La Vestale @ De Munt/La Monnaie

photo-k73o7rIt’s thanks to the uncharacteristic choice of this year’s Monnaie/Munt program, that we have the possibility to hear this wonderful opera by Gaspare Spontini, unfortunately now an almost forgotten composer. Spontini was born in Italy, got his first musical education in Naples, and grew artistically in Paris, where he wrote hugely popular operas such as La Vestale, Fernand Cortez and Olympie. Berlioz was a huge admirer, so much as to write a novel, where a suicide is committed after a performance of La Vestale as life had no further meaning after such an experience. I wouldn’t go as far, but indeed musically it is one of those masterpieces full of “choeurs magnifiques, ces prières nobles et touchantes, ce final inouï, ces récitatifs si larges, si mélodieusment vrais, ces chants tremblants d’émotions, si inspirés, si riches, cet orchestre puissant, pompeux et toujours dramatique, si tant d’élan sublimes…” (these magnificent choirs, these noble and touching prayers, these extraordinary finales, these ample melodic recitatives, this music trembling with emotions, so inspired, so rich, this powerful orchestra, pompous and always dramatic, this sublime impetus… – Berlioz in Le renovateur, 18 mai 1834).  The orchestral writing was indeed quite dramatic, vibrating, pulsating, colourful. It is clear, hearing Spontini’s music, why Berlioz was so fascinated by it, so far as to try to emulate it. And the orchestra is so well directed by Alessandro de Marchi, that it felt as an additional character. It was extremely well balanced although it follows a 18th century tradition of being placed looking towards the stage, with the violins closest and the brass, wood and percussion furthest from the stage. Under De Marchi the orchestra is light and powerful, dramatic and transparent.

photo-usq3ceLascascade as director was the complete opposite. The set so minimal that the first act starts with a complete empty stage and ends with a couple of tables on it. This affects the already difficult acustic of the Cirque Royal even more, with some of the voices sounding hollow. Overall the direction was not as bad as in Paris (reading reviews Lascascade probably reassessed his approach slightly), but there are very cringy situation, such as the running choir in Act I, the spinning choir in Act III, the reviving of the holy fire with a domestic gas lighter and the extremely cheap-looking sets.

V_31_copyThe voices again were overall excellent. Berlioz, in talking about the voice of Mme Branchu, the first Julia, describes it as “pleines et retentissantes, douces et fortes, capables de dominer les chœurs et l’orchestre, et pouvant s’éteindre jusqu’au murmure le plus affaibli de la passion timide, de la crainte ou de la rêverie….” I didn’t go to the theatre with Berlioz’ severe expectation. But I must say Alexandra Deshorties was amazing. Except for a slight strain in the top notes of the duet’s finale, Deshorties recited dramatically, her voice passion packed in recitative as much as in her arias, her phrasing exquisite, delivering a gripping performance. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo sounded a bit throaty and had a poor legato, but her rendering of the Grande Vestale was passionate. Yann Beuron was slightly short on top, but he also rendered an amazing Licinius, full of fiery passion and impetuous ardour. Very good also Julien Dran as Cinna and excellent Jean Teitgen as Pontife. Reserves on Lascascade, but otherwise a wonderful performance from singers, chorus and orchestra.

15/10/15: Muzikale leiding-Alessandro de Marchi, Regie-Eric Lascascade, Decors-Emmanuel Clolus, Kostuums-Marguerite Bordat, Belichting-Philippe Berthomé, Dramaturgie-Daria Lippi, Licinius-Yann Beuron, Cinna-Julien Dran, Le souverain Pontife-Jean Teitgen, Julia-Alexandra Deshorties, La Grande Vestale-Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo

Advertisements

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