January in Belgium (Les pecheurs des perles@Gent, Faust@Liège, Gioconda@De Munt/La Monnaie)

I saw two very nice productions last month, one in Gent and one in Liège. Although I am not fond, for different reasons, of either Bizet’s Les pecheurs des perles or Gounod’s Faust, both were very satisfying in terms of singers, conductors and directors and resulted eventually in very pleasing opera evenings.

Les pecheurs des perles was told in a sort of flashback: from an elderly home, Zurga and Nadir re-live the past and their love for Leila. The past is then visualized by a huge sea wave and three dancers. The stage rotated regularly from present to past and in some occasions the two merged, such as when the dancers representing Nadir and Leila, were actually cuddling on a table in the elderly home, surrounded by the seagulls. A very lovely and touching moment of magic realism. From all the voices it was Elena Tsallagova’s Leila who stood out while David Reiland delivered a direction underlining the languish aspect of the score throughout the opera, which was played without pause (a habit I support).

Liège showed us a production of Faust by Stefano Poda already performed in Turin. It’s a symbolic and philosophical vision. The stage is dominated by a giant ring, which turns and lifts and around which everybody moves. The effect is stunning, the idea brilliant, the content and position of the ring vary along the acts and it allows movement of singers and masses. The visual and light effects are beautiful and underline each scene efficiently,  the costumes are very nice and adequate and the Walpurgis ballet was beautifully choreographed. Patrick Davin directs with beautiful colours a score that I find far to “nice” for the subject. The cast was very good with a wonderful interpretation and a generous voice by Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Mephisto and a good Faust by Marc Laho. Anne Catherine Gillet, except for a few pushed high notes in act 5, charms with a beautiful fleshy timbre.

I saw a less convincing Gioconda, too. “Py Makes it a sinister tale”, they wrote about the director,  or…”chooses for…black“. I’m not sure, however, the intentional choice is much in Py’s power. There are recurring themes and objects such as the all-black, the dog masks, the feeling of grim and oppressive. Sometimes this works well-where Py is indeed able to add more than a setting (Les Huguenots were excellent, Les dialogues des Carmelites impressive)-sometimes it doesn’t (Hamlet or this Gioconda). The continuous black was a bit monotonous, then nudity became a recurrent contrivance and trash came into the picture (having sex on a table, while holding a frying pan with a fish in it?) plus a group rape during the dance scene (ok we got it: sex and violence is a constant in this Py-world, wherever it is). I was bored halfway through the first part. Vocally the two casts weren’t exciting either. None of the two Gioconda’s were fully convincing, one because of the colourless interpretation, the other due a certain distance to the character. Of the two Laura’s I liked the warm voice of Szilvia Vörös in the second cast. Really credible were the Enzo and Barnaba of Stefano La Colla and France Vassallo. The latter vocally and scenically also very convincing. Carignani’s direction is dry and nervous with no space for sentimentality. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall two unsatisfactory evenings.

Les pecheurs de perles, Dirigent-David Reiland, Concept, regie & scenografie-FC Bergman, Regie-Stef Aerts, Marie Vinck-Thomas Verstraeten, Decor en belichting-Thomas Verstraeten, Joé Ageman, Kostuums-Judith Van Herck, Dramaturgie-Luc Joosten, Leïla-Elena Tsallagova, Nadir-Charles Workman, Zurga-Boris Statsenko, Nourabad-Stanislav Vorobyov. 15/01/19, photo-Annemie Augustijns

Faust, Conductor-Patrick Davin, Director, Set Design, Costume Design, Lighting, Choreography -Stefano Poda, Faust-Marc Laho, Marguerite-Anne-Catherine Gillet, Méphistophélès-Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Valentin-Lionel Lhote, Siebel-Na’ama Goldman, Dame Marthe-Angélique Noldus, Wagner-Kamil Ben Hsaïn Lachiri, 30/01/19, photo Edoardo Piva Ramella&Giannese

La Gioconda, Muzikale Leiding-Paolo Carignani, Regie-Olivier Py, Decor En Kostuums-Pierre-André Weitz, Belichting-Bertrand Killy, , La Gioconda- Béatrice Uria-Monzon /Hui He, Laura Adorno-Szilvia Vörös/Silvia Tro Santafé, Enzo Grimaldo-Andrea Carè/Stefano La Colla, Barnaba-Franco Vassallo/Scott Hendricks, La Cieca-Ning Liang, Alvise Badoero-Jean Teitgen, Isèpo-Roberto Covatta, Zuane / Un pilot-Bertrand Duby, Un Barnabotto/Una Voce-Bernard Giovani, Un Cantore-René Laryea, Una Voce-Alejandro Fonté, 30/01 and 01/02/19. Pictures from http://www.Lamonnaie.be

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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