Norma @ Liège

An pleasing enough Norma was given at Liege this week. I did not like everything of Davide Garattini-Raimondi’s direction. It had the merit of being on 3 levels which allowed to play with movements of the single versus the masses, but I found the paper mache-looking setting a bit unrefined, although I guess deliberate. Personally I did not see the necessity of the overly made-up faces and neither of the dancers who hopped also in the most inappropriate scenes. To me it looked a bit silly.

It was clear even before hearing her, that Patrizia Ciofi would be too light for Norma, “In mia mano alfin tu sei” for eg and all the lower passages was musically not very pleasing and at the end of the several evenings the voice sounded very tired. Having said that I found much dedication to the role, wonderfully floating acuti and a profound rendering. With her on stage was José Marina Lo Monaco who sang a beautiful and compassionate Adalgisa, and the two voices merged wonderfully in the duet of Act II. As Pollione we had Gregory Kunde who the role seemed to fit like a glove and the notes came out in apparent effortlessness from the lowest to highest, always a pleasure to hear. Andrea Concetti was a noble Oroveso, his second aria convinced more than the first. All were accompanied by the very capable hands of Massimo Zanetti; He kept the music going swiftly although the orchestra’s playing was not always neat and clean.

Conductor-Massimo Zanetti, Director-Davide Garattini Raimondi, Choreography & Director’s Assistant -Barbara Palumbo, Set And Lighting Design-Paolo Vitale, Costume Design-Giada Masi, Choirmaster-Pierre Iodice, Norma-Patrizia Ciofi, Pollione-Gregory Kunde, Adalgisa-Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Oroveso-Andrea Concetti *, Flavio-Zeno Popescu, Clotilde-Réjane Soldano, 25/10/17, Fotos: http://www.operaliege.be

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An 5-star Otello (Rossini) @ Flemish Opera/Vlaamse Opera in Ghent

What the major opera house in Belgium doesn’t dare to play, is bravely tackled by the two other two opera houses, the Opéra Liege and the Flemish Opera with its two houses in Antwerp and Gent. So while the money is ehm….spent in Brussels with the more conventional Italians with alternating success, Gent and Liege offer the possibility to broaden ones musical horizon with Rossini serio, rare Donizetti, Bellini etc. (Sidebar: in Brussels I saw the stupidest Trovatore by Tcherniakov…where the main characters tell each other the events which happened years earlier……Do me the favour, Mr de Caluwe!!! I suggest you use the same setting for all your future opera’s……… what better idea than having all characters telling each other the plot? with a setting that you can recycle for Tosca, Hoffmann, Norma, Carmen, Tristan, Zauberflöte……..)

otello2Rossini’s Otello presented in Gent is the one Leiser and Caurier created for the Opernhaus in Zürich and staged with Osborn, Camarena and Bartoli. This setting is quite good in mixing dramatic with more lyrical moments, and the portrayals of the different characters is well balanced also, from Desdemona’s disobedience and independence to Otello’s lost trust and desperation. I particularly like act 2, (where we see the moor Otello, who, although a respected military man, still does not deserve more than to hang out in a shady bar, fighting with racial prejudices) or the willow song, where Desdemona thinks of happier times listening to the harp intro from an old record player.

Musically the performance is way above average from what one would expect from a provincial theatre. And although the orchestra starts the overture awfully (with the violin accompanying the oboe solo playing the descending motives as eights instead of triplets of sixteenths ) the overall rendition is correct and the orchestra accompanies with precision a difficult but colourful score (Rossini had to shorten the horn solo to Desdemomas’s entrance at its Neapolitan premiere as even the horn player of the San Carlo deemed it too difficult). The orchestra, prepared by Alberto Zedda, is led through the sublime music by Ryuichiro Sonoda.

otello1Also the voices offer great pleasure. Otello is the marvelous Gregory Kunde. And although not equally smooth and mellow in all registers (at 60!), he renders the moor wonderfully expressive as a man driven by determined desperation. Kunde sang the same role in a concert version in Brussels in 2012. But in Brussels the approach to the character was distant, cold and unemotional, even with a Desdemona like Anna Caterina Antonacci (equally distant). In Ghent I was bolted to my chair. From the entrance Kunde was magnetic in his interpretation, in the ringing top notes and in the touching rendering of the wretched husband (yes, in Rossini’s Otello they are already married!)
The tender Rodrigo is interpreted by Maxim Mironov with a precise and flexible voice. “Che ascolto” is very touching and sung with clear diction. Desdemona is Carmen Romeu whom I never heard before. But i was positively impressed. Romeu mastered the monster role with panache and expression, her voice has an interesting timbre and the coloratura is precise. All other roles are adequately cast with a tender and full-body voiced Emilia (Raffaella Lupinacci), Josef Wagner as Elmiro, Robert McPherson as Iago, the gondolier by Stephan Adriaens and the doge by Maarten Heirman, all contributed to a close to perfection performance. I can only hope for more Rossini, especially the opere serie, into which Rossini poured his most inspired music.

Musical direction-Ryuichiro Sonoda, Director-Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Set design-Christian Fenouillat, Costumes-Agostino Cavalca, Lighting-Christophe Forey, Otello-Gregory Kunde, Desdemona-Carmen Romeu, Elmiro-Josef Wagner, Rodrigo-Maxim Mironov, Iago-Robert McPherson, Emilia-Raffaella Lupinacci, il doge-Maarten Heirman, un gondoliere-Stephan Adriaens, Gent, 7-3-2014

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.

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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