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Showing posts from 2009

Rodgers & Hammerstein - The Sound of Music

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Wednesday December 30 2009.

Conductor: Kevin Farrell. Production: Emilio Sagi. Sets: Daniel Bianco. Choreography: Sarah Miles. Costumes: Jesús Ruiz. Lighting: Caetano Vilela. Maria Rainer: Sylvia Schwartz. Captain Georg von Trapp: Rod Gilfry. Mother Abbess: Kim Criswell. The Baroness Elsa Schraeder: Christine Arand. Max Detweiler: Laurent Alvaro. Rolf Gruber: James McOran-Campbell. Liesl Von Trapp: Carin Gilfry. Orchestre Pasdeloup. Châtelet Chorus.

There isn't a strong tradition of musicals in Paris (apart from awful "Pop Idol" type ones) so this was the first stage production of The Sound of Music in France and possibly the best performance, here, of any musical I've seen. I was told, last night, that some American visitors have claimed it would have been ten times better on Broadway. Maybe they didn't get the best cast; and maybe it wouldn't have been ten times better (it couldn't be) but just ten times different: this is a …

Messager - Fortunio

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday December 16 2009

Conductor: Louis Langrée. Production: Denis Podalydès. Sets: Eric Ruf. Costumes: Christian Lacroix. Lighting: Stéphanie Daniel. Fortunio : Joseph Kaiser. Jacqueline : Virginie Pochon. Maître André: Jean-Marie Frémeau. Clavaroche: Jean-Sébastien Bou. Landry: Jean-François Lapointe. Lieutenant d’Azincourt: Philippe Talbot. Lieutenant de Verbois: Jean Teitgen. Madelon: Sarah Jouffroy. Maître Subtil: Jérôme Varnier. Guillaume: Eric Martin-Bonnet. Gertrude: Clémentine Margaine. Les Eléments chorus. Orchestre de Paris.

Whatever it takes to grasp Messager, I haven’t got it. “C’est une musique facile” - easy music – said a man in the row in front as we gathered our coats to leave. Well it might have been easy for him but, on the contrary, I find it very hard indeed to bring into focus and impossible to recall. The first two acts seemed to witter on aimlessly, with distinct Debussy undertones; in acts three and four the music had more definite sha…

Gluck - Iphigénie en Aulide and Iphigénie en Tauride

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 6 2009.
Conductor: Christophe Rousset. Production: Pierre Audi. Dramaturge: Klaus Bertisch. Sets: Michael Simon. Costumes: Anna Eiermann. Lighting: Jean Kalman.

En Aulide: Agamemnon: Andrew Schroeder. Clytemnestre: Charlotte Hellekant. Iphigénie: Véronique Gens. Achille: Avi Klemberg. Patrocle: Henk Neven. Calchas: Gilles Cachemaille. Arcas: Werner Van Mechelen. Diane: Violet Serena Noorduyn.

En Tauride: Iphigénie: Nadja Michael. Oreste: Stéphane Degout. Pylade: Topi Lehtipuu. Thoas: Werner Van Mechelen. Diane: Violet Serena Noorduyn.

Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

Bad Gluck can be very tedious. Two in a row would be a serious trial, so I had misgivings at finding both Iphigénies scheduled together this season. But when the singing and acting are first rate we are reminded what a great composer of musical tragedy Gluck is. Topi Lehtipuu and Stéphane Degout must be today’s ideal pairing as Pylade and Oreste. Lehtipuu is, as anyone familiar with t…

Gounod - Mireille

ONP Garnier, Wednesday October 7 2009

Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Production: Nicolas Joel. Sets: Ezio Frigerio. Costumes: Franca Squarciapino. Mireille: Inva Mula. Vincent: Charles Castronovo. Ourrias: Franck Ferrari. Ramon: Alain Vernhes. Taven: Sylvie Brunet. Vincenette: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Nicolas Joel's production of Mireille left me with no wish ever to see or hear the work again, so what a thankless task it must be for a perfectly decent cast to slog through it ten times without any help from the producer, and with only resounding boos on the opening night and tepid applause since as their reward. By mid-series, the orchestra played and the singers sang as if they'd long since wished they'd never got involved. The work itself needed help too if it were to succeed (Mireille ends in a mawkish orgy of Catholic Kitsch; the score, meanwhile, had me wondering if I hadn't always underrated Arthur Sullivan), and didn…

Korngold - Die tote Stadt

ONP Paris - Thursday October 22 2009

Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg. Production: Willy Decker. Sets and costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann. Lighting: Wolfgang Goebbel. Paul: Robert Dean Smith. Marietta: Ricarda Merbeth. Frank/Fritz: Stéphane Degout. Brigitta: Doris Lamprecht. Juliette: Elisa Cenni. Lucienne: Letitia Singleton. Victorin: Alain Gabriel. Graf Albert: Alexander Kravets. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine⁄children’s chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Coproduction with the Vienna Staatsoper and the Salzburg Festival.

It’s a rare enough treat for those who like Die tote Stadt to have it staged at all. And it’s a wonder any leading couple can be found to sing it, let alone give us a stunning third act performance like Thursday night’s. These facts, plus near-universal praise in the press (apart from one French sourpuss dubbing it a mere “curiosity for the curious”) have made me dither over writing it up, not wanting to seem ungrateful or…

Händel - Semele

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 27 2009

Conductor: Christophe Rousset. Production and sets: Zhang Huan. Costumes: Han Feng. Lighting: Wolfgang Göbbel. Jupiter: Jeremy Ovenden. Cadmus, King of Thebes/Priest: Nathan Berg. Semele, Daughter of Cadmus: Ying Huang. Juno/Ino, Sister of Semele: Ning Liang. Athamas, a Prince of Boeotia: David Hansen. Somnus: Kurt Gysen. Iris: Sarah Tynan. Les Talens Lyriques. Chorus of La Monnaie.

Familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, but I wonder if, conversely, unfamiliarity breeds awe. Quite often when "controversial" artists from other media are brought in to direct opera while knowing nothing about it, the result is surprisingly tame. Such was the case with this Brussels production of Semele by Zhang Huan: though he’s known for nudity and bestiality and dressing up in raw meat, once you accepted that it was set in China his staging was remarkably conventional.

As usual these days, it required some reading up beforehand. Zhang bought a M…

Szymanowski - King Roger

ONP Paris Bastille - Thursday June 25 2009

Conductor : Kazushi Ono. Production : Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and costumes : Malgorzata Szczesniak. Video design : Denis Guéguin. Lighting : Felice Ross. King Roger II : Scott Hendricks. Roxana : Margarita de Arellano. Edrisi : Stefan Margita. Shepherd : Eric Cutler. Archbishop : Wojtek Smilek. Abbess : Jadwiga Rappe. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Some people may find Bruckner’s symphonies or Ivy Compton-Burnett’s novels all much of a muchness, but if you’re hooked, you’re hooked and can never get too much of the same. A friend of mine described Warlikowski’s latest Bastille production as “very lazy recycling” and for all I know what seems clever about it may only be pseudo-intellectual. Maybe the king is in the altogether, in both senses; maybe I’m just a sucker for superficial gloss. But to me this was another momentous evening’s theatre.

It isn’t even as if I “got” everything. I still haven’t worked out why a stri…

Bizet - Carmen

Opéra Comique, Paris, Saturday June 20 2009

Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Production: Adrian Noble. Sets & Costumes: Mark Thompson. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Carmen: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Don José: ???????*. Micaëla: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Escamillo: Nicolas Cavallier. Le Dancaïre: Françis Dudziak. Le Remendado: Vincent Ordonneau. Zuniga: Matthew Brook. Moralès: Riccardo Novaro. Frasquita: Virginie Pochon. Mercédès: Annie Gill / Louise Innes. Lillas Pastia: Simon Davies. Un guide: Lawrence Wallington. The Monteverdi Choir. Hauts-de-Seine children's choir. Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

For Le Monde, “Obviously Anna Caterina Antonacci steals the show, embodying a Carmen of icy fire, with impeccable diction and sovereign musicality, ardent but never carried away by her passions. Her vocal projection enables her to murmur what so many of her fellow-singers hammer out.” According to Webthea, “She combines her beauty, sensuality and acting strengths with impeccable …

Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 14 2009

Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Production: Christof Loy (reprise by Dagmar Pischel). Sets and costumes: Herbert Murauer. Conte Almaviva: Stéphane Degout. Contessa: Andrea Rost. Susanna: Ingela Bohlin. Figaro: Alex Esposito. Cherubino: Sophie Marilley. Marcellina: Helen Field. Bartolo: Jan-Hendrik Rootering. Don Basilio: John Graham-Hall. Don Curzio: Enrico Casari. Antonio: Frédéric Caton. Barbarina: Fflur Wyn. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Too often I forget the advice of an old friend in the UK: expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.

I’d been looking forward to this Sunday. One of our regular co-subscribers was off at a christening or some such nonsense, so it was a chance to show Brussels and La Monnaie to someone else, on what was supposed to be a warm, sunny day. On paper the cast of Le Nozze looked alright. Christoph Loy can be an interesting director. In the end, however, it was mostly what the French call “un jour sans” –…

Janacek - Vec Makropoulos

ONP Bastille, Thursday May 7 2009

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: Wayne Tigges. Hauk-Sendorf: Ryland Davies. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Same excellent, powerful production as in 2007, same cast except Wayne Tigges as Kolenaty (and very good he was), and Angela Denoke the best I've ever seen and heard her. She really lives the part. The orchestra remains unruly in Janacek, David Kuebler's voice is now pretty much shot and Charles Workman can't hit the killer top notes at all any more, but Vincent Le Texier and, especially, Karine Deshayes were better than ever. Bastille about one quarter full: madness, but perhaps those who were there really wanted to be: nobody coughed. Will this, one of my favourite production…

Chabrier - Le Roi Mal...

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday April 29 2009

Conductor: William Lacey. Production & costumes: Laurent Pelly. Henri de Valois, roi de Pologne : Jean-Sébastien Bou. Minka : Magali Léger. Le duc de Fritelli Franck Leguérinel. Alexina, duchesse de Fritelli : Sophie Marin-Degor. Le comte de Nangis : Gordon Gietz. Laski, grand palatin : Nabil Suliman. Chorus of the Opéra national de Lyon. Orchestre de Paris.

I was really enjoying Laurent Pelly’s production of Le Roi Malgré Lui the other night. Pelly’s a favourite of mine – for his Offenbachs, for his Platée… - and here he was at his best: fast, funny and finely-tuned, every step and gesture, every smile and frown and grimace in place. The basic idea wasn’t a new one: the curtain rose to reveal the brickwork and steel doors of the Opéra Comique’s bare stage, familiar already from the recent Zoroastre; and cast, stagehands and chorus arrived for a rehearsal to find, to their amazement, a full house waiting to watch. The period was that of …

Donizetti - Lucia di Lammermoor

La Monnaie (Cirque Royal), Sunday April 26 2009

Conductor: Julian Reynolds. Production: Guy Joosten. Lucia: Elena Mosuc. Edgardo di Ravenswood: John Osborn. Lord Enrico Ashton: Angelo Veccia. Lord Arturo Bucklaw: Jean-François Borras. Raimondo Bidebent: Giorgio Giuseppini. Alisa: Catherine Keen. Normanno: Carlo Bosi. La Monnaie orchestra and chorus. Glass harmonica: Sascha Reckert.

One of the striking things about Brussels is that, unlike in Paris, say, or New York, you see old people everywhere. The Taverne du Passage opened over 80 years ago, since when nothing has changed (“immuable” is the word used on the website), and that seems to include the customers: the regulars look like they’ve been eating a weekly Waterzoï in that art-deco setting since the 1920s. The couple next to us on Sunday were so ancient that all they could manage for lunch was a glass of beer; soup and bread; a heaped chafing-dish of lamb chops, with potato croquettes, asparagus and a jug of red wine on the side; …

Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera

ONP Bastille, Tuesday April 21 2009

Conductor: Renato Palumbo. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Riccardo: Ramon Vargas. Renato: Ludovic Tézier. Amelia: Deborah Voigt. Ulrica: Elena Manistina. Oscar: Anna Christy. Silvano: Etienne Dupuis. Sam: Michail Schelomianski. Tom: Scott Wilde. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

This revival was not in my subscription this season, and as Un Ballo is not one of my favourites (I can do without the whole of act 1, and if Riccardo gets knifed at the end, Oscar should get shot at the outset) and this is not much of a production (described by me here), I wouldn’t normally have bothered to get tickets. But Deborah Voigt is a singer I’ve admired since she sang a gobsmacking Chrysothemis in Paris’s awful former “blue-and-red” production of Elektra and the only one I’ve deliberately travelled far to hear: London for Die Frau, Vienna for Tristan, New York for Aida and Tosca (in memorably ghastly Met productions), not counting her Senta, Lady Macb…

Macbeth revisited

It’s interesting to go back and see a good production a second time and see what else you can pick up. It may even be perplexing to see how little you understood the first time that becomes quite obvious the second. I went back to Macbeth last night and soon wondered why I was so puzzled before. For a start, I had simply forgotten that, before the music starts, we see Macbeth arrive on the deserted town square in battledress with his kit bag. One person spots him, then another, until he is mobbed by the joyful crowd. So I realised last night what I hadn’t last week, that Macbeth is a victorious military hero and what we see is his gradual progress from victory to tyranny, from adulation (by a crowd happy to predict his rise to the throne) to detestation (as people abandon their homes and country to flee). And at the end he is mobbed again, this time in fury, by the same crowd. Symmetry, then. Similarly, I hadn’t picked up, last week, that in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene she is no…

Verdi - Macbeth

ONP Bastille, Friday April 10 2009

Conductor: Teodor Currentzis. Production, sets and costumes: Dmitri Cherniakov. Video: Leonid Zalessky/Ninja Films. Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky. Macbeth: Dimitris Tiliakos. Banco: Ferruccio Furlanetto. Lady Macbeth: Violeta Urmana. Dama di Lady Macbeth: Letitia Singleton. Macduff: Stefano Secco. Malcolm: Alfredo Nigro. Duncan: Jean-Christophe Bouvet. Medico/Domestico: Yuri Kissin. Un sicario: Jian-hong Zhao. Chorus and orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.

Reviews of the ONP’s new production of Macbeth have been mixed, though of all those I’ve read only one hated everything: staging and singing and music. On Friday night there were some isolated outbreaks of booing, but at the end the reception was loudly enthusiastic and to me it was just about as good an evening of Verdi as you are likely to get these days (unless of course you’re a Met regular hooked on Zeffirelli).

Violeta Urmana was an unexpected name to find on the season’s schedule as Lady Mac…

Rameau - Zoroastre

Opéra Comique, Paris, Sunday March 29 2009

Conductor: Christophe Rousset. Production: Pierre Audi. Choreography: Amir Hosseinpour. Zoroastre: Anders J. Dahlin. Abramane: Evgueniy Alexiev. Amelite: Sine Bundgaard. Erinice: Anna Maria Panzarella. Chorus and dancers of the Drottningholms Slottsteater. Les Talens Lyriques.

“You put your left leg in, your left leg out, in out in out and shake it all about…” I don’t think Amir Hosseinpour’s quirky modern ballets were meant to be comical and I don’t for a moment imagine he is familiar with that staple of English family weddings, the Hokey Cokey. But the Hokey Cokey (or France’s own party special, the “danse du canard”) is what came to mind during the ballet numbers at last Sunday’s Zoroastre.

The ballets weren’t the only thing wrong with it.

From what I’ve read, this Drottningholm production is on DVD, where it comes across better than on stage. The Drottningholm pedigree had me worried beforehand that it would be all eighteenth-century prettine…

Britten - Albert Herring

Opéra Comique, Paris, Saturday February 28 2009

Conductor: Laurence Equilbey. Production: Richard Brunel. Sets: Marc Lainé. Costumes: Claire Risterucci. Lighting: Mathias Roche. Albert Herring: Allan Clayton. Lady Billows: Nancy Gustafson. Florence Pike: Felicity Palmer. Miss Wordsworth: Ailish Tynan. Mr. Gedge: Christopher Purves. Mr. Upfold: Simeon Esper. Superintendant Budd: Andrew Greenan. Sid: Leigh Melrose. Nancy: Julia Riley. Mrs Herring: Hanna Schaer. Musicians of the Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen. Members of the Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine. Coproduction between the Opéra Comique and the Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie.

I wasn’t brought up on opera, or brought to it in any structured way. So as it happens, the first two operas I got to know well were Les mamelles de Tirésias, a favourite of a family of Swiss intellectuals I met in Lausanne, and Albert Herring. I was called in, as an undergraduate, to play in the pit for Albert when the bass player sprained her thumb, and thus f…

Eötvös - Lady Sarashina

Opéra Comique, Paris, Tuesday 17 February 2009

Conductor: Alejo Perez. Production and choreography: Ushio Amagatsu. Sets: Natsuyuki Nakanishi. Costumes: Masatomo Ota. Lady Sarashina: Mary Plazas. Trio of singers: Peter Bording, Ilse Eerens, Salomé Kammer. Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Lyon.

A cliché it most certainly is, but it is awful how time flies. My blog starts in March 2003, but Eötvös’s Tri Sestry isn’t on it, which means it’s already over 6 years since I saw it. It was because I still had such good, clear memories of it that I was happy this season (as part of my policy always to take at least some of the contemporary stuff on offer, except the dreaded Saariaho) to book tickets to Lady Sarashina at the Opéra Comique.

Eötvös’s fourth opera, like Tri Sestry commissioned by Lyon and directed by Ushio Amagatsu, is in nine tableaux, based on as many fragments of an 11th-century Japanese biography-cum-travelogue called As I Crossed The Bridge Of Dreams or, more or less, Mrs Sarashi…

Shostakovich - Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

ONP Bastille, Wednesday Janary 28 2009


Conductor: Hartmut Haenchen. Production: Martin Kušej. Sets: Martin Zehetgruber. Costumes Heide Kastler: Lighting: Reinhard Traub. Boris Timofeyevich Ismailov: Vladimir Vaneev. Zinoviy Borisovich Ismailov: Ludovit Ludha. Katerina Lvovna Ismailova: Eva-Maria Westbroek. Sergei: Michael König. Aksinya; the female convict: Carole Wilson. The shabby oaf: Alexander Kravets. Sonietka: Lani Poulson. A schoolmaster: Valentin Jar. A priest: Alexander Vassiliev. The chief of police Nikita Storojev. Opéra national de Paris Orchestra and Chorus.


It's remarkable, a friend said to me as we left the Bastille the other evening, how in the last 20 years Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, previously little-known here, has become a popular smash hit. The ticket touts were out at the metro exits and the house was full, though unfortunately of merciless coughers. This is the ONP's second production. The first, André Engel's, is most often remembered for its field of c…

Britten - Death in Venice

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday January 18 2009

Conductor: Paul Daniel. Production: Deborah Warner. Sets: Tom Pye. Costumes: Chloë Obolensky. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Choreography: Kim Brandstrup. Gustav von Aschenbach: John Graham-Hall. Traveller, Elderly Fop, Old Gondolier, Hotel Manager, Hotel Barber, Leader of the Players, Voice of Dionysus: Andrew Shore. Voice of Apollo: William Towers. Hotel Porter: Peter Van Hulle. Strawberry Seller: Anna Dennis. Strolling Player: Donal Byrne. Lace Seller: Constance Novis. Glass Maker: Richard Edgar-Wilson. Beggar Woman: Madeleine Shaw. English Clerk: Jonathan Gunthorpe. Restaurant Waiter: Benoît De Leersnyder. Guide in Venice: Charles Johnston. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.

No wonder Deborah Warner’s ENO production of Death in Venice, now showing in Brussels, has been described in the press as a triumph and said to have “dazzled” Belgian opera-goers. It is a model of no-nonsense stagecraft and one of the most convincing stagings I’ve s…

Bernstein - On The Town

Châtelet, Paris, Tuesday December 30 2008

Conductor: Samuel Jean. Production: Jude Kelly. Choreography: Stephen Mear. Sets & costumes: Robert Jones. Lighting: Mark Henderson. Ozzie: Tim Howar. Chip: Adam Garcia. Gabey: Joshua Dallas. Ivy Smith: Sarah Soetart. Hildy Esterhazy: Caroline O’Connor. Claire de Loone: Lucy Schaufer. Madame Maude P. Dilly: Sheila Reid. Juge Pitkin W. Bridgework: Jonathan Best. Diana Dream/Dolores Dolores: Alison Jiear. Chorus of the Châtelet. Orchestre Pasdeloup.

Our last show of the 2007-2008 season was a musical: Bernstein's On The Town, in the English National Opera's Jude Kelly production. I hope I've got the cast and conductor right above, as bizarrely I couldn't find any information of the kind on the theatre's web site, nor could a friend with access to their press releases.

As we've all agreed I'm not the best-placed person to review musicals, I'll be brief. Stephen Mear's skeletal sets of rust-red struts and girde…

More Amazon quotes

A few more quotes picked up while reading customer reviews on Amazon. Capitalization, punctuation and spelling are as was.


He sang with such clarity and purity and made such a simple opening very moving. And the bagpipes were unexpectedly a very nice instrumentation for the piece.This man has THE most amazing voice! Until Alfie, I thought no one could match the great Pavoratti! The duets with J Lo and the deceased Edith Pilaf are especially good.I didn't think too much of this CD but confess I bought it for the track " Time to Say Goodbye" as I am preparing the music for my funeral service and I would like to go through the curtains to this one!!  Disappointed! No challenge. The same tempi and the same mood with a huge tutti at the end with a cheap modulation. Sorry, don't take it negative!The listener can feel it and embrace it without relying on pesky words and literal translations, which brings a whole new level to music listening.All of these other people …