Showing posts from 2013

Happy New Year 2014


Ambroise Thomas - Hamlet

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 15 2013

Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Production: Olivier Py. Sets and Costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Killy. Claudius: Vincent Le Texier. La Reine Gertrude: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo. Hamlet: Franco Pomponi. Polonius: Till Fechner. Ophélie: Rachele Gilmore. Laërte: Rémy Mathieu. Horatio/Premier Fossoyeur: Henk Neven. Marcellus/Deuxième Fossoyeur: Gijs Van der Linden. Le Spectre du feu Roi: Jérôme Varnier. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

True to form, La Monnaie has given us, and Ambroise Thomas, a generous Christmas present, albeit not a very cheerful one of course, by doing his Hamlet (or must I call it "the Danish play"?) proud.

Olivier Py's production was more solidly successful than his recent Alceste and Aida in Paris, with fewer directorial sillinesses (though tics there were: bare-chested demons with kinky mastiffs' heads, chalking on walls and floor, a chorus bearing banners marked "Liberté"...) a…

Schumann - Manfred

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday December 11 2013

Conductor: Emmanuel Krivine. Production and lighting: Georges Lavaudant. Sets and costumes: Jean-Pierre Vergier. Manfred: Pascal Rénéric. The Witch, The Phantom of Astarte: Astrid Bas. Destinies and Spirits: Anneke Luyten, Sarah Jouffroy, Olivier Dumait, Norman Patzke, Luc Bertin Hugault, Geoffroy Buffière, Cyrille Gautreau. The Abbot of St Maurice: Max Delor. Chorus: Les Eléments. La Chambre Philharmonique.

It will not last,
But it is well to have known it, though but once:
It hath enlarged my thoughts with a new sense,
And I within my tablets would note down
That there is such a feeling.

So here I am, noting down my feelings. It was the oft-mocked Marie-Aude Roux, in Le Monde, who spotted how neatly those lines from Manfred might apply to Schumann's work. "Contemporaneous with the opera Genoveva, the score rejects scenic pragmatism so as to better explore the possibilities of musical expression combined with declamation: akin to Be…

Bellini - I Puritani

ONP Bastille, Friday December 6 2013

Conductor: Michele Mariotti. Production and Costumes: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Chantal Thomas. Lighting: Joël Adam. Lord Gualtiero Valton: Wojtek Smilek. Sir Giorgio: Michele Pertusi. Lord Arturo Talbot: Dmitry Korchak. Sir Riccardo Forth: Mariusz Kwiecien. Sir Bruno Roberton: Luca Lombardo. Enrichetta di Francia: Andreea Soare. Elvira: Maria Agresta. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Apart from the very occasional aria, Bellini isn't a composer I listen to at home. My experience of his complete works comes largely from live performances, some of which played their part in the eventual naming of this blog, so I can't say I know them well - only well enough to know they're not for me (a remark which will probably get me called arrogant, stupid and bitter again; that's the usual result when I say I don't admire either Bellini or Donizetti). But I'd read that I Puritani was possibly his best score and, to my untu…

The Castrato Project

The Stile Galante baroque orchestra, under Stefano Aresi, plans to record a new CD with Ann Hallenberg devoted to one of the most famous, celebrated and important castrato singers of Mozart's age:

"Thanks to years of research we discovered the most extended collection ever found of original embellishments, da capos, cadenzas, variations connected to a single castrato's repertoire. The aims of our project are to record this music, to publish it in critical edition and to prepare a 50-minute documentary on this extraordinary discovery. We are going to record this music with original instruments, with the exact number of players of some of the orchestras originally performing the operas, with a choir, and in a theatre in Bergamo (Italy) perfectly preserved in its original shape. We found resources to pay the research work and the publication of the music, but we need to find some more funds for logistics, accommodations and travels for the musicians arriving for the recor…

George Benjamin - Written on Skin

Opéra Comique, Paris, Monday November 18 2013

Conductor: George Benjamin. Production: Katie Mitchell. Sets and costumes: Vicki Mortimer. Lighting: Jon Clark. The Protector: Christopher Purves. Agnès: Barbara Hannigan. Angel 1 - The Boy: Iestyn Davies. Angel 2 – Marie: Victoria Simmonds. Angel 3 – John: Allan Clayton. Angels, Archivists: David Alexander, Laura Harling, Peter Hobday, Sarah Northgraves. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

NOTE: This will be a longish post, but only because, for a new work of this importance I think it's useful to offer a summary of the plot and give some background information. My report of the performance I attended is at the beginning; background notes and plot are at the end, for those interested.

George Benjamin's Written on Skin was a huge hit when it premiered in Aix last year and has continued to reap praise, with few dissenting voices, as it has toured, so of course I was glad to see fo…

Richard Strauss - Elektra

ONP Bastille, Paris, Monday November 4 2013

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Robert Carsen. Sets: Michael Levine. Costumes: Vazul Matusz. Lighting: Robert Carsen, Peter Van Praet. Klytämnestra: Waltraud Meier. Elektra: Irene Theorin. Chrysothemis; Ricarda Merbeth. Aegisth: Kim Begley. Orest: Evgeny Nikitin. Die Aufseherin: Miranda Keys. Fünf Mägde: Anja Jung, Susanna Kreusch, Heike Wessels, Barbara Morihien, Eva Oltivanyi. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

“Sobriety” may not be the word you expect to settle on to sum up a performance of Elektra, as I did this Monday. This could explain why some critics have claimed this production was “tame”.

Musically, taken on its own terms, it was excellent – but some people might not subscribe to the terms. The orchestra was on magnificent form, playing Strauss better than I can ever remember; an amazing feat, to those of us old enough to remember when the Paris Opera orchestra couldn’t play Strauss at all. But Jordan kept…

Britten - War Requiem

La Monnaie – Bozar, Brussels, Sunday November 3 2013

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Soprano: Sabina Cvilak. Tenor: Mark Padmore. Baritone: Dietrich Henschel. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie. Flemish Radio Chorus. Vocaal Ensemble Reflection. La Monnaie Children’s Chorus.

It's probably simplistic of me (and yet another sign of my lack of proper musical education) to imagine, when a composer decides to score for both full and chamber orchestra, that he expects the small band to make less noise than the big one. The main shortcoming of this performance of Britten's wonderful War Requiem was, to me, lack of dynamic variety. It was mostly loud to very loud, with Ludovic Morlot apparently making little effort to coax some more subtly nuanced playing from La Monnaie's players (or to cue his soloists' entries properly). As a result, tenor and baritone often seemed forced to bawl their parts and the best bits were either those that Britten undoubtedly intended to be loud - the out…

Verdi - Aida

ONP Bastille, Friday October 25, 2013

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Olivier Py. Sets and costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Killy. Il Re: Carlo Cigni. Amneris: Luciana D’intino. Aida: Oksana Dyka. Radamès: Marcelo Alvarez. Ramfis: Alexei Botnarciuc. Amonasro: Sergey Murzaev. Sacerdotessa: Elodie Hache. Un Messaggero: Oleksiy Palchykov. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

By the time I got round to seeing Paris's first production of Aida in half a century (not counting extravaganzas in sports arenas) it had already been booed in the house and battered by the press, so much so that I had an e-mail from a friend the morning before saying "As for Aida, you've seen such negative feedback that you'll probably enjoy it". He wasn't exactly right, but I did wonder what all the kerfuffle was about. Kerfuffle there was even last night, well into the run, by which time things have often calmed down. "C'est pire que la bata…

Mozart - La Clemenza di Tito

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday October 13 2013

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Production: Ivo van Hove. Sets: Jan Versweyveld. Costumes: An D’Huys. Video: Tal Yarden. Tito Vespasiano: Kurt Streit. Vitellia: Véronique Gens. Servilia: Simona Šaturová. Sesto: Anna Bonitatibus. Annio: Anna Grevelius. Publio: Alex Esposito. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

Visually, this handsome new Brussels production of Clemenza was as chic as it gets. Musically, taking its cue from the hero, perhaps, it was a model of civilised restraint.

Let’s take the unrelenting chic first. The single set was a textbook display of understated, contemporary glamour. Forget bling. This was über-cool. Think Wallpaper magazine. Think designer lodges in rich resorts. Think Singapore Airlines’ flagship lounge at Changi. Think Scandinavian revival: tan carpet, sleek, teak furniture, autumn colours, burnished silks. On the right, a desk with drinks and diary. At the back, twin beds against a teak headboard, with matching bedsid…

Mamali Shafahi - Daddy Sperm

Galerie Nicolas Silin

"Daddy Sperm, an installation combining multiple videos with related objects, is the culmination of two years’ reflection on the “miracle” of life - how a simple drop of liquid becomes a living being ; on the cycle of life and the cycle of artistic creation; and on the relationship between parents and offspring.

"The videos involve the artist’s parents directly in the artistic process, and during the project Shafahi persuaded his father to take up drawing for the first time, so they could compare their creations side-by-side - the installation includes some of the drawings. In the videos, Shafahi carries his parents off into an imaginary world so far from their everyday reality that they, Shafahi’s creators, are re-created by him, their son, as virtual characters in a self portrait of the artist."

Galerie Nicolas Silin
13 rue Chapon, 75003 Paris, France.

Opening: Saturday October 19
4 to 9 pm.

Patrice Chéreau


Janacek - Vec Makropoulos

ONP Bastille, Wednesday October 2 2013

Conductor: Susanna Mälkki. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Video: Denis Guéguin. Lighting: Felice Ross. Emilia Marty: Ricarda Merbeth. Albert Gregor: Atilla Kiss-b. Jaroslav Prus: Vincent Le Texier. Dr Kolenaty: Jochen Schmeckenbecher. Vítek: Andreas Conrad. Krista: Andrea Hill. Janek: Ladislav Elgr. Hauk-Šendorf: Ryland Davies. Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

When I bought tickets for this revival of Paris's great Makropoulos Affair, I hoped that, this being the last night in the run of eight, the atmosphere might be supercharged. It wasn't and I was almost disappointed. Not by the visually stunning production, still stunning (and intelligent) though I was seeing it for the fourth time. (My previous reports date from 2007 and 2009). But Vincent Le Texier has lost a degree of power, Ryland Davies, though still charming as Hauk, is nearly inaudible, and the rest of the cast was somehow relative…

Gluck - Alceste

ONP Garnier, Wednesday September 26 2013

Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Production: Olivier Py. Sets & costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Killy. Admète: Yann Beuron. Alceste: Sophie Koch. Le Grand Prêtre d’Apollon: Jean-François Lapointe. Evandre / soli ténor: Stanislas de Barbeyrac. Un Hérault d’armes, Apollon: Florian Sempey. Hercule: Franck Ferrari. Coryphée / soli soprano: Marie-Adeline Henry. L’Oracle, Un Dieu infernal: François Lis. Soli alto: Bertrand Dazin. Chorus and Orchestra of the Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble.

"Alceste: what a waste of 200 euros".

That was, I'm sorry to say, the text message I sent to a friend just after this week's performance of Alceste. I was exaggerating a bit: not about the waste, but about the price. I'd rounded it up from 195 euros. When you go to see Alceste you expect (at least until Hercule comes blustering in) to be roused by the majestic nobility of it - not bored: Olivier Py's cold, fidgety production se…

Alain Platel - C(h)oeurs

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 1 2013

Conductor: Marc Piollet. Concept, production and sets: Alain Platel. Lighting: Carlo Bourguignon. Costumes: Dorine Demuynck. Additional music: Steven Prengels. Coro Intermezzo - Teatro Real Madrid. C de la B dance company. La Monnaie orchestra.

Giuseppe Verdi
Messa da Requiem (Dies Irae, Tuba mirum, Agnus Dei, Libera me)Nabucco (Va pensiero)Macbeth (Patria oppressa!)La Traviata (Parigi, o cara, Preludio Atto III, Preludio Atto I)Richard Wagner
Lohengrin (Vorspiel, Heil! König Heinrich!)Tannhäuser (Pilger-Chor, O du, mein holder Abendstern)Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wach auf!, Vorspiel 3. Aufzug)
La Monnaie’s 2013-2014 season opened, not with an opera, but with C(h)oeurs, a hybrid work commissioned by Gerard Mortier for Madrid. As my intention, with these write-ups, is to give impressions of operas, as an ordinary, amateur opera-goer, and as this was definitely not one, I’ve been wondering what to write about it, hence the delay. I’ll tr…

Something unusually sensible

This makes excellent reading. Sample:

The best argument to use with opera traditionalists who argue that productions should be done the one “faithful” way and no other way?

Liz Taylor and Richard Burton filmed Cleopatra in a faithful way and everything about it screams the sixties. Faithfulness is a fabrication.

Le Siècle des Lumières

The Holburne Museum, Bath, Thursday July 18 2013

Ian Peter Bugeja: Conductor/Fortepiano. Colin Scobie: leader. Nicola Said: soprano. Clare Ghigo: mezzo-soprano. Cenk Karaferya: countertenor. Les Bougies Baroques.
Mozart: Serenade N° 13 for strings in G major, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik [K. 525]Mozart: ‘Se l'augellin sen fugge' from La Finta Giardiniera [K. 196]Gluck: ‘Che farò senza Euridice?' from Orfeo ed EuridiceHaydn: Symphony N° 26, Lamentatione [Hob. 1/26]Azopardi: Overture in D major [Ed. Bertil van Boer]Mozart: ‘Dal tuo gentil sembiante' from Ascanio in Alba [K. 111]Mozart: ‘Al mio ben mi veggio avanti' from Ascanio in Alba [K. 111]Gluck: 'Nel mirar solo i sembianti' and ‘Di lor ciglia un lampo' (Duet and finale) from Il Parnaso ConfusoHaydn: Keyboard Concerto N° 11 in D major for fortepiano and orchestra [Hob. XVIII/11]. I see, on its website, that the Holburne Museum is "in partnership with Bath Spa University." Just as McDonald's has …

Mozart - Così fan tutte

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 2 2013

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Production: Michael Haneke. Sets: Christoph Kanter. Costumes: Moidele Bickel. Lighting: Urs Schönebaum. Fiordiligi: Anett Fritsch. Dorabella: Paola Gardina. Guglielmo: Andreas Wolf. Ferrando: Juan Francisco Gatell. Despina: Kerstin Avemo. Don Alfonso: William Shimell. Orchestra and chorus of La Monnaie.

"Yes, [Mozart's characters] are overwhelmed as well as overwhelming and set challenges for one another. They go astray and end up not knowing which way to turn. They want to ‘save face’ and, to do so, lose track more and more of who they really are. It’s a lot to do with self-assertion and fear". (Michael Haneke on La Monnaie's website.)

I was at first concerned to read, in La Libre Belgique, that Michael Haneke had "chosen and imposed" the cast for this production of Così fan tutte. Stage directors do too much "imposing" of casts, forcing us to put up with voiceless wonders for the…

Henri Rabaud - Mârouf, savetier du Caire

Opéra Comique, Paris, Monday May 27 2013
Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production: Jérôme Deschamps. Choreography: Peeping Tom (Franck Chartier). Sets: Olivia Fercioni. Costumes: Vanessa Sannino. Lighting: Marie-Christine Soma. Mârouf: Jean-Sébastien Bou. Princesse Saamcheddine: Nathalie Manfrino. Le Sultan: Nicolas Courjal. Le Vizir: Franck Leguérinel. Ali: Frédéric Goncalvès. Fattoumah: Doris Lamprecht. Le Fellah ; premier marchand: Christophe Mortagne. Ahmad: Luc Berthin-Hugault. Second marchand ; premier mamelouk: Geoffroy Buffière. Le Kâdi: Olivier Déjean. Chef des marins ; ânier ; premier muezzin ; premier homme de police: Patrick Kabongo Mubenga. Second homme de police: Ronan Debois. Second muezzin: Safir Behloul. Accentus choir. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Is there some unbridgeable kind of divide between French and “Anglo-Saxon” theatrical tastes? I really don’t enjoy Jérôme Deschamps “amateur theatricals” approach to stage directing, but my French friends do. I s…