A new view on Die Zauberflöte @ Gent

34A0339How many Zauberflöte can one watch without start to be bored? I mean…the  priggish Sarastro is unbearable, the writing of the libretto awful with much racism and sexism, the horrible duet for the two priests etc etc etc etc… So well done David Hermann in giving the story a completely new interpretation. This was not without a proper tweak at the libretto, but OK….the horrible duet of the priests stayed horrible, but it was the first Zauberflöte (after my first and the Kosky one), where I did not leave somewhere before said duet.

diezauberflote-03-mg-4839-cannemieaugustijns-webExcept for the opening scene, which looks a bit post-apocalyptic and where the three ladies are constantly in contact with each other, moving like a menacing blob, the sets bring us to what looks like rural America, a small house in the prairie (I guess where people are held hostage and tortured). Sarastro is the ruthless, misogynistic leader who is into taxidermy, abusive of Pamina, and heartlessly kills the Queen and the ladies at the end. Papagena is a handicapped hostage in wheelchair and Papageno is an ape-like creature that crutches when frightened and hisses like a cat when he is scared. He brings hunted birds to the three ladies at the beginning. The ladies don’t offer a flute and glockenspiel to Tamino and Papageno, but a revolver and gas bombs, the latter of which Papageno uses to knock out Monostatos. The opera ends with Sarastro smoking a cigar on his patio (after killing the Queen and the ladies); Pamina and Tamino come back and shoot him dead, presumably ending the cycle of horror. It’s one of these staging which reading would have made me think it’s a bad Regietheater. Regietheater it is, but a refreshing interpretation well thought through. The sets are beautifully designed, alternate at almost every scene and the changes are swift.

34A0571The orchestra gave a beautiful performance, playing clear and transparently with Jan Schweiger at its head, who made me fear the worst with the too solemnly played opening bars, but who excellently conducted with vibrant dynamism. Tarver has a hard time to find delicacy in the higher notes, Miss Sabirova was not completely fluid with a barely touched f in O zittre nicht, Josef Wagner also a bit hefty as Papageno, but overall the cast was very good. Lore Binon interpreted a beautifully sung, pure and clear-voiced Pamina. I’d love to hear more of her. Sarastro doesn’t seem to have secrets for Ante Jerkunica, who displays an attractive and warm timbre, especially in the deepest register, the best Sarastro I’ve ever heard.

Muzikale leiding-Jan Schweiger, Regie-David Hermann, Décor, Kostuums-Christof Hetzer, Belichting-Bernd Purkrabek, Dramaturgie-Luc Joosten, Sarastro-Ante Jerkunica, Koningin van de nacht-Hulkar Sabirova, Tamino-Kenneth Tarver, Pamina-Lore Binon, Papageno-Josef Wagner, Papagena-Morgane Heyse, Monostatos-Michael J. Scott, Erste Dame-Hanne Roos, Zweite Dame-Tineke Van Ingelgem, Dritte Dame-Raehann Bryce-Davis, Sprecher-Evgeny Solodovnikov, Priester/Geharnischter-Evgeny Solodovnikov, Priester/Geharnischter –Stephan Adriaens, Knaben-Katrijn Van Cauwenberghe, Merel De Coorde, Giulia Schoofs

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An 5-star Otello (Rossini) @ Flemish Opera/Vlaamse Opera in Ghent

What the major opera house in Belgium doesn’t dare to play, is bravely tackled by the two other two opera houses, the Opéra Liege and the Flemish Opera with its two houses in Antwerp and Gent. So while the money is ehm….spent in Brussels with the more conventional Italians with alternating success, Gent and Liege offer the possibility to broaden ones musical horizon with Rossini serio, rare Donizetti, Bellini etc. (Sidebar: in Brussels I saw the stupidest Trovatore by Tcherniakov…where the main characters tell each other the events which happened years earlier……Do me the favour, Mr de Caluwe!!! I suggest you use the same setting for all your future opera’s……… what better idea than having all characters telling each other the plot? with a setting that you can recycle for Tosca, Hoffmann, Norma, Carmen, Tristan, Zauberflöte……..)

otello2Rossini’s Otello presented in Gent is the one Leiser and Caurier created for the Opernhaus in Zürich and staged with Osborn, Camarena and Bartoli. This setting is quite good in mixing dramatic with more lyrical moments, and the portrayals of the different characters is well balanced also, from Desdemona’s disobedience and independence to Otello’s lost trust and desperation. I particularly like act 2, (where we see the moor Otello, who, although a respected military man, still does not deserve more than to hang out in a shady bar, fighting with racial prejudices) or the willow song, where Desdemona thinks of happier times listening to the harp intro from an old record player.

Musically the performance is way above average from what one would expect from a provincial theatre. And although the orchestra starts the overture awfully (with the violin accompanying the oboe solo playing the descending motives as eights instead of triplets of sixteenths ) the overall rendition is correct and the orchestra accompanies with precision a difficult but colourful score (Rossini had to shorten the horn solo to Desdemomas’s entrance at its Neapolitan premiere as even the horn player of the San Carlo deemed it too difficult). The orchestra, prepared by Alberto Zedda, is led through the sublime music by Ryuichiro Sonoda.

otello1Also the voices offer great pleasure. Otello is the marvelous Gregory Kunde. And although not equally smooth and mellow in all registers (at 60!), he renders the moor wonderfully expressive as a man driven by determined desperation. Kunde sang the same role in a concert version in Brussels in 2012. But in Brussels the approach to the character was distant, cold and unemotional, even with a Desdemona like Anna Caterina Antonacci (equally distant). In Ghent I was bolted to my chair. From the entrance Kunde was magnetic in his interpretation, in the ringing top notes and in the touching rendering of the wretched husband (yes, in Rossini’s Otello they are already married!)
The tender Rodrigo is interpreted by Maxim Mironov with a precise and flexible voice. “Che ascolto” is very touching and sung with clear diction. Desdemona is Carmen Romeu whom I never heard before. But i was positively impressed. Romeu mastered the monster role with panache and expression, her voice has an interesting timbre and the coloratura is precise. All other roles are adequately cast with a tender and full-body voiced Emilia (Raffaella Lupinacci), Josef Wagner as Elmiro, Robert McPherson as Iago, the gondolier by Stephan Adriaens and the doge by Maarten Heirman, all contributed to a close to perfection performance. I can only hope for more Rossini, especially the opere serie, into which Rossini poured his most inspired music.

Musical direction-Ryuichiro Sonoda, Director-Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Set design-Christian Fenouillat, Costumes-Agostino Cavalca, Lighting-Christophe Forey, Otello-Gregory Kunde, Desdemona-Carmen Romeu, Elmiro-Josef Wagner, Rodrigo-Maxim Mironov, Iago-Robert McPherson, Emilia-Raffaella Lupinacci, il doge-Maarten Heirman, un gondoliere-Stephan Adriaens, Gent, 7-3-2014