Belgium’s 2017/2018 opera season

(This article replaces the original one about the Brussels-only season with the present one about Belgium)

Brussel’s The Monnaie’s 2017-2018 opera season was recently announced. Although, with half of the 12 titles, La Monnaie/De Munt always leans towards modern music (and with modern I roughly mean the music around and after 1900) the choices are more varied than last year. We have a Wagner, of course, (Lohengrin) but at least we are spared Verdi and Puccini. I smile at Peter de Caluwe’s fear of staging Rossini and his overall mistrust in early 1800 music. So Tancredi in concert version, not the most original choice (it would if staged, though) but  always a pleasure to hear. Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci is a nice change considered it was given in Brussels 14 years ago (and Michieletto is always welcome). Lucio Silla is an inheritance from last year’s season, where it was programmed but not staged (as is also the Bartok) due to the delay in the renovations of the main stage. It is a rare but not minor Mozart – musically speaking, because action wise it is very thin (so why not this one in concert version?) – and performed far too rarely. Leonore (Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio) is given as concert version and I would much more appreciate a staged version in exchange of one of the modern opera’s, say Rihm or Boesmans. Conductor-wise I find the choices good, director-wise conventional and singer-wise there are some that are questionable but I am happy to be persuaded. An enjoyable rarity will be Dvorak’s Requiem while ballet wise I keep regretting the total absence of classical ballet. Let me finish with something that bothers me every year: is it not strange that there is not a single subscription that allows to see all opera’s?

 

Nicer surprises come from the two other opera houses in Belgium, the Opera de Liège and the Vlaamse Opera. I find the choices quite balanced with some very appealing surprises. In Liege we get the touching Donna del lago by Michieletto and the rarity Le domino noir by Auber. La favorite by Donizetti also contains lovely music and is rarely performed. Singer-wise the program is also very appealing although I remember Liege announcing a star only by replacing it last minute by someone less captivating (and not once). In Gent we get the extremely rare Das Wunder der Heliane, Donizetti’s Le Duc d’Albe next to a Clemenza di Tito and of course Verdi and Wagner (Falstaff and Parsifal). The Flemish Opera “continues its fascinating exploration of Russian opera” with The Gambler by Prokofiev. I am waiting impatiently for Dargomyzhsky, Cavos, Glinka, and Verstovsky….

Already available also the program of the Midsummer Mozartiade, which this year presents Don Giovanni at the Theatre de Martyrs.

The Bozar season also contains some vocal evenings.

Juan Diego Florez – French arias in Liège

Lamour-300x300A voice can sing anything. If Bartoli would sing fado or Lady Gaga yodel her way through the Tyrolean Alps……people would still applaud. Same with Florez singing French arias. And there is nothing really wrong with him singing French repertoire…. Technically speaking. But it is evident that in the more cantabile pieces his passion comes out the most. The first half of program was …ahem….discreet to say the least.  All French arias in the so called larmoyant style. So the first part was sentimentally charged to the point of rolling eyes to heaven. Were it not for the orchestra who interspersed the quieter, sung pieces with livelier ones . The second part started well with an Italian composing French (La favorite by Donizetti), it tickeled my interest with a rather rare Berlioz, briefly returned to the ranting-Frenchman-style with Gounod and finished off with a show stopper by Offenbach. It was not by coincidence, in my opinion, that the pieces which were not French came out with more enthusiasms. After all, it is in belcanto that Florez excels. And although he sells them all under a French hat, they do differ. Offenbach (a German, but let’s keep him as French)’s piece has a somewhat belcantistic imprint. As have the encore numbers by (the Italians) Verdi (Je veux encore entendre from Jérusalem) and Donizetti (Pour mon ame from La fille du regiment).

The orchestra does its best, as does the director, who dramatically sank in my esteem when he finished the ouverture to La Favorite with a decrescendo on the final chord. (at times it even was Florez who suggested the tempo though.). It’s always a pleasure to hear Florez sing, though the pleasure could have been increased by a program he excells in.

 

Adolphe Adam, Ouverture Le Toréador – Léo Delibes, Prendre le dessin d’un bijou, Lakme – Georges bizet, ouverture Carmen – Jules Massenet, O Nature, pleine de grâce, Werther – Jules Massenet, Pourquoi me réveiller Werther – Getano donizetti, Un ange, une femme inconnue La favorite – Gaetano donizetti, La favorite ouverture – Hector Berlioz, O blonde Cérès Les troyens – Hector Berlioz, Les troyens ballet – Charles gounod, Romeo et Juliette L’amour – Jacques offenbach, La belle Hélène Au mont Ida. Bis: Jerusalem Je veux la revoir, Verdi – Donizetti, La fille du regiment…Pour mon ame

 

 

La Cenerentola in Liège or Un’acqua senza sale

c2Lovely start of the Liège season with Rossini’s La Cenerentola. For the mise en scene, the Opera Royal relied on Cécile Roussat et Julien Lubek, the same duo that tackled Die Zauberflöte in Liège 4 years ago. In both cases one notices the effort that is put behind the creative concept. In the case of La Cenerentola the opera opens with Don Magnifico’s palazzo in agonia split in 3 parts on a rotating platform (Don Magnifico’s bedroom, the outside space, and an all-purpose room. The rooms change to the throne chamber in Act II). The singers move freely from one space to another and the platform follows them rotating from room to room. The style and clothes are those of a fairy tale (or children’s book) and everything is enjoyable to look at and satisfying as far as the scenery goes. What was fully lacking was a choreography. Everything was very static, with minimum interactions. Emotions were conveyed only by the libretto’s words and Rossini’s music. Very disappointing.

 

c1 (1)The singers are overall very good, though. I especially enjoyed Bruno de Simone as Don Magnifico with an important stage presence, an excellent diction and a smooth voice. An excellent fit for the egomaniac social climber. Enrico Marabelli was an amusing Dandini with convincing voice and fairly sure in the coloratura. Dmitry Korchak is an excellent tenor who mastered the prince’s part with ease although the acuti of “Dentro al mio cuo—RE“ had to be prepared with enough time…. Laurent Kubla as Alidoro started very convincingly in his key entrances in Act I [as a beggar and with his “book of spinsters” or Codice delle zitelle), with an admirable pronunciation. Pity that the aria with which he brings Cenerentola to the ball shows his limits. The sisters Julie Bailly and Sarah Defries (from the latter, one could understand every single word that was said), sing well. Now Marianna Pizzolato is surprisingly the weakest link. Not only does she move less than all the others [which is quite something with such a static choreography] but her voice is not at all what I remember her for her previous Rossini, in Liege and Pesaro. It’s a singer who until very recently showed a deep, warm, pleasant voice, with admirable coloratura, capable of filling a theatre twice as large as the Liege house. Throughout the performance however I barely heard her, her coloratura only approximate, the acuti strained and almost screamed, the low notes gone. She was, I unhappily must say – quoting Tisbe describing her sister – un’ acqua senza sale.

Paolo Arrivabeni directs satisfactorily an orchestra that improved much in the Italian repertoire.

Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2014

kktbwI was convinced i would hear Adelaide di Borgogna life for the first time when i ordered tickets in Bad Wildbad for the yearly festival dedicated to Rossini. A quick glance at my list of visited performances told me i saw the Pesaro performances as well. The cast at the time was “stellar”: Jessica Pratt and Daniela Barcellona. But I must admit I rarely listen to the CD with the wonderful Mariella Devia and Martine Dupuy either as the music has little appeal to me and the libretto is very insipid. The Bad Wildbad performance is enjoyable enough, Margarita Gritskova as Ottone has a smooth voice over the whole range, a clear enough diction and a fair coloratura. Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Adelaide and Baurzhan Anderzhanov as Berengario are also convincing. Luciano Acocella directs well. Antonio Petris is responsible for the mise en scene and he follows Schönleber’s bad taste.

morlacchiThis year the operatic rarity (which is analways welcome project) was Tebaldo e Isolina by Francesco Morlacchi. Tebaldo e Isolina premiered 1822 in Venice and was one of the major successes of the Perugia-born composer. Morlacchi’s score clearly assimilates the Rossinian writing, made evident by the structures of the musical numbers (for e.g. Isolina’s aria in the first act has several sections, cello introduction, the reading of a letter, pertichini and choir) and the fine orchestration. It is not a masterpiece if we compare it with the operas by Rossini of the same period, but the composition has beautiful pieces like the finale of the 1st act and the romance for Tebaldo “Caro suono lusinghiero”.
Sandra Pastrana is Isolina. Her voice is a clean and clear but at times one wishes more dramatic weight. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s Boemondo was a very positive surprise to me. He has a naturally clear diction, (even for Italians this is not that evident) and a very pleasant voice. The coloratura is very fluid and the high notes clear and sure. Tebaldo’s role (which was written for the castrato Giovanni Battista Velluti, for whom Rossini composed the role of Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira and Meyerbeer the role of Armando in Il crociato in Egitto) was interpreted by Laura Polverelli. Polverelli has slightly worn high notes but a full and warm middle and lower register and the coloratura is fluid. The orchestra plays well and the director gives the singer time to develop the musical phrases.

Bad Wildbad-20140725-00947For the belcanto recitals, young singers perform in the recently renovated royal theatre (which seats 200 people). Some of the singers, which are students of Lorenzo Regazzo’s masterclasses (who joins in a terzetto from l’inganno felice), sing also minor roles in the opera’s in Bad Wildbad, many of them can be heard in the Viaggio a Reims, also performed in Bad Wildbad this year. They are all young and beautiful, they are all motivated and they all fully give themselves also in acting out their respective roles (I must say i was rarely moved so much during a recital). Some are very nervous and the heartily applause and cheering after each piece brings a clear relief and joy. The young artists are Cornelius Lewenberg, Guiomar Cantò, Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Matija Meic, Yasushi Watanabe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Olesya Chuprinova, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Silvia Aurea De Stefano, Carlos Cardoso, Lucas Somoza Osterc, Graziano Dallavalle, Anna Werle, Muriel Frankhauser, Alessandra Contaldo, Gheorghe Vlad, Miriam Zubieta. They were well accompanied on the piano by Michele D’Elia and Marco Simionato, Nicola Pascoli, Dimitri Candoni and Rossella Fracaros.

But if one thing is to enjoy their voices in carefully selected pieces, another is to endure a whole opera. Il viaggio a Reims’ score has been re-discovered only in 1984, and since then the opera serves as showcase for professionals and students alike.  But with singers which are not able to satisfy Rossini’s writing (it was composed for the best singers of the time, reunited in Paris for the coronation festivities of Charles X) a music director who hastily runs through the score and a scene director who fills the scenes with slap-sticks and buffoonery and clearly struggles with the amount of people on the stage, boredom and anger come up quickly. I will not describe the musical interpretation as the singers are young and full of enthusiasm (and some of them have remarkable qualities). But could another, easier opera not be chosen? This kind of operations are not in the interest of Rossini’s music, or the arts, or the singers themselves (among which I’d only single out Bruno Praticò and his experience). How difficult it is to cope with the Rossinian style was also recently shown in a scandalously poor performance of La gazzetta, given on a professional stage like the Liege Opera (Opéra Royal de Wallonie). I would, however, very gladly welcome the help of a film or drama school to take over the staging of operas.

Attila in Liege

IMG-20130922-00116Verdi is not one of my favourite composers. There was, however, one point of big interest in Liege’s production of Attila: the singer who impersonated the title role. What a pleasure it was to hear the wonderful timbre of Michele Pertusi. His ability to articulate each syllable within a steady singing line and warm, smooth voice is reason of real pleasure of this afternoon. Odabella is Makvala Aspanidze, who, given the difficulty of her entrance aria, gets acceptably through the aria, though not flawlessly. Her “Oh, nel fuggente nuovolo” on the other hand confirms the somewhat strained high notes, heavy fiorettature and lack of legato, though she has an agreeable voice in the middle register.
I liked Giovanni Meoni. His Ezio lacked the required grandiosity but his voice is nice and he sings with taste and musicality.

Giuseppe Gipali’s Foresto has a light-bodied and a bit colourless voice but he sings correctly, as do the last two members of the cast, Papuna Tchuradze as Uldino and Pierre Gathier as bishop Leone.

Ruggero Raimondi, one of the world’s most famous singers, is here the scene director. His historical settings are simple and functional, based on a vertical-moving two-level scene depicting once the Roman setting with horizontally colum-pedestals and Attila’s tents.
As the score does not contain particular difficulties, the orchestra plays well under the plausible but impersonal baton of Renato Palumbo.

Direction musicale-Reanato Palumbo, mise en scene-Ruggero Raimondi, Decors-Daniel Bianco, Costumes-Laura Lo Surdo, Lumieres-Albert Faura, Attila, Michele Pertusi, Odabella-Makvala Aspanidze, Ezio-Giovanni Meoni, Foresto-Giuseppe Gipali, Uldino-Papuna Tchuradze, Leone-Pierre Gathier, 22/9/13