Les Huguenots @ Deutsche Oper Berlin

downloadLes Huguenots is maybe the most perfect example of Grand Opéra and explains why, in recent years, has been Meyerbeer’s opera with the most revivals (and still not enough IMO). In Les Huguenots (Opéra, Paris 1836), everything blends perfectly together: a grand tragic event where personal conflicts and real historic events come together with much attention to details. Additionally Meyerbeer is master in musically blending French, German and Italian styles. The presence of ballets and the skillful maneuvering of alternate crowd and solo scenes only adds to the “Grand” of the opera. Directing tragic events such as the Saint Bartholomew’s massacre is certainly not easy, but Alden chooses to show us the more trivial things. A musically dramatic scene is shown with singers and choir still on stage which is extremely sad in the third act where the choir has such a prominent role. Not only because it’s a “grand” opera where it’d be nice if the choir moves at least to some extent but especially in Les Huguenots where there are two parties opposing each other. The story is impossible to follow like this. Other times the director makes the characters move in the music’s rhythm in silly movements (the cleaning ladies with dusting feathers…), which distorts the plot, and elicits laughs from the public.The characterization of the single characters, the mass movements, the body language that characters speak to each other, everything is so conventional, without any ideas, very boring. Furthermore the setting to me looked exactly like a granary or a warehouse where to store old, unused rubbish. The chairs folded on top of each other, the horses, the bell….everything seemed to confirm that view. There is a beautiful staging by Olivier Py, getting dusty in Brussels. Why reinvent the wheel (and a ugly wheel that is).

 

download-1Only half of the singers were convincing. I liked Ante Jerkunica. Although a bit short in the higher register, he has a nice bass voice and interpreted very well. Also short, but in the low notes, was Olesya Golovneva. But in her case being short is more damaging because of the importance of her role and additionally i would have wished a bit more colour in her interpretation. Beautiful ringing high notes, though, but not enough to make a good Valentine. Patrizia Ciofi has still some arrows to her bow and sings her entrance aria acceptably (ugly-ish final acuto though) but already her duet with Raoul loses lightness due to her stopping the flow as she is aiming her notes carefully. Juan Diego Florez sings very well, as usually, but coming from belcanto he lacks the right weight and personality and almost authority of the character rendering Raoul almost a bit unexciting. At the end one can hear the fatigue. But well he sings. Very well the Urbain of Irene Roberts in a part excellently sung with a voice well supported. Michele Mariotti, except for rhythmically more intricate pieces which would have required more clarity, supports the singers well but the score never really shines, is not exciting in its musical flow, the lines lose tension and are a bit emotionless.

26/11/16, Deutsch Oper Berlin, Musikalische Leitung-Michele Mariotti, Inszenierung-David Alden, Bühne-Giles Cadle, Kostüme-Constance Hoffman, Licht-Adam Silverman, Choreografie-Marcel Leemann, Dramaturgie-Jörg Königsdorf, Curt A. Roesler, Marguerite von Valois-Patrizia Ciofi, Graf von Saint-Bris-Derek Welton, Graf von Nevers-Marc Barrard, Valentine-Olesya Golovneva, Urbain-Irene Roberts, Tavannes / 1. Mönch-James Kryshak, Cossé-Jörg Schörner, Méru / 2. Mönch-John Carpenter, Thoré / Maurevert-Alexei Botnarciuc, de Retz / 3. Mönch-Taiyu Uchiyama, Raoul von Nangis-Juan Diego Flórez, Marcel-Ante Jerkunica, Bois-Rosé-Robert Watson, Ein Nachtwächter-Dong-Hwan Lee, Zwei Hofdamen/Zwei katholische Mädchen-Adriana Ferfezka, Abigail Levis

Fotos from the internet page of the Deutsch Oper Berlin

Advertisements

La Juive @ the Opera of Flanders

IMG_2105[1]The Opera van Vlaanderen staged La Juive by Fromental Haléy. This grand opera follows the fortune of other grand opera such as Guillaume Tell and Les Huguenots. One enters with mixed feeling into the opera house seeing heavily armed police at the entrance doors. In 1830 Europe other countries were equally careful, albeit for different reasons, such as Italy, where staging a cardinal was unthinkable. It is therefore surprising, how easy it was, at the first staging of the opera (and how marginally the local press touched the socio-political topic in a Paris, which went through all the horrors of religious wars and suppression), how easy it was, I was saying, to stage not only a whole council, but a plot which involves conflicting religions (present day problems then and now), horrible death sentences, and religious intolerance (from both sides).

At the first staging of the opera 23 February 1835 the setting was so magnificent, so spectacular, so outstanding that one could barely hear the music. Berlioz was present during that performance and wrote in his distinctive irony: “Malgré les efforts qu’on a faits pour empêcher d’entendre la partition, malgré le cliquetis de de toutes ces armures, ce piétinement de chevaux, ce tumulte populaire, ces volées de chloches et de canons, ces danses, ces tables chargés, ces fontaines de vin, malgré tout ce fracas anti-musical de l’Academie Royal de Musique, on a pu saisir quelques-une des inspirations du compositeur”, which, roughly translated reads as: “Despite the efforts that were made to prevent hearing the score , despite the rattling of armours, the trampling of horses, the crowd’s tumult, the sound of bells and cannons , the dances , the loaded tables, the fountains of wine , despite all anti-musical racket of the Royal Academy of Music , one could grasp just a few of the composer’s inspirations.”

IMG_2108[1]We certainly didn’t have this problem with the staging of the Opera van Vlaanderen. The scene is almost empty with just a few stairs in the first act, a table in the second act (to celebrate Jewish Passover) and a bed in the third. The choreography of the singers is conventionally silly: for eg while the chorus sings from the stalls at the end of act 1, the soloists just “act desperately” on a totally empty stage. Eudoxie is a hyperactive, alcoholic woman whom (in her first entry when she visits Eleazar to buy the “joyau magnifique”) we see waiving a bottle of champagne in one hand and a gun in the other. In the anathema of act three, cardinal Brogni tears the bed apart and throws the pillows to the Christians around them…. At the anathema!… A Cardinal!!… Throwing pillows!!!… One feels almost like praising the idea of the coloured hands: Christians have blue hands, Jews have yellow hands, sometimes they hide their hands in the pockets in order to hide their faith and the symbol is used throughout the opera, also in prison when Eudoxie comes to beg for Leopold’s life. Eudoxie and Rachel wash the colour off their hands and sing the stretta with “clean” hands to show that finally love and friendship are more important regardless which god you pray to. Not too bad as symbol, maybe a bit infantile, but bon…I’ve seen worse.  But then the director messes up everything by making the two women whirl in circles, laughing like girls and roll on the stage like on a blooming meadow. While Leopold is being sentenced to death!… Circling like girls!!… Laughing!!! But these are just examples of an overall very disappointing and superficial interpretation. One word on the lights: it’s hard to enjoy the evening if one is constantly forced to move from the plot of the opera to the real world. Since the action often moves to the stalls, these were regularly lit with bright light. How disillusioning is it to see people pulling down their skirts suddenly realizing they are observed, to see people yawning, leaning into bored positions. Then again on stage at the end of act 4 some of the main singers were so badly lit, one could hardly see who was singing. And then some of the light just went off similarly when pushing a light switch at home.

IMG_2112[1]Musically things went better. Roberto Saccà is a credible Eleazar, still able to move with his interpretation and he manages the range with ease and interprets the declamation passages well. Jean-Pierre Furlan had a less appealing timbre and a slightly stretched high voice but his interpretation was very moving.

Asmik Grigorian as Rachel has a lovely voice especially in the middle register. Sometimes her top notes sound stretched also, especially in the finale of act one and the musically marvelous duet with Léopold in Act II. Overall the singing was convincing in a murderous role which was created by nobody less than Cornélie Falcon (the first Valentine in Les Huguenots, just to name one). Gal James’ had a more cautious approach which made her low notes less vibrant and rich, but both rendered a touching Rachel.

I was personally put off by Nicole Chevalier’s Eudoxie due to the hyperactivity of the acting but she sang indeed very well with good top notes, agile passages and a rich middle register. As did Elena Gorchunova, with a more balanced interpretation. The big problem in this production was the Léopold part. While Randal Bills’ Leopold sounded muffled, Robert McPherson ‘s voice was unbearably throaty. Both of them are cast in Rossini ‘s Armida next season which, allow me, is inconceavable. Dmitry Ulyanov’s Brogni reached all the extremely low notes although his interpretation lacked in showing the ambivalent nature of the cardinal (which might be attributable to the director also), Toby Girling was an acceptable Ruggiero. The chorus sang the very impervious score extremely well.Tomas Netopil directed with much verve and motivation this far too rarely performed music. Verve which which was less obvious with Yannis Pouspourikas

Conductor-Tomas, Netopil (2/5), Yannis Pouspourikas (21/4, 2/5), Direction-Peter Konwitschny, setting-Johannes Leiacker, costumes-Johannes Leiacker, lights-Manfred Voss, Dramaturgy-Bettina Bartz, Luc Joosten, Rachel-Asmik Grigorian (21/4, 2/5) Gal James (6/5), Le Juif Éléazar-Roberto Saccà (21/4, 2/5) Jean-Pierre Furlan (6/5)Le Cardinal de Brogni-Dmitry Ulyanov, Léopold-Randall Bills (21/4, 2/5) Robert McPherson (6/5), La Princesse Eudoxie-Nicole Chevalier (21/4, 2/5) Elena Gurshova (6/5), Ruggiero-Toby Girling, Majordome-Thierry Vallier