Mitridate, re di Ponto @ Brussels

UntitledThe musical part was very good in this Mitridate given by the Monnaie/De Munt in the tent of Tour and Taxis. Of course the problems of the venue are always the same: the cooling system (which either did not work. properly or it was turned On too late, either way it was far too hot) is too loud, one can hear the street and air traffic and the size of the venue is far too big for a Mozart opera. Smaller voices are therefore greatly disadvantaged, as it was the case for David Hansen, who already has a weak lower register, but his voice is also quite small, making it very difficult to compete with the orchestra in a regular theatre (and Rousset certainly does not cover voices), let alone under the circumstance of the Monnaie’s tent. Slightly better Yves Saelens as Arbate with an understandable Italian but an unrefined phrasing. Aspasia and Sifare, the loving couple, sing well, but Sifare’s coloratura is flattened, his Italian non-understandable. The small role of Marzio is sung by Sergey Romanovsky. Overall he sings his only aria very well with a beautiful and full voice, although lightening his voice a bit more would have made his coloratura more fluid. Mitridate is Michael Spyres and in this very difficult role that requires all the skills from rapid notes to jumps and a variety of affections he is almost exceptional.  Absolutely extraordinary I find Simona Saturova as Ismene. Her intonation, her support of the voice, her breath regulation, her coloratura, all perfectly studied, a voice with a beautiful timbre, equal on top as in the lower register, and never forced. All singers are supported with perfect musicality by Christophe Rousset.

The directors, chosen through a public competition because Robert Carsen pulled out due to the location, set the plot in modern day Brussels, with meetings being organized by country presidents to avoid “Pontexit”, news journalists following the events, screens showing breaking news etc.  For the lovers of the genre….

Muzikale leiding-Christophe Rousset, Regie en kostuums-Jean-Phiilppe Clarac & Olivier Deloeuil, Le Lab, Decors en belichting-Rick Martin, Video-Jean-Baptiste Beïs, Mitridate-Michael Spyres, Aspasia-Lenneke Ruiten, Sifare-Myrtó Papatanasiu, Farnace-David Hansen, Ismene-Simona Saturova, Marzio-Sergey Romanovsky, Arbate-Yves Saelens

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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

Hamlet by Thomas @ De Munt/La Monnaie

P1030054Not a highlight as I had hoped. Marc Minkowski and Olivier Py re-united to repeat the wonderful experience of les Huguenots a few years back..? Hardly. At least not Py’s direction. Large black brick stairs, wide as the whole scene almost, open the opera. Throughout the plot the stairs move in different directions and position to change the stage into the required setting. On paper it all sounds quite clever… was it not for the brick as material, painted black. It’s just too much black, and the painted bricks just give an impression of something old and cheap…as if someone would paints its walls and paint over the sockets. But black was all the monotonous rest as well, and one had the impression of being in a shady cruising area. The chorus was an annoying something one has to put up with, I had the impression, as often it was standing like, well, a chorus, instead of taking part in the action. The rest, not very original, were Py’s all time classics (half-naked men, leather, dog masks….) mixed with some highlights (Hamlet’s “glitterface” dead father).
mmLuckily the musical part was much better. The orchestra of De Munt/La Monnaie, for once, played lusciously and expressively under the baton of Marc Minkowski (how come HE is able to get those sounds out of the orchestra…?). Pacing and style were spot on. MM gets the orchestra to go from vigorous to tender in no time and directs the somewhat uninspired music perfectly.
The singers all did a fair good job. My only reserve goes to Grupposo (replacing a suffering Jennifer Larmore), who seems to loose control in the higher area of her voice, but renders a very motivated queen Gertrude. Lenneke delivers a controlled but touching mad scene and Laertes’ short role is ideally sung by Remy Mathieu. Claudius’ voice was dark enough to interpret the villain and the title role, sung by Stéphane Degout, one of the rising stars of opera, although personally he never really convinces me, sings correctly and he connects with the character, delivering a convincing Hamlet. Smaller roles all sang well.

Muzikale leiding-Marc Minkowski, Regie-Olivier Py, Decors en kostuums-Pierre-André Weitz, Belichting-Bertrand Killy, Claudius-Vincent Le Texier, Le Reine Gertrude-Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo, Hamlet-Stephane Degout, Polonius-Till Fechner, Ophélie-Lenneke Ruiten, Laerte-Remy Mathieu, Horatio-Henk Neven, Marcellus-Gijs van der Linden, Le spectre du feu Roi-Jerome Varnier