Showing posts from 2014

Happy New Year

Alexander Pirogov sings Shaklovity's aria from Khovanshchina.

Berlioz - L'Enfance du Christ

Bozar, Brussels, Sunday December 21 2014

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Vierge Marie: Stéphanie d'Oustrac. Saint-Joseph: Lionel Lhote. Hérode: Paul Gay. Le père de famille / Polydorus: Frédéric Caton. Le récitant / Centurion: Yves Saelens. Orchestra & Chorus of La Monnaie, Reflection Vocal Ensemble, La Monnaie Children’s Choir.

Pendant dix ans Marie, et Joseph avec elle / Virent fleurir en lui la sublime douceur, / La tendresse infinie / A la sagesse unie.

“Sagesse” is probably not a word you’d usually apply to Berlioz, whose music is always full of surprises, often quite startling ones; but “sublime douceur” and “tendresse infinie” seem to sum up well the score of L’Enfance du Christ, one of his milder efforts.

Sunday afternoon’s performance at the Bozar in Brussels showed little sign of conductor, Ludovic Morlot having recently stated:

"I can only note that the orchestra and I have not succeeded in sharing a common artistic vision”.

He will be leaving at the end of the month,…

Mozart - Don Giovanni

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 7 2014

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets & Costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Denis Guéguin. Don Giovanni: Jean-Sébastien Bou. Il Commendatore: Sir Willard White. Donna Anna: Barbara Hannigan. Don Ottavio: Topi Lehtipuu. Donna Elvira: Rinat Shaham. Leporello: Andreas Wolf. Masetto: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Zerlina: Julie Mathevet. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

You can't win them all. After a series of successful productions (in my view at any rate: his Makropoulos Affair is one of the Bastille’s best ever), I suppose Krzysztof Warlikowski was bound to come a cropper at some stage, and that was exactly how French daily Le Figaro chose to head its review "Don Giovanni : Warlikowski se casse les dents", i.e. Warlikowski comes a cropper. You expect something novel, thoughtful and interesting from him, but here he disappointed by dishing up what any lesser "regie" …

Mozart - Die Entführung aus dem Serail

ONP Garnier, Monday October 27 2014

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Zabou Breitman. Sets: Jean-Marc Stehlé. Costumes: Arielle Chanty. Choreography: Sophie Tellier. Lighting: André Diot. Selim: Jürgen Maurer. Konstanze: Erin Morley. Blonde: Anna Prohaska. Belmonte: Bernard Richter. Pedrillo: Paul Schweinester. Osmin: Lars Woldt. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Believe it or not, I was actually in Istanbul, having lunch in the grounds of Topkapi Palace* (in Turkish, "Topkapı Sarayı" hence "Serail" in Mozart's title), when I got a text message from Paris: "Entführung is dismal! Opéra de Limoges style." As it happens (this will seem far-fetched, but truth is supposed to be stranger than fiction) the person opposite me during lunch was from Limoges, and took umbrage at the implied slur on her home town. She was with me at last night's performance of the Entführung in question, at the Palais Garnier (in Turkish, "Garnier…

Nicholas Lens - Shell Shock

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday October 26 2014

Conductor: Koen Kessels. Choreography and production: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Sets and videos: Eugenio Szwarcer. Costumes: Khanh Le Thanh. Lighting: Willy Cessa. Soprano: Claron McFadden. Mezzo-soprano: Sara Fulgoni. Counter-tenor: Gerald Thompson. Tenor: Ed Lyon. Bass: Mark S. Doss. Dance: Eastman - Aimilios Arapoglou, Damien Jalet, Jason Kittelberger, Kazutomi Kozuki, Elias Lazaridis, Johnny Lloyd, Nemo Oeghoede, Shintaro Oue, Guro Nagelhus Schia, Ira Mandela Siobhan. Child sopranos: Gabriel Kuti, Theo Lally, Gabriel Crozier. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

“Whether you call it shell shock or post-traumatic stress disorder, war creates serious psychological wounds. A hundred years after the outbreak of the Great War, Belgian composer Nicholas Lens and Australian author and musician Nick Cave have written a new opera on this theme. In twelve poems or canti he evokes the anonymous protagonists of the war in a highly personal and fluent sty…

Puccini - Tosca

ONP Bastille, Thursday October 16 2014

Conductor: Daniel Oren. Production: Pierre Audi. Sets: Christof Hetzer. Costumes: Robby Duiveman. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Floria Tosca: Martina Serafin. Mario Cavaradossi: Marcelo Alvarez. Scarpia: Ludovic Tézier. Cesare Angelotti: Wojtek Smilek. Spoletta: Carlo Bosi. Sciarrone: André Heyboer. Il Sagrestano: Francis Dudziak. Un carceriere: Andrea Nelli. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Hauts-de-Seine and ONP children’s choruses.

The last time I saw Tosca was in New York, in the Met’s tired old Zeffirelli production. I hadn’t seen it in Paris for a long time, the reason being the awfulness of the previous staging: once was enough. But for the 2014-2015 season, the ONP at last announced a new one, by Pierre Audi, so we decided which of the three casts looked most promising, and booked.

In the event, it was a let-down. There was little passion in this production (“on s’ennuie” said a friend at the first interval) , though as the ev…

Rameau - Castor et Pollux

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Monday October 13 2014

Conductor: Hervé Niquet. Production: Christian Schiaretti. Choreography: Andonis Foniadakis. Sets: Rudy Sabounghi. Costumes: Thibaut Welchlin. Lighting: Laurent Castaingt. Castor: John Tessier. Pollux: Edwin Crossley-Mercer. Télaïre: Omo Bello. Phœbé: Michèle Losier. Jupiter: Jean Teitgen. Mercure, un spartiate, un athlète: Reinoud van Mechelen. Cléone, une ombre heureuse: Hasnaa Bennani. Un grand prêtre: Marc Labonnette. Le Concert Spirituel.

Nothing new, of course, but it’s still funny how widely opinions on opera differ, making you wonder if there’s any value in reading or hearing anyone else’s. As I left the Théâtre des Champs Elysées last night, one friend I ran into exclaimed “I hated every minute!” But another simply said “On ne va pas bouder son plaisir” – literally “We aren’t going to pout (or pull faces) at our pleasure”, meaning even if the evening hadn’t been perfect, it would be fastidious deliberately to pick hole…

Wagner, Mahler (and Brahms)

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday September 26 2014
Philippe Herreweghe, Conductor. Ann Hallenberg, Mezzo Soprano. Orchestre des Champs Elysées.
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, prelude to act IIIMahler: KindertotenliederBrahms: symphony N°4. For reasons I could have done without, I have a special interest in Ann Hallenberg's Mahler. Earlier this year, on account of work, I had to cancel a trip to Berlin to hear her sing Das Lied von der Erde. The Abschied I missed appeared shortly after on internet, the very day deep tragedy struck, and listening to it (many times) helped me cope. Naturally, when I saw she would be singing the Kindertotenlieder in Paris this month, I booked.

Ann Hallenberg has fretted on line that she may not be “the kind of singer the audience wants to hear in Mahler”. She is, of course, wrong to worry. Her Mahler is as anyone who knows her singing would expect: impeccably tuned for a start, perfectly phrased and intelligently nuanced, sincerely exp…

Rossini - Il barbiere di Siviglia

ONP Bastille, Thursday September 25 2014

Conductor: Carlo Montanaro. Production: Damiano Michieletto. Sets: Paolo Fantin. Costumes: Silvia Aymonino. Lighting: Fabio Barettin. Il Conte d’Almaviva: René Barbera. Bartolo: Carlo Lepore. Rosina: Karine Deshayes. Figaro: Dalibor Jenis. Basilio: Orlin Anastassov. Fiorello: Tiago Matos. Berta: Cornelia Oncioiu. Un Ufficiale: Lucio Prete. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Paris’s new production of Il barbiere – not
altogether new, as it was created in Geneva in 2010 – should be fairly easy to describe. The curtain rises on an ordinary, slightly shabby, yellow street façade in Seville. We see the ground floor and three storeys above, but there could be more. To the left is a tapas bar (the Barracuda) with a giant ice cream cone and a table and chairs outside. In the middle, under Rosina’s balcony, is Almaviva’s (blue) car. All over is a multitude of realistic detail: the fire hydrant, the blue-and-white street numbers, the “…

Rameau - 250 years

Born September 25 1683, died September 12 1764.

Strauss - Daphne

Sunday September 21 2014

Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Production: Guy Joosten. Sets: Alfons Flores. Costumes: Moritz Junge. Lighting: Manfred Voss. Video: Franc Aleu. Choreography: Aline David. Peneios: Iain Paterson. Gaea: Birgit Remmert. Daphne: Sally Matthews. Leukippos: Peter Lodahl. Apollo: Eric Cutler. Erste Magd: Tineke Van Ingelgem. Zweite Magd: Maria Fiselier. Schäfer: Matt Boehler, Gijs Van der Linden, Kris Belligh, Justin Hopkins. Orchestra and men’s chorus of La Monnaie.

Nobody these days wants to see tenors in tunics or cavorting shepherds, so Daphne, wonderful though it is, is sometimes performed in concert but too rarely staged. The director must scratch his head wondering what modern parallels he can use. Guy Joosten decided that nature-obsessed and literally tree-hugging Daphne, refusing to party with the uncouth, was defying all her parents and their milieu represented, and that, in this day and age, that would be the world of finance. Wall Street. Fair enough, as ideas…

Monteverdi et al - L'incoronazione di Poppea

ONP Garnier, Sunday June 22 2014

Conductor: Rinaldo Alessandrini. Production: Robert Wilson with Giuseppe Frigeni. Sets: Robert Wilson, Annick Lavallée-Benny. Costumes: Jacques Reynaud / Yashi. Lighting: A. J. Weissbard, Robert Wilson. La Fortuna, Drusilla: Gaëlle Arquez. La Virtù, Damigella: Jaël Azzaretti. Amore: Amel Brahim-Djelloul. Ottone: Varduhi Abrahamyan. Poppea: Karine Deshayes. Nerone: Jeremy Ovenden. Arnalta: Manuel Nuñez Camelino. Ottavia: Monica Bacelli. Nutrice: Giuseppe de Vittorio. Seneca: Andrea Concetti. Valletto: Marie-Adeline Henry. Mercurio: Nahuel Di Pierro. Secondo Tribuno, Famigliare di Seneca. Salvo Vitale. Soldato pretoriano, Lucano, Famigliare di Seneca, Secondo Console: Valerio Contaldo. Soldato pretoriano, Liberto, Primo Tribuno: Furio Zanasi. Concerto Italiano.

It’s a pity, to me at any rate, that Poppea comes round more often than Orfeo, but it's interesting to see how many different production styles all manage to make a go of it: Dynasty-style …

Verdi - La Traviata

ONP Paris Bastille, Saturday June 14 2014

Conductor: Daniel Oren. Production: Benoît Jacquot. Sets: Sylvain Chauvelot. Costumes: Christian Gasc. Lighting: André Diot. Violetta Valéry: Diana Damrau. Flora Bervoix: Anna Pennisi. Annina: Cornelia Oncioiu. Alfredo Germont: Francesco Demuro. Giorgio Germont: Ludovic Tézier. Gastone: Gabriele Mangione. Il Barone Douphol: Fabio Previati. Il Marchese d’Obigny: Igor Gnidii. Dottore Grenvil: Nicolas Testé. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

It looked, with this new production of La Traviata, as if Nicolas Joël intended to mark the end of his tenure in Paris with a parting shot on how opera should, he's said to think, be staged: "traditional" production with a starry cast. The aim was perhaps also to offer a sort of ripost to the Paris Opera's previous production, by Christoph Marthaler, commissioned by Gerard Mortier. The result was only to emphasise the potential weakness of this approach (and to have, in the…

Marc-Olivier Dupin - Robert le cochon et les Kidnappeurs

Opéra comique, Paris, Friday June 13 2014

Conductor: Marc-Olivier Dupin. Production: Ivan Grinberg. Sets and costumes: Paul Cox. Lighting: Madjid Hakimi. Robert le cochon; Louyaplu, le tueur de loups: Marc Mauillon. Mercibocou le loup: Paul-Alexandre Dubois. Vieux Hibou; Ferdinand, gardien muet du dépotoir: Damien Bouvet. Nouille la grenouille; la Lune: Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Trashella, propriétaire du dépotoir: Edwige Bourdy. Poitou-Charentes Orchestra.

"On a quiet night, Robert the Pig (Robert le Cochon) learns that his friend Mercibocou the Wolf has been kidnapped by Trashella, the owner of the big garbage dump. To set him free, the boldness of Robert the Pig, the passion of Nouille the Frog and the complicity of the Moon will be necessary."

You'll have gathered from this introduction, copied and pasted from the Opéra Comique's website, that Robert le Cochon is not so much an opera, nor even an operetta or a musical, as a children's show with a relatively fa…

Charles Lecocq - Ali Baba

Opéra Comique, Paris, Tuesday May 20 2014

Conductor: Jean-Pierre Haeck. Production: Arnaud Meunier. Sets: Damien Caille-Perret. Costumes: Anne Autran Dumour. Lighting: Nicolas Marie. Morgiane: Sophie Marin-Degor. Zobéïde: Christianne Bélanger. Ali-Baba: Tassis Christoyannis. Zizi: Philippe Talbot. Cassim, François Rougier. Saladin: Mark van Arsdale. Kandgiar: Vianney Guyonnet. Maboul, le Cadi: Thierry Vu Huu. Chorus: Accentus/Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie. Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie.

Rigoletto was set in a circus, but Ali Baba was more fun. Some critics have grumbled about the production, but I've seen tackier, cornier ones in the same house, among them last year's "oriental" offering, Mârouf, savetier du Caire. One of the grumbles was about the transposition, in which the bazar became a shopping centre and the costumes were vaguely 70s or 80s, so it's true that the slave auction was slightly out of place; but at least we were spared the pa…

If you are in or near Monaco...


Verdi - Rigoletto

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday May 18 2014

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Robert Carsen, reprised by Gayral Christophe. Sets: Radu Boruzescu. Costumes: Miruna Boruzescu. Lighting: Robert Carsen, Peter Van Praet. Il Duca di Mantova: Arturo Chacón-Cruz. Rigoletto: Dimitri Platanias. Gilda: Simona Šaturová. Sparafucile: Ain Anger. Maddalena: Sara Fulgoni. Giovanna: Carole Wilson. Il Conte di Monterone: Carlo Cigni. Marullo: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Matteo Borsa: Roberto Covatta. Il Conte di Ceprano: Laurent Kubla. La Contessa di Ceprano: Yvette Bonner. Usciere di Corte: Gerard Lavalle. Orchestra and men's chorus of La Monnaie. 

Robert Carsen’s production of Rigoletto has been around before arriving in Brussels, so it will be familiar to many. I’d seen parts of it on TV myself. It sets the work in a wine-dark circus ring, and once you’ve said that the concept is fairly easy to imagine.

In the Brussels context, the start seemed unpromisingly déjà vu. Not Carsen’s fault, but last season’s

Ann Hallenberg - Der Abschied

Remarkable performance in Berlin in early April 2014.

Bruckner's 2nd, Schubert's 7th, 8th or 9th

Orchestre de l'Opéra national de Paris. Philippe Jordan, conductor.
Anton Bruckner: Symphony n°2 in C minorFranz Schubert: Symphony n°8 in C major ("Great"), D 944.
From Wikipedia, re the Scuthbert: "There continues to be some controversy over the numbering of this symphony, with German-speaking scholars sometimes numbering it as symphony No. 7, the most recent version of the Deutsch catalog (the standard catalogue of Schubert's works, compiled by Otto Erich Deutsch) listing it as No. 8, and English-speaking scholars often listing it as No. 9".

I had no idea. I thought the "8" on the Paris Opera's website was a mistake, and I wasn't the only ignoramus in town...

Over the past few years I've got out of the habit of booking orchestral concerts (that will change next season). But when I did, living in France my policy was to book for big-name visiting orchestras, preferably with a relatively modern programme. Why? Because France has no orc…

Rameau - Platée

Opéra Comique, Paris, Monday March 24 2014

Conductor: Paul Agnew. Production: Robert Carsen. Choreography: Nicolas Paul. Sets and costumes: Gideon Davey. Lighting: Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet. Platée: Marcel Beekman. La Folie: Simone Kermes. Thalie: Virginie Thomas. Mercure, Thespis: Cyril Auvity. Clarine, Amour: Emmanuelle de Negri. Jupiter: Edwin Crossley-Mercer. Momus: João Fernandes. Cithéron, Momus in Prologue: Marc Mauillon. Junon: Emilie Renard. Chorus and orchestra: Les Arts Florissants.

Platée is one of a handful of works I like so much I can listen through at any time with pleasure, so I can’t say I was actually disappointed to see it on the Opéra Comique’s 2013-2014 schedule. But as the Paris Opera’s own production is excellent and has become a repertoire staple, and as staged Rameau remains a relative rarity even in France, I thought it was a shame we couldn’t have something different and wondered how Carsen’s take would measure up to Laurent Pelly’s benchmark, especia…