Showing posts from 2008

Dvorak - Rusalka

La Monnaie, Sunday December 9 2008

Conductor: Adam Fischer. Production: Stefan Herheim. Sets: Heike Scheele. Costumes: Gesine Völlm. Lighting: Wolfgang Göbbel. Video: fettFilm Berlin. Rusalka: Michaela Kaune. Prince: Ludovit Ludha. Sprite: Frode Olsen. Jezibaba: Livia Budai. Foreign Princess: Anda-Louise Bogza. Hunter/Priest: Julian Hubbard. Wood Nymphs: Olesya Golovneva, YoungHee Kim, Nona Javakhidze. La Monnaie Chorus and Symphony Orchestra.

Stefan Herheim’s Rusalka, in Brussels, must be one of the busiest productions I’ve ever seen.

The curtain rose on a set that was, by today’s standards, unusually realistic: a Brussels street corner: typical Brussels-style, cocoa-coloured brick houses with tall, narrow doors and windows, wrought iron balconies and satellite dishes; a 50s ice cream parlour to the left, topped with a cone and a neon sign; a graffiti’d metro entrance with a flower seller; a neo-gothic church with a rose window; a tall weeping willow, a column displaying posters and,…

Wagner - Tristan und Isolde

ONP Bastille, Wednesday December 3 2008

Conductor: Semyon Bychkov. Production: Peter Sellars. Video: Vidéo Bill Viola. Tristan: Clifton Forbis. König Marke: Franz-Josef Selig. Isolde: Waltraud Meier. Kurwenal: Alexander Marco-Buhrmester. Brangäne: Ekaterina Gubanova. Melot: Ralf Lukas. Ein Hirt / Ein junger Seemann: Bernard Richter. Ein Steuermann: Robert Gleadow. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

This final reprise of Peter Sellars' production of Tristan (although this is the most expensive production of Gerard Mortier's tenure, the ONP's right to use the videos runs out soon and they will be delivered to the museums that bought them) was musically oustanding, with one sad exception. Either Waltraud Meier was having a singularly bad night, or her career as Isolde has ended. She could manage the middle range when the orchestra was quiet, and so played on that (and of course exploited her experience in the part to moving effect); but at most times it seemed…

Verdi - Requiem

Bozar, Brussels, Sunday October 31 2008

Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth. Marina Poplavskaya, soprano; Anna Larsson, alto; Fabio Sartori, tenor; Carlo Colombara, bass. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie, chorus of the Vlaamse Opera.

Remember you must die

I don't think I have ever been quite so shaken by a concert as the Sunday before last in Brussels. Since then I've spent over a week thinking about it on and off (I was also busy in India), trying to pin down what it was that had some people literally in tears at the end.

Verdi's Requiem is often associated with deluxe performances: great conductors, great soloists (with the soprano and alto in sumptuous evening gowns, big hair and big jewellery), great orchestras. The result is a glittering musical event, but the glamour and gloss perhaps put a comforting distance between ourselves and the work. Mark Wigglesworth is not Karajan or Abbado, his young soloists, in plain black, are not yet Flemings and Domingos and the orchestra of L…

Janacek - Cunning Little Vixen

ONP Bastille, Wednesday October 29 2008
Conductor: Dennis Russell Davies. Production: André Engel. Sets: Nicky Rieti. Costumes: Elizabeth Neumuller. Gamekeeper: Jukka Rasilainen. His wife: Michèle Lagrange. Schoolmaster: David Kuebler. Priest: Roland Bracht. Harašta: Paul Gay. Vixen: Elena Tsallagova. Fox: Hannah Esther Minutillo.

Many people familiar with images of this production (e.g. the massed sunflowers along the disused railway line) must have been surprised to find it billed as "nouvelle," but Gerard Mortier has a habit of claiming that anything revamped for its first outing at the Bastille is new. In this case, it was something of a pint-sized production (orinigally staged in Lyon) in the Bastille's quart (or gallon) pot: André Engel's directing may have been finely detailed and charming in a more intimate setting, and may come across perfectly on DVD should one come out (there were cameras everywhere), but here it was swamped.

So, too, were the voices. The chi…

Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 21 2008

Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth. Production: Pierre Audi. Set: Anish Kapoor. Costumes: Patrick Kinmonth. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Pelléas: Stéphane Degout. Mélisande: Sandrine Piau. Golaud: Dietrich Henschel. Geneviève: Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Arkel: Alain Vernhes. Un médecin: Jean Teitgen. Un berger: Wiard Witholt. Yniold: Valérie Gabail. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Pierre Audi’s engimatic new production of Pelléas et Mélisande at La Monnaie had the regulars (subscribers there have the same seats every year and end up knowing each other) guessing at the interval and the end.

To start with, Anish Kapoor’s beautiful (and beautifully-lit, Bob-Wilson-style) set. This consisted of a huge, curvaceous red object on steel struts, with metal stairs and a gantry, rotating as need be on the glossy black floor. The simplest way to describe the shape is as a cross-section, lengthwise, of the teat on a baby’s bottle. Apparently, to Audi it was “a …

Howard Shore - The Fly

Châtelet, Paris, Tuesday July 8 2008

Conductor: Placido Domingo. Production: David Cronenberg. Sets: Dante Ferretti. Costumes: Denise Cronenberg. Lighting: A.J. Weisbard. Seth Brundle: Daniel Okulitch. Veronica Qaife: Ruxandra Donose. Stahis Borans: David Curry. Femal Officer, Cheevers, Lab Doctor: Beth Clayton. Marky: Jay Hunter Morris. Tawny: Lina Tetruashvili. Make-up and special effects: Stephan L. Dupuis. Ochestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Châtelet chorus. Youth choir of the CRR of Aubervilliers-la-Courneuve.

The critics may not have liked it much, but the public seemed to enjoy it. The Fly is, fittingly, a bizarre sort of genetic fusion. It combines a lurid sci-fi story - a rarity on the opera stage, though quite a welcome change to me - with a score of grimly serious intent; philosophical reflection (albeit not so high-flying) and real emotion with credibility-stretching special effects and cartoon-series scenes reminiscent of Who Killed Roger Rabbit; an uneasy blend of Bro…

Verdi - Don Carlos

ONP Bastille, Thursday June 26, 2008

Conductor: Teodor Currentzis. Production: Graham Vick. Sets and costumes: Tobias Hoheisel. Lighting: Matthew Richardson. Filippo II: James Morris. Don Carlo: Stefano Secco. Rodrigo, Marchese di Posa: Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Il Grande Inquisitore: Mikhail Petrenko. Un Frate: Paul Gay. Elisabetta di Valois: Tamar Iveri. La Principessa Eboli: Yvonne Naef. Tebaldo: Elisa Cenni. Il Conte di Lerma: Jason Bridge. Voce dal Cielo: Elena Tsallagova.

After that blazing young Porgy it was back to operatic business as usual with Don Carlos at the Bastille this week. Pep and personality were exactly what was missing from this show, which otherwise had, with one puzzling exception, a fairly strong cast.

The uncontroversial production is familiar to us in Paris, but no-one, apparently, had bothered this time round to direct the singers (presumably Vick wasn't brought back in). There were the same vast, austere walls with cross-shaped openings and a dark smudge of …

Gershwin - Porgy and Bess

Opéra Comique, Monday June 16 2008
Conductor: Wayne Marshall. Production: Robyn Orlin. Sets: Alexandre de Dardel. Videos: Philippe Lainé. Costumes: Olivier Bériot. Porgy: Kevin Short. Bess: Indira Mahajan. Crown: Daniel Washington. Serena: Angela Simpson. Clara: Laquite Mitchell. Maria: Bonita Hyman. Jake: Eric Greene. Sportin' Life: Jermaine Smith. Atlanta Opera Chorus. New World Symphony, America's Orchestral Academy.

For some reason my expectations of this production of Porgy – in fact the first I’ve ever seen – weren’t high. I was disgruntled at Lyon’s having, at the same time, a staging by the team responsible for the marvellous “hip-hop” Les Paladins, and worried that the Paris one was directed by a choreographer: rarely a good thing. So I didn’t pay much attention to who and what I was going to see at the Opéra Comique.

As it turned out, from the first bars of the overture I was intrigued: which (young-looking) orchestra was this, producing so much rich sound with such exc…

Verdi - La Forza del Destino

La Monnaie, Sunday June 8 2008

Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Production: Dirk Tanghe. Sets & Costumes: Richard Hudson. Il marchese di Calatrava: Alessandro Guerzoni. Donna Leonora di Vargas: Eva-Maria Westbroek. Don Carlo di Vargas: Vassily Gerello. Don Alvaro: Zoran Todorovich. Preziosilla: Marianne Cornetti. Padre Guardiano: Carlo Colombara. Fra Melitone: José van Dam.

What the Fach?

"For some time now La Forza has been my partner, my lover, my mistress, my girlfriend, my hope, my consolation, my angel. She is also the sister of my sorrows, of my bottomless solitude, of my blackest and most destructive depressions, of my melancholy (that damned melancholy that exhausts me so), of my millions of existential questions, who was I, who am I, what did I want yesterday, what do I want today..."

There are three pages of this stuff in the programme, leading me to wonder if stage director Dirk Tanghe spent all his energy on writing it and so had none left for his production, which was re…

Bellini - I Capuleti e i Montecchi

ONP Bastille, Thursday June 5 2008

Conductor: Evelino Pidò. Production: Robert Carsen. Sets & Costumes: Michael Levine. Lighting: Davy Cunningham. Capellio: Giovanni Battista Parodi. Giulietta: Anna Netrebko. Romeo: Joyce DiDonato. Tebaldo: Matthew Polenzani. Lorenzo: Mikhail Petrenko. Orchestra & Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

What on earth does it take to make anything remotely approaching a silk purse out of this sow's ear of an opera? We had Netrebko, we had DiDonato and we had Polenzani in a Carsen production, and were still so bored (my neighbour had already turned to me and groaned "Je m'ennuie" during a scene change) that after what seemed like hours, all three of us in agreement, we escaped to dinner at the end of act 1.

I doubt very much that Carsen came back to supervise this reprise; if he did (who's to tell? The programme notes said nothing) it didn't show. The neighbour I mentioned above complained, as we crossed the square to find …

Amadeo Vives - La Generala

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Thursday May 29 2008

Conductor: José Fabra. Production: Emilio Sagi. Sets: Daniel Bianco. Costumes: Jesús Ruiz. Choreography: Nuria Castejón. La Generala: Carmen Gonzalez. Principe Pio: Enrique Ferrer. Princess Olga: Beatriz Diaz. Reina Eva: Itxaro Menxaka. Cirilo II: Enrique Baquerizo. Clodomiro V: Miguel Lopez Galindo. Duque de Sisa: José Luis Gago. General Tocateca: David Rubiera. Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid. Chorus of the Châtelet. Production from the Teatro de la Zarzuela - Madrid.

If it was the Châtelet management's intention to introduce zarzuela to Parisians, La Generala (even in a production from the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid) was an odd choice. It is set in England, not Spain (albeit a fantasy sort of England where Oxford is a stone's throw from Cambridge and hosts a Scottish regiment). Instead of popular Spanish characters it features exiled royalty from fictional kingdoms. And there is little specific "local colour"…

Dusapin - Roméo et Juliette

Opéra Comique, Tuesday April 29 2008
Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production: Ludovic Lagarde. Costumes: Christian Lacroix. Lighting: Sébastien Michaud. Roméo 1: Jean-Sébastien Bou. Roméo 2: Marc Mauillon. Juliette 1: Karen Vourc'h. Juliette 2: Amaya Dominguez. Bill: Laurent Poitrenaux. Vocal Quartet: Caroline Chassany, Valérie Rio, Jean-Paul Bonnevalle, Paul-Alexandre Dubois. Solo clarinet: Philippe Berrod. Accentus choir. Orchestre de Paris. Sound engineering: Ircam.

"It is quite untrue that British people don't appreciate music. They may not understand it but they absolutely love the noise it makes."
That alleged Beecham quote came to mind as I sat through Pascal Dusapin's Roméo et Juliette the other evening. I hadn't the faintest idea what the text was about or what, if anything, was supposed to be going on, but as is often the case with contemporary music, I was loving the noise it made.

In any case I'm not really an ideas person and the kind of literary …

Berg - Wozzeck

ONP Bastille, Monday April 7 2008

Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling. Production: Christoph Marthaler. Sets and costumes: Anna Viebrock. Lighting: Olaf Winter. Wozzeck: Simon Keenlyside. Tambourmajor: Jon Villars. Andres: David Kuebler. Hauptmann: Gerhard Siegel. Doktor: Roland Bracht. Marie: Angela Denoke. Margret: Ursula Hesse von den Steinen. Erster Handwerksbursch: Patrick Schramm. Zweiter Handwerksbursch: Igor Gnidii. Der Narr: John Graham-Hall. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Hauts-de-Seine and Opéra National de Paris children’s choirs.

“An arresting vision of Berg’s masterpiece.” “Devastating.” “An infinitely pertinent, sensitive staging.” “A Wozzeck for the annals.” There have been few dissenting voices in the chorus of critical praise for Paris’s new production of Wozzeck – understandably: it has a deluxe cast and the production is a tour de force of minutely detailed direction in a single set.

Simon Keenlyside’s debut in the role is everything you’d expect. He…

Roussel - Padmâvatî

Châtelet, Paris, Monday March 24 2008
Conductor: Lawrence Foster. Production: Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Padmâvatî: Sylvie Brunet. Ratan-Sen: Finnur Bjarnason. Alaouddin: Alain Fondary. Le Brahmane: Yann Beuron. Badal: François Piolino. Nakamti: Blandine Folio Peres. Gora: Laurent Alvaro. La Sentinelle: Alain Gabriel. Sets: Omung Kumar Bhandula. Choreography: Tanusree Shankar. Costumes: Rajesh Pratap Singh. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Châtelet Chorus.

La Juive, L'Etoile, Véronique, Zampa, now Padmâvatî: the Paris houses suddenly seem determined to give us more of the rare French repertoire than we were used to, and there's more to come in next season's schedules.

Handing over opera productions to novices from the cinema is (as the FT critic pointed out) always a risky business. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is the director of the famous Bollywood blockbuster-tearjerker Devdas, which we all have the DVD of, of course, and admits quite candidly that he knows nothing about op…

Wagner - Parsifal

ONP Bastille, Thursday March 20 2008

Conductor: Hartmut Haenchen. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Amfortas: Alexander Marco-Buhrmester. Titurel: Victor von Halem. Gurnemanz: Franz Josef Selig. Klingsor: Evgeny Nikitin. Kundry: Waltraud Meier. Parsifal: Stig Andersen. Zwei Gralsritter: Gunnar Gudbjörnsson, Scott Wilde. Vier Knappen: Hye-Youn Lee, Louise Callinan, Jason Bridges, Bartlomiej Misiuda. Klingsors Zaubermädchen: Adriana Kucerova, Valérie Condoluci, Cornelia Oncioiu, Yun-Jung Choi, Marie-Adeline Henry, Louise Callinan. Eine Altstimme aus der Höhe: Cornelia Oncioiu.

As I've mentioned before, probably several times, it's much harder to do justice to a great opera production than to slate a stinker. Krzysztof Warlikowski's Parsifal is a magnificent achievement, better still than his (already fascinating) Makropoulos Affair last season, intellectually challenging and visually stunning, enigmatic and genu…

Hérold - Zampa

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday March 12 2008

Conductor: William Christie. Production: Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïeff. Sets and costumes: Macha Makeïeff. Zampa: Richard Troxell. Alphonse: Bernard Richter. Camille: Patricia Petibon. Daniel: Léonard Pezzino. Ritta: Doris Lamprecht. Dandolo: Vincent Ordonneau. Les Arts Florissants.

Presumably the chance to see a staged production of Zampa is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Has it ever been recorded in full? The presence of William Christie and Les Arts Florissants on the cast list implied this would be an attempt at a respectful reconstruction of the work. That wasn’t exactly what we got…

The production team was the same as for the baleful staging of Chabrier’s L’Etoile earlier this season, which was so stupidly slapstick that we left at half time. Here they chose to camp the whole thing up, presenting Zampa as a parody of romantic opera, rather than a real one. The result was the same as when directors choose (as they often do) to overp…

Bizet – Carmen

Opera Australia – Sydney, Thursday March 6 2008

Conductor: Stephen Mould. Director: Francesca Zambello. Moralès: Andrew Moran. Micaëla: Tiffany Speight. Don José: Rosario La Spina. Zuniga: Shane Lowrencov. Carmen: Catherine Carby. Frasquita: Amy Wilkinson. Mercédès: Sian Pendry. Lillas Pastia: Danielle Antaki. Escamillo: Joshua Bloom.

Being in Sydney for the first time, I thought I’d better go, even if the only choice was between Carmen and La Bohème. I plumped for Carmen, preferring Bizet to Puccini, and, knowing that Zambello’s productions can be very good or very bad, hoping it might be one of the former.

It was a grand, audacious gesture to build the Sydney Opera House as and where it is. As I remember, at the time it led to a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, but the result must be one of the most interesting opera houses in the world – and probably the most spectacularly-located of all. The building is certainly more interesting close up than in photos: less bland in colour and…

Händel - Giulio Cesare

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday February 3 2008

Conductor: René Jacobs. Production: Karl-Ernst & Ursel Herrmann. Sets, costumes and lighting: Karl-Ernst Herrmann. Giulio Cesare: Lawrence Zazzo. Cleopatra: Danielle de Niese. Tolomeo: Tania Kross. Cornelia: Christianne Stotijn. Sesto: Anna Bonitatibus. Achilla: Luca Pisaroni. Nireno: Dominique Visse. Curio: Lionel Lhote. Freiburger Barockorchester.

Am I getting too picky in my old age? My neighbours enjoyed this production a lot; I enjoyed it a lot less. For a start, in this work the comic and serious elements are finely balanced but directors persist in overemphasising the former to the detriment of the latter. I'm getting a bit fed up with that. And then, I found the aesthetic of this production too designer-trendy and self-conscious, much as my neighbours enjoyed it.

But I really wanted to start by wondering just how much better Luca Pisaroni can get. He was noticeably good in Alcina, better still in Don Giovanni, and now... It'…

Lully - Cadmus & Hermione

Opéra Comique, Paris, Saturday January 26 2008

Conductor and art direction: Vincent Dumestre. Production: Benjamin Lazar. Sets: Adeline Caron. Costumes: Alain Blanchot. Cadmus: André Morsch. Hermione: Claire Lefilliâtre. Arbas, Pan: Arnaud Marzorati. La Nourrice, Dieu Champêtre: Jean-François Lombard. Charite, Mélisse: Isabelle Druet. Draco, Mars: Arnaud Richard. L'Amour, Palès: Camille Poul. Le Soleil, 1er Prince Tyrien: David Ghilardi. Le Grand Sacrificateur, Jupiter: Geoffroy Buffière. 1er Africain, L'Envie: Romain Champion. 2nd Prince Tyrien: Vincent Vantyghem. Junon, Aglante: Luanda Siqueira. Pallas: Engénie Warnier. 2nd Africain: Anthony Lopapa. Dancers, Chorus and Orchestra of the Poème Harmonique.

Most of the critics are saying the same thing: twenty years on (they're thinking of Atys), Lully is back with a bang. Atys is seen in France as Baroque opera's first "popular" smash hit. Villégier set it, not in period scenery and stage costumes, but in the m…

Messager - Véronique

Paris Châtelet, Thursday January 24 2008

Conductor: Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Production: Fanny Ardant. Sets: Ian Falconer. Costumes: Dominique Borg. Hélène de Solanges (Véronique): Amel Brahim-Djelloul. Florestan de Valaincourt: Dietrich Henschel. Agathe Coquenard: Ingrid Perruche. Ermerance de Champ d'Azur: Doris Lamprecht. Evariste Coquenard: Laurent Alvaro. Loustot: Gilles Ragon. Séraphin: Sébastien Guèze. Tante Benoît: Catherine Hosmalin. Esemble Matheus, Châtelet Chorus.

Quite often, on French TV, we see 50s footage of neatly-dressed youngsters (some of the boys in dinner jackets) from Paris's posh western quarters jiving incongruously to rock 'n' roll in the smoky cellars of St-Germain-des-Prés. Usually Boris Vian appears with a trumpet. The current Véronique was actressy actress Fanny Ardant's first foray into directing and we all feared the worst, but in fact she managed to recreate just that atmosphere of bon-chic-bon-genre post-war Parisian gaiety.

50s updat…