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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L’opera seria-Gassmann-Jacobs in Brussels

gassmannFlorian Leopold Gassmann, although nowadays practically unknown to most, was one of Vienna’s court composer and organized one of the first associations of public concerts. Admired by Mozart, he was a prolific Bohemian, composing 25 or so operas, more than 50 symphonies, overtures, chamber music etc., who worked with famous librettists and composers such as Metastasio, Goldoni, Salieri. He composed operas for Vienna, Venice, Florence, and was able to merge the characteristics of the Venetian style and the German taste. The opera L’opera seria, written on a libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi, is not seria at all, but a brilliant and hilarious rendering of the rehearsal and staging of an opera, the vanity of singers, the greed of impresarios, and the whims of dancers, composers and librettists. It is part of a widespread and appreciated satirical genre that flourished between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and describes the inconveniences of opera companies and which has examples galore in prose, drama and opera alike (Il teatro alla moda by Benedetto Marcello, Le convenienze e inconvenienze teatrali by Donizetti, La prova dell’opera by Da Ponte, L’opera in prova alla moda by Latilla, L’impresario in angustie by Cimarosa, Prova di un opera seria by Gnecco, and many others).
castrato-illo_2013257aThe plot evolves around the impresario Fallito (!) who commissions an opera to a pretentious composer and librettist (Mr. Sigh and Delirium), three primadonnas (Miss Off-Key Trill, Miss Simpering, and Porporina, which show up with their respective mothers), the primo uomo and the dancer, and who are all only driven by their personal and individual glory. Act I and II sees them complain abut the libretto, the music , the costumes. They rehears among disastrous directions, singers complaining about the orchestra and ornamentation….chaos: The final act finally sees them catastrophically perform the opera on stage only to finally realize that the impresario run off with the money.
 

Calzabigi and Gassmann hide numerous musical gags in the opera (endless long introductions, a comparison aria, useless coloraturas, incompatibility of text and music, whims of singers) but one did not have to be an expert in musical history, so clever and transparent was the direction by Martinoty (who passed away less than a month ago), which I was lucky enough to  see during the Festwochen der Alten Musik in Innsbruck. The Austrian audience laughed with tear filled eyes throughout the performance and bestowed a triumph to music and staging. The latter intelligent and lively, with brilliant ideas and a flow in the narration which kept the public roaring laughing till the end. And except the very funny libretto, the music is amazingly rich, varied, brilliant and descriptive. Rene Jacobs (who didn’t “recently discover” the opera as stated in the Monnaie’s program) couldn’t be better suited to conduct this opera, which he performed in Schwetzingen, Berlin and Innsbruck in the 90s. He directs lively and virtuosistically and is even part of the show.

Patrick Kinmonth, on the other hand, fails miserably to bring the opera to life. The setting is nice but the direction is horribly flat and dull, and more than the dreadfully insipid ideas and piteously silly and trivial gags which have nothing or little to do with the  opera and utterly miss the spirit of the satire, it’s the missed opportunities that bother me: merely the music itself and the libretto are source of amusement.

 

Some of the singers are excellent. Spagnoli is simply wonderful, his style, his pronunciations, the nuances he puts in every line, his taste in phrasing, every inflection, every word is in its right place and his voice doesn’t seem to have lost any of its brilliance. I found Alex Penda and Mario Zeffiri equally good, both with their own qualities, they charm with actorial talent, and musically nail their hugely difficult roles, Zeffiri clearer in his diction and jauntier on stage, Alex Penda impressive with her wide vocal range. I also enjoyed Robin Johannsen, especially in her “son fatta cosi”. Sunhae Im was an acceptable Porporina, but I would have wished a more understandable Italian and a fuller voice. A vocally correct but scenically unmotivated Marcos Fink and an good Thomas Walker complete the cast with 3 decent countertenors in the role of the primadonnas’ mothers and Nicolay Borchev as dance master.

For an opera that is based so much on a  funny libretto I felt quite annoyed that so little importance was put in the text. The dreadful acoustics of the Cirque Royal didn’t help either and affected also the music, which lost its brilliance and clarity.

 Music director-Rene Jacobs, Staging, set design and costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Andreas Grüter, Choreography-Fernando Melo, Dramaturgy-Olivier Lexa, Fallito-Marcos Fink, Delirio-Pietro Spagnoi, Sospiro-Thomas Walker, Ritornello-Mario Zeffiri, Stonatrilla-Alex Penda, Smorfiosa-Robin Johannsen, Porporina-Sunhae Im, Passagallo-Nicolay Borchev, Bragherona-Magnus Staveland, Befana-Stephen Wallace, Caverna-Rubert Enticknap

Bozar in Brussels – Paisiello and Berlioz

What De Munt/La Monnaie doesn’t offer in terms of variety this year (50% is 20th century music and the remaining 50% are the omnipresent Haendel, Mozart and Verdi, though still one interesting Fierrabras – albeit in concert version) was given at the Bozar with only a couple of days from each other, organized by the Klarafestival.

IMG_1664Il barbiere di Siviglia. Not the well-known rossinian version, but Giovanni Paisiello’s, composed over 30 years earlier for the court of Saint Petersburg. Petrosellini’s libretto (which was set to music also by Francesco Morlacchi) is almost equal to Cesare Sterbini’s libretto for Rossini, and I was amused when I heard the same scenes, and in some cases the  exact same words. Paisiello’s genius doesn’t show as much in the Barbiere as it does in other works like Nina or Fedra. But the music is delightful, with heights in the Pace e gioia ensemble, Rosina’s music lesson, Bartolo’s Vuoi tu Rosina. The singers also follow stage directions and act the respective roles so the evening is almost as enjoyable as a staged opera. The cast rests on Pietro Spagnoli’s shoulder who’s rendition of Bartolo is perfect: excellent diction, wonderful singing technique, versatile actor. The rest of the cast are solid professionals with Mari Erismoen as Rosina, André Schuen as Figaro and Fulvio Bettini as Don Basilio. I didn’t enjoy Topi Lehtipuu very much, whose voice I found weightless and dry. Renee Jacobs gives a personal but lively and sparkling rendition of the score making it a highly enjoyable evening.

 

IMG_1691The other vocal work given at Bozar only a couple of days later is Romeo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz. It is described as a symphonie dramatique and includes 3 soloists and a choire and is regarded as one of Berlioz most admirable works. Richard Wagner was present at the premiere on 24 November 1839 and it must have made an impression on him if 20 years later he sent Berlioz the printed version of his Tristan and Isolde with the inscription Au grand et cher auteur de Roméo et Juliette, L’auteur reconnaissant de Tristan et Isolde.

Isabelle Druet’s and Jean-François Borras’ roles are rather short and confined to the beginning and neither have particularly marked my mind. Jerome Varnier’s voice was a bit absent and I felt it didn’t give the big recitative and aria of père Laurence the gravity it needed. François-Xavier Roth, who directed an interesting Christophe Colombe (by Félicien David) in Gent which I much enjoyed, chiseld the wide variety of emotions perfectly, from the whirling “fête” to the sweet and delicate love duet (Romeo and Juliet are impersonated by the orchestra) and the stirring final “serment”