Showing posts from 2007

Chabrier – L’Etoile

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday December 19, 2007

Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Production: Macha Makeïeff and Jérôme Deschamps. Sets and Costumes: Macha Makeïeff. Lazuli: Stéphanie d’Oustrac. La Princesse Laoula: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Aloès: Blandine Staskiewicz. Le Roi Ouf 1er: Jean-Luc Viala. Hérisson de Porc Epic: Christophe Gay. Siroco: Jean-Philippe Lafont. Tapioca: François Piolino. Comic actors: Jean-Marc Bihour, Philippe Leygnac and Patrice Thibaud. The Monteverdi Choir, L’Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

For many years, Offenbach productions in France were of two equally unsuccessful kinds: grim, humourless, black-leather “Berlin” deconstructions or, more often, a sort of amateur-British-panto style, faux-naïf and filled with clichés and hopelessly unfunny “gags” (often also sung to arrangements for a kind of Broadway ensemble) talked up – this being France, where Jerry Lewis is not only “knighted” for his services to arts and letters but also a Commander of the…

Massenet - Werther

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 16 2007Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Production: Guy Joosten. Werther: Andrew Richards. Le Bailli : Gilles Cachemaille. Charlotte : Sophie Koch. Sophie : Hendrickje Van Kerckhove. Albert : Jean-François Lapointe. Schmidt : Yves Saelens. Johann : Lionel Lhote. Käthchen : Anneke Luyten. Brühlmann : Olivier Berten. Orchestra and children's chorus of La Monnaie.To cut a long story short, this Brussels production of Werther was a lot better in the second half than the first, possibly because that's the way Werther is, but more probably on account of the production.Now for the long story, production first.This was basically a single-set staging with a change of props per act. The permanent space was triangular, with pale grey, flat-panelled walls meeting in a point at the rear. Set into this was, in acts one to three, a basic bourgeois interior: a door and a window in walls "papered" with a romantic landscape that changed colour with the sea…

Bernstein - West Side Story

Paris Châtelet, Tuesday November 27 2007

Conductor: Donald Chan. Production and choreography: Joey McKneely. Sets: Paul Gillis. Costumes: Renate Schmitzer. Lighting: Peter Halbsgut. Tony: Sean Attebury. Maria: Ann McCormack. Anita: Vivian Nixon. "West side story orchestra".

I must own up to being ill-equipped to assess West Side Story. I enjoy musicals and usually try to fit one in when in New York, but I can only have seen about a dozen in all between New York and London. As far as I can remember, though I've obviously seen scenes on TV, I've never actually seen the whole film. Of course, I know the songs but am familiar with the score mainly through the symphonic dances. And I have a devil of a job "deciphering" amplified sound, not being used to it.

The current "50th anniversary" Paris show is in fact a German touring production, billed as "original" because it recreates the original Robbins choreography; but from what I've read in t…

Mozart - Mitridate, re di Ponto

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday October 21 2007

Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth. Production: Robert Carsen. Sets: Radu Boruzescu. Costumes: Miruna Boruzescu. Mitridate: Bruce Ford. Aspasia: Mary Dunleavy. Sifare: Myrtò Papatanasiu. Farnace: Bejun Mehta. Ismene: Veronica Cangemi. Marzio: Maxim Mironov. Arbate: Jeffrey Francis. Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie.

It's always interesting to have a Robert Carsen production in your season's schedule, but Carsen is no more infallible than anyone else and this was, I thought, not one of his successes - a pity with such a strong, even cast. For this new Brussels Mitridate, he served up our old "friend" the "contemporary war update" i.e. with people in battledress and helmets, cradling machine guns. Apart from the fact that these productions all look the same (especially as opera seria plots all seem much the same as well) and we've got used to them since the 80s, I think if this had to be done to Mitridate, Peter Sell…

Damon Albarn - Monkey: journey to the west

Paris Châtelet, Saturday September 29, Wednesday October 3 2007

Conductor: André de Ridder. Conception and production: Chen Shi-Zheng. Visuals, costumes, sets and cartoons: Jamie Hewlett. Monkey King: Fei Yang. Acrobats, martial arts performers, Chinese opera singers, orchestra and chorus of Damon Albarn.

Monkey: Journey to the West is billed as opera but is hard to write up if “legitimate” opera is all you know, or, like me, this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz and Blur. So I’m going to cheat and quote a few professional critics, better equipped than I for the job.

As The Times’ critic wrote when the show appeared earlier this year in Manchester: “…the enchanting Monkey: Journey to the West is no closer to opera (at least as understood in the West) than it is to circus, dance, mime or a martial arts movie. Indeed, few of the 45-strong Chinese cast do any singing. But genre distinctions don’t really matter. Brilliantly masterminded by the Chin…

Dukas – Ariane et Barbe-Bleue

ONP Bastille, Thursday September 13 2007

Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling. Production, sets and costumes: Anna Viebrock. Barbe-Bleue: Willard White. Ariane: Deborah Polaski. La nourrice: Julia Juon. Sélysette: Diana Axentii. Ygraine: Iwona Sobotka. Mélisande: Hélène Guilmette. Bellangère: Jaël Azzaretti. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

In my experience, booing at the opera usually provokes a compensating volley of applause and cheers. Last night, however, as the production team took their bow, it was unmitigated.

Anna Viebrock is familiar to Parisians as Christoph Marthaler’s set-designer; this was, however, my first encounter with her as director as well. She seems determined to do for the interior design of former communist East Germany what Zola did for the institutions of the Second Empire, presenting us with successive archetypes in the form of painstakingly reconstructed “Ostalgic” locations, as if transported lovingly, piece by numbered piece, complete with gru…

Verdi – Un ballo in maschera

ONP Bastille, Tuesday July 10 2007

Conductor: Paul Weigold. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Riccardo: Marcelo Alvarez. Renato: Ludovic Tézier. Amelia: Angela Brown. Ulrica: Elena Manisitina. Oscar: Camilla Tilling. Silvano: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Sam: Michail Schelomianski. Tom: Scott Wilde. Giudice: Pascal Meslé. Servo d’Amelia: Nicolas Marie.

“C’était pas mauvais, mais c’était ennuyeux”. “On reste sur sa faim”.

Those two comments, heard after the show, just about sum up this disappointing end to our season. It was one of those evenings when a decent cast could have done a better job with a different conductor and director.

I like my Verdi brisk, bouncy and with a certain bite to it – rawness, even. Paul Weigold played it like a late romantic chamber work: rounded sounds, languorous tempi, legato, rubato, all in all a sort of expansive soupiness (beautifully executed, notwithstanding) that at best brought to mind Mendelssohn, at worst Rachmaninov. There was no dramatic tension, no forward drive,…

Britten - The Rape of Lucretia

Théâtre de l'Athénée, Paris, Tuesday June 26 2007

Conductor: Neil Beardmore. Production: Stephen Taylor. Soloists of the Atelier Lyrique de l'Opéra national de Paris, as follows. Lucretia: Anna Wall. Collatinus: Ugo Rabec. Junius: Wiard Witholt. Tarquinius: Igor Gnidii. Bianca: Cornelia Oncioiu. Lucia: Elisa Cenni. Female Chorus: Marie-Adeline Henry. Male chorus: Vincent Delhoume. Ensemble de Basse-Normandie.

An unexpected invitation brought me to the elaborately Belle-Epoque bonbonnière of the Théâtre de l'Athénéé for this production (brought in from Strasbourg) of Britten's Rape, featuring young singers involved in the Paris Opera's Atelier Lyrique ("opera workshop") programme.

It's hard to write up a show of this sort. We're told you have to be cruel to be kind, but I suspect that's just an excuse for plain cruelty; more convincing kindness would be simply to say "bravo" to everyone ("E for earnest endeavour," a conductor I…

Wagner - Lohengrin

ONP Bastille, Tuesday June 5, 2007

Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Production: Robert Carsen. Sets and costumes: Paul Steinberg. Heinrich der Vogler: Jan-Hendrik Rootering. Lohengrin: Ben Heppner. Elsa von Brabant: Mireille Delunsch. Friedrich von Telramund: Jean-Philippe Lafont. Ortrud: Waltraud Meier. Der Heerrufer des Königs: Evgeny Nikitin. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

From what I read on the web, this run of Lohengrin has gone steadily gone downhill since the mostly positive reviews it got in its early days in the press ("Waltraud Meier is Ortrud, Ben Heppner is Lohengrin...").

It was soon troubled by Valery Gergiev's erratic punctuality, owing to his hectic performance schedule. One Saturday, it started 30 minutes late. The following week, management announced he was in his taxi; then, that he was still on his plane and that the first act would be conducted by someone else; then, after act one, that he had arrived but was "not in a fit state&qu…

Rossini - Tancredi

Salle Pleyel, Paris, Sunday June 3 2007

Concert version

Conductor: René Jacobs. Tancredi: Bernarda Fink. Amenaide: Rosemary Joshua. Argirio: Lawrence Brownlee. Roggiero: Anna Chierichetti. Orbazzano: Federico Sacchi. Isaura: Elena Belfiore. Orchestre des Champs-Elysées. The English Voices.

Back to the Salle Pleyel on Sunday for an interesting and sometimes exciting concert version of Rossini’s Tancredi – but a tough one to write up: René Jacobs’ approach, with a “period” orchestra and a cast of mostly Händelian singers (a deliberate choice of course) results in so different a Rossini that I’d really have liked to hear it several times before commenting.

The programme notes remind us that only 22 years separate Tancredi, which Jacobs calls “the most Mozartian of Rossini’s operas,” from La clemenza di Tito; that Rossini was known as “Il tedeschino”; and that he had assimilated Gluck’s reforms. As you would expect, the “HIP” orchestral sound strips off the varnish of smooth, 20th-century per…

Strauss - Salome

Salle Pleyel, Paris, Tuesday May 29 2007

Concert version

Conductor: Marc Albrecht. Salome: Janice Baird. Herod Antipas: Chris Merritt. Herodias: Anja Silja. Iochanaan: Alan Titus. Narraboth: Wookyung Kim. Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg.

Last night's Salome at the magnificently glamourised Salle Pleyel (what a sinister old hole it used to be) turned out, in the end, to be a very fine concert. I originally bought seats to hear Nina Stemme. She was replaced by Janice Baird, Alan Titus stepped in as John and Wookyung Kim took over from Rainer Trost (what was the matter with them all?). Also, I was warned (a) that Janice Baird, whom I actually also wanted to hear for the first time, had an edgy, wobbly voice and (b) that the Strasbourg band was capable of the worst horrors in Wagner and Strauss. I expected little of Chris Merritt after his recent catastrophic showing in La Juive, and wondered - much as I love her - how many notes Anja Silja would now have left.


First of all,…

Bizet - Carmen

Châtelet, Paris, Thursday May 17 2007

Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Production from the Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin: Martin Kusej, restaged by Elena Tzavara. Carmen: Sylvie Brunet. Don José: Nikolai Schukoff. Escamillo: Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Micaëla: Genia Kühmeier. Le Dancaïre: Alain Gabriel. Le Remendado: François Piolino. Zuniga: François Lis. Moralès: Boris Grappe. Frasquita: Gaële Le Roi. Mercédès: Nora Sourouzian. Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble. Chorus of the Musiciens du Louvre. Sotto Voce and Maîtrise de Paris children's choruses.
Bizet's Don José

Quite often these days directors are criticised for taking "stage business" to mean busy staging, afraid that audiences with a supposedly short, TV-influenced attention span will switch off if nothing much happens during an aria. Martin Kusej's Carmen must be one of the fidgiest productions I've ever seen.

The thing even managed to open with two "ideas". First, a red scarf fell from the flies (…

Janacek - Vec Makropulos

ONP Bastille, Tuesday May 8, Monday May 14 2007

Conductor: Tomas Hanus. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and costumes Malgorzata Szczesniak. Emilia Marty: Angela Denoke. Albert Gregor: Charles Workman. Jaroslav Prus: Vincent Le Texier. Vítek: David Kuebler. Krista: Karine Deshayes. Janek : Ales Briscein. Kolenaty: Paul Gay. Hauk-Sendorf: Ryland Davies. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.
Having seen this show once, we decided to go back and see it again for two reasons: first, it was such a good production that we wanted to take a (literally) closer look at the details; second, the performance on May 8 was musically ropier than I expected after reading rave reviews (chaotic orchestra with several wrong entries, some cracked notes on stage...) and we wanted to see if we'd just hit an off night.

Musically, May 14 was an improvement: the orchestra, though still occasionally unruly, was better-disciplined and the singers were on better form. In any case, this is p…

Stravinsky – The Rake’s Progress

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday May 6 2007

Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Production: Robert Lepage, with Ex Machina, Quebec. Anne Trulove: Laura Claycomb. Tom Rakewell: Andrew Kennedy. Nick Shadow: William Shimell. Mother Goose: Julianne Young. Baba the Turk: Dagmar Peckova. Trulove: Darren Jeffery. Sellem: Donal Byrne. Keeper of the Madhouse: Shadi Torbey. Orchestr and chorus of La Monnaie.

Unusually, the Financial Times published a reader’s rebuttal of its reviewer’s complaints that the singers in Brussels’ new production of The Rake’s Progress were often faint and that the production might have been more original and better-handled. Well, I was there yesterday, and I can see the critic’s point.

For a start, to keep things perfectly objective, my neighbour, not herself an FT reader, spontaneously opined at the interval that Andrew Kennedy “might really be not bad at all, but I can’t hear him.” She also spontaneously compared this production to Robert Carsen’s Paris Candide – which also took ear…

Monteverdi and others - Era La notte

"Opéra de Chambre"Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday May 4 2007Pietro Antonio Giramo: La PazzaClaudio Monteverdi: Lamento d’AriannaBarbara Strozzi: Lagrime mieClaudio Monteverdi: Il Combattimento di Tancredi e ClorindaProduction: Juliette Deschamps. Costumes: Christian Lacroix. Anna Caterina Antonacci. Soloists of the Cercle de l’Harmonie under Julien Chauvin.

A single sentence found on the web sums up this rather intense evening: “Era la notte presents four highly emotional, seventeenth-century Italian works, sung with commanding theatricality by Anna Caterina Antonacci.” Presented as a “chamber opera”, the performance is really a staged recital of works composed between 1620 and 1650, united by period but also by the the theme of destructive, mostly amorous, passion.

The production is simple. The stage is nearly bare, with just a strip of water at the apron changing colour, from blue to blood red, depending on variations in the “old master” style lighting that follow …

Saint-Saëns - Samson et Dalila

La Monnaie at Bozar, Brussels, Sunday March 25 2007

Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Chorus Master: Piers Maxim. Dalila: Olga Borodina. Samson: Carl Tanner. Le Grand Prêtre de Dagon: Jean-Philippe Lafont. Abimélech, satrape de Gaza: Federico Sacchi. Un vieil Hébreu: Chester Patton. Un messager: Tie Min Wang. Premier Philistin: André Grégoire. Deuxième philistin: Bernard Giovani. Orchestre symphonique et choeurs de la Monnaie.

[Photo: Shafahi]

This concert peformance of Samson et Dalila took place in the handsomely-restored art deco concert hall - complete with organ - of Horta's otherwise grim Palais des Beaux-Arts, or "Bozar" as it's now called, in Brussels. Though it seems fairly obvious to me that if composers intended their operas for the stage, staged they should be, Samson works quite well as oratorio: strong orchestral support, plenty of good stuff for the chorus, etc., apart from the odd detail explicit only on stage, e.g. the child who guides Samson to the pillars at th…

Händel – Ariodante

Théatre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday March 16 2007

Conductor: Christophe Rousset. Production and sets: Lukas Hemleb. Choreography: Andrew George. Ariodante: Angelika Kirchschlager. Polinesso: Vivica Genaux. Ginevra: Danielle De Niese. Dalinda: Jaël Azzaretti. Lurcanio: Topi Lehtipuu. Il Re: Olivier Lallouette. Odoardo: Nicolas Maire. Les Talens Lyriques.

“Indignities for a pittance”. It’s highly unlikely Ivy Compton-Burnett ever danced in an opera, but her terse definition of work must strike a chord in the careworn hearts of those who do. How often, over the years, have we all felt sorry for those poor, cute kids: so much hard work, such beautiful bodies, only to be forced to look ridiculous in front of 1,000 people who wished you weren’t there at all, and smile as you get booed at the end. Presumably for a pittance, too.

Lukas Hemleb’s production of Ariodante has had particularly mixed reviews, ranging from pure panning to sheer ecstasy - though any praise for the ballets has been…

Shostakovich – Katerina Ismailova

Théâtre du Châtelet, Saturday March 10, 2007

Conductor: Tugan Sokhiev. Boris: Alexeï Tanovitski. Zinovyi: Evgeny Akimov. Katerina: Solveig Kringelborn. Sergeï: Vladimir Grishko. Aksinia: Ludmila Dudinova. Shabby Peasant: Vasily Gorushkov. Priest/Old Convict: Ilya Bannik. Sonyetka: Anna Markarova. Police chief: Nikolai Kamensky. Orchestre National de France. Chorus of Radio France.
[Photo: Shafahi]

This excellent concert provided a perfect illustration, if one were needed, of the anyway obvious point that a singer can’t be judged on the basis of a single performance. Hauled in at the last minute to sing the Marschallin in this season’s jinxed Rosenkavalier, Solveig Kringelborn gave little sign of her acting or vocal capabilities – understandably, under the tense circumstances. She may have given more in the last act, but by then we were already far away having dinner.

In Saturday’s Katerina Ismailova she proved to be an outstanding tragic actress, even in an unstaged performance with onl…

Halévy – La Juive

ONP - Bastille, Tuesday February 20 2007

Conductor: Daniel Oren. Production: Pierre Audi. Sets: George Tsypin. Costumes: Dagmar Niefind. Lighting: Jean Kalman. La princesse Eudoxie: Annick Massis. Rachel: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Éléazar: Chris Merritt. Le cardinal de Brogni: Robert Lloyd. Léopold: John Osborn. Ruggiero: André Heyboer. Albert: Vincent Pavesi. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

I always thought the secret of that rare event, an exciting evening at the opera, lay in everything, for once, being right: a great work, a great production, great acting, singing and playing... With La Juive at the Bastille we had an obscure work - not played here since 1934 - by an obscure composer, with a dreadful libretto; a dubious production; the scheduled tenor falling sick at the eleventh hour and some very dodgy singing by his replacement… Yet, opera being the exotic and irrational entertainment it is, the evening ended in triumph, even, more or less, for the stand-in.