Pia de Tolomei & Fra Diavolo – Pisa & Rome

Verdi-centered fans told me they heard so much Verdi in Donizetti’s Pia di Tolomei, but Pia was composed 3 years before Verdi even started composing operas. Nonetheless it contains some beautiful music and in the recent past Pia de Tolomei got already some attention: staged several times at the end of the 60’s, beginning of the 70’s, under the vibrant direction of Rigacci (with a wonderfully sympathetic Lella Cuberli), in 2005 la Fenice presented it with Patrizia Ciofi, the Opera Rara label recorded it, and now in Pisa it sees the light again. It was however a Pia de Tolomei without Pia. The main singer started badly with an entrance aria that revealed vocal problems as soon as the voice had to rise even a slight bit. No legato, wobbly line, and one awfully squeaked top note did the rest. Not to talk about the interpretation, which was totally absent in the desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get at least the notes right. The rest of the cast was quite enjoyable. Marina Comparato knows how to sing, one could enjoy the beautiful lower register, in the cavatine more than in the cabaletta. Her contribution to the beautiful duet with Pia was touching. The tenor was a lovely surprise: Giulio Pelligra in the role of Ghino mastered the difficult leaps with apparent ease and Valdis Jansons as Nello was especially moving in Lei perduta in core ascondo, where he utters his hate for Pia…but still loves her. The music is flowing brightly under the baton of Christopher Franklin while the setting and lights are lovely. Questionable some of the stage directions by Andrea Cigni.

A charming Fra Diavolo was given in Rome. The points of interest were for me John Osborne as Fra Diavolo and Barberio-Corsetti’s stage settings. The latter’s love for video projections are known, and he mixes them masterfully with the scenery which resulted in a sparkly and light interpretation. Musically the opera is very French with couplets and songs typical for French light opera. When Fra Diavolo was translated into Italian for the Italian stages, Auber composed new arias for the main characters in a more Italian style in order to show off their vocal qualities and it was in the Italian translation that the opera was most successful.  The cast reunited for the Roman staging was very satisfying, and quite enjoyable were the crystal clear voiced Anna Maria Sarra, the funny Sonia Ganassi as Lady Pamela, Giorgio Misseri was a touching Lorenzo and John Osborne as Fra Diavolo. Rory MacDonald conducted swiftly although I found he sometimes covered the voices.

Pia de Tolomei: Pia-Francesca Tiburzi, Ghino degli Armieri-Giulio Pelligra, Nello della Pietra-Valdis Jansons, Rodrigo-Marina Comparato, Piero, eremita-Andrea Comelli, Ubaldo, servitore di Nello-Christian Collia, Bice-Silvia Regazzo, Lamberto-Claudio Mannino, Custode-Nicola Vocaturo, direttore-Christopher Franklin, regia-Andrea Cigni, scene-Dario Gessati, costumi-Tommaso Lagattolla, luci-Fiammetta Baldiserri, 14/10/17, foto: http://www.teatrodelgiglio.it. Fra Diavolo: Direttore-Rory MacDonald, Regia-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Scene-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti e Massimo Troncanetti, Costumi-Francesco Esposito, Video-Igor Renzetti, Alessandra Solimene, Lorenzo Bruno, Coreografia-Roberto Zappalà, Luci-Marco Giusti, Fra Diavolo-John Osborn, Lord Rocburg-Roberto De Candia, Lady Pamela-Sonia Ganassi, Lorenzo-Giorgio Misseri, Matteo-Alessio Verna, ZerlinaAnna Maria Sarra, Giacomo-Jean Luc Ballestra, Beppo-Nicola Pamio, 15/10/17, foto: http://www.operaroma.it/

 

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Rosmonda d’Inghilterra @ Bergamo

15181585_10157702911585307_2885008798243261315_nA belcanto opera that doesn’t close with one of the main characters’ aria!! The Rosmonda d’Inghilterra performed in Bergamo was the one revised for a Naples production, which changes mainly queen Leonora’s role: a different aria for the introduction and no final aria at the end. In fact it finishes in pianissimo and this makes the opera appear a bit crippled. Nonetheless I must thank the Donizetti Festival for staging such a rare opera, which contains much beautiful music. Unfortunately the tenor has an ugly timbre, his voice strains as soon as the line touches the first high notes and the few runs are very stiff. The Arturo of Raffaella Lupinacci is adequate but disappears in ensembles. I liked both the warm-voiced Ulivieri and Mei, good for the respective roles. Eva Mei (who sang from the curtain with a mime acting in Act I), a bit good-natured to sing the jealous queen and determined to kill her rival, nonetheless has a good voice also in the low notes and in her middle to high register she becomes more convincing as the voice rises. Jessica Pratt, although always a bit cold on stage, was vocally perfect for the role of the unfortunate Rosmonda. All pieces, includig her entrance aria, Perché non ho del vento (used by Donizetti for French version of Lucie de Lammermoor and written for the same primadonna as Rosmonda, namely Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani), were sung with aplomb and exemplary technique, reaching high notes with ease.

The setting was extremely simple, two sliding panels which separate rooms from scene to scene, a table and a chair. But this didn’t do much harm. The chorus, I thought, was better directed than the singers and the beautifully designed costumes provided a nice contrast to the black background. The conductor supported all singers well without overindulging in spirit.

 

Direttore-Sebastiano Rolli, Regia-Paola Rota, Scene e luci-Nicolas Bovey, Costumi-Massimo Cantini Parrini, Assistente alla regia-Irene Petris, Assistente ai costume-Jessica Zambelli, Rosmonda-Jessica Pratt, Leonora-Eva Mei, Enrico-Dario Schmunck, Clifford-Nicola Ulivieri, Arturo-Raffaella Lupinacci

Picture from Jessica Pratt’s facebook page

L’elisir d’amore @ De Munt/La Monnaie

InleidingThe lovely light opera L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti was recently given at the awful Cirque Royal in Brussels. Having a round stage there is no optimum place, not for the orchestra and not for the singers: acoustically speaking, one will inevitably be in the way or unbalanced. The setting was redesigned for a round stage, however and together with the direction is absolutely worth seeing. This is by the talented Damiano Michieletto and has travelled much in the last few years (Madrid, Palermo, Graz, Valencia). Traditional-setting-aficionados will be disappointed as there are no Basque countries, no farms, no washerwomen, no garrison sergeants etc, instead we see the beach, a lifeguard (Nemorino), a beach kiosk, beach vendors etc. The skilfully transposed setting however works well due to a setting that everybody can relate to, a sparkling and funny direction and an astonishing work on the personalities and traits of the characters. Characters that Donizetti puts also in music. The sighs, the laughs, it’s all in the score. The conductor  keeps the music going, but very little chiselling is done in terms of getting the details out of the score. Also, in a period of increasing musical phylology, the elimination of the repetition of strettas and cabalettas is unacceptable.

elisirThe cast is mostly doubled. Anne-Catherine Gillet is an artist with discontinuous results. But I found her Adina good, her lower register is strong enough to avoid a soubrette-like voice and her coloratura fluid. Her Achilles heel is the top register which is hard and at the verge of shrill so “Vieni, per me sei libero” is sung like walking on eggs instead of being a sparkling outbreak of joy for the found love. But throughout the performances her confidence grew and Gillet displayed a very convincing Adina. On stage her Adina is a bit shrew-ish with an angry body language. Olga Peretyatko on the other hand is charmingly fickle and whimsical. Vocally she is more at ease with the belcanto style. About pronunciation I will refer to Donizetti; When L’elisir d’amore had its premiere in 1832, he wrote about his primadonna something that fits like a glove also to the two ladies here: La donna ha bella voce ma cio che dice lo sa lei (The primadonna has a beautiful voice but only she knows what she is saying). Antonio Poli and  Dmitry Korchak both offer a very compelling Nemorino, melancholic or strong as required, their phrasing varied, and their acting credible as clumsy and melancholic admirer. Armando Noguera and Riccardo Novaro are both very convincing on stage and sing well although the voices are sometimes lost in the space of the Cirque Royal. Aris Argiris acts very well but has some difficulty with the higher register and his vocalises are not fluid. Simon Orfila is an excellent Dulcamara, a fine actor and his voice uniform over the whole range. Giannetta is vocally and scenically well embodied by Maria Savastano.

Music director-Thomas Rösner, Director-Damiano Michieletto, Set design-Paolo Fantin, Costumes-Silvia Aymonino, Lighting-Alessandro Carletti, Adina-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Olga Peretyatko, Nemorino-Antonio Poli, Dmitry Korchak, Belcore-Armando Noguera, Aris Argiris, Dulcamara-Riccardo Novaro, Simon Orfila, Giannetta-Maria Savastano

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

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?)

 

Juan Diego Florez – French arias in Liège

Lamour-300x300A voice can sing anything. If Bartoli would sing fado or Lady Gaga yodel her way through the Tyrolean Alps……people would still applaud. Same with Florez singing French arias. And there is nothing really wrong with him singing French repertoire…. Technically speaking. But it is evident that in the more cantabile pieces his passion comes out the most. The first half of program was …ahem….discreet to say the least.  All French arias in the so called larmoyant style. So the first part was sentimentally charged to the point of rolling eyes to heaven. Were it not for the orchestra who interspersed the quieter, sung pieces with livelier ones . The second part started well with an Italian composing French (La favorite by Donizetti), it tickeled my interest with a rather rare Berlioz, briefly returned to the ranting-Frenchman-style with Gounod and finished off with a show stopper by Offenbach. It was not by coincidence, in my opinion, that the pieces which were not French came out with more enthusiasms. After all, it is in belcanto that Florez excels. And although he sells them all under a French hat, they do differ. Offenbach (a German, but let’s keep him as French)’s piece has a somewhat belcantistic imprint. As have the encore numbers by (the Italians) Verdi (Je veux encore entendre from Jérusalem) and Donizetti (Pour mon ame from La fille du regiment).

The orchestra does its best, as does the director, who dramatically sank in my esteem when he finished the ouverture to La Favorite with a decrescendo on the final chord. (at times it even was Florez who suggested the tempo though.). It’s always a pleasure to hear Florez sing, though the pleasure could have been increased by a program he excells in.

 

Adolphe Adam, Ouverture Le Toréador – Léo Delibes, Prendre le dessin d’un bijou, Lakme – Georges bizet, ouverture Carmen – Jules Massenet, O Nature, pleine de grâce, Werther – Jules Massenet, Pourquoi me réveiller Werther – Getano donizetti, Un ange, une femme inconnue La favorite – Gaetano donizetti, La favorite ouverture – Hector Berlioz, O blonde Cérès Les troyens – Hector Berlioz, Les troyens ballet – Charles gounod, Romeo et Juliette L’amour – Jacques offenbach, La belle Hélène Au mont Ida. Bis: Jerusalem Je veux la revoir, Verdi – Donizetti, La fille du regiment…Pour mon ame