Le Comte Ory @ Liège

Before Rossini’s last opera Guillaume Tell, a project came up which intended to re-use the music of Il Viaggio a Reims. This latter opera was written exclusively for the coronation of Charles X and was staged only a limited number of times. Le Comte Ory, the second last opera by Rossini, was staged with success from 1828 to the mid-19th century for approx. 400 times. Liege’s staging is a coproduction with the Opera Comique which had a set of very good singers. Antonino Siragusa, except for his dynamic  poverty, has a luminous voice which he combines with a solar appearance, easy coloratura, excellent musicality and an instinctive acting. A pleasure to see and hear him. Jodie Devos has a beautiful voice, her timbre velvety and soft, her high and top notes clear, her embellishments delicate and light. The entrance cavatina was sung beautifully with the sensual voice matching the character’s melancholy. The cabaletta was not as sparkling though, partially due to the tempi, partially due to dubious variations. José Maria Lo Monaco makes for a good Isolier, and the two basses Laurent Kubla and Enrico Marabelli sing their respective arias with great taste.

The setting is not the one originally conceived (the time of the crusades), Podalydès puts it around the time of the opera’s composition, so that religious puritanism plays a bigger role. The stage design is simple with the interior of a church in Act 1 and the walls of the castle in Act 2. But there is basically very little action if not for the traditional singers’ movements. The (very) rare gags serve only their own purpose, there is no concept except for the temporally shifted setting. The opera works because the libretto is well written, but the staging is a but dull and clearly the singers don’t always know how to move. What to say about the musical direction of Jordi Bernacér. The tempi are extremely slow. So slow I rarely heard any opera directed (maybe Otello by Ferro in Naples, where I was equally bored). The effect is of a big long boring musical piece after another. The aria of the governor seemed endless. None of the pieces had any energy any vigour; the music sounded repetitive and tedious. This production didn’t do Rossini any justice, it’s nothing like Rossini should sound like.

Direction Musicale-Jordi Bernàcer, Mise En Scène-Denis Podalydès, Décors-Eric Ruf, Costumes-Christian Lacroix, Lumières-Stéphanie Daniel, Le Comte Ory-Antonino Siragusa, La Comtesse Adèle-Jodie Devos, Isolier-Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Raimbaud-Enrico Marabelli, Le Gouverneur-Laurent Kubla, Dame Ragonde-Alexise Yerna, Alice-Julie Mossay, Mainfroid-Stefano De Rosa, Gérard-Xavier Petithan, 02/01/19, photo by https://www.operaliege.be/spectacle/le-comte-ory/

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Le timbre d’argent @ Opéra Comique

Another rarity is presented yet again by the very courageous Opera Comique. Le timbre d’argent, Saint-Saens first ever composed opera, created in 1865…but for various reasons not performed until 1877. The last revision by the composer (chosen for the present revival) was performed in Brussels in 1904. Overall I was extremely happy to hear such an operatic rarity and a few minor glitches in the libretto (banally moralistic in christian sauce) the music (has some drops in tension and lacks some lyricism probably due to the fledging opera-composer) or the setting (a bit cheap looking) did not lessen the high quality of the performance.

The story evolves around the painter Conrad loved by Hélène but not loved in return. Conrad is poor, very sick and in love with the dancer Fiammetta. The devilish doctor visits him while Hélène and her sister Rosa, who is about to marry Bénédict, pray to the virgin for his recovery. The doctor returns as the devil, gives Conrad a silver bell which, when struck, will give him Fiammetta’s love and richness at the cost of a death. Throughout the  plot, the devil tempts Conrad to strike the bell for money, the first death is Hélène’s father, the second Bénédict who dies during the wedding ceremony. At the end Conrad breaks the bell which breaks the spell and he wakes up to Hélène  and Rosa singing the beginning’s prayer, and he realizes that all was dream. General praise to God, hallelujah and curtain

The conductor François-xavier Roth  was almost excellent, from the very bubbly overture throughout the entire score (maybe a bit more rubato would have underlined some crucial parts of the score), marvellous in displaying the richness of Saint-Saens orchestration and colours.  Hélène Guilmette and Tassis Chrystoyannis were very good as Hélène and the devilish Spiridion. A pity that Edgaras Montvidas’ tenor had no Hoffmannesque ringing top notes but rather hard and dry ones, reached with some strain. Excellent the Bénédict of Yu Shao and Jodie Devos’ Rosa. Such a pity that the good voices of Hélène, Rosa and Bénedict received such short roles at the cost of Fiammetta, a mute dancer’s role. The setting department was clearly on a budget, but nonetheless it was effective enough in some scenes although a higher regard to the mysterious and devilish would have been much appreciated and I could have done without some of the magic tricks. All in all a highly satisfying and enjoyable rediscovery.

Direction musicale François-Xavier Roth, Mise en scène Guillaumes Vincent, Décors-James Brandily, Création video-Baptist Klein, Costumes-Fanny Brouste, Lumières-Kelig Le Bars, Chorégraphie-Herman Diephuis, Effets magiques-Benoît Dattez, Circe/Fiammetta-Raphaelle Delaunay, Conrad Edgaras-Montvidas, Hélène-Hélène Guilmette, Spiridion-Tassis Chrystoyannis, Bénédict-Yu Shao, Rosa-Jodie Devos, 11 juin 2017, pictures Pierre Grosbois.