“Seven words” of Pergolesi and Haydn @ Bozar

pergolesiTwo settings of The last seven words of Christ on the cross followed one another in the Bozar, one by Pergolesi, one by Haydn. Pergolesi’s music is varied enough with many obbligato accompaniments, especially brilliant the first tenor aria and the cello-accompanied baritone aria Consummatum est. The orchestra played brilliantly although I found René Jacobs not as inspired. Absolutely stunning  the young Prégardien, secure over the whole range, light, dramatic and varied. Less convincing the other three singers, partially monotonous in phrasing, uneven when the vocal line rose or dropped. Correctly sung the second part of the concert, the Stabat mater by Pergolesi.

 

haydnThe other seven words I saw after two days, were by Haydn. Haydn’s biographer Griesinger reports: it was certainly one of the most difficult tasks, to compose 7 Adagio’s which follow one another, that do not fatigue the listener, and arouse in him all sensations which are in the spirit of each word uttered by the dying saviour. Haynd found the work as one of his most successful. And indeed the music is absolutely wonderful. The 4 soloists did not make a big impression mainly because they always sang together (except for a few bars now and then) and blended in with the choir. Herreweghe and his Orchestra of Champs Elysée played very well. The choir on the other hand was impressive. Exceptionally correct and expressive singing as always, the Collegium Vocale Gent were a marvel of passion and fervour.

Pergolesi: Director-René Jacobs, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Soprano-Sunhae Im, Alto-Christophe Dumaux, Tenor-Julian Prégardien, Baritone-Johannes Weisser (12/3/16). Haydn: Director-Philippe Herreweghe, Sopran-Sarah Wegener, Alt-Maria-Henriette Reinhold, Tenor-Robin Tritschler, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Collegium Vocale Gent (14/3/16).

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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

Die Schöpfung @ Bozar

Collegium Vocale - GentWonderful is this composition of a Haydn who gets the first glimpse of romanticism. Wonderful in its alternation of short and varied arias, duets and trios. Sophie Karthäuser, and Maximilian Schmitt don’t have particularly voluminous voices, but all soloists including the baritone Johannes Weisser sing gracefully and with style. The orchestra B’Rock is wonderful. Sometimes they seem a 4th singing voice, from the delicate cello accompaniment  to the twirling woodwinds. René Jacobs chooses to underline dynamic contrasts, and the orchestra follows him in an onomatopoeic explosion of colours underlining the libretto from forceful vigour over poetic lyricism to languid peacefulness.

The choir, the Collegium Vocale Gent, deserves only the fullest appreciation, all pages reach the highest inspiration thanks to the dazzling richness of the interpretation. The final florid passages, given to the chorus rather than the soloists, are excellent. A breathtaking performance.

director-René Jacobs, Sopran-Sophie Karthäuser, Tenor-Maximilian Schmitt, Bariton-Johannes Weisser, B’Rock, Collegium Vocale Gent

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

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”