Showing posts from January, 2007

Prokofiev – The Fiery Angel

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday January 28 2007

Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Production: Richard Jones. Sets: John Macfarlane. Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand. Ruprecht: Tómas Tómasson. Renata: Elena Popovskaya. Fortune-Teller: Elena Manistina. Landlady: Beata Morawska. Mephistopheles: Leonid Bomshteyn. Agrippa von Nettesheim: Vitali Taraschenko. Johann Faust: Ante Jerkunica. Inquisitor: Vladimir Samsonov. Mother Superior: Maria Gortsevskaya. Jacob Glock: Lorenzo Caròla. Doctor: Zeno Popescu. Mathias Wissmann: Andrej Baturkin. Innkeeper: Nabil Suliman. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

Sometimes it takes an exceptional performance to crack a thorny work. I have two recordings of The Fiery Angel, one in French and the other in Russian, and have seen it at least once before. But in my mind it remained pigeonholed as an incomprehensible (in fact mad) story set to a noisy score. This Brussels production made sense of both.

It was clear from the opening bars that the orchestra of La Monnaie was on espec…

Mozart – Don Giovanni

ONP Bastille, Wednesday January 24 2007

Conductor: Michael Güttler. Production: Michael Haneke. Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei. Il Commendatore: Mikhail Petrenko. Donna Anna: Carmela Remigio. Don Ottavio: Shawn Mathey. Donna Elvira: Arpiné Rahdjian. Leporello: Luca Pisaroni. Masetto: David Bizic. Zerlina : Aleksandra Zamojska.

Rossini’s La pietra del paragone, which I reviewed last week, is styled a melodramma giocoso. I mention this in case any passing directors might be looking for an insight into what giocoso means or meant back then, the custom being, with Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni, dramma giocoso, to ignore the adjective and focus exclusively on the noun.

A bit like Chéreau’s Ring, Michael Haneke’s production of Don G. for the Paris opera started out being booed to the rafters but seems, now, to be considered a classic of sensible updating. Ignoring the adjective, Haneke plays the work as a brutal, sinister, sordid, (and musically sluggish) drama of abuse of power and se…

Amazon Gems

“Fantasyland of adornment” – a selection of customer reviews

The Three Tenors, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, Renée Fleming and others.
[Note: spelling, spacing, punctuation, etc, are copied and pasted exactly as published on Amazon]
Well I have one thing to say.. Art is Art and Renee is Renee.Before i start with anything, I don't have this album, but not in this form. I have almost the whole albums of this great soprano, and that means that I already have this album. Songs selected here are quite good, but they are, like what I've mentioned, are not for fans like me. The songs are quite catchy to catch someone by ear, but not me.Katherine Jenkins is a wonderful opera singer she reminds me of Nana Mouskouri...If she chooses to record Sarah Brightman's repertoire over and over again, she should get herself some comparable pipes.Listening to this recording reminds me of a stunning molasses sculpture.I don't even want to get THIS! Sexy Andrea Bocelli only has ONE song on t…

Rossini – La Pietra del Paragone

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Thursday January 18 2007

Conductor: Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Production and video: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Pierrick Sorin. Marchesina Clarice: Sonia Prina. Baronessa Aspasia: Jennifer Holloway. Donna Fulvia: Laura Giordano. Pacuvio: Christian Senn. Conte Asdrubale: François Lis. Giocondo: José Manuel Zapata. Conte Macrobio: Joan Martín-Royo. Fabrizio: Filippo Polinelli. Ensemble Matheus. Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma.

It isn’t often the production team gets the loudest applause of all, in Paris or elsewhere, especially for what would presumably pass, in the US, for Eurotrash. Rossini’s La Pietra del Paragone is an almost plotless piece of first-class fluff, untainted by a moment’s depth, lasting a full three hours. It requires two main things to avoid eventual lassitude: an unflaggingly entertaining, well-regulated production, and excellent playing and singing. While the singing, last night, was creditable, the production was outstandingly imaginativ…

Bernstein – Candide

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Thursday December 28, 2006

Conductor: John Axelrod. Production, lighting: Robert Carsen. Costumes: Buki Shiff. Voltaire, Pangloss, Martin: Lambert Wilson. Candide: William Burden. Cunegonde: Anna Christy. Old Lady: Kim Criswell. Grand Inquisitor, Captain, Governor, Vanderdendur, Ragotski: John Daszak. Paquette: Jeni Bern. Maximilien: David Adam Moore. Cacambo: Ferlyn Brass. Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. Chorus of the Théâtre du Châtelet.

It must be hard to know what to with Candide. Though it’s supposed to be a “comic operetta” it isn’t really clear what sort of voices it requires: operatic or Broadway. The extreme wordiness of the libretto (or should I say lyrics?) is in inverse proportion to the dramatic coherence and drive of the plot. And the piece has had such a chequered history it now seems unclear which version might be called “right”.

To give some semblance of coherence to the whole, Robert Carsen’s characteristically box-fresh, bright-as-a-button pro…

Verdi – La Traviata

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 10 2006

Conductor: Stéphane Denève. Production, sets, costumes and lighting: Karl-Ernst & UrselHerrmann. Violetta Valéry: Virginia Tola. Alfredo Germont: James Valenti. Giorgio Germont: José van Dam. Flora Bervoix: Natascha Petrinsky. Annina: Marielle Moeskops. Gastone,Visconte di Letorières: Alexander Oliver. Barone Douphol: Shadi Torbey. Marchese d’Obigny: Pierre Doyen. Dottor Grenvil: Jacques Does. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

“A solid, provincial Traviata” doesn’t sound very flattering, but take it in a positive way and it just about sums up this 1987 production revived by La Monnaie. For Brussels, the staging is unusually traditional and straightforward, without falling into Zeffirellian excess or Kitsch, and the cast is more one of definite promise (with the exception of Germont) than of international stars.

The sets are firmly Second Empire: machine-age faux luxe. Act one takes place in an oval saloon with walls and shallow dome u…

Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier

ONP Bastille, Tuesday December 5 2006

Conductor:Philippe Jordan. Production, sets and costumes: Herbert Wernicke. Die Feldmarschallin: Solveig Kringelborn. Der Baron Ochs: Franz Hawlata. Octavian: Anke Vondung. Herr von Faninal: Olaf Bär. Sophie: Heidi Grant Murphy. Marianne Leitmetzerin: Michèle Lagrange.

It’s probably only my bad luck, but I’m beginning to think Rosenkavalier is like La Traviata: famous and popular but rarely a great experience in the theatre. The last time we had this Wernicke production in Paris it had a “dream cast”: Fleming, Bonney and Graham, and was so dull we left before act 3, unable to face all the unamusing rigmarole that has to be sat through before the arrival of the Feldmarschallin.

The same production is back in town, this time of course without Wernicke, and seems to be jinxed. Vesselina Kasarova dropped out before the first night and Anne Schwanewilms fell ill at the weekend. Heidi Grant Murphy is still standing, but as she’s inaudible at the Bastille…

Prokofiev – L’Amour des Trois Oranges

Opéra National de Paris – Bastille, Monday December 4 2006

Conductor: Alexander Lazarev. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Le Roi de Trèfle: Philippe Rouillon. Le Prince: Charles Workman. La Princesse Clarice: Patricia Fernandez. Léandre: Guillaume Antoine. Trouffaldino: Barry Banks. Pantalon: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Tchélio: Alain Vernhes. Fata Morgana: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet. Linette: Letitia Singleton. Nicolette: Natacha Constantin. Ninette: Aleksandra Zamojska. La Cuisinière: Victor von Halem. Farfarello: Antoine Garcin. Sméraldine: Lucia Cirillo. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

There’s always a risk, when you take a production the second season running because you liked it so much the first, of disappointment. But if anything, this excellent show – which really ought to be on DVD – struck me as even more outstanding this year than last. All I said about it last year remains true, in spades. And on the singing side, apart from a weaker Princesse Clarisse, the few cast c…

Donizetti – L’Elisir d’Amore

ONP Bastille, Friday November 3, 2006

Conductor: Edward Gardner. Production and costumes: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Chantal Thomas. Adina: Heidi Grant Murphy. Nemorino: Charles Castronovo. Belcore: Laurent Naouri. Dulcamara: Alberto Rinaldi. Giannetta: Aleksandra Zamojska. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra national de Paris.

Director Laurent Pelly has entertained Lyon and Paris with a string of successful comic opera productions (broken by Ariadne auf Naxos, the dud that proves the rule) now more widely known thanks to DVD: Orphée aux Enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein, Platée… His L’Elisir d’Amore exudes a freshness and youthful joie de vivre rarely experienced in the opera house, successfully reproducing the carefree atmosphere of Italian cinema in the 50s and 60s.

The simple sets – stacks of hay bales, one of them covered with tarpaulins held down with tyres; a patch of ground by a country crossroads, with a café and a lean-to housing plastic crates; a dance floor …

Berlioz – Roméo et Juliette

Théatre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday October 27 2006

Conductor: Sir Colin Davis. Isabelle Cals, mezzo-soprano. Pavol Breslik, tenor. Kyle Ketelsen, bass-baritone. Orchestre National de France. Chorus of Radio France.

Last week’s Berlioz binge continued with the indefinable Roméo et Juliette. The orchestre national was on cracking form under Sir Colin Davis. From the very start, it was plain from his laid-back stance and economic, matter-of-fact gestures that Sir Colin was totally in charge, and plain that the orchestra were determined to enjoy themselves – it’s rare to see them smiling and swaying along to the music like that. The strings were crisp and fresh yet tender, like rose petals, and played perfectly together (it doesn’t go without saying). The woodwind band was gorgeous as usual, and the brass were unusually firm and ripe.

The Radio France chorus was sumptuous as ever, though you couldn’t tell a word they were singing. And we had three very decent soloists, though it was…

Berlioz – Les Troyens

ONP Bastille, Tuesday October 24 2006

Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling. Production: Herbert Wernicke, staged by Tine Buyse. Cassandre: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet. Ascagne: Gaële Le Roi. Hécube: Anne Salvan. Enée: Jon Ketilsson. Chorèbe: Franck Ferrari. Panthée: Nicolas Testé. Le fantôme d’Hector: Philippe Fourcade. Priam: Nikolai Didenko. Un capitaine grec: Frédéric Caton. Helenus: Bernard Richter. Andromaque: Dörte Lyssewski. Polyxène: Carole Noizet. Dido: Yvonne Naef. Anna: Elena Zaremba. Iopas: Eric Cutler. Hylas: Bernard Richter. Narbal: Kwangchul Youn. Deux capitaines troyens: Nikolai Didenko, Frédéric Caton. Mercure: Nicolas Testé.

The Bastille’s current production, brought in from Salzburg, is monumental in many respects. For a start, it has been presented as a “monument” to the late Herbert Wernicke, whose work it originally was. Second, it is monumental in style: one big set, grand gestures, broad strokes and bold images (not always good ones). And third, the performance, rather …

Händel – Giulio Cesare

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday October 20 2006

Conductor: Christophe Rousset. Production: Irina Brook. Giulio Cesare: Andreas Scholl. Cleopatra: Rosemary Joshua. Cornelia: Sonia Prina. Sesto: Alice Coote. Tolomeo: Franco Fagioli. Achilla: Mario Cassi. Les Talens Lyriques.

This production has had very mixed reviews; perhaps it was because it was such a mixed bag.

Let’s start with what looked on paper like a dream cast. They certainly weren’t a nightmare; in fact, they were very nearly very good indeed. But somehow the evening lacked real thrills. Best of all was Alice Coote as Sesto (so this is the second time this season that Sesto has come out on top, the first being with Elina Garanca in La Clemenza di Tito). Apart from having a very fine voice (and leaving aside some hesitation over the highest notes), she seems to transcend “mere” acting to project genuine feeling – leading to some odd audience behaviour: a loud clap at the end of the first section of a da capo aria, a r…

Rameau - Les Paladins

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Thursday October 19 2006

Conductor: William Christie. Production and choreography: José Montalvo, Dominique Hervieu. Sets and video design: José Montalvo. Atis: Leif Aruhn-Solén. Argie: Stéphanie d'Oustrac. Nérine: Sandrine Piau. La Fée Manto: François Piolino. Orcan: João Fernandez. Orchestra And Chorus of Les Arts Florissants, Dancers from the Centre chorégraphique national de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne / Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu.

Enough has probably been said by now about this wonderful “hip-hop and video” production of Les Paladins. It has been to London, Shanghai and goodness knows where else and hasn’t finished touring yet; it is also on a DVD everyone should have; and I reviewed it the first time round, in May 2004.

There have by now been some changes to the staging and videos, but the main difference this time round was in the singing. The excellent Topi Lehtipuu, who has exactly the right kind of high, agile, fluid yet ringing tenor voice Rameau…

Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor

ONP – Bastille, Monday October 2 2006

Conductor: Evelino Pidò. Production: Andrei Serban. Sets and costumes: William Dudley. Lucia: Natalie Dessay. Edgardo di Ravenswood: Matthew Polenzani. Arturo Bucklaw: Salvatore Cordella. Enrico Ashton: Ludovic Tézier. Raimondo Bidebent: Kwangchul Youn. Alisa: Marie-Thérèse Keller. Normanno: Christian Jean. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Natalie Dessay was the third soprano I’d seen as Lucia in Serban’s once-notorious, now simply familiar “gymnasium” production. The first, June Anderson, was as vocally over-cautious and dramatically inexistent as in New York a year or so before: a bore. Mariella Devia, the second, was vocally a huge improvement. But even she did not quite have Dessay’s outstanding acting skills and magnetism, which (along with the welcome presence of a glass harmonica in the pit) made this by far the best Lucia I’ve ever witnessed.

Whether it’s the effect of two operations or simply of age, Dessay’s voice has ch…

Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito

ONP – Garnier, Tuesday September 19 2006

Conductor: Gustav Kuhn. Production: Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann. Sets and costumes: Karl-Ernst Herrmann. Tito: Christoph Prégardien. Vitellia: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Servilia: Ekaterina Syurina. Sesto: Elina Garanca. Annio: Hannah Esther Minutillo. Publio: Roland Bracht. Orchestra and Chorus Of the Opéra national de Paris.

Phew! The reviews have been so unanimous in praise of Elina Garanca (“La Clemenza di Tito is in fact the Consecration of Sextus”) that I thought I’d better check I hadn’t made a fool of myself the last time (which was also the first) I heard her, in Cosí. But no: “Stéphane Degout and Elina Garanca, however, were the stronger pair: Degout is now an outstanding Mozartian baritone and Garanca was simply gorgeous.” Simply gorgeous: I got it right. She was the star of the show, certainly: pale gold timbre, a beautifully firm, fluid line, perfect intonation even in fast passages and surprising outbursts of power.

If the critics we…

Mozart – Die Entführung aus dem Serail

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday, September 10 2006

Conductor: Paul Daniel. Production: Christof Loy. Sets and costumes: Herbert Murauer. Konstanze: Rachel Harnisch. Belmonte: Blagoj Nacoski. Blonde: Alexandra Lubchansky. Pedrillo: Peter Marsh. Osmin: Harry Peeters. Bassa Selim: Christoph Quest. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

I suppose if you were a young, serious-minded director looking for a new, intellectually challenging take on The Importance of Being Earnest, you might decide it was really a drama about disorientation, alienation and identity, and have every epigram delivered like Maeterlinck paraphrasing Schopenhauer. Instead of booming out “A handbag?” like the daughter of a thousand earls, Lady Bracknell would pause for a full 10 seconds, turn slowly away, drop her head and whisper the line like her dying breath, before attempting suicide.

To young, serious-minded Christof Loy, Die Entführung is not an amiable turquerie but a study of the ambiguities, hesitations and frailtie…

Wagner – Tristan und Isolde excerpts

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Saturday July 1 2006

Prelude to act 1, act 2 complete, prelude to act 3 and Liebestod

Conductor: Kurt Masur. Isolde: Deborah Voigt. Tristan: Jon Ketilsson. Brangäne: Iris Vermillion. Kurwenal/Melot: Eika-Wilm Schulte. Marke: Georg Zeppenfeld. Orchestre national de France.

Having followed her career with pleasure and travelled to places like London, Vienna and New York to hear more of her than simply in Paris, I had been worried by what I heard of Deborah Voigt’s Tosca at the Met, after her gastric bypass and amazing “downsizing”. So when Radio France sent out a letter announcing a concert not scheduled at the start of the season, I got tickets.

I’m glad to be able to report, to the many of you holding your breath till now, that though her voice has changed, it has not changed much; and though, physically, she has shrunk amazingly, the vocal changes might be just those that come with age. Of course, I’m basing this on just one recent hearing, but for what…

Beethoven – Fidelio

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Monday June 26 2006

Concert version. Conductor: Myung-Whun Chung. Leonora: Karita Mattila. Florestan: Ben Heppner. Rocco: Matti Salminen. Don Pizarro: Juha Uusitalo. Marzellina: Henriette Bonde-Hansen. Jaquino: Pavol Breslik. Don Fernando: François Lis. Chorus and Orchestre Philharmonique of Radio France.

One of the constant joys of concert-going is of course the chance to hear the ever-intelligent comments of neighbours during the evening. For Fidelio, in concert at the Châtelet, this week, the two old ladies behind me were on mid-season form: "Is it the National or the Philharmonique tonight?" "The National." (It was of course the Philharmonique.) And, as the chorus filed on to the stage: "Ce sont des amateurs, mais des amateurs éclairés" (“They’re amateurs, but enlightened amateurs”). The chorus of Radio France is one of the few full-time professional choruses in the country, and the Rolls-Royce of French choirs.

So, nothing …

Verdi – Simon Boccanegra

ONP Bastille, Tuesday May 23, 2006

Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling. Production: Johan Simons. Sets: Bert Neumann. Costumes: Nina von Mechow. Simon Boccanegra: Carlos Alvarez. Jacopo Fiesco: Ferruccio Furlanetto. Maria Boccanegra (Amelia Grimaldi): Ana Maria Martinez. Paolo Albiani: Franck Ferrari. Gabriele Adorno: Stefano Secco. Pietro: Nicolas Testé. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra national de Paris.

Vocal types seem to go in waves and we aren’t, at the moment, in a Verdi period. Though hope springs eternal in the operagoer’s battered wallet, as the lights go down for an evening of Verdi, your expectations are lowered as well. So I’m delighted to report that, last Tuesday at the Bastille, much to my surprise I felt the thrill of goose pimples more than once. The Opéra national put together a very strong cast for this “men’s opera” and found a young soprano who will be worth keeping an eye on.

Alvarez’ solid, impassioned baritone contrasted well with Furlanetto’s vast, clear, cavernous b…

Monteverdi – L’Orfeo

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Friday May 12, 2006

Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm. Production: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti. La Musica/Euridice: Kerstin Avemo. Orfeo: Michael Slattery. Ninfa: Kimy McLaren. Pastori: Pascal Bertin, Ed Lyon, Finnur Bjarnason, Jonathan Brown. Messaggiera: Renata Pokupic. La Speranza: Marina De Liso. Caronte: Andrea Silvestrelli. Proserpina: Aurélia Legay. Plutone: Paul Gay. Apollo: Finnu Bjarnason. Eco: Simon Wall. Spiriti: Amine Hadef, Simon Wall, Kevin Kyle, John Mackenzie, Jonathan Brown. Le Concert d’Astrée orchestra and vocal ensemble. Les Sacqueboutiers.

It’s odd that Emmanuelle Haïm should be so deficient in Händel yet so good in Monteverdi. I wonder if it depends on her employing what in France are called “intermittents” – the showbiz equivalent of casual labour – or if it is simply that her forces and the way they play are suitable for Monteverdi but wrong for Händel.

Whatever controversy some of her decisions spark off among baroque fundamentalists (over con…

Puccini - Tosca

Metropolitan Opera, New York, Wednesday April 26 2006

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Franco Zeffirelli. Tosca: Deborah Voigt. Mario Cavaradossi: Franco Farina. Baron Scarpia: James Morris. Sacristan: Paul Plishka.

I saw Tosca at the Met last week. I won't write up a full review. This extract, however, from, is close to my experience:

“A change has also come over Voigt’s voice lately, though it’s hard to tell if it’s from weight loss or normal aging […] Not that Voigt as yet exhibits any of Callas’s technical problems: Her voice continues to be reliably supported and under control. What is noticeable, however—earlier this season in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and now in Tosca—is a marked thinning of quality at the very center of the instrument, together with a slight acidity and tightening of the tone that has definitely taken the youthful bloom off, especially at the top. This is not necessarily bad, since her basic sound continues to appeal as well as suggest poss…