Showing posts from 2015

Humperdinck - Hänsel und Gretel

La Monnaie at Bozar, Brussels, Sunday December 20 2015

Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Live projections: Manual Cinema. Conductor of children’s chorus: Denis Menier. Peter: Dietrich Henschel. Gertrud: Natascha Petrinsky. Hänsel: Gaëlle Arquez. Gretel: Talia Or. Die Knusperhexe: Georg Nigl. Sandmännchen and Taumännchen: Ilse Eerens. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra. La Monnaie Children’s Choir, La Maîtrise. 

As I’ve already said since this season started, the main Brussels house is undergoing renovation, so La Monnaie is peripatetic. I should imagine management realised that Hänsel und Gretel is hardly “oratorio” fare and therefore offered it to us “semi-staged”, or so they put it, at Bozar, an art-déco arts complex up the hill.

Bozar’s concert hall has a warm, enveloping, “sherry commercial” kind of acoustics, so La Monnaie’s orchestra sounded impressively lush and loud there. Anything but post-modern and/or transparently analytical, Lothar Koenigs’ conducting seemed to me Stokovskian “old sch…



Berlioz - La Damnation de Faust

ONP Bastille, Friday December 11 2015

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Director and sets: Alvis Hermanis. Costumes: Christine Neumeister. Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky. Video: Katrina Neiburga. Marguerite: Sophie Koch. Faust: Jonas Kaufmann. Méphistophélès: Bryn Terfel. Brander: Edwin Crossley-Mercer. Voix céleste: Sophie Claisse. Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine and Paris Opera Children's Chorus.

One of the reasons I started writing about everything I saw - productions and singers - was just to recall it, as I often found I couldn't. Alvis Hermanis's production (great name, Alvis: conjures up memories of stylish, sporty cars, many years ago) should, however, be easy to remember, as it features Stephen Hawking in his electrically-driven chair. It has also led to memorable, near-historic levels of booing, heckling and exchanged insults, even during the show, forcing Philippe Jordan to intervene from time to time to quieten people down. Someone who has be…

Bartok - Bluebeard's Castle / Poulenc - La Voix Humaine

ONP Garnier, Thursday December 10 2015

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and Costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Denis Guéguin. Duke Bluebeard: John Relyea. Judith: Ekaterina Gubanova. Elle: Barbara Hannigan. Lui: Claude Bardouil. Paris Opera Orchestra.

Two preliminary thoughts:
In the 80s, every opera house needed a flimsy silk curtain that could be whisked away in a flash as the music struck up, sometimes getting caught in the scenery and pulling it down. Later, they all had to stock a bombed-out concrete bunker, plenty of combat gear and a dozen black leather greatcoats. Last week (I've been away on business, which is why I'm writing this so late) it occurred to me that they can now probably chuck out their silk curtains and bunkers to make room for a set of large glass cases on wheels: every self-respecting new production uses some.There has been a great deal of heated hoo-ha over the past few weeks about the Par…

Sumi Jo in Nixon in China

Glad to see this back on YT:

Maestro Wenarto also sings "I am the wife of Mao Tse Tung".

Schoenberg - Moses und Aron

ONP Bastille, Monday October 26 2015

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Romeo Castellucci. Moses: Thomas Johannes Mayer. Aron: John Graham-Hall. Ein junges Mädchen: Julie Davies. Eine Kranke: Catherine Wyn-Rogers. Ein junger Mann: Nicky Spence. Der Nackte Jüngling: Michael Pflumm. Ein Mann: Chae Wook Lim. Ein anderer Mann, Ephraimit: Christopher Purves. Ein priester: Ralf Lukas. Vier Nackte Jungfrauen: Julie Davies, Maren Favela, Valentina Kutzarova, Elena Suvorova. Drei Älteste: Shin Jae Kim, Olivier Ayault, Jian-Hong Zhao. Sechs Solostimmen: Béatrice Malleret, Isabelle Wnorowska-Pluchart, Marie-Cécile Chevassus, John Bernard, Chae Wook Lim, Julien Joguet. Sets, costumes and lighting: Romeo Castellucci. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine, Paris Opera children’s chorus.

I am ashamed to say that in all my long years I had never taken the time to listen to Moses und Aron. It was criminal negligence and I regret it now: last night I dis…

Rossini, Mendelssohn and Mahler

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Saturday October 24 2015

Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov. Soprano: Camilla Tilling. St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rossini: Barber of Seville overtureMendelssohn: Symphony N°4, Italian SymphnoyMahler: Symphony N°4. An evening of undemonstrative virtuosity. You might call Temirkanov an "anti-Bernstein". His gestures are sparing and his conducting seems (ars being celare artem) likeably literal and straightforward: no showiness (or showmanship), no lush wallowing, no violent extremes, no pulling the score about: when the score comes to an abrupt halt (e.g. the end of the second movement of the Mahler), no slowing down to smooth the abruptness out. The magnificent orchestra comes across, under his guidance, as quietly impressive: one vast, neat, gently humming machine, with not so much a sense of separate sections as one of a single, intricately interconnected mechanism. Never a note out of place, of course; not one quack from a horn or a trum…

Strauss - Ariadne auf Naxos

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Monday October 12 2015

Conductor: Kirill Petrenko. Ariadne/Prima Donna: Amber Wagner. Bacchus/Tenor: Jonas Kaufmann. Zerbinetta: Brenda Rae. Composer: Alice Coote. Music Master: Markus Eiche. Lackey: Christian Rieger. Brighella: Matthew Grills. Dancing Master: Kevin Conners. Harlequin: Elliot Madore. Major-Domo: Johannes Klama. Scaramuccio: Dean Power. Truffaldino: Tareq Nazmi. Officer: Petr Nekoranec. Wigmaker: John Carpenter. Naiad: Eri Nakamura. Dryad: Okka von der Damerau. Echo: Anna Virovlansky. Bayerisches Staatsorchester.

I hinted, in my report on Saturday’s Theodora, that it might have been better without the distractions of the bland production. I don’t know if we should call last night‘s Ariadne auf Naxos a concert performance or a semi-staged one. There were no sets or costumes and the orchestra was on-stage; but the singers, in evening dress, had no chairs or stands, and acted their parts out, all of them, with gusto. It was so succe…

Händel - Theodora

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Saturday October 10 2015

Conductor: William Christie. Production: Stephen Langridge. Choregraphy: Philippe Giraudeau. Sets and costumes: Alison Chitty. Lighting: Fabrice Kebour. Theodora: Katherine Watson. Irene: Stéphanie d’Oustrac. Didymus: Philippe Jaroussky. Septimius: Kresimir Spicer. Valens: Callum Thorpe. Les Arts Florissants.

An old friend of mine was too ill to go to the TCE for Theodora last night (hacking cough, like many in Paris at the moment - but people know Christie too well to dare hack their lungs out with him in the pit) and therefore asked for a report immediately after. As these e-mails or texts shot-off in the heat of the night while still abuzz from a show sum up one's main conclusions, I'll reproduce mine here:

Have you heard this Katherine Watson? If not you must try to get back to the TCE. I see she was a choral scholar at Trinity (1). That kind of background probably explains her degree of accomplishment and musicians…

Adès - Powder Her Face

La Monnaie (at Halles de Schaerbeek), Brussels, Sunday September 27 2015.

Conductor: Alejo Pérez. Production: Mariusz Trelinski. Sets: Boris Kudlicka. Costumes: Marek Adamski. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Bartek Macias. Duchess: Allison Cook. Hotel Manager, Duke, Laundryman, Other guest: Peter Coleman-Wright. Electrician, Lounge Lizard, Waiter, Priest, Rubbernecker, Delivery boy: Leonardo Capalbo. Maid, Confidante, Waitress, Mistress, Rubbernecker, Society journalist: Kerstin Avemo. La Monnaie orchestra.

Brussels’ royal opera house is shut for renovation, so this season is peripatetic. On account of work, I missed what was apparently a fun (and more) production of L'Elisir d'Amore at the Cirque Royal two weeks back, being in Muscat instead. Powder Her Face took us to a former market hall in Schaerbeek, up near the Nord station, where the streets are lined with Turkish grocers’, cafés, restaurants and cake shops. So for a change, on an unusually sunny day for Brussels, we had U…

Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur

ONP Bastille, Monday July 6 2015

Conductor: Daniel Oren. Production: David McVicar. Sets: Charles Edwards. Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting: Adam Silverman. Choreography: Andrew George. Maurizio: Marcelo Alvarez. Il Principe di Bouillon: Wojtek Smilek. L’Abate di Chazeuil : Raúl Giménez. Michonnet: Alessandro Corbelli. Quinault : Alexandre Duhamel. Poisson : Carlo Bosi. Adriana Lecouvreur : Angela Gheorghiu. La Principessa di Bouillon : Luciana D’intino. Madamigella Jouvenot : Mariangela Sicilia. Madamigella Dangeville: Carol Garcia. Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Having slept on it, I’ve decided it was actually quite nice to end the season with an “old-fashioned” evening of Italian opera: stand-and-deliver singing by a strong cast in period costumes and sets and no regie soul-searching. I wouldn’t want this sort of thing very often – especially not Adriana: once every 20 years is enough – but the audience evidently liked it: unusually, for Paris, half of them actually stoo…

Messiaen - Turangalîla-Symphonie

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Wednesday May 27 2015

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Ondes Martenot: Valérie Hartmann-Claverie. Philharmonia Orchestra. 

The Philharmonia's Turangalîla under Salonen on Wednesday evening came across, from where I was sitting, as a massive display of scorching orchestral fire-power: the brass and percussion blasting away like heavy artillery at the rear, the dry English woodwind's lighter artillery and the searing, steely siren sounds of the strings in the middle, and at the front, celesta and glockenspiel scattering gleaming, ear-piercing shrapnel, the wailing shells of the ondes Martenot, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard manning a one-man machine gun battery, shooting off salvos of bullets with deadly accuracy and taking no prisoners. Tempi were relatively brisk, Messiaen's sudden silences were deafeningly abrupt, the overall effect was more martial than loving, and apart from brief moments of respite, it was either…

Chausson - Le Roi Arthus

ONP Bastille, Paris, Monday May 25 2015

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Graham Vick. Sets and costumes: Paul Brown. Lighting: Adam Silverman. Genièvre: Sophie Koch. Arthus: Thomas Hampson. Lancelot: Roberto Alagna. Mordred: Alexandre Duhamel. Lyonnel: Stanislas de Barbeyrac. Allan: François Lis. Merlin: Peter Sidhom. Un Laboureur: Cyrille Dubois. Un Chevalier: Tiago Matos. Un Écuyer: Ugo Rabec. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

If I seemed reserved in my praise of the musical side of Sunday's Ballo in Brussels, I can be quite unreserved about that of Le Roi Arthus last night: it was simply magnificent, as magnificent, sensitive yet generous a performance as you could hope to hear. Having said that, what can I usefully add? (Eight more paragraphs, perhaps?)

Though I've seen it before in Brussels, like most of us, I imagine, I know the work mainly from Jordan senior's recording with Teresa Żylis-Gara. That being so, I was surprised to see Sophie Koc…

Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday May 24 2015

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Concept and Production: Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus). Sets: Alfons Flores. Costumes: Lluc Castells. Lighting: Urs Schönebaum. Video: Emmanuel Carlier. Gustav III: Riccardo Massi. René Ankarström: Scott Hendricks. Amelia: Monica Zanettin. Ulrica Arfvidsson: Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Oscar: Ilse Eerens. Cristiano: Roberto Accurso. Ribbing: Tijl Faveyts. Horn: Carlo Cigni. Un Giudice: Zeno Popescu. Un Servo: Pierre Derhet. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

This Ballo, involving a couple of interesting young singers, was musically quite satisfactory overall, and at times excellent.

Scott Hendricks is a baritone I've admired at La Monnaie and the Bastille in the past. Yesterday his singing was fairly blustery (and he looked quite grumpy at the curtain calls), but that was alright, once his character had gone bad. Marie-Nicole Lemieux was as excellent an Ulrica as you'd expect: vocally sumptuous and radiating presence. …

Ann Hallenberg sings Graun

Celebrated Manhattan in Charcoal


Janacek - Jenufa

Hungarian National Opera, Budapest, Saturday April 18 2015

Conductor: Graeme Jenkins. Production: Attila Vidnyánszky. Sets and costumes: Olexander Bizolub. Buryja: Éva Balatoni. Laca Klemen: János Bándi. Steva Burya: Atilla Kiss B. Kostelnicka: Gyöngyi Lukács. Jenufa: Szilvia Rálik. Mill Foreman: Gábor Bretz. Mayor: László Szvétek. Mayor's wife: Katalin Gémes. Karolka: Krisztina Simon. Neighbour: Éva Várhelyi. Barena: Erika Markovics. Jano: Eszter Zavaros.

In Budapest on the whole singers don't hold back, but despite the commitment of the four principals this performance of Jenufa was not a great success for various reasons, some of them probably to do with it being a first night.

For a start, the two tenors had a problem with pacing. Vocally they were sharply contrasted: Attila Kiss B.'s voice is clear and brassy; János Bándi's is darker and, in timbre but not volume, softer. Both threw themselves almost alarmingly into the first act, and this time Kiss B. was in bette…

VPO in Brahms

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Wednesday April 15 2015

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach. Soloist: Leonidas Kavakos

Violin ConcertoSymphony N°1 The last time I heard the VPO in the same theatre I was disappointed. This Brahms concert made up for that in full.
Leonidas Kavakos' playing was so (deceptively) "simple" sounding that it was only as the concerto progressed that I realised what an outstanding performance I was actually hearing. It comes across as effortlessly straightforward, which of course it can't be: a great deal of skill and effort and talent must have gone and go into achieving such undemonstrative, un-flashy virtuosity, such fluency in pianissimo passages played without vibrato, note-perfect. The result reminded me of Ana-Caterina Antonacci's singing - in her case, so conversational she makes you feels as if she's taking you into her confidence: you almost forget she's singing, not just talking to you. With Kavakos, it was like havi…

Dusapin - Penthesilea

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday April 12 2015

Conductor: Franck Ollu. Production: Pierre Audi. Sets: Berlinde De Bruyckere. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Costumes: Wojciech Dziedzic. Video: Mirjam Devriendt. Electro-acoustic emplacement: Thierry Coduys. Penthesilea: Natascha Petrinsky. Prothoe: Marisol Montalvo. Achilles: Georg Nigl. Odysseus: Werner Van Mechelen. Oberpriesterin: Eve-Maud Hubeaux. Bote: Wiard Witholt. Botin: Yaroslava Kozina. Amazone: Marta Beretta. La Monnaie Orchestra & Chorus.

Before seeing this opera, I had no idea of the gruesome tale (as retold by Kleist) of Penthesilea. Here are some indications from the web…

First, very simply, from

Penthesilea is about an Amazon queen who falls in love with the Greek hero Achilles but later goes mad with passion and kills him”.

Wikipedia hints at the gruesomeness:

Penthesilea (1808) is a tragedy by the German playwright Heinrich von Kleist about the mythological Amazon queen, Penthesilea, described as …