The Rossini Opera Festival 2016 @ Pesaro

_12A3935SchrottPeretyatkoAlaimo_640xWhat a pity that il Turco in Italia was such a disappointment this year. Davide Livermore, director of several operas in Pesaro for several years now, transports the opera into a Fellinian movie. Similarly  L’Italiana in Algeri of last year was transported into the 60’s, where Livermore had to be careful on keeping the decade’s style. Differently, in Il turco in Italia, by sticking to the fellinian idea, he transforms the Turco-characters into Fellini-characters, adds several characters from the movies and has to match all the different characters among each other and with the libretto. And this sometimes leads to a boring confusion and forced situations that annoy on the long run. The set is beautiful, as are the costumes designed by Gianluca Falaschi. Musically the things don’t enthuse either. Speranza Scappucci does her best to underline the details of the score but directed the singers and orchestra without vivacity. Completely! Erwin Schrott as Selim is more interested in the setting than looking to sing in Rossini’s style…another disappointment. DSCF5635_640xRene Barbera has all the notes but leaves a bit cold. Olga Peretyatko, who is gorgeous on stage, could have been a good Fiorilla but she does not convince in the first act, let alone in her big aria Squallida veste bruna, which she finishes (badly) with big effort (partially excused by a note she issued saying that this was due to an allergy). Excellent, on the other hand, Pietro Spagnoli and Nicola Alaimo, who, except for an amazingly clear diction, vital for a comic opera, and the only two main characters that care pronouncing properly, understand how to sing Rossini, but alone cannot save the show from a sense of averageness.

 

_12A3131_640xCiro in Babilonia was given with a set, also by Davide Livermore, conceived for the ROF in 2012. The setting is created around the slient movie theme, with spectators in liberty style, projected intertitles, simplistic acting with emphasized body language and facial expression, and intentionally unrefined projections. it is a very clever direction which is easy to follow and extremely pleasant to watch. Musically Jader Benjamini gives a dramatic though airy and light imprint to this score of the young Rossini and accompanies the singers well. It would be very interesting to hear him in a more mature Rossini. The big star is Ewa Podles. The voice has still an amazing range, I am always impressed to hear both the almost manly-deep and the almost soprano-like high notes  in one single voice. Podles is expressive and a very good actress and impersonates not only a Persian prince but a loving father and husband. _C2A8163_1_640xThis is singing with a capital S and shows that Podles has, with over 60 years, still many strings in her bow and she received the ovation she deserved. Siragusa is always quite good with his luminous timbre, fluency in the colorature and attentive to diction. Petty Yende was a nice surprise. The quick florid passages were not as articulated, but she showed a good control in the extreme high register and was overall convining in the Rossinian style. A bigger attention to intonation would have completed her interpretation.

 

_MG_4549BritoSpyresJiciaMimicaAbrahamyan_1_640xLa donna del lago was, in my eyes, the most refined of Mariotti s conductions so far. From the first bars of the  introduction it is clear that he pays much care to the  details of the score, giving much attention to soli’s and accompaniment, uncovering the sounds of gurgling water, “morning dawns”, etc. etc. His tempi are perfect, dynamic and swift, without indulging in  superfluous oversentimentality, still tender and warm where  required, with an incredible play of rubati and attention to  details as rarely heard.  It is true what one says about Florez and the coloratura  that it is less fluid, but what is lost in flexibility is  gained in the search of softness and phrasing, colours  and accents. Unmatched. Michael Spyres  interprets the extremely difficult role of Ridrigo, cockily shooting high and baritonal notes and leaping over the pentagram as if there was no tomorrow.  _12A8691_640xVery good also Salome Jica in the role of Elena, good  coloratura and good range. Varduhi Abrahamyan is very good, though  lacks, in my eye, these Podles-like fullness in the lowest part of the range. Very good also the  minor parts. Michieletto sets the action as flashback. The opera begins with Malcolm and Elena living together in old age, with Elena thinking  with regret to the times she met the king. And Michieletto shows what Tottola and Rossini only hint at, a  loving relationship between the two, so the whole  direction centres around a love that could have been  and is (maybe) still there. In the world of subject matter experts a well known theory but Michieletto makes it visible with the  attention to details and coherence that is his trademark.

 

Il turco in Italia: Direttore-Speranza Scappucci, Regia e Scene-Davide Livermore, Videodesign-D-WOK, Costumi-Gianluca Falaschi, Progetto luci-Nicolas Bovey, Selim-Erwin Schrott, Fiorilla-Olga Peretyatko, Geronio-Nicola Alaimo, Narciso-René Barbera, Prosdocimo-Pietro Spagnoli, Zaida-Cecilia Molinari, Albazar-Pietro Adaini

Ciro in Babilonia: Direttore-Jader Bignamini, Regia-Davide Livermore, Videodesign-D-WOK, Scene e Progetto luci-Nicolas Bovey, Costumi-Gianluca Falaschi, Baldassare-Antonino Siragusa, Ciro-Ewa Podles, Amira-Pretty Yende, Argene-Isabella Gaudí, Zambri-Oleg Tsybulko, Arbace-Alessandro Luciano, Daniello-Dimitri Pkhaladze

La donna del lago: Direttore-Michele Mariotti, Regia-Damiano Michieletto, Scene-Paolo Fantin, Costumi-Klaus Bruns, Progetto luci-Alessandro Carletti, Giacomo V/Uberto-Juan Diego Flórez, Douglas-Marko Mimica, Rodrigo-Michael Spyres, Elena-Salome Jicia, Malcom-Varduhi Abrahamyan, Albina-Ruth Iniesta, Serano/Bertram-Francisco Brito, Elena anziana-Giusi Merli, Malcom anziano-Alessandro Baldinotti

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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

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

Le pré aux clercs – Opéra Comique

IMG_1806After the wonderful Zampa in 2008, the Opera Comique’s new treat is the other famous opera by Ferdinand Hérold. Given over 1600 times until almost 1950, Le pré aux clercs almost disappeared until now. The libretto by de Planard evolves around two love stories: One is the more dramatic story between Isabelle de Montal, who is promised to the Catholic Marquis de Comminge, but loves, and is loved by, the Baron de Mergy. The other (“lighter” lover story) is between Nicette, god-daughter of Marguerite de Valois and the host Girot. The fact that the plot takes place 10 years after the Saint Bartholomew’s night, that Mergy is a huguenot and Comminge a Catholic is rather unimportant, as are all the historic figures such as Caterina di Medici and king of France, although mentioned several times during the recitatives. The plot flows well between comic and serious, between love stories, duels and even a death by duel, and Hérolds music is so charming and melodious one could easily start singing with each piece. The most beautiful music goes into duets and terzets, while Isabelle’s aria owes much to opera seria, with its long orchestral introduction, a slow initial part,a tempo di mezzo and the florid finale with solo violin.

IMG_1807The cast is a well balanced group of singers with peaks in Marie-Eve Munger’s Isabelle and Michael Spyres’ Mergy. Munger has not a beautiful timbre but the role requires a very wide range, and her technique allows her to master that with ease, including good trills and clean roulades, rendering a touching Isabelle. Mergy finds an excellent interpret in the very motivated Michael Spyres, Hérold’s impervious writing means no hurdles to him. The rest of the cast sings also well, from Marie Lenormand’s Marguerite de Valois with her warm voice and a bronzed timbre to Jaël Azzaretti, a sparkling Nicette, and Christian Helmer as Girot with a strong and captivating voice. Well sing also Emiliano Gonzalez Toro as Gomminge, although the part is slightly too low for him and Eric Huchet as the funnily intriguing courtier Cantarelli. The chorus is also well prepared.

Paul McCreesh does not imprint a very personal touch but he directs with care, supports the singers and accompanies well, which actually makes him a valuable opera conductor.

Eric Ruf directs the singers with little interest, they only act the minimum, especially in the recitatives, which, although spoken, are not easy to follow. The scenes are reduced to a minimum (a few trees, a small facade of the Louvre, and almost no props) but they are functional and the direction allows to frame the period and follow the plot easily.

Direction musicale-Paul McCreesh, Mise en scène et décors- Éric Ruf, Costumes-Renato Bianchi, Lumières-Stéphanie Daniel, Chorégraphe-Glyslein Lefever, Marguerite de Valois-Marie Lenormand, Isabelle de Montal-Marie-Eve Munger, Nicette-Jaël Azzaretti, Baron de Mergy-Michael Spyres, Marquis de Comminge-Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Cantarelli-Eric Huchet, Girot-Christian Helmer, Le brigadier-Olivier Déjean, L’exempt du guet-Grégoire Fohet-Duminil, Les archets-Thomas Roullon et Jean-Christophe Jacques, Danseurs-Anna Konopska, Camille Brulais, Anna Beghelli, Paul Canestraro, Andrea Condorelli, Clement Ledisquay, Chœur, accentus, Orchestre, Orchestre Gulbenkian

 

Amsterdam, Il viaggio a Reims

New Picture - CopyIn 1825 Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. Rossini ‘s music had taken Paris by storm in the 1820’s, the crème de la crème of Rossini singers were in Paris at that time and many of them sang in the premiere of Il viaggio a Reims ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro. The insubstantial plot is basically only an excuse to hail Charles X and to deploy each singer’s musical skills: We are in the hotel “Il giglio d’oro” in Plobmbières-les-Bains, where a bunch of people are awaiting the carriages who will bring them to Reims for the coronation of Charles X. However they will wait in vain as the carriages will never arrive. Additional story lines make the plot quite confusing: the Spanish admiral and the Russian general fighting over the Polish widow, the English colonel secretly in love with Corinna, the Roman poetess, an overturned stagecoach which brings the fashionable French lady in distress etc.

The direction of this largely plotless opera is by Damiano Michieletto. A director who I admire much. In the Amsterdam version we are in the museum “Gallery Golden Lilium” under the direction of an anxious (read hysteric) Madama Cortese, and all characters are either people working in the museum or painted characters which come to life. The already complicated plot becomes even more intricate as the real and fictitious characters interact. I feel this particular direction is not Michieletto’s best but all in all it is cleverly conceived and put together. An intelligent creation and brilliantly thought through with remarkable effects.

And the music?

New Picture (1)There are many characters, and at least 10 of the singers need to be top performers (At the premiere they included Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Nicolas Levasseur and Ester Mombelli). Each of the numbers is a little gem and one of the highlights is a piece for 14 singers: the Gran Pezzo concertato a 14 voci. In Amsterdam I much liked Eleonora Buratto as Corinna, Juan Francisco Gatell as Belfiore and Bruno de Simone as Trombonok. I feel they are the only who do the music justice. In my opinion Gatell has improved a lot in the last years in terms of interpretation and diction and Buratto’s floating high notes are a pleasure to hear. Bruno de Simone is a stage lion, one of the few where words were understandable without harming the sung part. All have a good coloratura. Roberto Tagliavini as Lord Sidney, Anna Goryacheva as Melibea and Michael Spyres as Libenskof all displayed very fine singing. I liked Spyres less in the first act although I am not sure whether this was due to his voice or the vastness of the set (the museum). I would have liked a stronger voiced Sidney and Melibea but this might be the conductor’s fault, as we will see. Nino Machaidze as Contessa di Folleville manages the musical part adequately, as does Carmen Giannattasio as Madama Cortese. None of them are musically truly convincing. Nicola Ulivieri lacks the low notes and goes through what could be one of the funniest aria (Madaglie incomparabili) trivially and unconcerned. Mario Cassi as Don Alvaro is very mediocre, his entry (Questa vaga e amabil dama) is smudged and the Spanish song at the end was not really “Dell’Iberia il dolce canto“.

New Picture (2)In an interview the conductor Mr. Montanari stated that the most difficult part is to find the balance between the orchestra and the stage (oh really?) but he certainly was not a bit able to achieve this. I sometimes could barely hear the voices, let alone understand a word they were saying. The problem here is not one bad singer that spoils his aria. The problem here is that Mr Montanari reminds us throughout the evening of his vision, namely Rossini music as not light, brilliant and graceful but loud and heavy. No need for the singer to interpret, to sing the embellishments, to pronounce properly, because one can hardly hear them anyway. Add to this the following catalogue of absurdities: He adds glissandi, embellishments or chords with the cembalo during sung pieces (not only during recitativi)! He abruptly changes tempi to his liking, he even changes the rhythm (for e.g. in the accompaniment of the stretta in the duet Oh! Quanto ingannasi between Corinna and Belfiore, he puts accents on the 4th beat!! He also stomps his feet during Don Alvaro’s “Omaggio all’augusto duce” in a Spanish manner!!! And if he doesn’t have time to synchronize all these tasks, he sticks the baton between back and shirt by the backside of his collar. I hope I won’t have the sadness to see him wave at noise again.

Muzikale leiding-Stefano Montanari, Regie-Damiano Michieletto, Decor-Paolo Fantin, Kostuums-Carla Teti, Licht-Alessandro Carletti, Corinna-Eleonora Buratto, La Marchesa Melibea-Anna Goryachova, La Contessa di Folleville-Nino Machaidze, Madama Cortese-Carmen Giannattasio, Il Cavaliere Belfiore-Juan Francisco Gatell, Il Conte di Libenskof-Michael Spyres, Lord Sidney-Roberto Tagliavini, Don Profondo-Nicola Ulivieri, Il Barone di Trombonok-Bruno De Simone, Don Alvaro-Mario Cassi, Don Prudenzio-Biaggio Pizzuti, Don Luigino-Carlos Cardoso, Delia-Maria Fiselier, Maddalena-Teresa Iervolino, Modestina-Florieke Beelen, Zefirino / Gelsomino-Jeroen de Vaal, Antonio-Tomeu Bibiloni

Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, 2014

20140812_barb7The Academy of Fine Arts of Urbino, who was assigned to stage this year’s Barbiere di Siviglia did a marvelous job. The students had such a well conceived view of the opera, that one would have to seriously reconsider the big names in opera, certainly if compared to the main attraction of the festival, Armida.  Only few scenic elements are seen on stage, but very cleverly used. The singers are well directed, they move well, on stage and in the stalls, lights are playfully projected on the balconies (for e.g. during the storm scene, light droplets fill the whole opera house in a whirling crescendo which goes hand in hand with the music), mimes added for small background sketches. But numerous are the brilliant and entertaining ideas (the Calunnia was particularly successful), which make this Barbiere a joy to look at. The singers are not only good actors but they are all quite credible in their roles and all sing very well. Although I have my preferences, I would like to praise the group effort especially of Alex Esposito, Chiara Amarù, Florian Sempey and Juan Francisco Gatell, all of which manage the score’s requirements with relative ease. The director is Giacomo Sagripanti who brillantly directs a sparkling Orchestra Comunale di Bologna, cheerfully singling out minor passages in the score. Even without subtitles one was able to understand everything and the public was amused.

rossini-pesaro-armidaThe other opera given in Peasaro this year was Armida, composed for the Neapolitan forces of the San Carlo theatre. Isabella Colbran’s role is intepreted by Carmen Romeu. This Spanish young singer has a very fluid coloratura and a nice and warm middle register. Her lower notes are not as present and the top notes a bit strained and sometimes not in pitch. Given the demanding part of Armida, however, I still think Miss Romeu did a good job. Antonino Siragusa on the other hand was, in my opinion, almost perfect. Rinaldo, who succombs to the love for Armida, is particularly well suited for his solar voice (his duets with Armida are simply beautiful) and the fiendish coloratura is impeccably mastered (e.g. in Unitevi a gara). The second tenor in Armida was Dmitry Korchak who was also very well suited for his role(s), the coloratura and the high notes pulled off convincingly, as was Carlo Lepore as Idraote/Astarotte. Less incisive and vocally not as plausible was Randal Bills as Goffredo/Ubaldo, who in some cases was barely audible above the orchestra. My big disappointment went to both the stage and the music director. Luca Ronconi places two huge mobile panels on stage, filled with hanging Pupi Siciliani. All the men on stage are also equally dressed with the same armour. This was actually quite convincing for revoking the knightly world of the plot. But Armida is a magical opera, where Armida, torn between love and hate, whimsically changes her isle between horrid wilderness (orrida selva) and magical garden (giardino incantanto, ameni colline), flying away, in the last scene, on a carriage pulled by two dragons, “enveloped by globes of fire and smoke“. Nothing of all this. The only difference between the acts is the background, which changes from a grey-ish/brown rippled cloth to a golden wall. The wooden panel with a plastic plant-like object (enchanted garden??) only ads to the horrid. Difficult to get immersed in Tasso’s world with such a distant interpretation. Equally emotionally detached was Carlo Rizzi. Who directed a score with very few means of expression and very little subtleness. The musical pieces sound like a disconnected patchwork, with no caring stitches to hold them together. The chosen tempos are on the swift side, with no rubati and little pertinence to the score. Some of the strettas don’t follow the singers with the result that coloraturas become mushed and unclear. The pleasing ballet in Act II was modern and energetic.

Musica: Aureliano in Palmira, opera riscoperta al RofThird opera in Pesaro is Aureliano in Palmira. When Will Crutchfield directs on stage, his movements are aggressive and stiff. And this is exactly how the orchestra sounds: an emotionless metronome. The American director starts the opera with lethargic tempos that last until almost half the first act. Doesn’t do Rossini, who poured magnificent music into the score, any justice. The orchestra Sinfonica Rossini plays faultily and not always together.
Arsace’s role is two sizes too big for Lena Belkina who completely lacks dramatic weight for the interpretation of the Persian prince. All the notes were there, but when she was alone on stage and Crutchfield was conducting one or two yawns had to be suppressed. Opposite to her is the tenor. Nothing seems too difficult for Michael Spyres who has a homogeneous and strong voice throughout his range. However, although the coloratura was precise, I would wish a better articulation of the embellishments. Jessica Pratt is a delicate Zenobia and overall I think it is the more lyrical passages that suite her most. But even in the more dramatic of strettas and caballettas, the Australian soprano sings with agile vigor. The cast is completed by the very good Raffaella Lupinacci as Publia, Dimitri Pkhaladze, Dempsey Rivera, Sergio Vitale and Raffaele Costantini. Cleverly simple but effective is Mario Martone’s setting, a small labyrinth with movable, semi-transparent cloth panels. Martone is able to convey the tragic love of Zenobia and Arsace, who have to jump cruel hurdles for their love. Costumes are oriental in an convincing mise en scene.

reims2013gJust two words on the Viaggio a Reims, the yearly performance given by students of the Accademia Rossiniana led by Alberto Zedda. As usual one is impressed by the motivation and the enthusiasm of the young voices, especially in an opera as Il viaggio a Reims, which was explicitly composed for the coronation of Charles X for 14 of the greatest singers of the time and withdrawn after only 4 performances. It is also normal to hear the young artists lack vocal experience or stage presence, which is benevolently ignored for the sake of the group effort of singers under stress. But this year several voices hardly reached sufficiency. I would only like to mention Nico Darmanin and Aya Wakizono who I quite liked and were able to master their roles vocally and on stage. Yunpeng Wang had a pleasing voice but couldn’t get quite through the interpretative obstacles of his aria. Shahar Lavì and Isabel Rodriquez Garcia sang well albeit coldly their respective roles (Corinna and Madame de Folleville). (16/8/14)

 

Guillaume Tell @ De Munt/La Monnaie

About two performances I did not report. One was the lovely Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, where Kovalevska, Lungu and Calleja all gave their best. Most memorable for me, however, was the enthusiasm of the American public, who carefully followed the text and reacted with laughter and clapping to show their appreciation and enthusiasm. It’s the kind of public we sometimes miss in Europe, where opera is sometimes just an occasion to be seen. Public is also more critic towards, well…almost everything (especially the Italians :-)), rather then just enjoy the performance. Of course this is sometimes due to a more traditional staging in the US than Europe…but here I open a whole new door….
I open a sidebar to praise and recommend the small and cosy Japanese restaurant Minca (536 E 5th St) where I had the best vegetarian Ramen I have ever tasted.

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Another beautiful show was Janacek’s Jenufa at De Munt in Brussels. The director Alvis Hermanis presented Act 1 of the action with the singers at the front of the stage, while at their back the stage was horizontally divided in half with traditional-style dancing at the bottom. On the top, beautiful colorful pictures link the story. Sometimes the screen would lift to show us the chorus, also in beautiful costumes. This is in opposite contrast to Act 2, where Hermanis transports us into a cold, communist-like setting of the 60’s. Although much criticised, this setting worked well for me, it kind of led me towards the drama which was about to unfold. This is not really my musical territory but I liked all the singers, among which i want to single out the Jenufa of Sally Matthews, the Laca of Charles Workman, Nick Spence as Steva and Carole Wilson as Kostelnicka. All together a wonderful experience. Mr Morlot, in an interview he claimed Jenufa is among his top 10 prefereed opera’s, was also more inspired than usual.

IMG-20140305-00322And now to Guillaume Tell. This is the 4th time I hear this opera in the last 11 months. But the music still amazes and moves me. The libretto is in its infancy of Grand Opéra and somehow a bit tedious. So let’s concentrate on the music and the performance at De Munt. Personally I think Evelino Pidò did a great job. He accompanied the singers well, gave them all the time to carve their interpretation, to develop their musical phrases. On rare occasions I would have wished the orchestra would follow Pidò’s gesticulation when he urged the orchestra to play piano (Sombre forêt), but otherwise the orchestra was in good shape with a delicate English horn, a sound brass, and a motivated timpani player, and accompanied well. The chorus was equally inspired and had an excellent diction, although I am always missing a bit of zest in the Italian repertoire in orchestra and chorus (and I consider Rossini as Italian also in his Paris years).
The bass Nicola Alaimo has not a big voice but rendered a very convincing interpretation of Guillaume and a moving Sois immobile. I found Michael Spyres in much better shape than in Wildbad. His diction is excellent and hearing him sing makes look Arnold’s part like a piece of cake. But the tessitura for the heroic Arnold, which Spyres interprets with vigor rather then boldness, lies very high, and Spyres resolves this with a cleverly used mixed voice.  I was less satisfied about Ermonela Jaho’s Mathilde. Nothing REALLY dramatically wrong vocally (although her coloratura in the Act III aria was very smudged), just her interpretation did not convince me. I particularly enjoyed Nora Gubisch’s luscious mezzo, Eerens’ clear soprano, Marco Spotti’s authoritative Walter Furst (in both the approach of the character and voice), the assertive and full-voiced Gesler of Vincent Le Texier and Julien Dran’s secure acuti of the fisherman Ruodi. Jean-Luc Balestra has a very strong and powerful, smooth voice, which, when skillfully used, can be adapted to a wide range of characters and emotions. I was less taken by Roberto Covatta’s Rodolphe.
All in all an evening above average with the Brussels public at its most typical, with no or hardly any applause during the opera (applause at the end of Arnold’s Act IV aria sounded like one applauds von Winter’s chamber music) with the a few “obbligato” bravo-shrieks.

La Boheme, The Metropolitan Opera NY, Conductor-Stefano Ranzani, Production-Franco Zeffirelli, Costumes-Peter J. Hall, Lighting-Gil Wechsler, Mimi-Maija Kovalevska, Musetta-Irina Lungu, Rodolfo-Joseph Calleja, Marcello-Alexy Markov, Schaunard-Joshua Hopkins, Colline-Christian van Horn, Benoit/Alcindoro-Donald Maxwell, Officer-Joseph Turi, Sergeant-Jason Hendrix, Parpignol-Daniel Clark Smith, 18/01/2014
Jenufa, De Munt Brussels, Muzikale Leiding-Ludovic Morlot, Regie en decor-Alvis Hermanis, Kostuums-Anna Watkins, Belichting-Gleb filshtinsky, Video-Ineta Sipunova, Jenufa-Sally Matthews, Laca Klemen-Charles Workman, Steva Buryja-Nick Spence, Kostelnicka Buryjovka-Carole Wilson, Starek-Ivan Ludlow, Rychtar-Alexander Vassiliev, Rychtarka-Mireille Capelle, Karolka-Hendrickje van Kerckhove, Pastuchnyna-Beata Murowska, Jano-Chloé Briot, Barena-Nathalie van de Voorde, Tetka-Maria Beretta, 24/01/2014
Guillaume Tell, De Munt, Music direction-Evelino Pidò, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Guillaume Tell-Nicola Alaimo, Hedwige-Nora Gubisch, Jemmy-Ilse Eerens, Mathilde-Ermonela Jaho, Arnold-Michael Spyres, Melchtal-Jean Teitgen, Gesler-Vincent Le Texier, Walter Furst-Marco Spotti, Ruodi-Julien Dran, Leuthold-Jean-Luc Balestra, Rodolphe-Roberto Covatta, 05/03/2014

Grand Opéra in the Black Forest, or Guillaume Tell in Bad Wildbad

gtWhat to say about Rossini’s Guillaum Tell that has not already been said?
Rossini’s swan song….The first Grand Opéra (after la Muette) and still regularly performed today….one of the most famous ouvertures in opera history….the “music of the future” (supposedly said by Wagner when he visited Rossini in Paris)….”Act 1, 3 and 4 composed by Rossini but Act 2 written by God” (Donizetti).
Fact is that at it’s first production in Paris at Salle Le Pelletier the 3rd August 1829, it was indeed a very long opera, and already after the third performance it was shortened to various lengths. An extreme example, heard in various variants, wants Rossini strolling down a Parisian Avenue, when he crossed the director of the Opéra who proudly told him that Act II of Guillaume Tell had been performed the previous night; Rossini, with the caustic wit that characterized him, retorted:” What, the whole of it?”
Performance was not always easy due to the political message of liberty, and censors forced changes almost everywhere: it  was performed in London and Berlin as Hofer, the Tell of Tyrol, in St. Petersburg as Charles the Bold, in Milan as Vallace, as Rodolfo di Sterlinga in Rome and Bologna, etc etc
The singers required for this opera are a tenore drammatico with huge stamina. The part (similarly to Raoul in Les Huguenots and Eleazar in La juive) was written for Adolphe Nourrit, who sang the higher notes in falsetto. The role was later taken on by Gilbert Luis Duprez, who introduced the then rarely performed chest voice. Also needed are a soprano with some agility for her aria in act 3, an acute tenor for the smaller part of the fisherman and a baritone for Tell.
The team in Bad Wildbad performed the opera, seemingly without any cuts.
Honest opinion? Interesting, Very interesting, even. Nice to have on CD. But far from memorable and I am not sure about the artistic value of the operation. If one had these kind of singers, why not stage a rare opera? There is so much beautiful music out there which one longs to hear more often, many opera’s by Vaccai, Pacini and Mercadante come to mind.
tellAnyway, the main singers had adequate voices although Judith Howarth is not a Rossinian soprano, lacking lightness and agility. Michael Spyres has all the notes and and excellent French but seems indifferent to what he is actually singing. Andrew Foster Williams and Nahuel di Pierro sing adequately the roles of Tell and Melchtal. Tara Stafford has a petulant, wee voice of light soprano. Additionally she got awarded with Jemmy’s aria (an aria just before Tell’s “Sois immobile“) where she wishes her father the best of luck. A never ending piece, really, luckily cut in all the Tell performances I know (my musical company for the evening puffed and rolled his eyes to heaven several times during the piece). Artavazd Sargsyan in the role of the fisherman sang very well with a clear and pure top register.
Antonino Fogliani directs capably the demanding score. See Ricciardo and Zoraide for orchestra and chorus. Schönleber, on the other hand, has nothing better to show than an idiocy after the other. I understand the need to save money, but while I enjoy reminiscing last year’s “I briganti” by Mercadante, a merciful Goddess will hopefully consign this pitiful nonsense to oblivion.
Musical director-Antonino Fogliani, Inszenierung-Jochen Schönleber, Bühnenbild-Robert Schrag, Kostüme-Claudia Möbius, Guillaume Tell-Andrew Foster Williams, Arnold-Michael Spyres,Walter/Melchtal-Nahuel di Pierro, Jemmy-Tara Stafford, Gesler-Raffaele Facciolà, Rodolphe-Giulio Pelligra, Ruodi-Artavazd Sargsyan, Leuthold-Marco Filippo Romano, Hedwige-Judith Howarth,Hedwige-Alessandra Volpe
Bad Wildbad, 21.07.13