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.

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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

La Juive @ the Opera of Flanders

IMG_2105[1]The Opera van Vlaanderen staged La Juive by Fromental Haléy. This grand opera follows the fortune of other grand opera such as Guillaume Tell and Les Huguenots. One enters with mixed feeling into the opera house seeing heavily armed police at the entrance doors. In 1830 Europe other countries were equally careful, albeit for different reasons, such as Italy, where staging a cardinal was unthinkable. It is therefore surprising, how easy it was, at the first staging of the opera (and how marginally the local press touched the socio-political topic in a Paris, which went through all the horrors of religious wars and suppression), how easy it was, I was saying, to stage not only a whole council, but a plot which involves conflicting religions (present day problems then and now), horrible death sentences, and religious intolerance (from both sides).

At the first staging of the opera 23 February 1835 the setting was so magnificent, so spectacular, so outstanding that one could barely hear the music. Berlioz was present during that performance and wrote in his distinctive irony: “Malgré les efforts qu’on a faits pour empêcher d’entendre la partition, malgré le cliquetis de de toutes ces armures, ce piétinement de chevaux, ce tumulte populaire, ces volées de chloches et de canons, ces danses, ces tables chargés, ces fontaines de vin, malgré tout ce fracas anti-musical de l’Academie Royal de Musique, on a pu saisir quelques-une des inspirations du compositeur”, which, roughly translated reads as: “Despite the efforts that were made to prevent hearing the score , despite the rattling of armours, the trampling of horses, the crowd’s tumult, the sound of bells and cannons , the dances , the loaded tables, the fountains of wine , despite all anti-musical racket of the Royal Academy of Music , one could grasp just a few of the composer’s inspirations.”

IMG_2108[1]We certainly didn’t have this problem with the staging of the Opera van Vlaanderen. The scene is almost empty with just a few stairs in the first act, a table in the second act (to celebrate Jewish Passover) and a bed in the third. The choreography of the singers is conventionally silly: for eg while the chorus sings from the stalls at the end of act 1, the soloists just “act desperately” on a totally empty stage. Eudoxie is a hyperactive, alcoholic woman whom (in her first entry when she visits Eleazar to buy the “joyau magnifique”) we see waiving a bottle of champagne in one hand and a gun in the other. In the anathema of act three, cardinal Brogni tears the bed apart and throws the pillows to the Christians around them…. At the anathema!… A Cardinal!!… Throwing pillows!!!… One feels almost like praising the idea of the coloured hands: Christians have blue hands, Jews have yellow hands, sometimes they hide their hands in the pockets in order to hide their faith and the symbol is used throughout the opera, also in prison when Eudoxie comes to beg for Leopold’s life. Eudoxie and Rachel wash the colour off their hands and sing the stretta with “clean” hands to show that finally love and friendship are more important regardless which god you pray to. Not too bad as symbol, maybe a bit infantile, but bon…I’ve seen worse.  But then the director messes up everything by making the two women whirl in circles, laughing like girls and roll on the stage like on a blooming meadow. While Leopold is being sentenced to death!… Circling like girls!!… Laughing!!! But these are just examples of an overall very disappointing and superficial interpretation. One word on the lights: it’s hard to enjoy the evening if one is constantly forced to move from the plot of the opera to the real world. Since the action often moves to the stalls, these were regularly lit with bright light. How disillusioning is it to see people pulling down their skirts suddenly realizing they are observed, to see people yawning, leaning into bored positions. Then again on stage at the end of act 4 some of the main singers were so badly lit, one could hardly see who was singing. And then some of the light just went off similarly when pushing a light switch at home.

IMG_2112[1]Musically things went better. Roberto Saccà is a credible Eleazar, still able to move with his interpretation and he manages the range with ease and interprets the declamation passages well. Jean-Pierre Furlan had a less appealing timbre and a slightly stretched high voice but his interpretation was very moving.

Asmik Grigorian as Rachel has a lovely voice especially in the middle register. Sometimes her top notes sound stretched also, especially in the finale of act one and the musically marvelous duet with Léopold in Act II. Overall the singing was convincing in a murderous role which was created by nobody less than Cornélie Falcon (the first Valentine in Les Huguenots, just to name one). Gal James’ had a more cautious approach which made her low notes less vibrant and rich, but both rendered a touching Rachel.

I was personally put off by Nicole Chevalier’s Eudoxie due to the hyperactivity of the acting but she sang indeed very well with good top notes, agile passages and a rich middle register. As did Elena Gorchunova, with a more balanced interpretation. The big problem in this production was the Léopold part. While Randal Bills’ Leopold sounded muffled, Robert McPherson ‘s voice was unbearably throaty. Both of them are cast in Rossini ‘s Armida next season which, allow me, is inconceavable. Dmitry Ulyanov’s Brogni reached all the extremely low notes although his interpretation lacked in showing the ambivalent nature of the cardinal (which might be attributable to the director also), Toby Girling was an acceptable Ruggiero. The chorus sang the very impervious score extremely well.Tomas Netopil directed with much verve and motivation this far too rarely performed music. Verve which which was less obvious with Yannis Pouspourikas

Conductor-Tomas, Netopil (2/5), Yannis Pouspourikas (21/4, 2/5), Direction-Peter Konwitschny, setting-Johannes Leiacker, costumes-Johannes Leiacker, lights-Manfred Voss, Dramaturgy-Bettina Bartz, Luc Joosten, Rachel-Asmik Grigorian (21/4, 2/5) Gal James (6/5), Le Juif Éléazar-Roberto Saccà (21/4, 2/5) Jean-Pierre Furlan (6/5)Le Cardinal de Brogni-Dmitry Ulyanov, Léopold-Randall Bills (21/4, 2/5) Robert McPherson (6/5), La Princesse Eudoxie-Nicole Chevalier (21/4, 2/5) Elena Gurshova (6/5), Ruggiero-Toby Girling, Majordome-Thierry Vallier