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Gluck - Iphigénie en Tauride

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ONP Garnier, Monday December 19 2016

Conductor: Bertrand de Billy. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets and Costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Denis Guéguin. Choreography: Claude Bardouil. Iphigénie: Véronique Gens. Oreste: Étienne Dupuis. Pylade: Stanislas de Barbeyrac. Thoas: Thomas Johannes Mayer. Diane, Première Prêtresse: Adriana Gonzalez. Deuxième Prêtresse, une Femme Grecque: Emanuela Pascu. Un Scythe, un Ministre: Tomasz Kumiega. Iphigénie (silent role): Renate Jett. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Iphigénie en Tauride was Krzysztof Warlikowski’s first production for the Opéra de Paris, 10 years ago, and was violently booed at the time, but I had never seen it yet. Since then, thanks to the likes of his Makropoulos Case, King Roger or even Parsifal, which he made palatable in the same way some people claim they have ways to make brussels sprouts edible, I’ve become a fan of his, so I was glad to have this chance to discover the…

Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana / Hindemith - Sancta Susanna

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ONP Bastille, Wednesday November 30 2016

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Mario Martone. Sets: Sergio Tramonti. Costumes: Ursula Patzak. Lighting: Pasquale Mari. Santuzza: Elīna Garanča. Turiddu: Yonghoon Lee. Lucia: Elena Zaremba. Alfio: Vitaliy Bilyy. Lola: Antoinette Dennefeld. Susanna: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Klementia: Renée Morloc. Alte Nonne: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Puzzled by the apparently odd pairing of Cavalleria Rusticana and Sancta Susanna, I went to the Bastille last night unsure of what to expect. The link between the two turned out to be basically the relationship between religion and sex, obvious in Sancta Susanna and made more obvious in Cavalleria Rusticana by heightening both. The crucifix, in various sizes, was a recurrent image. Director Mario Martone added in interview that both libretti refer to the heady scent of flowers, which seemed to be a bit “tiré par les cheveux”. He admitted he wasn’t keen on the …

42nd Street

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Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Saturday November 26 2016

Conductor: Gareth Valentine. Production and choreography: Stephen Mear. Sets and costumes: Peter McKintosh. Lighting: Chris Davey. Julian Marsh: Alexander Hanson. Dorothy Brock: Ria Jones. Peggy Sawyer: Monique Young. Billy Lawlor: Dan Burton. Maggie Jones: Jennie Dale. Bert Barry: Carl Sanderson. Ann Reilly: Emma Kate Nelson. Andy Lee: Stephane Anelli. Pat Denning: Matthew McKenna. Abner Dillon: Teddy Kempner. Phyllis Dale: Chantel Bellew. Lorraine Flemming: Charlie Allen. Diane Lorimer: Emily Goodenough. Ethel: Jessica Keable. Oscar: Barnaby Thompson. Mac, Doctor, Thug 1: Scott Emerson. Châtelet Orchestra.

The Châtelet’s “Christmas” show and director Jean-Luc Choplin’s parting shot before he quits the job and the house shuts for renovation, is 42nd Street. For those who don’t know it, 42nd Street is an unashamedly escapist patchwork of numbers from various depression-era film musicals involving choreographer Busby Berkeley. The th…

Strauss - Capriccio

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Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday November 13 2016.

Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Production: David Marton. Sets and costumes: Christian Friedländer. Costumes: Pola Kardum. Lighting: Henning Streck. Die Gräfin: Sally Matthews. Der Graf, ihr Bruder: Dietrich Henschel. Flamand, ein Musiker: Edgaras Montvidas. Olivier, ein Dichter: Lauri Vasar. La Roche, der Theaterdirektor: Kristinn Sigmundsson. Die Schauspielerin Clairon : Charlotte Hellekant. Monsieur Taupe: François Piolino. Eine italienische Sängerin: Elena Galitskaya. Ein italienischer Tenor: Dmitry Ivanchey. Der Haushofmeister: Christian Oldenburg. Diener: Zeno Popescu, Nabil Suliman, Vincent Lesage, Bertrand Duby, Kris Belligh, Pierre Derhet, Maxime Melnik, Artur Rozek. Eine junge Tänzerin: Florence Bas, Margot-Annah Charlier, Germaine François. 

From "Wie schön ist die Prinzessin Salome" in Sweden to "Bezaubernd ist sie heute wieder!" in Belgium in one weekend... Fortified with a choucroûte royale à l’alsaci…

Chamber Concert, Allhelgonakyrkan, Stockholm

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Allhelgonakyrkan, Stockholm, Saturday 12 November 2016

Bengt Forsberg: piano. Ann Hallenberg: mezzo-soprano. Mina Fred: viola.
Bengt Forsberg, Mina Fred: Improvisation for viola and piano.Max Reger: Suite Number Two in G minor for solo viola, op 131d: AndanteSten Broman: Fantasy, Fugue and Chorale for viola and pianoClara Schumann: four songsJohannes Brahms: two songs for alto, viola and piano, op.91Robert Fuchs: viola sonataEncore - Johannes Brahms: Wiegenlied.  An interesting, eclectic programme for this rather sparsely-attended chamber concert in the wooden Allhelgonakyrkan church in Stockholm, where record snowfalls for the time of year made getting around quite tricky and probably kept some regulars away.

The evening opened surprisingly with a totally contemporary – intrinsically, since it was done on-the-spot – improvisation by the excellent Bengt Forsberg, well known to many as Anne-Sophie Von Otter’s usual accompanist, and Mina Fred on the viola, starting with the former rooting…

Strauss - Salome

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Kungliga Operan (Royal Swedish Opera), Stockholm, Friday November 11 2016

Conductor: Lawrence Renes. Production: Sofia Jupither. Sets: Lars-Åke Thessman. Costumes: Maria Geber. Lighting: Linus Fellbom. Herod: Michael Weinius. Herodias: Katarina Dalayman. Salome: Erika Sunnegårdh. Jochanaan: Josef Wagner. Narraboth: Jonas Degerfeldt. Herodias’s Page: Karin Osbeck. First Jew: Klas Hedlund. Second Jew: Anders Blom. Third Jew: Pierre Gylbert. Fourth Jew: Nils Hübinette. Fifth Jew: Erik Rosenius. First Nazarene: Joris Grouwels. Second Nazarene: Martin Hedström. First Soldier: Mattias Milder. Second Soldier: Lennart Forsén. Cappadocian: Ian Power. Slave: Anna Danielsson. Kungliga Hovkapellet (Royal Swedish Orchestra).

A good night out in Stockholm with this very sound Salome and an excellent dinner in the same building after, which is more than you can hope for in Paris.

Sweden’s Royal Opera, as well as having a good orchestra, as you might expect, fielded a very strong cast of principals, i…

St Petersburg Phil - Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky

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Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Wednesday November 9 2016

Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov. Piano: Boris Berezovsky. Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. 
Rachmaninoff: Concerto for piano No. 3 op. 30.Stravinsky:  The Rite of Spring I like Yuri Temirkanov very much. His conducting is precise and matter-of-fact and undemonstrative, his gestures, when he makes any at all, are restrained and however agitated the score may get there’s no mad arm-waving or wild writhing around on the podium. His face gives little away.

The sound he cultivates is relatively dry and restrained as well: no lush wallowing, some quite daring tempi, and, though his orchestra could, if asked to, play extremely loud, no absolute extremes of loudness, even in a piece like Le Sacre. He comes across as having almost a kind of scientific detachment, as if conducting constructivist ballets, seemingly giving equal weight to all parts. As a result, you hear inner harmonies and details you never heard before. The words tha…

Weill - Die Dreigroschenoper

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Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Thursday October 27 2016.

Musical direction: Hans-Jörn Brandenburg, Stefan Rager. Production, sets and lighting: Robert Wilson. Costumes: Jacques Reynaud. Lighting: Andreas Fuchs, Ulrich Eh. J. J. Peachum: Jürgen Holtz. Celia Peachum: Traute Hoess. Polly Peachum: Johanna Griebel. Macheath: Christopher Nell. Tiger Brown: Axel Werner. Lucy Brown: Friederike Nölting. Jenny: Angela Winkler. Filch: Georgios Tsivanoglou. Walter: Luca Schaub. Matthias: Martin Schneider. Jakob: Boris Jacoby. Bob: Winfried Peter Goos. Jimmy: Raphael Dwinger. Ede: Jörg Thieme. Smith: Uli Pleßmann. Kimball: Michael Kinkel. Betty: Anke Engelsmann. Old prostitute: Ursula Höpfner-Tabori. Vixen: Marina Senckel. Dolly: Claudia Burckhardt. Molly: Gabriele Völsch. Messenger: Gerd Kunath. Voice: Walter Schmidinger. Das Dreigroschenoper Orchester.

Bob Wilson is often criticised or mocked for supposedly always doing the same thing: “Pharaohs in profile against a blue background,” as Le Fi…

Saint-Saëns - Samson et Dalila

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ONP Bastille, Monday October 24 2016

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Damiano Michieletto. Sets: Paolo Fantin. Costumes: Carla Teti. Lighting: Alessandro Carletti. Dalila: Anita Rachvelishvili. Samson: Aleksandrs Antonenko. Le Grand Prêtre de Dagon: Egils Silins. Abimélech: Nicolas Testé. Un vieillard hébreu: Nicolas Cavallier. Un Messager philistin: John Bernard. Premier Philistin: Luca Sannai. Deuxième Philistin: Jian-Hong Zhao. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Just as I was happy to hear Verdi’s Requiem again last week, I was happy to hear Samson et Dalila again this Monday. Saint-Saëns is unfashionable and underrated, but I like him a lot, and wonder not just why I’ve never seen Samson staged before, but why we don’t get at least some of his other operas.

Musically, it was a rare treat. After what I briefly thought was a rather ponderous, Brahmsian start, bringing to mind the Requiem (Brahms’s, not Verdi’s) and raising initial fears, Philippe Jordan craft…

Cavalli - Eliogabalo

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ONP Garnier, Paris, Thursday September 29 2016

Conductor: Leonardo García Alarcón. Production: Thomas Jolly. Choreography: Maud Le Pladec. Eliogabalo: Franco Fagioli. Alessandro Cesare: Paul Groves. Flavia Gemmira: Nadine Sierra. Giuliano Gordio: Valer Sabadus. Anicia Eritea: Elin Rombo. Atilia Macrina: Mariana Flores. Zotico: Matthew Newlin. Lenia: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro. Nerbulone, Tiferne: Scott Conner. Sets: Thibaut Fack. Costumes: Gareth Pugh. Lighting: Antoine Travert. Cappella Mediterranea. Namur Chamber Choir.

This Eliogabalo at Garnier offers a prime example of how different people's perceptions may be of the same production, as a quick read through the published reviews demonstrates.

It was Thomas Jolly's first opera. Perhaps those most impressed are too young to find it an unexpected throwback to the 80s, not having lived through the decade. I found (most of) it gloomy, cold and corny. The stage was cavernous black and dominated most of the time by plain black constr…

Verdi - Macbeth

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Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 25 2016.

Conductor: Paolo Carignani. Production: Olivier Fredj. Graphics: Jean Lecointre. Sets: Olivier Fredj, Gaspard Pinta, Massimo Troncanetti. Costumes: Frédéric Llinares. Lighting: Christophe Forey. Choreography: Dominique Boivin. Macbeth: Scott Hendricks. Banco: Carlo Colombara. Lady Macbeth: Béatrice Uria-Monzon. Dama di Lady Macbeth: Lies Vandewege. Macduff: Andrew Richards. Malcolm: Julian Hubbard. Medico, Servo, Araldo: Justin Hopkins. Sicario: Gerard Lavalle. La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus.

I've often wondered why opera-houses change their productions so often. Anyone in Paris for as long as I've been will have lost count of successive versions of The Magic Flute at the Opéra National, where there have already been three different productions even of Saint-François d'Assise... Just six years ago, La Monnaie offered us Macbeth directed by Warlikowski, surely quite a big name. Yet this season, though the company is …

Staatskapelle Berlin under Barenboim: Mozart and Bruckner

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La Philharmonie, Paris, Thursday September 8 2016

Conductor and piano soloist: Daniel Barenboim. Staatskapelle Berlin.
Mozart, piano concerto n°26Bruckner, symphony n°6 I know nothing about acoustics and will only try to describe what I thought I heard from my single seat the other night. But scouting round the web for better-informed opinions about Paris's Philharmonie, I came a cross a blog called From The Sound Up, by an acoustical and architectural designer working in New York, and an article there entitled Why I can’t review the Philharmonie de Paris but why it’s worth trying anyway: a meditation on variability, which gives the impression that the sound in the new hall is especially varied. “Variation in the sound field is the topic of this post,” he writes, “because it is all I could think about after my experience in the brand-new (or, more accurately, yet-to-be-finished) Philharmonie de Paris. During a single concert, I experienced what might have been the worst concert ha…

Leoncavallo - Pagliacci

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Apollo(n) Theatre, Ermoupoli, Syros, Friday July 15 2016

Conductor: Giovanni Pacor. Production: Detlef Soelter. Canio: Piero Giuliacci. Nedda: Eilana Lappalainen. Tonio: Massimiliano Fichera. Beppe: Ioannis Kavouras. Silvio: Joseph Lim. Pan-European Philharmonia. Greek Opera Studio. Ile de France children’s chorus.

In the middle of the 19th century, Ermoupoli, capital of Syros in the Cyclades, was a thriving shipbuilding and trading town and a more important port than Piraeus, rich enough to build a small Italian-style, horseshoe-shaped opera house. The Apollo (sometimes Apollon) Theatre was renovated at the turn of the present century, and I found myself invited to Syros for my birthday and to Pagliacci there the next day.

It was a far better experience than anyone might have feared, a more-than-just-creditable performance, and quite a lot of fun. It was also an appreciable chance to get some idea of what opera in small and relatively remote houses was like back then. The intimacy wit…

Sondheim - Sweeney Todd

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Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 26 2016

Conductor: Bassem Akiki. Production: James Brining. Sets & costumes: Colin Richmond. Lighting: Chris Davey. Sweeney Todd: Scott Hendricks. Anthony Hope: Finnur Bjarnason. Beggar Woman: Natascha Petrinsky. Mrs. Lovett: Carole Wilson. Judge Turpin: Andrew Schroeder. Beadle Bamford: Christopher Gillett. Johanna Barker: Hendrickje Van Kerckhove. Tobias Ragg: George Ure. Pirelli: Paul Charles Clarke. Jonas Fogg: Matthew Zadow. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

From La Monnaie's web-site:

'The production of Frankenstein - the new creation that La Monnaie commissioned from the American composer Mark Grey, based on an idea by Alex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus - is postponed to a later date. Instead of Frankenstein, we will close this season with another first for La Monnaie, which is also “out of the box”: namely Sweeney Todd.'

The Châtelet in Paris has been putting on Sondheim pieces for the past three of four years, but, havi…

VPO/Nott/Kaufmann: Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler

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Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Thursday June 23 2016

Conductor: Jonathan Nott. Jonas Kaufmann. Wiener Philharmoniker.

Beethoven: Overture CoriolanStrauss: Tod und VerklärungMahler: Das Lied von der Erde
I really must learn to pay more attention, when I get my season’s tickets from the TCE, to where they’ve put me. It was only when I arrived there last night that I realised I was on the front row, which in my opinion shouldn’t be sold as top category at all as there’s no hope, with your nose up the violin section’s trouser legs, of hearing properly balanced sound. For the sake of completeness, I’ll write up my thoughts, but whether they resemble anyone else’s experience will be anyone’s guess.

So I’ll be brief.



The Coriolan overture, as played by the Wiener Phil., simply reminded me that these days I prefer to hear Beethoven played by smaller, “hipper” orchestras. It was at once massive and humdrum.It was about 30 minutes into the concert, as we at last plunged into a proper Straussia…

Rossini - L'Italiana in Algeri

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Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday June 10 2016

Conductor : Jean-Claude Malgoire. Production and sets : Christian Schiaretti. Costumes: Thibaut Welchlin. Lighting: Julia Grand. Isabella: Anna Reinhold. Lindoro: Artavazd Sargsyan. Taddeo: Domenico Balzani. Mustapha: Sergio Gallardo. Elvira : Samantha Louis-Jean. Haly : Renaud Delaigue. Zulma. La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy. Ensemble Vocal de l’Atelier Lyrique de Tourcoing.

There’s something seriously wrong when the best-cast parts in L’Italiana in Algeri are Taddeo and Zulma. My neighbour thought it was “criminal” to push these gauche young singers on to the stage of the TCE in parts so far beyond their means. The audience was indulgent, but by the end of “Languir per una bella” there was already a hint of booing from high up on the left. I will say no more about the singing.

Jean-Claude Malgoire was something of a pioneer of the baroque revival in France, and this production was, if I understood correctly, intended to cel…

Reimann - Lear

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ONP Garnier, Monday June 6 2016

Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Production: Calixto Bieito. Sets: Rebecca Ringst. Costumes: Ingo Krügler. Video: Sarah Derendinger. Lighting: Franck Evin. König Lear: Bo Skovhus. König von Frankreich: Gidon Saks. Herzog von Albany: Andreas Scheibner. Herzog von Cornwall: Michael Colvin. Graf von Kent: Kor-Jan Dusseljee. Graf von Gloster: Lauri Vasar. Edgar: Andrew Watts. Edmund: Andreas Conrad. Goneril: Ricarda Merbeth. Regan: Erika Sunnegardh. Cordelia: Annette Dasch. Narr: Ernst Alisch. Bedienter: Nicolas Marie. Ritter: Lucas Prisor. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. 

"Tout y était. Il n'y a rien à dire." So said my neighbour at the end, and he was right. What can you add when, for once, everything is at such a fervent pitch, with singing, acting and playing consistently, even triumphantly (if such a word can be used in the gruesome context of King Lear) meeting the enormous demands of an uncompromising score in an uncompromis…