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

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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)

 

Ricciardo e Zoraide in Bad Wildbad

Teatro_San_Carlo_-_Napoli (1)Ricciardo e Zoraide comes from this incredible pool of Rossini’s operas composed for Neaples between 1815 and 1822. When Domenico Barbaja summoned Rossini to Naples, the Real Teatro di San Carlo had everything a composer could hope for: a first class orchestra composed only of professionals (which was by no means the standard in Italy in those days, see for e.g. the clarinet solo in Ricciardo and especially the horn solo from Otello), some of the finest singers of that time, and one of Europe’s best choruses (although I’m sure Rossini was attracted as well by the excellent food and other Neapolitan beauties …..). This was Rossini’s fertile ground on which grew his masterpieces, in a time regarded as the zenith (and end) of belcanto. For Naples Rossini could draw all his stops, in fact, in Naples Rossini was more innovative and modern than ever.

From the mentioned singers one has to outline Isabella Colbran, Rossini’s lover-then-wife, a singer of a wide vocal range, smoothness and flexibility, praised all over Italy. Celletti analyzes Colbran’s voice as  sono più basse (the parts she sings), come tessitura delle parti di soprano “puro” e, anzi, hanno sovente il carattere di parti di mezzosoprano acuto… e improntate come sono ad un accentuato virtuosismo e ad una coloratura fittissima, sono quelle che più rispecchiano l’inventiva di Rossini in materia di diminuzioni, variazioni e fiorettature e la sua capacità di mettere in evidenza taluni pregi dell’esecutrice (la vocalità acrobatica, specie “di forza”, occultandone, insieme, taluni difetti: in particolare, sembra, la progressiva incapacità della Colbran di sostenere senza stonare le larghe frasi di canto spianato; da cui la tendenza ad una coloratura sempre più dettagliata e fastosa, con conseguente eliminazione dei cantabili veri e propri.. Giovanni David, the tenore contraltino, with an extravagant taste for decorating into extremes, and Andrea Nozzari, the more baritonal tenor. The fourth voice was the one of Rosmunda Pisaroni, one of the finest contralto’s of her time. At the time Rossini reached Neaples, Colbran’s singing abilities were declining and she lost pitch and flexibility. This might maybe the reason why Zoraida has no aria di sortita, and her final aria is built into the Finale II.

Ricciardo e ZoraideBad Wildbad is a small village in the Black Forest and Rossini seemingly enjoyed its curative waters in 1856. For the last 25 years opera’s by Rossini and his contemporaries are staged here. This year it was Ricciardo e Zoraide‘s turn in a concert version. Singers are a mix of the star system and lesser known artists. I remember Randall Bills from his cavalier Belfiore in the Viaggio a Reims in Pesaro last year. His coloratura is perfectionable and Agorante is a role too big for him, which is noticeable in his entrance aria. But withouth the screamed top notes and the non-existing lower notes I liked his nice timbre. Silvia Beltrami had no problems with the tessitura, mastering the contralto notes with ease, her voice running smoothly through the theatre although one wishes more fluid coloratura. No problems with the coloratura instead for Alessandra Marianelli, whom I also remember from Pesaro in a very questionable Turco in Italia. Her voice is pleasant but with unfortunate, near-scream upper notes. Best of the evening was Maxim Mironov, with clear coloratura and a spot-on top register. Di Pierro and Sargsyan sang well in the roles of Ircano and Ernesto, respectively. The director left the singers the time they needed and did a good job following them although one would have wished a slightly bigger unity between orchestra and singers. The orchestra was perfectionable, with some off-key notes and players not always playing together. The chorus on the other hand was superb.

Overall a very pleasant evening for an opera containing excellent music heard far too rarely, adequately cast by the Rossini in Wildbad-staff, who is doing an admirable work reviving forgotten opera’s.

Musical director-José Miguel Perez Sierra, Agorante-Randall Bills, Zoraide-Alessandra Marianelli, Ricciardo-Maxim Mironov, Ircano-Nahuel di Pierro, Zomira-Silvia Beltrami, Ernesto-Artavazd Sargsyan, Fatima-Diana Mian, Bach choir Poznan, Virtuosi Brunenses

Bad Wildbad, 20/07/2013