La Vestale @ De Munt/La Monnaie

photo-k73o7rIt’s thanks to the uncharacteristic choice of this year’s Monnaie/Munt program, that we have the possibility to hear this wonderful opera by Gaspare Spontini, unfortunately now an almost forgotten composer. Spontini was born in Italy, got his first musical education in Naples, and grew artistically in Paris, where he wrote hugely popular operas such as La Vestale, Fernand Cortez and Olympie. Berlioz was a huge admirer, so much as to write a novel, where a suicide is committed after a performance of La Vestale as life had no further meaning after such an experience. I wouldn’t go as far, but indeed musically it is one of those masterpieces full of “choeurs magnifiques, ces prières nobles et touchantes, ce final inouï, ces récitatifs si larges, si mélodieusment vrais, ces chants tremblants d’émotions, si inspirés, si riches, cet orchestre puissant, pompeux et toujours dramatique, si tant d’élan sublimes…” (these magnificent choirs, these noble and touching prayers, these extraordinary finales, these ample melodic recitatives, this music trembling with emotions, so inspired, so rich, this powerful orchestra, pompous and always dramatic, this sublime impetus… – Berlioz in Le renovateur, 18 mai 1834).  The orchestral writing was indeed quite dramatic, vibrating, pulsating, colourful. It is clear, hearing Spontini’s music, why Berlioz was so fascinated by it, so far as to try to emulate it. And the orchestra is so well directed by Alessandro de Marchi, that it felt as an additional character. It was extremely well balanced although it follows a 18th century tradition of being placed looking towards the stage, with the violins closest and the brass, wood and percussion furthest from the stage. Under De Marchi the orchestra is light and powerful, dramatic and transparent.

photo-usq3ceLascascade as director was the complete opposite. The set so minimal that the first act starts with a complete empty stage and ends with a couple of tables on it. This affects the already difficult acustic of the Cirque Royal even more, with some of the voices sounding hollow. Overall the direction was not as bad as in Paris (reading reviews Lascascade probably reassessed his approach slightly), but there are very cringy situation, such as the running choir in Act I, the spinning choir in Act III, the reviving of the holy fire with a domestic gas lighter and the extremely cheap-looking sets.

V_31_copyThe voices again were overall excellent. Berlioz, in talking about the voice of Mme Branchu, the first Julia, describes it as “pleines et retentissantes, douces et fortes, capables de dominer les chœurs et l’orchestre, et pouvant s’éteindre jusqu’au murmure le plus affaibli de la passion timide, de la crainte ou de la rêverie….” I didn’t go to the theatre with Berlioz’ severe expectation. But I must say Alexandra Deshorties was amazing. Except for a slight strain in the top notes of the duet’s finale, Deshorties recited dramatically, her voice passion packed in recitative as much as in her arias, her phrasing exquisite, delivering a gripping performance. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo sounded a bit throaty and had a poor legato, but her rendering of the Grande Vestale was passionate. Yann Beuron was slightly short on top, but he also rendered an amazing Licinius, full of fiery passion and impetuous ardour. Very good also Julien Dran as Cinna and excellent Jean Teitgen as Pontife. Reserves on Lascascade, but otherwise a wonderful performance from singers, chorus and orchestra.

15/10/15: Muzikale leiding-Alessandro de Marchi, Regie-Eric Lascascade, Decors-Emmanuel Clolus, Kostuums-Marguerite Bordat, Belichting-Philippe Berthomé, Dramaturgie-Daria Lippi, Licinius-Yann Beuron, Cinna-Julien Dran, Le souverain Pontife-Jean Teitgen, Julia-Alexandra Deshorties, La Grande Vestale-Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo

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Guillaume Tell @ De Munt/La Monnaie

About two performances I did not report. One was the lovely Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, where Kovalevska, Lungu and Calleja all gave their best. Most memorable for me, however, was the enthusiasm of the American public, who carefully followed the text and reacted with laughter and clapping to show their appreciation and enthusiasm. It’s the kind of public we sometimes miss in Europe, where opera is sometimes just an occasion to be seen. Public is also more critic towards, well…almost everything (especially the Italians :-)), rather then just enjoy the performance. Of course this is sometimes due to a more traditional staging in the US than Europe…but here I open a whole new door….
I open a sidebar to praise and recommend the small and cosy Japanese restaurant Minca (536 E 5th St) where I had the best vegetarian Ramen I have ever tasted.

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Another beautiful show was Janacek’s Jenufa at De Munt in Brussels. The director Alvis Hermanis presented Act 1 of the action with the singers at the front of the stage, while at their back the stage was horizontally divided in half with traditional-style dancing at the bottom. On the top, beautiful colorful pictures link the story. Sometimes the screen would lift to show us the chorus, also in beautiful costumes. This is in opposite contrast to Act 2, where Hermanis transports us into a cold, communist-like setting of the 60’s. Although much criticised, this setting worked well for me, it kind of led me towards the drama which was about to unfold. This is not really my musical territory but I liked all the singers, among which i want to single out the Jenufa of Sally Matthews, the Laca of Charles Workman, Nick Spence as Steva and Carole Wilson as Kostelnicka. All together a wonderful experience. Mr Morlot, in an interview he claimed Jenufa is among his top 10 prefereed opera’s, was also more inspired than usual.

IMG-20140305-00322And now to Guillaume Tell. This is the 4th time I hear this opera in the last 11 months. But the music still amazes and moves me. The libretto is in its infancy of Grand Opéra and somehow a bit tedious. So let’s concentrate on the music and the performance at De Munt. Personally I think Evelino Pidò did a great job. He accompanied the singers well, gave them all the time to carve their interpretation, to develop their musical phrases. On rare occasions I would have wished the orchestra would follow Pidò’s gesticulation when he urged the orchestra to play piano (Sombre forêt), but otherwise the orchestra was in good shape with a delicate English horn, a sound brass, and a motivated timpani player, and accompanied well. The chorus was equally inspired and had an excellent diction, although I am always missing a bit of zest in the Italian repertoire in orchestra and chorus (and I consider Rossini as Italian also in his Paris years).
The bass Nicola Alaimo has not a big voice but rendered a very convincing interpretation of Guillaume and a moving Sois immobile. I found Michael Spyres in much better shape than in Wildbad. His diction is excellent and hearing him sing makes look Arnold’s part like a piece of cake. But the tessitura for the heroic Arnold, which Spyres interprets with vigor rather then boldness, lies very high, and Spyres resolves this with a cleverly used mixed voice.  I was less satisfied about Ermonela Jaho’s Mathilde. Nothing REALLY dramatically wrong vocally (although her coloratura in the Act III aria was very smudged), just her interpretation did not convince me. I particularly enjoyed Nora Gubisch’s luscious mezzo, Eerens’ clear soprano, Marco Spotti’s authoritative Walter Furst (in both the approach of the character and voice), the assertive and full-voiced Gesler of Vincent Le Texier and Julien Dran’s secure acuti of the fisherman Ruodi. Jean-Luc Balestra has a very strong and powerful, smooth voice, which, when skillfully used, can be adapted to a wide range of characters and emotions. I was less taken by Roberto Covatta’s Rodolphe.
All in all an evening above average with the Brussels public at its most typical, with no or hardly any applause during the opera (applause at the end of Arnold’s Act IV aria sounded like one applauds von Winter’s chamber music) with the a few “obbligato” bravo-shrieks.

La Boheme, The Metropolitan Opera NY, Conductor-Stefano Ranzani, Production-Franco Zeffirelli, Costumes-Peter J. Hall, Lighting-Gil Wechsler, Mimi-Maija Kovalevska, Musetta-Irina Lungu, Rodolfo-Joseph Calleja, Marcello-Alexy Markov, Schaunard-Joshua Hopkins, Colline-Christian van Horn, Benoit/Alcindoro-Donald Maxwell, Officer-Joseph Turi, Sergeant-Jason Hendrix, Parpignol-Daniel Clark Smith, 18/01/2014
Jenufa, De Munt Brussels, Muzikale Leiding-Ludovic Morlot, Regie en decor-Alvis Hermanis, Kostuums-Anna Watkins, Belichting-Gleb filshtinsky, Video-Ineta Sipunova, Jenufa-Sally Matthews, Laca Klemen-Charles Workman, Steva Buryja-Nick Spence, Kostelnicka Buryjovka-Carole Wilson, Starek-Ivan Ludlow, Rychtar-Alexander Vassiliev, Rychtarka-Mireille Capelle, Karolka-Hendrickje van Kerckhove, Pastuchnyna-Beata Murowska, Jano-Chloé Briot, Barena-Nathalie van de Voorde, Tetka-Maria Beretta, 24/01/2014
Guillaume Tell, De Munt, Music direction-Evelino Pidò, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Guillaume Tell-Nicola Alaimo, Hedwige-Nora Gubisch, Jemmy-Ilse Eerens, Mathilde-Ermonela Jaho, Arnold-Michael Spyres, Melchtal-Jean Teitgen, Gesler-Vincent Le Texier, Walter Furst-Marco Spotti, Ruodi-Julien Dran, Leuthold-Jean-Luc Balestra, Rodolphe-Roberto Covatta, 05/03/2014