. And although not equally smooth and mellow in all registers (at 60!), he renders the moor wonderfully expressive as a man driven by determined desperation. Kunde sang the same role in a concert version in Brussels in 2012. But in Brussels the approach to the character was distant, cold and unemotional, even with a Desdemona like Anna Caterina Antonacci (equally distant). In Ghent I was bolted to my chair. From the entrance Kunde was magnetic in his interpretation, in the ringing top notes and in the touching rendering of the wretched husband (yes, in Rossini’s Otello they are already married!)
The tender Rodrigo is interpreted by Maxim Mironov with a precise and flexible voice. “Che ascolto” is very touching and sung with clear diction. Desdemona is Carmen Romeu whom I never heard before. But i was positively impressed. Romeu mastered the monster role with panache and expression, her voice has an interesting timbre and the coloratura is precise. All other roles are adequately cast with a tender and full-body voiced Emilia (Raffaella Lupinacci), Josef Wagner as Elmiro, Robert McPherson as Iago, the gondolier by Stephan Adriaens and the doge by Maarten Heirman, all contributed to a close to perfection performance. I can only hope for more Rossini, especially the opere serie, into which Rossini poured his most inspired music.

Musical direction-Ryuichiro Sonoda, Director-Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Set design-Christian Fenouillat, Costumes-Agostino Cavalca, Lighting-Christophe Forey, Otello-Gregory Kunde, Desdemona-Carmen Romeu, Elmiro-Josef Wagner, Rodrigo-Maxim Mironov, Iago-Robert McPherson, Emilia-Raffaella Lupinacci, il doge-Maarten Heirman, un gondoliere-Stephan Adriaens, Gent, 7-3-2014

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