Meyerbeer’s Le prophète – Essen

Le prophète had its premiere in Paris in April 1849 and it was another immense success after Robert le Diable and Les Huguenots. Again Meyerbeer was able to combine all the parameters of the grand opéra such as a historic events, interpolations of personal conflicts, inclusion of ballets, rich instrumentation effects, alternation between crowd and solo scenes with lighting, spectacular costumes and scenic effects which all contribute to the grandeur of the staging. What makes Meyerbeer so special is the combination of musical languages: Meyerbeer was born in Germany, assimilated wonderfully the Italian style during his stay in Italy and acquired the French taste when he moved to Paris. Although not as “grand” as Les Huguenots, Le prophète still remains one of the most successfull operas at the time (comparable to a musical in our days), staged for hundreds and hundreds of times in all the major European cities until the beginning of the 20th century and stayed in oblivion for years only because it required great voices, a conductor able to keep the suspense for several hours and singers able to sustain the huge demand of the score. A compliment therefore to the opera houses who stage Meyerbeer operas. The plot of Le prophète evolves around John of Leiden, who moved to Münster, became the leader of  Anabaptists, held the city against the pope for over a year until he was captured in 1535, tortured and executed. Against this historic drama develops the relationship of John of Leiden (Jean de Leyde) with Berthe, his beloved and Fidès, his mother.

I thougth the Tcherniakov Trovatore in Brussels was absolute nonesense, but at least the decor was well designed. For Le prophète in Essen we have a rotating stage divided in three compartments. They are fully grey, including the parting walls, and most of the time rather empty. In Act I there is a huge table and in Act II the choir dances between crates stapled on pallets while Jean waits beers. Except Jean’s room (matras on the floor) and a few props, there is not much more. But empty can work if there is a director who knows how to direct, which in this case we clearly lacked. The problem, I think, is that Vincent Boussard has no clue whatsover what to do with all the people on stage: The choir was motionless most of the time. Which, if we consider the importance of the masses in grand opera is astounding, to say the least. During the sermon of the anabaptists  in Act I (“Ad nos”….), Berthe and Fides are chatting away as if exchanging recipes (sic…). During Berthe’s romance (Un jour dans les flots de la Meuse) Berthe sings standing on the table with Oberthal playing with her hair (because he has her in his power????) and when Fides sings her pertichini, the tutu ballerina shushes her (!). Jean goes home to play his e-guitar, the same rock music-like pose he strikes at the end of Act III with the cross in his hands (dream of celebrity?? Please!!!). Jonas vomits on the floor just before Zacharie’s aria (!!!), during the dances Zacharie and the two ballerinas run after each other on the rotating stage, the ballerinas making confused movements with a knife and an iron in their hands (!!!), the hat of Zaccaria pops a mini firework during the Trio bouffe (!!!). And so on and so on and so on, one imbecility after the other. The costumes are between a not better defined end of the XXth century and gothic-like underground.

Luckily the musical part was much better. Fides is Marianne Cornetti. Cornetti has a good technique, her strong voice is projected well and equal in all registers. Her singing is a tad cautious but admirable. Seen the difficulty of the score, especially her Grande Air in Act V, the rendering was fabulous. And even the odd unfocussed note does not affect the overall perfomance. The Berthe of Lynette Tapia has little colours, is a bit nasal, and she lacks the weight to convincingly pull off the recitatives (especially important in Act V) but overall interprets an acceptable Berthe with a light top register. Beautiful the slow part of her duet with Fidès. John Osborne forges the voice to his will and is excellent in the lyrical and delicate as well as the passionate passages. The acuti sure and resounding, the voice powerful yet flexible, his French impeccable. I felt he was somewhat distant, something i never felt observed with Osborne before. Maybe caution (he will sing the same part in Toulouse in a month or so)? Karel Martin Ludvik is a bit short in the lower register but sings well, as do Albrecht Kludszuweit, Pierre Doyen, and Tijl Faveyts as the anabaptists. Carella was in dazzling shape. The tempi were perfect, the sound he was able to create with the excellent orchestra was scintillating with timbrical colours and dramatic tension, the sound had luminous fluidity  and was at the same time light  (the orchestra was transparent down to the timpani) and vigorous, accompanying the alternating sentiments with unequalled sensitivity. If we didn’t get the grand from the staging, it was Carella who delivered it.

 

Musikalische Leitung-Giuliano Carella, Inszenierung-Vincent Boussard, Bühne-Vincent Lemaire, Kostüme-Vincent Boussard, Elisabeth de Sauverzac, Licht-Guido Levi, Dramaturgie-Christian Schröder, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Marianne Cornetti, Berthe-Lynette Tapia, Jonas-Albrecht Kludszuweit, Mathisen-Pierre Doyen,
Zacharie-Tijl Faveyts, Graf von Oberthal-Karel Martin Ludvik. 29th April 2017, Pictures from the site of the Aalto Theatre Essen.

Les Huguenots @ Deutsche Oper Berlin

downloadLes Huguenots is maybe the most perfect example of Grand Opéra and explains why, in recent years, has been Meyerbeer’s opera with the most revivals (and still not enough IMO). In Les Huguenots (Opéra, Paris 1836), everything blends perfectly together: a grand tragic event where personal conflicts and real historic events come together with much attention to details. Additionally Meyerbeer is master in musically blending French, German and Italian styles. The presence of ballets and the skillful maneuvering of alternate crowd and solo scenes only adds to the “Grand” of the opera. Directing tragic events such as the Saint Bartholomew’s massacre is certainly not easy, but Alden chooses to show us the more trivial things. A musically dramatic scene is shown with singers and choir still on stage which is extremely sad in the third act where the choir has such a prominent role. Not only because it’s a “grand” opera where it’d be nice if the choir moves at least to some extent but especially in Les Huguenots where there are two parties opposing each other. The story is impossible to follow like this. Other times the director makes the characters move in the music’s rhythm in silly movements (the cleaning ladies with dusting feathers…), which distorts the plot, and elicits laughs from the public.The characterization of the single characters, the mass movements, the body language that characters speak to each other, everything is so conventional, without any ideas, very boring. Furthermore the setting to me looked exactly like a granary or a warehouse where to store old, unused rubbish. The chairs folded on top of each other, the horses, the bell….everything seemed to confirm that view. There is a beautiful staging by Olivier Py, getting dusty in Brussels. Why reinvent the wheel (and a ugly wheel that is).

 

download-1Only half of the singers were convincing. I liked Ante Jerkunica. Although a bit short in the higher register, he has a nice bass voice and interpreted very well. Also short, but in the low notes, was Olesya Golovneva. But in her case being short is more damaging because of the importance of her role and additionally i would have wished a bit more colour in her interpretation. Beautiful ringing high notes, though, but not enough to make a good Valentine. Patrizia Ciofi has still some arrows to her bow and sings her entrance aria acceptably (ugly-ish final acuto though) but already her duet with Raoul loses lightness due to her stopping the flow as she is aiming her notes carefully. Juan Diego Florez sings very well, as usually, but coming from belcanto he lacks the right weight and personality and almost authority of the character rendering Raoul almost a bit unexciting. At the end one can hear the fatigue. But well he sings. Very well the Urbain of Irene Roberts in a part excellently sung with a voice well supported. Michele Mariotti, except for rhythmically more intricate pieces which would have required more clarity, supports the singers well but the score never really shines, is not exciting in its musical flow, the lines lose tension and are a bit emotionless.

26/11/16, Deutsch Oper Berlin, Musikalische Leitung-Michele Mariotti, Inszenierung-David Alden, Bühne-Giles Cadle, Kostüme-Constance Hoffman, Licht-Adam Silverman, Choreografie-Marcel Leemann, Dramaturgie-Jörg Königsdorf, Curt A. Roesler, Marguerite von Valois-Patrizia Ciofi, Graf von Saint-Bris-Derek Welton, Graf von Nevers-Marc Barrard, Valentine-Olesya Golovneva, Urbain-Irene Roberts, Tavannes / 1. Mönch-James Kryshak, Cossé-Jörg Schörner, Méru / 2. Mönch-John Carpenter, Thoré / Maurevert-Alexei Botnarciuc, de Retz / 3. Mönch-Taiyu Uchiyama, Raoul von Nangis-Juan Diego Flórez, Marcel-Ante Jerkunica, Bois-Rosé-Robert Watson, Ein Nachtwächter-Dong-Hwan Lee, Zwei Hofdamen/Zwei katholische Mädchen-Adriana Ferfezka, Abigail Levis

Fotos from the internet page of the Deutsch Oper Berlin

Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2015

Lindpaintner wikiPeter Joseph von Lindpaintner is one of many composers that have fallen into oblivion. Born in Koblenz 8th December 1791 he studied under Peter von Winter. As music director he worked first in Munich and then as Hofkapellmeister in Stuttgart. In the latter position Lindpaintner was appreciated by Schumann and Berlioz, and Mendelssohn wrote in a letter: “Der Lindpaintner ist, glaub’ ich, jetzt der beste Orchesterdirigent in Deutschland; es ist, als wenn er mit seinem Tactstöckchen die ganze Musik spielte” (Lindpaintner is now, I believe, the best director in Germany; it’s as if, with his batons, it’s him who plays the entire music). Almost forgotten nowadays, in his time he was held in high regard. The few things one can hear from Lindpaintner on youtube show a fertile talent, without the originality of other composers. The pieces are not memorable, but worth hearing. Regarding the opera presented in Bad Wildbad, Lindpaintner chose a historic/romantic/exotic subjects, as they were very fashionable at the time and the libretto of Die sizilianische Vesper by Heribert Rau makes no exception. It tells the story of the rebellion that broke out in Sicily during Easter of 1282 against the rule of the French king Charles I. Lindpaintner’s Die sizilianische Vesper (in Wildbad played as Il vespro siciliano, a version prepared by the composer) follows the trend of upcoming German grand opéra in the likes of Wagner’s Rienzi or some of the Marschner operas, while the musical model for the opera was clearly the grand opéra of Guillaume Tell, La muette de Portici, but mostly Meyerbeer.

Hearing a new piece of music for the first time is always a treat, just pity that two numbers were not played (choir and ballet in act III and Eleonora’s aria in act IV). Musically the opera in its entirety did not satisfy. It’s never very clear where the plot is going. Only the 4th act, which begins with a jailer being fooled and ends with the rebellion of the Sicilians, is very convincing. Although there are many lovely melodies, the musical inventions are without the dramatic depth one is accustomed to in Meyerbeer. Also the closing of the acts seem to come out of nowhere without a proper build-up. Nonetheless it remains a highly enjoyable evening just for the sake of hearing a musical novelty.

bianca_e_falliero_Forte-Tarver-Bad-Wildbad-2015 der neue merkerThe main Rossini opera given in Bad Widlbad was Bianca e Falliero, which was composed by Rossini in a hectic period for the Scala of Milan. Criticised by the contemporary press, it run for 39 evenings, a considerable number even for the time. About Bianca e Falliero Stendhal, in his Vie de Rossini, writes: Quant a la partition de Rossini, tout était reminiscence. If anything, the opposite is true. Rossini only uses the final rondo from the recently composed Donna del lago, but, except for a few hints, the music is original from the beginning to the end. In fact, Rossini will use some of the music for Moïse, Maometto II and Siège de Corinthe. The wonderful Act II quartet was inserted in a 1824 Parisian staging of La donna del lago. Except for the already mentioned Act II quartet, I personally think the Act I quartet Cielo il mio labbro ispira is equally beautiful as are the two duets of soprano and contralto (duets between soprano and contralto are always a treat in every Rossini opera).

L’inganno felice is a farsa, a short comic opera, the third staged opera composed for Venice when Rossini was not even 20 years old. L’inganno felice was quite successful in Italy and beyond. The Bad Wildbad staging is again simple and altogether satisfactory. Music-wise very good with a cast that was pleasing throughout the opera.

220px-Manuel_Garcia_as_Otello_in_Paris_from_Gallica A little unknown gem was proposed this year: Le cinesi, a one act opera composed by Manuel Garcia, a world class tenor in Rossini’s time (the first Almaviva in the Roman Il barbiere di Siviglia), composer, renowned teacher and partially famous for being the father of two famous primadonnas of the 19th century: Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot. The plot of Le cinesi was used by several composers including Gluck. The voices were not perfect but some of them were very promising. The young singers all sang passionately and charmed with their enthusiasm. This 1hour and 15 minute long opera was a sheer delight to hear and watch.

Untitled The singers reunited this year in Bad Wildbad were mostly good. Bianca’s role was sung by Cinzia Forte, a soprano I heard several times lately, not from her best side, though, I must say. In Wildbad the approach was very cautious but with the help of the director Forte was utterly convincing in a very difficult role. Kenneth Tarver sang well but from the moment the singing line rose to higher notes, all coloratura was flattened and the voice sounded forced. I am unsure on what to say about the Falliero of Victoria Yarovaya. She certainly was appreciated by the public who loved the rapid coloratura, the house came down after each of her solo aria’s. Her voice is a typical Slavic voice with a slight vibrato, not a warm voice and a times a bit dry; Her coloratura was quick but not always di forza and a bit uneven. I’d certainly like to hear her again. Baurzhan Anderzhov, who was the 4th of the quartet and who sang also the villain in L’inganno felice, sang with a steady and beautiful voice and credible acting. The setting in Bianca e Falliero by Primo Antonio Petris was minimal but effective. A few huge golden frames gave partition to the stage and the pictures of Venice in the background immediately defined the location. Artavazd Sargsyan always convinced me in previous years but Bertrando’s entrance aria in Untitled2L’inganno felice was slightly nasal and quite unclean in the coloratura. Something I hope is an exception in this young singer’s career. Tiziano Bracci and Lorenzo Regazzo were superb in singing and acting. In fact what made the opera a delight was the comic verve of Lorenzo Regazzo. The “teneste la promessa”-joke was hilarious for who got it. A real actor who brought this lovely farsa to life. I personally prefer Della Benetta much more as Eleonora in Il vespro siciliano, where she is able to display her dramatic interpretation, than as Isabella, where she sounded a bit rigid. She has a strong and beautiful voice and I would like to hear her again, maybe in an unknown, dramatic Mercadanta, Pacini, Carafa, Coccia, or Manfroce. Danilo Formaggia as Conte di Fondi has a worn out voice, and it’s quite painful to hear him especially in the first act where his role is quite present. Cesar Arrieta is a charming Siveno and a fresh-voiced Drouet. Matija Meic sings well but I would have wished a king with more authority. Authority which Russo doesn’t lack, who also sings well. I much enjoyed Ana Victoria Pitts’ singing and acting as Tangìa.

Antonino Fogliani directs lightly with verve and vivacity (at times a tad too quick). Federico Longo directs well and brings the forgotten Vespro to life with a big sense of musicality. The Virtuosi Brunensis orchestra didn’t play well: many mistakes, smudged notes, wrong entries ecc. The Bach Choir Poznan sang adequately though with a miserable pronunciation.

All in all a wonderful program, which I much enjoyed although I would prefer Italian (-style) composers to German (after all it’s called “Belcanto Festival”)

To close with a minor note: This year in Bad Wildbad my hotel was close to the new parking lot. A slab of concrete close to the festival area. And I started to realized how much of it was present in Bad Wildbad: The concrete roofing of the shops just below the café Melange, the building just next to the Palais thermal, several houses in the shopping street, many of the small bridges that cross the Enz in the village centre just to name a few, which are just too many for an 11000 souls’ village.

23/7: Il vespro siciliano: Conductor-Federico Longo, Carlo d’Anjou-Matija Meic, Alphonse Drouet-César Arrieta, Il conte di Fondi-Danilo Formaggia, Eleonora-Silvia della Benetta, Celinda-Sara Baneras, Aurelia-Sara Blanch, Albino-Ana Victoria Pitts, Guillaume l’Etendard-Carlos Natale, Il conte di Marche/Francesco Ruffo/il carceriere-Damian Whiteley, De Bellecour-Daniele Caputo, Giovanni da Procida-Dario Russo, Visconte Vernazzo-Carlos Natale, il conte di Sanseverino-Gheroghe Vlad, Albergio da Barbiano-Marco Simonelli, Virtuosi brunensis, Bach Choir Poznan,
26/7: Bianca e Falliero: Contareno-Kenneth Tarver, Capellio-Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Bianca-Cinzia Forte, Falliero-Victoria Yarovaya, Priuli-Laurent Kubla, Loredano-Marconi Banaś, Costanza-Marina Viotti, Cancelliere e ufficiale-Artavazd Sargsyan, Conductor-Antonino Fogliani, Virtuosi brunensis, Bach Choir Poznan, Direction-Primo Antonio Petris
23/7: L’inganno felice: Bertrando-Artavazd Sargsyan, Isabella-Silvia Dalla Benetta, Ormondo-Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Batone-Tiziano Bracci, Tarabotto-Lorenzo Regazzo, Virtuosi brunensis
25/7: Le cinesi: Piano-Michele d’Elia, Regie-Jürgen Schönleber, Lisinga-Sara Baneras, Sivene-Silvia Aurea De Stefano, Tangia-Ana Victoria Pitts, Silango-César Arrieta

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.

Meyerbeer’s l’Africaine @ La Fenice or The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

IMG-20131126-00153La Fenice, Venice: Everything is perfect, the theatre is wonderful, the ceiling is stunning in its fabulous blue. One is about to hear a very rarely performed title and one can but congratulate the courageous artistic choice of choosing Meyerbeer’s l’Africaine, a Grand Opéra infrequently staged nowadays. The curtain rises. The first thing one notices, [or doesn’t notice, more likely] is the minimalist staging, which indeed might seem a perfect choice for a very unlogic plot [very low-cost-looking, I might add]. The ship- and the following “Pays merveilleux”-scene are quite beautiful with the blue floor, the colourful dresses and the golden lamps. [Crappy old carpet, though, did the 70’s not call to get it back??] The singers, they are all wonderful and give their best: Gregory Kunde, one of the great baritenors of our time, although 60 years old, has a powerful voice, acts well and pulls off the incredibly difficult part of Vasco da Gama with relative ease. Jessica Pratt has bright, full-bodied high notes and is a sweet and delicate Inés. [Who the hell composed the cadenza that closes her entrance aria? It’s just a bunch of embarrassing high notes, incoherently screamed together]. Veronica Simeoni’s part, Selika, is a monster role which requires stamina and overall Simeoni reaches all the required notes without too many problems and even has audible low notes. [Barely sufficient to be a great Selika]. The director not only gives the singers time to sing their lines but accompanies wonderfully pulling all the stops of the Fenice orchestra, which plays flawlessly, to display a whole array of human emotions.

IMG-20131126-00154

Especially the exciting finale of act I is well balanced [He can be quite long-winded and a bit heavy at times]. Veccia has the physique du role for a credible Nélusko. [That’s hardly enough to properly sing a role which requires sonorous and rich low notes and master the leaps to the high notes, all of which is lacking, sadly].

The chorus sings acceptably the beautiful melodies forged by Meyerbeer (Dieu que le monde révère…. Téméraire, téméraire etc) and moves fluidly across the stage conferring credibility to the choral passages. [Wanna talk about the useless video projections shown during the introduction and the entr’actes, which depict the themes touched by the librettist (slavery, conquests etc) in a 20th century gravy?]

Although I had mixed feelings (and overall Les Huguenots is musically more convincing) I praise La Fenice’s choice. Nice touch also, to commemorate two Rossinian farse, ~200 years after they have been composed-in Venice (although not for the same theatre).

Direttore-Emmanuel Villaume, Regia-Leo Muscato, Scene-Massimo Checchetto, Costumi-Carlos Tieppo, Light designer-Alessandro Verazzi, Video designer-Fabio Iaquone, Inès-Jessica Pratt, Sélika-Veronica Simeoni, Vasco de Gama-Gregory Kunde, Don Alvar-Emanuele Giannino, Nélusko-Angelo Veccia, Don Pédro-Luca dall’Amico, Don Diego-Davide Ruberti, Le grand inquisiteur de Lisbonne-Mattia Denti, Le grand-prêtre de Brahma-Ruben Amoretti, Anna-Anna Bordignon, Coro e orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, 26-11-13