Berlioz - Les Troyens

ONP Bastille, Tuesday February 12 2019

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production and sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov. Costumes: Elena Zaytseva. Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky. Cassandre: Stéphanie d'Oustrac. Ascagne: Michèle Losier. Hécube: Véronique Gens. Énée: Brandon Jovanovich. Chorèbe: Stéphane Degout. Panthée: Christian Helmer. Le Fantôme d'Hector: Thomas Dear. Priam: Paata Burchuladze. Un Capitaine Grec: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Helenus: Jean-François Marras. Polyxène: Sophie Claisse. Didon: Ekaterina Semenchuk. Anna: Aude Extrémo. Iopas: Cyrille Dubois. Hylas: Bror Magnus Tødenes. Narbal: Christian Van Horn. Deux Capitaines troyens: Jean-Luc Ballestra, Tomislav Lavoie. Mercure: Bernard Arrieta. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Talking about Les Troyens the other day, a colleague remarked that none of the Paris Opera’s new productions under Stéphane Lissner’s management have been outstandingly successful. As usual (though the phenomenon continues to puzzle me) the hoo-h…

Ponchielli - La Gioconda

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday February 10 2019

Conductor: Paolo Carignani. Production: Olivier Py. Sets & Costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Killy. La Gioconda: Hui He. Laura Adorno: Szilvia Vörös. Enzo Grimaldo: Stefano La Colla. Barnaba: Scott Hendricks. La Cieca: Ning Liang. Alvise Badoero: Jean Teitgen. Isèpo: Roberto Covatta. Zuàne /Un pilota: Bertrand Dunby. Un Barnabotto/Una voce: Bernard Giovani. Un cantore: René Laryea. Una voce: Alejandro Fonté. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. MM Academy & La Monnaie's Children's and Youth Chorus.

As the suave ‘cello solo turns into a quartet and the oboe then joins in, you think to yourself “Wow, I don't recall La Gioconda being so good.” Shortly afterwards, and for the next three hours or so, you realise why you’d forgotten. People sometimes say it’s a singers’ opera and that you need an outstanding cast to make it worthwhile. But I’m pretty certain that if you did have an outstanding cast in it, y…

Alessandro Scarlatti - Il Primo Omicidio ovvero Caino

Alessandro Scarlatti - Il Primo Omicidio ovvero Caino 

ONP Garnier, Tuesday January 29 2018 Conductor: René Jacobs. Production, sets, costumes and lighting: Romeo Castellucci. Caino: Kristina Hammarström. Abele: Olivia Vermeulen. Eva: Birgitte Christensen. Adamo: Thomas Walker. Voce di Dio: Benno Schachtner. Voce di Lucifero: Robert Gleadow. B’Rock Orchestra. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine, ONP Children’s Choir.

Wikipedia lists over 60 operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, none of which I've ever come across in a theatre over the past 40 years. Nevertheless, in co-production with Palermo, the Paris Opera decided to stage one of his oratorios: Il Primo Omicidio. The result didn’t confirm the wisdom of the choice. While Händel’s oratorios might make some dramatic sense (though he, too, wrote plenty of operas), Scarlatti's score is more contemplative - I might even say more religious. Jacobs is sometimes criticised for taking liberties for the sake of theatricality but did little to bring…

Stravinsky - L'Histoire du Soldat

Le Studio - Philharmonie, Paris, Sunday 27 January 2018

Actor/narrator: Eric Ruf. Dancer: Alban Richard. Soloists of the Orchestre de Paris and the Ensemble Intercontemporain.

When I was a teenager, on one of my first forays abroad, I had the good fortune to be invited to stay with a cultivated Swiss family in Lausanne, who opened up intriguing new worlds for me. They had real paintings, parquet floors, oriental rugs, a grand piano, and what they called their salon de l’art brut, a spare room kept empty but for their own improvised artworks. They introduced me to the first opera I ever knew and owned on record, Les Mamelles de Tirésias, which would later play a part in my getting into university, as I talked about Apollinaire's play when discussing the theatre of the absurd during my entrance interview. They also introduced me to Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat, the words to which the whole family seemed able to chant merrily by heart while it was on their gramophone, (which was hi…

Offenbach - Les Deux Aveugles. Hervé - Le Compositeur toqué

Studio Marigny, Paris, Sunday January 20 2019

Production, sets, costumes: Lola Kirchner. Lighting: Cyril Monteil. Giraffier, Séraphin: Flannan Obé. Patachon, Fignolet: Raphaël Brémard. Piano: Christophe Manien.

In case anyone doesn’t already know:

The vocation of the Palazzetto Bru Zane – Centre de Musique Romantique Française is the rediscovery and international promotion of the French musical heritage of the long nineteenth century (1780-1920). Its interests range from chamber music to the orchestral, sacred and operatic repertories, not forgetting the lighter genres characteristic of the ‘esprit français’ of the nineteenth century (chanson, opéra-comique, operetta). The Centre was inaugurated in 2009 and has its headquarters in a Venetian palazzo dating from 1695 which was specially restored for this purpose.
[From the Bru-Zane website]

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed rediscovering some rare French operas through Bru Zane’s recordings, so I was glad to see they were planning a l…

Donizetti - Don Pasquale

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 23 2018

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production and costumes: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Chantal Thomas. Lighting: Duane Schuler. Don Pasquale: Pietro Spagnoli. Dottor Malatesta: Rodion Pogossov. Ernesto: Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani. Norina: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Un Notaro: Alessandro Abis. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Like Beethoven advising Rossini but at my much less exalted level, I'd be quite happy if Donizetti had stuck to comic operas. Laurent Pelly's production of Don Pasquale, already seen in San Diego and Barcelona, was an unpretentiously and undemandingly good-humoured way to end the operatic year just before Christmas.

The set was simple: Don Pasquale's house in the middle of a square, with, to right and left, walls of doors, windows and shutters, all grey, and to the rear, nothing. The house rotated to reveal the Don's living room, bare but for his high, button-backed leather armchair and an elaborate central ceilin…