Rossini Opera Festival 2017

The only person who really impressed me this year at the Viaggio a Reims was Roberto Lorenzi with a true bass voice and a fluid coloratura. Others were also enjoyable such as Oscar Oré as Belfiore or Noluvuyiso Mpofu as Cortese. Corinna and Folleville lacked substance and were a bit thin. Good all others. The conductor Michele Spotti was hugely applauded but I found his direction a bit flat, colours missing and not much variation. The mise en scene was the very effective one by Emilio Sagi and as always this Viaggio by the students of the Rossini Academy is a pleasure to watch, almost touching in the enthusiasm the young singers put into their singing and acting.

Torvaldo e Dorliska was this year’s most balanced opera I thought. Both the visual and musical side were satisfactory. The stage is nicely designed by Mario Martone, a forest behind a iron gate impress with the versatility it offers to move around it, and the delightful costumes by Ursula Patzak put us into the narrative immediately. Very well the young director Francesco Lanzillotta. He plays with colours, dynamics, and tempi to give the music the lightheartedness and tension it deserves. Salome Jicia, seemingly the Semiramide of the 2019 ROF, started on a wobbly foot with her first aria but her performance grew over time into a well performed Dorliska, though I felt her lower and middle register were not as strong as I remember them in Elena in last year’s Donna del lago. Very well Dmitry Korchak as her lover with a bright ringing voice he also had no difficulty to find his way through the rapid vocalisms, and the top notes were poured out with ease. Of Carlo Lepore I especially liked both the comic and tragic characterization of the character. Nicola Alaimo has not a huge voice but sings with great taste. Great fun was Filippo Fontana in his small aria Sopra quell’albero vedo un bel pero while I thought Raffaella Lupinacci was marvellous in the small role of Carlotta, her aria very well sung. Since i could not see the subtitles from where I was sitting, I especially appreciated how everybody put extra effort in the pronunciation as the plot was easily followed even without subtitles.

Le siège de Corinthe was a huge disappointment. The direction was given to La Fura dels Baus, who have created many memorable productions, but this opera did not tickle they inspiration at all I feel. They de-contextualized the plot, and the struggle for independence of the Greek from the Ottomans is interpreted by La Fura with the struggle for water. Although I get their point and can imagine the parallel somewhere, the show did not convince me in the least for the absence of a real storytelling, and boredom came up pretty soon. Furthermore 20L-water-bottles strung together into walls was visually not very pleasing. The costumes looked like there were paint stains on them. Furthermore, instead of the ballet one could read poems by Lord Byron projected on the wall. They certainly were congruent (and I rediscovered Byron’s touching “Darkness”) but it’s not a ballet, and the dancers came in only very late into the orchestral intermezzo. Abbado did not direct badly but I felt he was accompanying well (which is still a great achievement) rather than looking for exciting ways to interpret the newly edited score, and overall he was not able to lift the musical part above the abominable visual disaster. Nino Machaidze’s voice is well projected and she has a good enough coloratura, but she impressed me much more in her Neapolitan Desdemona. My issue with Luca Pisaroni is that he is not a real bass voice and that makes him lose credibility as Mahomet altogether, especially when he awkwardly tries to reach the lower notes. Much better the two tenors. Sergey Romanovsky has a beautiful and strong tenor voice and his last aria is sung very well. I hope he choses his repertoire well and doesn’t push too much on the top notes as it would be a pleasure to hear him in the Neapolitan Rossini in future. Convincing was also John Irvin as Pamyra’s father, in fact more convincing that the day before at the the 3 Tenors’ concert. Cecilia Molinari was barely audible but Carlo Cigni, Xabier Anduaga, and Omar-Iurii were all convincing.

La pietra del paragone’s conductor Daniele Rustioni is precies but not as light as needed. Margheri has the right physique du role for Count Asdrubale and a nice voice but he is somewhat flat in colours and a little clumsy with the agilities. Even worse Aya Wakizono, she is almost inaudible in the grave and center even with the orchestra playing pp. It is a disaster for a role that urges for the low notes of the voice. The coloratura is good but her pronunciation a bit scholarly and she really shines only when the variations bring her to the higher notes. Very good Paolo Bordogna who, though with a slight tight vibrato, is a great singer who’s Pacuvio does not find obstacles in the range, his agilities good and much fun on stage. Wonderful Davide Luciano, who I gladly saw again after the very positive impression he had made on me in the Inganno felice, an impression that was repeated: beautiful voice, sure in the agilities, excellent phrasing, but also a great actor who knows how to speak with body, gestures, and a simple look. The direction uses the whole setting of a modern house in a continuous flow of people that makes the plot glide fluidly, beautiful the lights and the costumes, the latter in colourful and elegant 70s style.

Il viaggio a Reims: Direzione-Michele Spotti, Elementi scenici-Emilio Sagi, Costumi-Pepa Ojanguren, Corinna-Beatriz De Sousa, Marchesa Melibea-Martiniana Antonie, Contessa di Folleville-Giorgia Paci, Madama Cortese-Noluvuyiso Mpofu, Cavalier Belfiore-Oscar Oré, Conte di Libenskof-Emmanuel Faraldo, Lord Sidney-Elcin Huseynov, Don Profondo-Roberto Lorenzi, Barone di Trombonok-Michael Borth, Don Alvaro-Francesco Auriemma, Don Prudenzio-Daniele Antonangeli, Don Luigino-Alasdair Kent, Delia–Francesca Tassinari, Maddalena-Valeria Girardello, Modestina-Marigona Qerkezi, Zefirino/Gelsomino-Ruzil Gatin, Antonio-Aleksandr Utkin, 16 agosto 2017, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Direttore-Francesco Lanzillotta, Regia-Mario Martone, Scene-Sergio Tramonti, Costumi-Ursula Patzak, Duca d’Ordow-Nicola Alaimo, Dorliska-Salome Jicia, Torvaldo-Dmitry Korchak, Giorgio-Carlo Lepore, Carlotta-Raffaella Lupinacci, Ormondo-Filippo Fontana, 18 agosto 2017, Le siège de Corinthe, Direttore-Roberto Abbado, Progetto Regia-La Fura dels Baus, Regia e Scene-Carlus Padrissa, Elementi scenografici e pittorici, Costumi e Video-Lita Cabellut, Mahomet II-Luca Pisaroni, Cléomène-John Irvin, Pamyra-Nino Machaidze, Néoclès-Sergey Romanovsky, Hiéros-Carlo Cigni, Adraste-Xabier Anduaga, Omar-Iurii Samoilov, Ismène-Cecilia Molinari, 19 agosto 2017, La pietra del paragone, Direttore-Daniele Rustioni, Regia, Scene e Costumi-Pier Luigi Pizzi, Marchesa Clarice-Aya Wakizono, Baronessa Aspasia-Aurora Faggioli, Donna Fulvia-Marina Monzó, Conte Asdrubale-Gianluca Margheri, Cavalier Giocondo-Maxim Mironov, Macrobio-Davide-Luciano, Pacuvio-Paolo Bordogna, Fabrizio-William Corrò, 20 agosto 2017. Pictures: Studio Amati Bacciardi/RossiniOperaFestival/www.Lafura.com

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Norma @ Covent Garden

29651088925_fbe5bf457bFelice Romani, the librettist of Norma, set the opera in the Gauls: a druid priestess, Norma,  and Pollione, a roman consul, were once in love and have two secret children. But Pollione now loves Adalgisa, a young priestess, which triggers Norma’s anger, her revelation of the forbidden love to the druids with subsequent burning at the stake. The story La Fura dels Baus tells is dominated by religious symbols, the curtain opens on hundreds of crosses, with all sort of religious characters including men dressed as ku klux klan, telling the story of how dominating religion can be and how trapped one can feel in it. The setting is modern (Pollione wears suit and tie) but the actions are faithful to the plot. What amazed me the most was the direction of the main characters; with every gesture, with every movement la Fura dels Baus displayed desperation, dreams, torment, hope. Vocally I was quite pleased. 29024857374_17da68e1e9Yoncheva was vocally very strong in her lower as much as her high register (only the very top was a bit harsh) and her coloratura very fluid, her voice bright and luminous. Ganassi was better than I hoped, although her pronunciation is incomprehensible as so often. Calleja has a generous voice but a very tight vibrato and his breath is very short which makes him break the lines often and he seems a bit detached from what he sings. Pappano directs energetically though sometimes a bit too loud. Flavio and Clotilde sang well, Oroveso I would have wished with more weight. A very gripping evening altogether.

Conductor-Antonio Pappano, Director-Àlex Ollé, Associate director-Valentina Carrasco, Set designer-Alfons Flores, Costume designer-Lluc Castells, Lighting designer-Marco Filibeck, Norma-Sonya Yoncheva, Pollione-Joseph Calleja, Adalgisa-Sonia Ganassi, Oroveso-Brindley Sherratt, Flavio-David Junghoon Kim, Clotilde-Vlada Borovko

Un ballo in maschera @ De Munt/La Monnaie

ballo_maschera_091-1024x614In an interview Alex Ollé from La Fura dels Baus declares that he expected a more political dimension in the libretto of Un ballo in maschera. He sees conspiracy and political intriguing in it. He states that if Verdi would have been able to write the plot as he wished the libretto would contain more politcis. Ehmmm, really?…. In a letter to his librettist Antonio Somma we find him describing the subject for his new opera: Un soggetto bello, originale, interessante, con bellissime situazioni ed appassionato: passioni sopra tutto!…». So passions above all. In a subsequent letter he requires a libretto which is: «quieto, semplice, tenero: una specie di Sonnambula senz’essere un’imitazione della Sonnambula», “calm, simple and sweet: like a Sonnambula withouth being an imitation of Sonnambula“. No politics. However what Alex Ollé does well is to add a dramaturgic parallel without deranging the plot. Sure, Orwell’s 1984 isn’t a complete mismatch, under the totalitarian government of Riccardo (but then I tend to disagree, didn’t Verdi want to picture him as wise and enlightened?), just a bit monotone with its mask, its grey concrete slabs etc.

The singers were all honest professionals with adequate voices and Carlo Rizzi directed with insight as much as the score allowed. All in all a satisfactory evening on which I have to agree with the two ladies next to me, which stated “..not too bad this Ballo, compared to the things we usually see in Brussels” 🙂

Concept-Alex Ollé, Music direction-Carlo Rizzi, Staging collaboration-Valentina Carrasco, Set design-Alfons Flores, Costumes-Lluc Castells, Lighting-Urs Schönebaum, Video-Emmanuel Carlier, Gustav III-Stefano Secco, René Ankarström-George Petean, Amelia-Maria José Siri, Ulrica-Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Oscar-Kathleen Kim, Cristiano-Roberto Accurso, Ribbing-Tijl Faveyts, Horn-Carlo Cigni, Un giudice-Zeno Popescu, Un servo-Pierre Derhet

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