Pia de Tolomei & Fra Diavolo – Pisa & Rome

Verdi-centered fans told me they heard so much Verdi in Donizetti’s Pia di Tolomei, but Pia was composed 3 years before Verdi even started composing operas. Nonetheless it contains some beautiful music and in the recent past Pia de Tolomei got already some attention: staged several times at the end of the 60’s, beginning of the 70’s, under the vibrant direction of Rigacci (with a wonderfully sympathetic Lella Cuberli), in 2005 la Fenice presented it with Patrizia Ciofi, the Opera Rara label recorded it, and now in Pisa it sees the light again. It was however a Pia de Tolomei without Pia. The main singer started badly with an entrance aria that revealed vocal problems as soon as the voice had to rise even a slight bit. No legato, wobbly line, and one awfully squeaked top note did the rest. Not to talk about the interpretation, which was totally absent in the desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get at least the notes right. The rest of the cast was quite enjoyable. Marina Comparato knows how to sing, one could enjoy the beautiful lower register, in the cavatine more than in the cabaletta. Her contribution to the beautiful duet with Pia was touching. The tenor was a lovely surprise: Giulio Pelligra in the role of Ghino mastered the difficult leaps with apparent ease and Valdis Jansons as Nello was especially moving in Lei perduta in core ascondo, where he utters his hate for Pia…but still loves her. The music is flowing brightly under the baton of Christopher Franklin while the setting and lights are lovely. Questionable some of the stage directions by Andrea Cigni.

A charming Fra Diavolo was given in Rome. The points of interest were for me John Osborne as Fra Diavolo and Barberio-Corsetti’s stage settings. The latter’s love for video projections are known, and he mixes them masterfully with the scenery which resulted in a sparkly and light interpretation. Musically the opera is very French with couplets and songs typical for French light opera. When Fra Diavolo was translated into Italian for the Italian stages, Auber composed new arias for the main characters in a more Italian style in order to show off their vocal qualities and it was in the Italian translation that the opera was most successful.  The cast reunited for the Roman staging was very satisfying, and quite enjoyable were the crystal clear voiced Anna Maria Sarra, the funny Sonia Ganassi as Lady Pamela, Giorgio Misseri was a touching Lorenzo and John Osborne as Fra Diavolo. Rory MacDonald conducted swiftly although I found he sometimes covered the voices.

Pia de Tolomei: Pia-Francesca Tiburzi, Ghino degli Armieri-Giulio Pelligra, Nello della Pietra-Valdis Jansons, Rodrigo-Marina Comparato, Piero, eremita-Andrea Comelli, Ubaldo, servitore di Nello-Christian Collia, Bice-Silvia Regazzo, Lamberto-Claudio Mannino, Custode-Nicola Vocaturo, direttore-Christopher Franklin, regia-Andrea Cigni, scene-Dario Gessati, costumi-Tommaso Lagattolla, luci-Fiammetta Baldiserri, 14/10/17, foto: http://www.teatrodelgiglio.it. Fra Diavolo: Direttore-Rory MacDonald, Regia-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Scene-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti e Massimo Troncanetti, Costumi-Francesco Esposito, Video-Igor Renzetti, Alessandra Solimene, Lorenzo Bruno, Coreografia-Roberto Zappalà, Luci-Marco Giusti, Fra Diavolo-John Osborn, Lord Rocburg-Roberto De Candia, Lady Pamela-Sonia Ganassi, Lorenzo-Giorgio Misseri, Matteo-Alessio Verna, ZerlinaAnna Maria Sarra, Giacomo-Jean Luc Ballestra, Beppo-Nicola Pamio, 15/10/17, foto: http://www.operaroma.it/

 

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Le prophète @ Toulouse

For and introduction to Le prophète see the article about the Essen production.

It’s true that nowadays it is very difficult to find the money to stage an opera in a “grand” manner the way it was supposed to surprise and amaze the audience in the past (starting with the machinery of the 18th century). And in Toulouse the locations only hinted at the ones required in the libretto and one had to use a bit of imagination (the wheat field, Jean’s abode, the church) and also the final explosion was a bit minimal. But if I compare this one with the Essen staging, then this was quite grand altogether, though a bit conventional. But the masses moved, the singers acted, the costumes were nice, the lighting adequate…I was quite happy.

 

Claus Peter Flor didn’t have the punch of Carella but accompanied well nonetheless albeit a bit unimaginative. There were also considerable and objectionalbe cuts such as Jean’s second act aria. Excellent both the orchestra and the chorus.

Nothing more to add to John Osborn’s singing I didn’t already say. His interpretation is not of an insolent, audacious Jean, rather a Jean victim of circumstances, singing with a soft and flexible voice. Excellent the two female characters. Sofia Fomina has a full, strong, lyrical soprano voice with a lush centre and an easy top. Kate Aldrich was an immense surprise. I always heard her in mezzo roles and was a bit skeptic as of whether she could manage the descends to the lowest notes the role required. But it was a first rate performance with resounding top notes fluid coloratura (in Fides’ last aria) and a mesmerizing stage presence.

direction musicale-Claus Peter Flor, mise en scène-Stefano Vizioli, décors et costumes -Alessandro Ciammarughi, lumières -Guido Petzold, mouvements chorégraphiques -Pierluigi Vanelli, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Kate Aldrich, Berthe -Sofia Fomina, Jonas -Mikeldi Atxalandabaso, Mathisen -Thomas Dear, Zacharie -Dimitry Ivashchenko, Le Comte d’Oberthal-Leonardo Estévez. 30th June, 17, pictures by Patrice Nin.

Meyerbeer’s Le prophète – Essen

Le prophète had its premiere in Paris in April 1849 and it was another immense success after Robert le Diable and Les Huguenots. Again Meyerbeer was able to combine all the parameters of the grand opéra such as a historic events, interpolations of personal conflicts, inclusion of ballets, rich instrumentation effects, alternation between crowd and solo scenes with lighting, spectacular costumes and scenic effects which all contribute to the grandeur of the staging. What makes Meyerbeer so special is the combination of musical languages: Meyerbeer was born in Germany, assimilated wonderfully the Italian style during his stay in Italy and acquired the French taste when he moved to Paris. Although not as “grand” as Les Huguenots, Le prophète still remains one of the most successfull operas at the time (comparable to a musical in our days), staged for hundreds and hundreds of times in all the major European cities until the beginning of the 20th century and stayed in oblivion for years only because it required great voices, a conductor able to keep the suspense for several hours and singers able to sustain the huge demand of the score. A compliment therefore to the opera houses who stage Meyerbeer operas. The plot of Le prophète evolves around John of Leiden, who moved to Münster, became the leader of  Anabaptists, held the city against the pope for over a year until he was captured in 1535, tortured and executed. Against this historic drama develops the relationship of John of Leiden (Jean de Leyde) with Berthe, his beloved and Fidès, his mother.

I thougth the Tcherniakov Trovatore in Brussels was absolute nonesense, but at least the decor was well designed. For Le prophète in Essen we have a rotating stage divided in three compartments. They are fully grey, including the parting walls, and most of the time rather empty. In Act I there is a huge table and in Act II the choir dances between crates stapled on pallets while Jean waits beers. Except Jean’s room (matras on the floor) and a few props, there is not much more. But empty can work if there is a director who knows how to direct, which in this case we clearly lacked. The problem, I think, is that Vincent Boussard has no clue whatsover what to do with all the people on stage: The choir was motionless most of the time. Which, if we consider the importance of the masses in grand opera is astounding, to say the least. During the sermon of the anabaptists  in Act I (“Ad nos”….), Berthe and Fides are chatting away as if exchanging recipes (sic…). During Berthe’s romance (Un jour dans les flots de la Meuse) Berthe sings standing on the table with Oberthal playing with her hair (because he has her in his power????) and when Fides sings her pertichini, the tutu ballerina shushes her (!). Jean goes home to play his e-guitar, the same rock music-like pose he strikes at the end of Act III with the cross in his hands (dream of celebrity?? Please!!!). Jonas vomits on the floor just before Zacharie’s aria (!!!), during the dances Zacharie and the two ballerinas run after each other on the rotating stage, the ballerinas making confused movements with a knife and an iron in their hands (!!!), the hat of Zaccaria pops a mini firework during the Trio bouffe (!!!). And so on and so on and so on, one imbecility after the other. The costumes are between a not better defined end of the XXth century and gothic-like underground.

Luckily the musical part was much better. Fides is Marianne Cornetti. Cornetti has a good technique, her strong voice is projected well and equal in all registers. Her singing is a tad cautious but admirable. Seen the difficulty of the score, especially her Grande Air in Act V, the rendering was fabulous. And even the odd unfocussed note does not affect the overall perfomance. The Berthe of Lynette Tapia has little colours, is a bit nasal, and she lacks the weight to convincingly pull off the recitatives (especially important in Act V) but overall interprets an acceptable Berthe with a light top register. Beautiful the slow part of her duet with Fidès. John Osborne forges the voice to his will and is excellent in the lyrical and delicate as well as the passionate passages. The acuti sure and resounding, the voice powerful yet flexible, his French impeccable. I felt he was somewhat distant, something i never felt observed with Osborne before. Maybe caution (he will sing the same part in Toulouse in a month or so)? Karel Martin Ludvik is a bit short in the lower register but sings well, as do Albrecht Kludszuweit, Pierre Doyen, and Tijl Faveyts as the anabaptists. Carella was in dazzling shape. The tempi were perfect, the sound he was able to create with the excellent orchestra was scintillating with timbrical colours and dramatic tension, the sound had luminous fluidity  and was at the same time light  (the orchestra was transparent down to the timpani) and vigorous, accompanying the alternating sentiments with unequalled sensitivity. If we didn’t get the grand from the staging, it was Carella who delivered it.

 

Musikalische Leitung-Giuliano Carella, Inszenierung-Vincent Boussard, Bühne-Vincent Lemaire, Kostüme-Vincent Boussard, Elisabeth de Sauverzac, Licht-Guido Levi, Dramaturgie-Christian Schröder, Jean de Leyde-John Osborn, Fidès-Marianne Cornetti, Berthe-Lynette Tapia, Jonas-Albrecht Kludszuweit, Mathisen-Pierre Doyen,
Zacharie-Tijl Faveyts, Graf von Oberthal-Karel Martin Ludvik. 29th April 2017, Pictures from the site of the Aalto Theatre Essen.

200th birthday for Rossini’s Otello in Naples

49889-myimageRossini’s Otello was one of the most represented operas of the XIX century, it was written in Naples for some of the best singers of Italy. Isabella Colbran, soon to become Rossini’s wife, was famous for the big range of her voice as well as her actorial skills, depicting heroins “with real sentiment and great passion” as Spohr penned down when he heard her in Elisabetta. All operas that were composed for Isabella Colbran had long and elaborated scenes which allowed her to show off her dramatic skills. In fact, Rossini made his Otello an opera about Desdemona, frail in the first act, the second act is centered around her distress and excitement while the third act intensifies her personal tensions and emotions even more, bringing the opera to a tragic close. Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David were two famous tenors. David the flexible tenore contraltino, usually employed for the lovers’ roles, and Nozzari the baritonal tenor, usually the temperamental antagonist. For these voices he created most of his Neapolitan operas who are regarded as his masterpieces, such as La donna del lago, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Zelmira, Armida etc. It was in Neaples where Rossini could be the most creative, opening to new musical forms and modernizing the repertoire which was not possible elsewhere. Otello also finishes with a death on stage, something that was unthinkable in other parts of Italy (although just a few months before Carafa composed Gabriella di Vergy with tragic ending, which had a tremendous success).
Otello was performed first in the Teatro del Fondo (now Teatro Mercadante) on 4th December 1816 as the main Neapolitan stage, the Teatro di San Carlo, burnt down a year earlier but was moved to the San Carlo the 18th January 1817. Although the libretto was criticized for not being completely faithful to Shakespeare, the opera was a complete and utter triumph that pleased people all over Europe for decades, making Desdemona the warhorse for such primadonnas as Ronzi, Pasta, Malibran and Grisi, just to mention a few (I refer to another blog for an extensive article on Rossini s Desdemona http://ilcorrieredellagrisi.blogspot.be/2008/07/il-mito-della-primadonna-desdemona-di.html). The public and critics praised especially Isabella Colbran’s interpretation of Desdemona emphasizing that “….this unequaled actress inspires in all minds the most affectionate feelings of melancholy, and the strongest commotions of the tragic terror. Ms. Colbran, great in the so-called bravura pieces, most praised in the arpeggios and the rapid coloratura, has no equal in the tragic or declamatory music or in the difficult talent of expressiveness”. (Giornale delle due Sicilie). Well done therefore, the Teatro di San Carlo, which staged Otello exactly 200 years after its premiers and the excitement was great to hear it in exactly the same location.

untitledThe settings are beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti, who brings us from a ship interiour in the first act , to a big room with fire place in 16th century Venice in the Act II to Desdemona’s bedroom in the third act (well, a carpet with a few cushions…). Set, costumes and colours matched all very well. I was less enthusiastic about the direction. Amos Gitai wants to link Otello’s story with today’s immigrant issue and projects war landscapes, boats full of immigrants and the likes in regular frequency (3 or 4 times if i remember well). But these projections feel a bit like a “mistake”, in the sense that it felt like someone switched on the projections by accident, and then turned them off again so that the show could continue…very bizarre… And this is all the director could think of as the singers move very conventionally and the chorus is motionless.

49890-otello-gaia-petrone-nino-machaidze-c-luciano-romano-san-carlo-cropI enjoyed all singers of the first cast. Excellent Nino Machaidze, though with an harsh timbre and not always an exemplary legato, the voice moves effortlessly over the whole range and displays remarkable coloratura. Features that she shares with John Osborne, who i remember more audacious in other productions i saw him in, but nonetheless an exquisite Otello. Somewhat careful Dmitry Korchak as Jago but very very enjoyable nonetheless in a very difficult role. A bit short in the higher register Mirco Palazzi. Gaia Petrona had a nice warm timbre and convinced as Emilia. Of the second cast I particularly enjoyed Sergey Romanovsky, a tenor to watch carefully, as his rendering of Otello was very exciting with no problems neither in the baritonal register or in the coloratura with an agreeable timbre. I found Carmen Romeu not as convincing as when she sang the same role in Gent a few years back with a voice more tired and her usual issues with intonation. Rodrigo was a role too big, I felt, for Giorgio Misseri, who had slight issues in the runs as well as the high register.

Worst was the conductor though, who dragged everybody into an expensive nap. Nomen est omen I would say, for Ferro (it: iron). Except for strette, which get a bit speedier, he directs with crawling tempi, rolls over the score with flattening carelessness, without rubati, without emotion. Even when the singers accelerate a little because the music requires it, he beats tempi like he would stir polenta. With unclear beats the orchestra shows unclean cues. A disaster is the whole finale of act I where several different pieces follow one another with different tempi, different emotions. In theory! Because Ferro, with metronomic lethargy, beats the rhythm with no crescendo, rallentandi, accelerandi, oblivious to the whole armamentarium to create a pulsating and exciting sound. The recitativi are ever so boring as Ferro adds so many little pauses between the beats and everything seems endless. What a catastrophy!

Direttore-Gabriele Ferro, Regia-Amos Gitai, Regista collaborator-Mariano Bauduin, Scene-Dante Ferretti, Costumi-Gabriella Pescucci, Light Designer-Vincenzo Raponi, Videoproiezioni-Alessandro Papa, Otello-John Osborn/Sergey Romanovsky, Desdemona-Nino Machaidze/Carmen Romeu, Rodrigo-Dmitry Korchak/Giorgio Misseri, Jago-Juan Francisco Gatell, Emilia-Gaia Petrone, Elmiro-Mirco Palazzi, Il Doge-Nicola Pamio, Il gondolier, Lucio-Enrico Iviglia. Naples 2 and 3 december 2016.

 

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