Showing posts from 2010

Puccini - La Bohème

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 19 2010

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Andreas Homoki. Sets (what sets?): Hartmut Meyer. Costumes: Mechthild Seipel. Mimi: Ermonela Jaho. Musetta: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Rodolfo: Giuseppe Filianoti. Marcello: Massimo Cavalletti. Schaunard: Lauri Vasar. Colline: Giovanni Battista Parodi. Parpignol: Marc Coulon. Benoît: Jacques Does.

Not being a fan of La Bohème, I’d never given the plot and characters much thought. Being paid to do it, however, Andreas Homoki has. His production, now in Brussels, raises a couple of interesting points that had never struck me before. First, “Bohemians” were really what are now called "bobos." We can assume that, as young painters, poets, musicians and philosophers, they were children of the bourgeoisie; and there’s little doubt that they aspired to material success, even if they set out to épater their class. Second, that being so, there’s every likelihood that, once success was upon them, they would (a…

Hindemith - Mathis der Maler

ONP Bastille, Thursday November 25 2010

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach. Production: Olivier Py. Sets & costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Albrecht von Brandenburg: Scott Mac Allister. Mathis: Matthias Goerne. Lorenz von Pommersfelden: Thorsten Grümbel. Wolfgang Capito: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke. Riedinger: Gregory Reinhart. Hans Schwalb: Michael Weinius. Truchsess von Waldburg: Antoine Garcin. Sylvester von Schaumberg: Eric Huchet. Ursula: Melanie Diener. Regina: Martina Welschenbach. Die Gräfin von Helfenstein: Nadine Weissmann. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

My preconceived ideas are nearly always wrong. I suppose I’ll even end up on my deathbed, like a character in Mauriac or Waugh, copping out and making the sign of the cross. How many times have I started a report by saying an evening at the opera turned out either better or worse than I expected? And how come, having said so many times we should expect nothing (never to be disappointed), I go on having th…

Janacek - Katia Kabanova

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday November 7 2010

Conductor: Leo Hussain. Production: Andrea Breth. Sets: Annette Murschetz. Costumes: Silke Willrett, Marc Weeger. Savjol Prokofjevič Dikoj: Pavlo Hunka. Boris Grigorjevič: Kurt Streit. Marfa Ignatẻvna Kabanová (Kabanicha): Renée Morloc. Tichon Ivanyč Kabanov: John Graham-Hall. Katerina (Kát’a): Evelyn Herlitzius. Váňa Kudrjáš: Gordon Gietz. Varvara: Natascha Petrinsky. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

A friend of mine, complaining about a change of boss, once said: “They didn’t break the mould when they appointed him, it just got mouldier.” Until I actually checked, a week before, I’d supposed that La Monnaie was reviving Christoph Marthaler’s grungy but interesting “council flats” production of Katia Kabanova. It turned out that, though the Marthaler show wasn’t all that long ago, they’d asked Andrea Breth, a famous German director, to do a new one. In this case, it didn’t break the mould, but it was grungier - and less interesting (by fa…

Kern - Showboat

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Monday October 18 2010

Conductor: Albert Horne. Production: Janice Honeyman. Sets: Johan Engels. Choreography: Timothy le Roux. Costumes: Birrie le Roux. Magnolia: Janelle Visagie. Ravenal: Blake Fischer. Captain Andy: Malcolm Terry. Parthy: Diane Wilson. Julie: Angela Kerrison. Joe: Otto Maidi. Queenie: Miranda Tini. Orchestre Pasdeloup. Production from Cape Town Opera.

It was hard to tell whether this production of Showboat, from Cape Town, was deliberately, knowingly old-fashioned, au deuxième degré as the French say, or just plain outdated. The latter, I think, and the FT (unlike Le Monde and Le Figaro, whose critics have perhaps never been to Broadway: all the quotes in this report will be from the FT) seems to agree: “[A] ringard (naff) offering that rolls out garish sets and costumes, relentless choreography even when none is required and ham acting that is uncomfortably close to the parodies of hand-on-heart gestures mocked in the Cotton Blossom’s ni…

Sullivan – The Pirates of Penzance

Sydney Opera House, Friday September 24 2010

Conductor: Andrew Greene. Production: Stuart Maunder. Sets: Richard Roberts. Costumes: Roger Kirk. Major-General Stanley: Peter Carroll. Pirate King: Anthony Warlow. Frederic: Matthew Robinson. Mabel: Rosemarie Harris. Ruth: Suzanne Johnston. Sergeant of Police: Richard Alexander. Samuel: Andrew Brunsdon. Edith: Amy Wilkinson. Kate: Tania Ferris. Isabel: Angela Brun. Opera Australia Chorus. Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.

I didn’t fancy Rosenkavalier in what I believe to be a traditional production, and couldn’t get tickets on the web for Rigoletto, so I decided I’d give The Pirates of Penzance a go. The photos looked like it might be fun, and you expect a national opera house to do it proud. However, I left asking myself “what’s the point?”

This was a pretty enough production, with a stage within the stage and sky-blue proscenium lit up in lights. Red-wheeled, cardboard cut-out, “coloured engraving” sets were pushed or pulled on and o…

Tchaikovsky - Eugene Onegin

ONP Bastille, Monday September 20 2010

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko. Production: Willy Decker. Sets & costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann. Lighting: Hans Toelstede. Madame Larina: Nadine Denize. Tatiana: Olga Guryakova. Olga: Alisa Kolosova. Filipievna: Nona Javakhidze . Eugene: Ludovic Tézier. Lenski: Joseph Kaiser. Prince Gremin: Gleb Nikolski. Monsieur Triquet: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. Ugo: Rabec Zaretski. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

There are evenings at the opera when everything is so sound that you can’t easily put your finger on what it was that left you not-quite-satisfied (“sur votre faim”). So it was this Monday at Eugene Onegin.

The singers? Surely not. Nadine Denize may now make a rather underpowered Madame Larin, but hers isn’t a pivotal role. Olga Guryakova’s voice may be a little harder and stiffer than it was back in War and Peace, but, as my neighbour said, what magnificent sounds she makes. And (a) whatever she may have lost (and that’s not much), she h…

Boesmans - Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 19 2010

Conductor: Patrick Davin. Production: Luc Bondy. Sets: Richard Peduzzi. Costumes, hair and make-up: Milena Canonero. Lighting: Dominique Bruguière. Yvonne: Dörte Lyssewski. Le Roi Ignace: Paul Gay. La Reine Marguerite: Mireille Delunsch. Le Prince Philippe: Marcel Reijans. Le Chambellan: Werner Van Mechelen. Isabelle: Hannah Esther Minutillo. Cyrille: Jason Bridges. Cyprien: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Innocent: Guillaume Antoine. Le Mendiant: Marc Coulon. Les Tantes: Beata Morawska, Alain-Pierre Wingelinckx. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

I’d heard of psychodrama but Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne was my chance to meet psychocomedy. I suspect that to be fascinated by either you need to be intellectually inclined, and I’m not, so I wasn’t. Yvonne is based on a play by a Pole called Gombrowicz, in which a prince decides that, as convention would have him marry a beautiful, charming princess, he will marry the graceless Yvonne instead. Soon, som…

Verdi - Macbeth

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 27 2010.

Conductor: Paul Daniel. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Denis Guéguin. Macbeth: Scott Hendricks. Banco: Carlo Colombara. Lady Macbeth: Iano Tamar. Dama di lady Macbeth: Janny Zomer. Macduff: Andrew Richards. Malcolm: Benjamin Bernheim. Medico/Servo/Araldo: Justin Hopkins. Sicario: Gerard Lavalle. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

Strenuously thought-provoking productions are probably better taken in on cold winter evenings than sweltering summer afternoons. When you’re hot, tired and (after lunch) sleepy, you don’t even make the most of the singing, a shame when it’s as good as it was last Sunday in Brussels, the end of our 2009-2010 season.

The male leads were all singers I’d already taken note of separately, in various works:

1. "We had a strong cast of men. Indeed, they all made themselves heard over the row from the pit [in Szymanowski's King Roger, also dir…

I. U. [Heart] at The Third Line, Dubai

Something completely different: this post has nothing to do with opera. It's a text I wrote in the run-up to the exhibition I.U. [Heart] at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, opening on June 23, 2010.

Iranian contemporary art: a view from Europe…

It’s convenient for us to pigeonhole countries we don’t know with a handful of stereotypical attributes. Relatively few people in the West, whether interested in art or not, have a mental picture of Iran that goes beyond the caricature conveyed by the media: a repressive, murderous Islamic republic, enemy of the West and bona fide member of America’s “Axis of Evil,” ruled by elderly, bearded imams and a vociferous, unpredictable president, possibly mad and capable, it seems, of making the wildest claims regardless of the intelligence of his audience.

The first reaction to Iranian contemporary art is often just surprise that it exists at all: there were no white-walled contemporary art galleries in that mental picture we had of Tehran.

The seco…

Rossini - La Donna del Lago

Friday June 18 2010

Conductor: Roberto Abbado. Production: Lluís Pasqual. Sets: Ezio Frigerio. Lighting: Vinicio Cheli. Costumes Franca Squarciapino. Giacomo V (Uberto di Snowdon): Juan Diego Florez. Duglas d’Angus: Simon Orfila. Rodrigo di Dhu: Colin Lee. Elena: Joyce DiDonato. Malcolm Groeme: Daniela Barcellona. Albina: Diana Axentii. Serano: Jason Bridges. Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

It's a brave (or foolhardy) house that schedules a killer work like La Donna del Lago. How to stage it these days is a trivial question beside that of how to cast it. The Paris Opera has put together about the best cast you could hope for (the next morning I listened to Pollini's recording; in the comparison, only Ramey came across as better) but even so, it was a case of "safety in numbers." The ensembles, from duets upwards, were less precarious than the solo arias because, plucky though everyone was, nobody was wholly at ease, wholly consistent throughout the range, (understand…

Wagner - Die Walküre

ONP Bastille, Wednesday June 16 2010

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Günter Krämer. Sets: Jürgen Bäckmann. Costumes: Falk Bauer. Lighting: Diego Leetz. Siegmund: Robert Dean Smith. Hunding: Günther Groissböck. Wotan: Thomas Johannes Mayer. Sieglinde: Ricarda Merbeth. Brünnhilde: Katarina Dalayman. Fricka: Yvonne Naef. Gerhilde: Marjorie Owens. Ortlinde: Gertrud Wittinger. Waltraute: Silvia Hablowetz. Schwertleite: Wiebke Lehmkuhl. Helmwige: Barbara Morihien. Siegrune: Helene Ranada. Grimgerde: Nicole Piccolomini. Rossweisse: Atala Schöck. Ortlinde: Gertrud Wittinger. Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.
You’d hardly have guessed this Walküre was in the same series as the Rheingold that went before. For a start, the singing was much better - so I’ve been lucky with Wagner in the last couple of weeks. As for the production, apart from “Germanja” in giant gothic letters (more later), most of the other gimmicks had gone: instead of bulging muscle suits and plastic breasts, Wot…

Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande

Opéra Comique, Paris, Monday June 14 2010.

Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Production & sets: Stéphane Braunschweig. Costumes: Thibault Vancraenenbroeck. Lighting: Marion Hewlett. Pelléas: Phillip Addis. Mélisande: Karen Vourc'h. Golaud: Marc Barrard. Arkel: Markus Hollop. Geneviève: Nathalie Stutzmann. Yniold: Dima Bawab. Accentus choir. Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

“I'm not a great fan of Pelléas. I don’t listen to it at home, but it works for me in the theatre if grabbed firmly by the scruff of the neck and given a good shake, as it were: plenty of drama in the pit and plenty of commitment on stage.” That’s me quoting myself. I always say the same thing when writing up Pelléas, so I thought I might as well copy and paste. I don’t actually remember, but I suppose, when filling out the subscription forms for the Opéra Comique over a year ago, I expected Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire – so good in Les Troyens – and producer Stéphane Braunschweig –…

Wagner - Das Rheingold

Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Saturday May 29, 2010

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Production: Guy Cassiers. Sets: Guy Cassiers and Enrico Bagnoli. Costumes: Tim Van Steenbergen. Lighting: Enrico Bagnoli. Videos: Arjen Klerkx and Kurt d'Haeseleer. Coreography: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Wotan: René Pape. Donner: Jan Buchwald. Froh: Marco Jentzsch. Loge: Stephan Rügamer. Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle. Mime: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke. Fasolt: Tigran Martirossian. Fafner: Timo Riihonen. Fricka: Doris Soffel. Freia: Anna Samuil. Erda: Anna Larsson. Woglinde: Aga Mikolaj. Wellgunde: Maria Gortsevskaya. Flosshilde: Marina Prudenskaya. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

An excellent (supposedly working) week in Italy, which had already taken in Maria Stuarda in Palermo, ended on the (very) high point - again thanks to my extraordinarily hospitable colleagues there – of Das Rheingold at La Scala, conducted by Barenboim. Well, not quite “ended,” as once more there was a delici…

Donizetti - Maria Stuarda

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Thursday May 27 2010.

Conductor: Fabrizio Maria Carminati. Production, sets, costumes and lighting: Denis Krief. Elisabetta: Kate Aldrich. Maria Stuarda : Dimitra Theodossiou. Anna Kennedy: Patrizia Gentile. Roberto di Leicester: Shalva Mukeria. Giorgio Talbot: Mirco Palazzi. Lord Guglielmo Cecil Silvio Zanon. Orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo.

If there is one compensation (other than a pittance) for the indignity of having to go to work every day, it must be having colleagues in Italy. It was thanks to mine that I found myself at the Teatro Massimo the other evening for an excellent performance of Maria Stuarda (and later at a table in a cobbled square for an excellent Sicilian dinner as well) with one exception: the costumes. I’ll explain later.

Naturally, I’d wondered beforehand how good it could be. As people who know me know, I’m not a great lover, musically speaking, of either Donizetti or, especially, Bellini (whose organ-grinder scores seem to m…

Massenet - Don Quichotte

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday May 16 2010

Conductor: Nicholas Jenkins. Production: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Barbara de Limburg. Costumes: Laurent Pelly. Lighting: Joël Adam. La belle Dulcinée: Silvia Tro Santafé. Don Quichotte: José van Dam. Sancho Panza: Werner Van Mechelen. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

For his farewell, after 50 years, to his country’s royal opera house, José Van Dam – described in more than one review as a “living national treasure” – chose Don Quichotte. It was either that or Falstaff, I suppose. His lower range is now (indeed has been for some time) fleshless and breathless and his upper range has a husky, “old man’s" sound; only a few notes in the middle ring out from time to time. So this was a Don Quichotte in which often, in duets (I think of the windmill scene), the Don was outshone, vocally, by his younger partners; a Don Quichotte often without its hero. But this is no time, of course, as he bows out, applauded by his fellow countrymen for a lifetime…

Thomas - Mignon

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday April 14 2010.

Conductor: François-Xavier Roth. Production: Jean-Louis Benoit. Sets: Laurent Peduzzi. Costumes: Thibaut Welchlin. Lighting: Dominique Bruguière. Choreography: Lionel Hoche. Mignon: Marie Lenormand. Wilhelm Meister: Ismael Jordi. Philine: Malia Bendi-Merad. Lothario, Nicolas Cavallier. Frédéric: Blandine Staskiewicz. Laërte: Christophe Mortagne. Jarno: Frédéric Goncalves. Un serveur: Laurent Delvert. Danseuses, Marie-Laure Caradec, Vinciane Gombrowicz, Aurélie Genoud, Caroline Savi. Accentus. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Since the Théâtre du Châtelet switched from a full season of opera, rivalling the Opéra National (in the 90s especially), to more eclectic programming, we’ve fortunately been able to turn to the Opéra Comique instead. Change of management (and status: it is now a Théâtre National) there has brought a policy of scheduling new or recent works while reviving French pieces that have become rare. And so we’ve had t…