Verdi’s Aida and Telemann’s Orpheus @ Brussels

Aida…one of those mysteries….everybody knows the title. But it’s not that there were less or more empty seats than when rarities of Cherubini, Berlioz or Gassmann were played at De Munt/La Monnaie….still, it was choosen to stage a famous title such as Aida (where the libretto never takes off, the action is succinct and stripped to a minimum and for which the music is quite long) without having the necessary forces to do so: If one does not have a perfect match of conductor, director and singers, the opera starts to bore at very early stage. In this production the setting is not without interest. Greek actor/director Stathis Livathinos puts a huge rock on stage which changes colour and becomes translucent with different types of lighting and which is used to sing and act on and around. Except for a cement square just above said rock the scene is completely empty but Livathinos’ setting is suggestive and evocative in using balanced colours, lighting and movements. Dancers are present on scene but they barely move. Although the director used some interesting ideas the setting did not conceal the shortcomings of the overall poor musical interpretation (at least of the cast I heard on that particular day). The voices displayed various opprobrium’s that ranged from wide vibrato singing, screams, poorly projected voices, sinking notes, no legato, … and if this was not enough, when the final chords of a piece ended, or when there were large passages of pianissimo (such as in Immenso Fthà) one was immersed in rumble of noises from outside like screaming children, chirping birds, quacking ducks, roaring airplanes and the like. Altinoglu, who I usually appreciate, was not able to get the imprecise orchestra inspired. The heat (27°C) did the rest so I left at the interval.

Refreshing therefore, to see an non-professional performance of an opera at Bozar. It is always a pleasure to hear singers of an opera academy. It has the benefit, except for the singers to get exposure, for the public to hear forgotten rarities, for which the main opera house is too cautious, and, I feel, too dismissive of the music. But Telemann’s music is varied, colourful, descriptive, heterogeneous, and although the main text is German, he adds arias in French and Italian language and style, which he perfectly assimilated, and merged with great taste.

Although the title of the ancient legend, Orpheus, refers to the unfortunate lovers, Telemann’s plot really evolves around queen Orasia, who provokes Euridice’s death, makes the Bacchantes kill Orpheus when repudiated and guild-ridden kills herself. The thing with fresh voices is that although there is already a great degree of professionalism, inexperience or nerves might explain an over-cautious approach, a little lack of colours, sometimes a weak projection or unfocused low or high notes etc. Nonetheless I feel some of the voices have amazing potential and I much enjoyed the beautiful timbre of Julie Gebhart and Sylvie Bedouelle, the emotional variety of Morgane Heyse and the vocal range of Louise Kuyvenhoven. All showed an acceptable coloratura although the German pronunciation could be improved during the sung pieces. Arthur Rozek was most appreciated in the more delicate passages. The setting was simple but effective. Only shame that Guy Joosten every now and again falls into the traps of most modern directors: platitudes, orgies, singing in underwear etc etc. and funny that the confidant is usually unkind (Ismene to Orasia, Alisa in Lucia, etc….). Musically, although not vibrant or energetic, Korneel Bernolet keeps it light, conducts with the right tempi, attention to fluidity and supports the singers well.

Aida: Direction Musicalea-Alain Altinoglu , Mise En Scène-Stathis Livathinos, Décors-Alexander Polzin, Costumes-Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, Éclairages-Alekos Anastasiou, Chorégraphie-Otto Pichler, Chef Des Chœurs-Martino Faggiani, Aida-Monica Zanettin, Radamès-Gaston Rivero, Amneris-Ksenia Dudnikova, Amonasro-Giovanni Meoni, Ramfis-Mika Kares, Il Re-Enrico Iori, Una Sacerdotessa-Tamara Banjesevic, Un Messaggero-Julian Hubbard, 17/5/17, Picture from the Facebook page of DeMunt/LaMonnaie

Orpheus: Dirigent-Korneel Bernolet, Regie-Guy Joosten, Decor, kostuums en licht-Roel Van Berckelaer, Orasia-Morgane Heyse, Orpheus-Artur Rozek, Eurydice-Julie Gebhart, Eurimides-Sylvie Bedouelle, Ismene-Louise Kuyvenhoven, Pluto-Dominic Kraemer, Cephisa-Ana Sofia Ventura,  Ascalax-Boris Kondov, 16/5/17

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?)

 

Daphne at The Munt/La Monnaie

c1 (2)I tend to avoid the filth of downtown Brussels but during an opera evening one can’t. And being on the square of the Munt is like being in a dump: homeless people roaming through the garbage, broken glass, plastic trash (used bags, wraps, bottles), newspapers, people spitting on the floor, a whiff of urine. The square itself was refurbished less than a year ago in a perfect example of a city’s sterilization. Worst of all is the 70’s office building across the square on what was once a beautiful example of old-Brussels. It must have given, however, the idea of the huge staircase that dominated the scene in Guy Joosten’s interpetation of Daphne. Within this enormous staircase (one set of stairs up to half the height of the stage, the other splitting in two up to the very top) was an equally huge tree, one could only see the immense stem and its branches. it seemed like the over-winning of nature over modern civilization, or, worse, the other way round. Go figure. The setting is Wall-Street-like, with Daphne fighting against a herd of ipod-carrying businessmen. The overall sight was quite impressive but the idea was not reasoned out.  And this is what bothers me with mediocre stage directors: an idea thrown in with very little or no dramatic continuity. And very quickly boredom comes up, interrupted only by several silly ideas (the satyr-looking guests on stilts with a strap-on dildos and Daphne’s mother as a drunk air hostess-lookalike, just to mention two). The singers however deliver a very good performance. Sally Matthews doesn’t charm with the timbre but is a very convincing Daphne. Eric Cutler is a heroic-sounding Apollo, Peter Lodahl and Iain Paterson fittingly interpret Leukippos and Peneios. I also likeed Birgit Remmert’s low notes. Tineke van Ingelgem and Maria Fiselier convincingly deliver their parts of the two maids. Lothar Koenigs’ directorial intentions are admirable but not followed by the orchestra which plays with a limited dynamic range.

The 2014/2015 season of De Munt/La Monnaie

The-Homer-Scream-by-meowzaAh, for crying out loud!! The new season of De Munt/La monnaie 2014/2015 is out….. Are they serious???? How does he manage, Peter de Caluwe, to mess up a whole season? I mean… there are always one or two, maybe three things one doesn’t really like in a whole opera season.
1) But although there are a few interesting things, novelties, like Fierrabras and Paisiello’s Barbiere, they are in concert-version. GREAT!!
2) Two World premieres: (Shell Shock and Penthesilea). TWO??Really?? REALLY??? (Shell shock is also listed in the Dance section….so….is it both…Two for the price of one??)
3) Daphne is interesting also, a rarely played opera (which, coincidentally I just saw in Frankfurt), but it is directed by Guy Joosten, who fucked up Lucrezia Borgia with so much trash I wished THAT one was in concert version. Equally bad were Lucia in Brussels a Barbiere in Ghent and a Freischütz in Liege. IMHO
4) Two more 20th century opera’s (Frank Martin and Rachmaninov) out of 9 (not counting the concert versions) result in almost 50%. You GOTTA be kidding me!
5) What is left are two Haendel. Not one Haendel and one Vivaldi slash Monteverdi slash Lully slash Rameau slash Treatta No, no…TWO Haendel and
6) A Don Giovanni, which, if directed by Morlot with equal passion as Cosi and Clemenza, I will leave before the first interval. Door slamming!!
7) Remains a Verdi (Ballo in maschera) directed by Rizzi and Fura dels Baus, which might be quite interesting. But take a good soprano, the mezzo, a fine tenor and the base and they could have mounted Roberto Devereux with the same director. I mean, how many times in a row will we be hearing Verdi in an opera season?
Sorry Mr De Caluwe, with a program like this I will not be renewing my subscription. I will come and see them, sure. But with the least costly places…in case (….) I wanna leave at the interval.