Béatrice et Bénédicte @ Brussels

Anne-Catherine Gillet (Héro), Lionel Lhote (Somarone), Chœurs de la Monnaie/Koor van de Munt, Etienne Dupuis (Claudio)

Another rarity was offered this season by the Monnaie/Munt. The seldomly performed Béatrice et Benedicte by Berlioz. Played successfully for the first time in Baden Baden in 1862 under the composer’s baton, it is based on Shakespear’s Much Ado About Nothing, though heavily pruned and with the addition of one character. Still, Berlioz created a wonderfully melodious, almost bel-canto-style, though still very French opera. A master in orchestration, Berlioz used a smaller orchestra than he usually used, which benefits the opera tremendously, resulting in a flexible, spirited, and often sensual score.
The all-French-speaking cast is certainly beneficial for a comic opera which contains so much spoken dialogue. Having said that, the opera was given in the tent set up at Tour & Taxis, which is worse than the Cirque Royal. The sound expands too much inside, and from outside one could hear helicopters flying, ambulances passing and at certain points the rain lashed so heavily one could barely hear what was said or sung on stage. All dynamics were heavily reduced, a piano sounded like pianissimo.

Intermezzo-Gillet-Beatrice-et-Benedict-Monnaie-Bruxelles-750x350Nevertheless, I enjoyed the production a lot. the conductors Jeremy Rohrer and Samuel Jean are excellent in depicting all the different atmospheres, they are forceful and lively, supple and gentle. The director Richard Brunel creates one fixed setting which is a bit cold to be Sicily, nevertheless it changes its aspect thanks to various props being moved around. The characters are very well directed, single ones ore whole masses move on stage with simplicity and naturalness. To all that Brunel added a few lovely ideas such as Héro slowly hovering in on her wedding chorus, just to mention one.

The main singers were also excellent; I would like to mention the ladies. Anne-Catherine Gillet and Sophie Karthäuser were both delicate Héro, excellent pronunciation, varied phrasing, voice never forced. Excellent both Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Michèle Losier as Béatrice, as well as Eve-Maud Hubeaux as Ursule, which make the Nocturne duet and the terzett in act II marvellous pieces. Sebastien Droy as Bénédict (replacing a sick Julien Dran) was not a powerful Bénédict with a modest top. He had a more delicate approach, nonetheless sang and acted well. The rest of the cast went rather unnoticed.

Conductor-Jérémie Rhorer, Direction-Richard Brunel, Decors-Anouk Dell’Aiera, Costumes-Kostuums-Claire Risterucci, Lights-Belichting-Laurent Castaingt, Dond Pedro-Frederic Caton, Claudio-Etienne Dupuis, Bénédict-Sébastien Droy, Don Juan-Sébastien Dutrieux, Léonato-Pierre Barrat, Héro-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Béatrice-Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Samarone-Lionel Lhote, Ursule-Eve-Maud Hubeaux (30/3/16), Conductor-Samuel Jean, Héro-Sophie Karthäuser, Béatrice-Michèle Losier (06/04/16)

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Berlioz – Requiem @ Bozar

MI0001454913“Following my usual suspicion, I stayed behind Habeneck and, turning my back towards him, I watched the group of timpanists, which he could not see, the moment approaching when they would all take part in the piece. There are perhaps a thousand bars in my Requiem. But precisely during the one I just mentioned, the one where the movement expands, the one in which the brass instruments launch their terrible fanfare, on the main bar in which the action of the conductor is absolutely essential, Habeneck lowers his conducting stick, quietly takes his snuff box and started to take a pinch of snuff. I always had an eye on him; at that moment I quickly turn around, rush in front of him, I extend my arm and I mark the four main tempi of the new movement. The orchestras follow me, everything is in order, I conduct the piece to the end, with the effect that I had hoped for. When, with the last words of the choir, Habeneck sees the Tuba mirum rescued “What a cold blood’ he said, “without you we would have been lost!” – Yes, I know, I replied, staring at him. I did not add a word … Did he do it on purpose? … Is it possible that this man, in agreement with Mr. XX., who hated me, and friends of Cherubini, would dare to meditate and attempt to commit such a low villainy? … I do not dare to think … But I do not doubt it. God forgive me if I insult him”

This was the account that Berlioz gave in his Memoires when his Requiem was first performed. …”terrible fanfare” he mentions…. but there was no such thing in the Bozar. Especially in the tuba mirum I expect the heaven to open, the earth to part, the blinds to see, the toupets to fly and the elderly to hear. No such thing. In fact had I not read the score, I would not have known that there are 4 extra brass bands, as I did not properly hear them. I barely did in fact and only because they were slightly out of sync. Maybe the orchestral forces should have followed Berlioz’ advise: On top of the 400 musicians that are required “if space permits one can double or triple the vocal mass and increase the orchestral mass proportionally”. Of the 400 required I counted around 200 which one can argue whether they were able to give the requested effect.

But except for the fact that the Requiem was a bit too well-behaved, everybody involved was excellent. The chorus powerful, the orchestra adequate. The tenor Steve Davislim had audible difficulties with the extreme top notes but he has the benefit of replacing his colleague last minute. The music was sublime. It is always a joy to hear such wonderful pieces as the Rex tremendae, the Lacrimosa and the Dies irae and I am pleased that the La Monnaie/De munt put this work on the program.

Music direction-Alain Altinoglu, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Tenor-Steve Davislim, Orchestra-De Munt Symphony Orchestra, Chorus-De Munt, De Munt Academy, Vlaams Radio Koor

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

Terry Gilliam’s Benvenuto Cellini in Amsterdam

celliniI assisted at a wonderful performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Amsterdam. Personally I was attracted by the direction of Terry Gilliam and John Osborne as Cellini. The sets, the costumes, the choreography and the acting are an exuberant whirl of ideas, energetic and humorous, a wink to Monty Python and expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in black and white, with dooming video projections in the background. It is mainly thanks to Gilliam’s direction that this opera, considered difficult, is able to enthuse, as it did with the Amsterdam audience.

The singers were in superb shape, starting from Teresa, Benvenuto and Fieramosca. I have a predilection for John Osborn in almost everything he sings, the delicate lyrical pages, the heroic energy and the range. Mariangela Sicilia was a delightful surprise, she delivers a charming Teresa with a nice timbre and a beautiful voice. Naouri and all the rest of the cast are well chosen and deliver outstanding (or almost) performances. The thing I liked less was the direction of Mark Elder who, I found, directed on the slow side without the bite that the score requires. The chorus and the orchestra sang and played very well.

Conductor-Sir Mark Elder, direction-Terry Gilliam, choreography-Leah Hausman, decor-Terry Gilliam and Aaron Marsden, costumes-Katrina Lindsay, lighting-Paule Constable, Video-Finn Ross, Benvenuto Cellini-John Osborn, Giacomo Balducci-Maurizio Muraro, Fieramosca-Laurent Naouri, Le Pape Clement VII-Orlin Anastassov, Francesco-Nicky Spence, Bernardino-Scott Conner, Pompeo-André Morsch, Le Cabaretier-Marcel Beekman, Teresa-Mariangela Sicilia, Ascanio-Michèle Losier

 

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

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

Bozar in Brussels – Paisiello and Berlioz

What De Munt/La Monnaie doesn’t offer in terms of variety this year (50% is 20th century music and the remaining 50% are the omnipresent Haendel, Mozart and Verdi, though still one interesting Fierrabras – albeit in concert version) was given at the Bozar with only a couple of days from each other, organized by the Klarafestival.

IMG_1664Il barbiere di Siviglia. Not the well-known rossinian version, but Giovanni Paisiello’s, composed over 30 years earlier for the court of Saint Petersburg. Petrosellini’s libretto (which was set to music also by Francesco Morlacchi) is almost equal to Cesare Sterbini’s libretto for Rossini, and I was amused when I heard the same scenes, and in some cases the  exact same words. Paisiello’s genius doesn’t show as much in the Barbiere as it does in other works like Nina or Fedra. But the music is delightful, with heights in the Pace e gioia ensemble, Rosina’s music lesson, Bartolo’s Vuoi tu Rosina. The singers also follow stage directions and act the respective roles so the evening is almost as enjoyable as a staged opera. The cast rests on Pietro Spagnoli’s shoulder who’s rendition of Bartolo is perfect: excellent diction, wonderful singing technique, versatile actor. The rest of the cast are solid professionals with Mari Erismoen as Rosina, André Schuen as Figaro and Fulvio Bettini as Don Basilio. I didn’t enjoy Topi Lehtipuu very much, whose voice I found weightless and dry. Renee Jacobs gives a personal but lively and sparkling rendition of the score making it a highly enjoyable evening.

 

IMG_1691The other vocal work given at Bozar only a couple of days later is Romeo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz. It is described as a symphonie dramatique and includes 3 soloists and a choire and is regarded as one of Berlioz most admirable works. Richard Wagner was present at the premiere on 24 November 1839 and it must have made an impression on him if 20 years later he sent Berlioz the printed version of his Tristan and Isolde with the inscription Au grand et cher auteur de Roméo et Juliette, L’auteur reconnaissant de Tristan et Isolde.

Isabelle Druet’s and Jean-François Borras’ roles are rather short and confined to the beginning and neither have particularly marked my mind. Jerome Varnier’s voice was a bit absent and I felt it didn’t give the big recitative and aria of père Laurence the gravity it needed. François-Xavier Roth, who directed an interesting Christophe Colombe (by Félicien David) in Gent which I much enjoyed, chiseld the wide variety of emotions perfectly, from the whirling “fête” to the sweet and delicate love duet (Romeo and Juliet are impersonated by the orchestra) and the stirring final “serment”

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