Rarities in March (Paer’s Agnese and Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable)

A wonderful little rarity by Ferdinando Paer was staged by the Teatro Regio in Torino; Paer is one of many transition composers between Mozart and Rossini, who wrote excellent music, today unfortunately rarely performed. His Agnese was first performed in 1809 and then all over Italy and Europe until the 1820’s.  The plot revolves around Agnese who elopes with Ernesto, fact which drives her father into madness believing her dead. Hen Ernesto leaves Agnese she goes back to her father to ask for forgiveness (with her little daughter whom she gave birth to in the meantime). The plot has a happy ending with the father regaining his mind and Ernesto asking for forgiveness. Diego Fasolis kept the music exciting and crisp with an orchestra of the Regio at its best and beautifully played solos.
The director’s setting are huge old-style tin boxes which open and reveal the different interiours: the mental institute where Agnese’s father is treated, the forest, Pasquale’s cabinet etc.  Muscato’s direction is wonderful. The opera is semi serious and Muscato reflects it in the characters. Agnese and her father are heartbreaking, Ernesto with his over-dramatic movements hilarious. The doctor, Vespina the maid and Pasquale are well characterised and the chorus moves extremely well on stage.

The most impressive singers where Markus Werba as the father Uberto and Edgardo Rocha as Edgardo the repentant lover. Both brought a beautiful palette of colours to their interpretations. Markus Werba was incredibly touching as the father, elegant, never over the top, beautiful phrasing. Edgardo Rocha displayed a refined belcanto technique and on stage the over-the-top acting was irresistible. All other singers contributed also greatly to the success of this rarely staged opera. The musical direction, together with the heartwarming staging and the enthusiastic singers made this a rare and lovely opera experiences.

Another rarity was presented in Brussels, albeit in concert version, Robert le diable by Meyerbeer. I was very excited when I read about it as I think Meyerbeer composed wonderful music, melodic, dramatic, romantic. Less excited when I heard the names. Korchak (is he really up for the role?) Pidó (eye rolling) Auyanot (pouting with scepticism), Courjal (who?) Dral (who??). And who was the soprano again? But I must admit the performance was one of the best I’ve ever heard. Pidó conducted with incredible energy an orchestra that was in top shape, he also accompanied the singers very well. Korchak surprised me with a resounding voice, an admirable stamina, flexibility  and extension he kept from beginning to the end. It was the first time I heard Courjal but I find his warm voice very pleasant. He certainly is very good in the part of Bertram, though maybe not very diabolic. Another very good singer I really admired was Julien Dran in the role of Raimbaut. His voice light and flexible, he sang an impressive top note in his duet with Raimbaut. Yolanda Auyanet was very dramatic and well suited to the role of Alice. The soprano was of course Lisette Oropesa, who i remember well from her adina in Pesaro and even better from her Marguerite in Paris’ Les Huguenot. I thought she was stunning. Simply stunning. The timbre might not be as warm, but all notes, from the low to the high and top ones, all are there. The coloratura comes with apparent easy, the character of Isabelle well interpreted with beautiful colours and musicality. A very moving interpretation. A shame it did not come in a scenic version.

Direttore d’orchestra-Diego Fasolis, Regia-Leo Muscato, Scene-Federica Parolini, Costumi-Silvia Aymonino, Luci-Alessandro Verazzi, Agnese-María Rey-Joly, Uberto-Markus Werba, Ernesto-Edgardo Rocha, Don Pasquale-Filippo Morace, Don Girolamo-Andrea Giovannini, Carlotta-Lucia Cirillo, Vespina-Giulia Della Peruta, Il custode dei pazzi-Federico Benetti, 17/03/19, photos from Edoardo Piva@Teatro Regio

Conductor-Evelino Pidó, Chorus master-Martino Faggiani, Robert-Dmitry Korchak, Bertram-Nicolas Courjal, Raimbaut-Julien Dran, Alberti/Prêtre-Patrick Bolleire, Isabelle-Lisette Oropesa, Alice-Yolanda Auyanet, Héraut/Maître de cérémonie-Pierre Derhet, picture from Lisette Oropesa facebook page. 2/4/19

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann @ Covent Garden

30555527200_c1339c57b3_zNo Hoffmann I ever saw was the same. In this London production the Giulietta act is in the middle with her sailing off with Pitinacchio, the sextet is kept, Nicklauss gets the violin aria. The conductor in London was Evelino Pidó who overall did a good job but I wish would have conducted with more intensity, would have indulged in some of the melodic accompaniment to highlight the richness of the score;…the punch was missing and I had a very slight feeling of rush…a corona slightly too short, a finale cut off a second too early etc. But what bothered me most was the cuts in the repetitions: Hoffmann’s couplet in the Giulietta act or the wonderful trio “J’ai la certains flacons” just to mention two. Sooo annoying ….

30740077912_e23ec9f6b8_zOlympia sang a bit too carefully, the coloratura not entirely impeccable. I very much liked the Giulietta of Christine Rice, a beautiful timbre in a part well sung. Yoncheva gave her beautiful voice to Antonia and was wonderful except for some edgy sounding top notes. Excellent was Vittorio Grigolo’s Hoffman, ringing acuti, voice perfectly controlled, reaches all notes of the pentagram without problems, interpreting the different facets of his character very credibly. Thomas Hampson certainly knows how to sing but the part is too low and him hearing struggle with notes made me see the singer rather than the character. Very disappointing. Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse sings quite well, has a lighter voice than one that is usually heard for this character but this does not harm very much. Smaller roles all well cast. I particularly liked Crespel’s nice bass voice. Direction in 19th century style, quite traditional and little machinery.

Conductor-Evelino Pidó, Director-John Schlesinger, Set designer-William Dudley, Costume designer-Maria Björnson, Lighting designer-David Hersey, Choreographer Eleanor Fazan, Fight director-William Hobbs, Hoffmann-Vittorio Grigòlo, Four Villains-Thomas Hampson, Olympia-Sofia Fomina, Giulietta-Christine Rice, Antonia-Sonya Yoncheva, Nicklausse-Kate Lindsey, Spalanzani- Christophe Mortagne, Crespel-Eric Halfvarson, Four Servants-Vincent Ordonneau, Spirit of Antonia’s Mother      Catherine Carby, Nathanael-David Junghoon Kim, Hermann-Charles Rice, Schlemil-Yuriy Yurchuk, Luther-Jeremy White, Stella-Olga Sabadoch.

7 & 11/11/16. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

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