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”

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Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2014

kktbwI was convinced i would hear Adelaide di Borgogna life for the first time when i ordered tickets in Bad Wildbad for the yearly festival dedicated to Rossini. A quick glance at my list of visited performances told me i saw the Pesaro performances as well. The cast at the time was “stellar”: Jessica Pratt and Daniela Barcellona. But I must admit I rarely listen to the CD with the wonderful Mariella Devia and Martine Dupuy either as the music has little appeal to me and the libretto is very insipid. The Bad Wildbad performance is enjoyable enough, Margarita Gritskova as Ottone has a smooth voice over the whole range, a clear enough diction and a fair coloratura. Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Adelaide and Baurzhan Anderzhanov as Berengario are also convincing. Luciano Acocella directs well. Antonio Petris is responsible for the mise en scene and he follows Schönleber’s bad taste.

morlacchiThis year the operatic rarity (which is analways welcome project) was Tebaldo e Isolina by Francesco Morlacchi. Tebaldo e Isolina premiered 1822 in Venice and was one of the major successes of the Perugia-born composer. Morlacchi’s score clearly assimilates the Rossinian writing, made evident by the structures of the musical numbers (for e.g. Isolina’s aria in the first act has several sections, cello introduction, the reading of a letter, pertichini and choir) and the fine orchestration. It is not a masterpiece if we compare it with the operas by Rossini of the same period, but the composition has beautiful pieces like the finale of the 1st act and the romance for Tebaldo “Caro suono lusinghiero”.
Sandra Pastrana is Isolina. Her voice is a clean and clear but at times one wishes more dramatic weight. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s Boemondo was a very positive surprise to me. He has a naturally clear diction, (even for Italians this is not that evident) and a very pleasant voice. The coloratura is very fluid and the high notes clear and sure. Tebaldo’s role (which was written for the castrato Giovanni Battista Velluti, for whom Rossini composed the role of Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira and Meyerbeer the role of Armando in Il crociato in Egitto) was interpreted by Laura Polverelli. Polverelli has slightly worn high notes but a full and warm middle and lower register and the coloratura is fluid. The orchestra plays well and the director gives the singer time to develop the musical phrases.

Bad Wildbad-20140725-00947For the belcanto recitals, young singers perform in the recently renovated royal theatre (which seats 200 people). Some of the singers, which are students of Lorenzo Regazzo’s masterclasses (who joins in a terzetto from l’inganno felice), sing also minor roles in the opera’s in Bad Wildbad, many of them can be heard in the Viaggio a Reims, also performed in Bad Wildbad this year. They are all young and beautiful, they are all motivated and they all fully give themselves also in acting out their respective roles (I must say i was rarely moved so much during a recital). Some are very nervous and the heartily applause and cheering after each piece brings a clear relief and joy. The young artists are Cornelius Lewenberg, Guiomar Cantò, Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Matija Meic, Yasushi Watanabe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Olesya Chuprinova, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Silvia Aurea De Stefano, Carlos Cardoso, Lucas Somoza Osterc, Graziano Dallavalle, Anna Werle, Muriel Frankhauser, Alessandra Contaldo, Gheorghe Vlad, Miriam Zubieta. They were well accompanied on the piano by Michele D’Elia and Marco Simionato, Nicola Pascoli, Dimitri Candoni and Rossella Fracaros.

But if one thing is to enjoy their voices in carefully selected pieces, another is to endure a whole opera. Il viaggio a Reims’ score has been re-discovered only in 1984, and since then the opera serves as showcase for professionals and students alike.  But with singers which are not able to satisfy Rossini’s writing (it was composed for the best singers of the time, reunited in Paris for the coronation festivities of Charles X) a music director who hastily runs through the score and a scene director who fills the scenes with slap-sticks and buffoonery and clearly struggles with the amount of people on the stage, boredom and anger come up quickly. I will not describe the musical interpretation as the singers are young and full of enthusiasm (and some of them have remarkable qualities). But could another, easier opera not be chosen? This kind of operations are not in the interest of Rossini’s music, or the arts, or the singers themselves (among which I’d only single out Bruno Praticò and his experience). How difficult it is to cope with the Rossinian style was also recently shown in a scandalously poor performance of La gazzetta, given on a professional stage like the Liege Opera (Opéra Royal de Wallonie). I would, however, very gladly welcome the help of a film or drama school to take over the staging of operas.