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Verdi - Simon Boccanegra

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ONP Bastille, Wednesday November 21 2018

Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Production: Calixto Bieito. Sets: Susanne Gschwender. Costumes: Ingo Krügler. Lighting: Michael Bauer. Video: Sarah Derendinger. Simon Boccanegra: Ludovic Tézier. Jacopo Fiesco: Mika Kares. Maria Boccanegra (Amelia Grimaldi): Maria Agresta. Gabriele Adorno: Francesco Demuro. Paolo Albani: Nicola Alaimo. Pietro: Mikhail Timoshenko. Un capitano dei balestrieri: Cyrille Lovighi. Un'ancella di Amelia: Virginia Leva-Poncet. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

The gist of most of the reviews I've seen of Paris's new Boccanegra has been "good singing, bad production", with headlines such as:
Sur une mer d'ennui (“on a sea of boredom”)Great voices suffer at the hands of merciless directorPanne sèche (“out of fuel”).Des voix superbes sauvent une mise en scène médiocre (“superb voices save a mediocre production”)En fond de cale (“in the bilge”) and my favourite, not that I personally found …

Prokofiev - War and Peace

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WNO at Birmingham Hippodrome, Saturday November 17 2018

Conductor: Tomáš Hanus. Production: David Pountney. Sets: Robert Innes Hopkins. Costumes: Marie-Jeanne Lecca. Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth. Video: David Haneke. Andrei: Jonathan McGovern. Natasha: Lauren Michelle. Pierre: Mark Le Brocq. Princess Marie Akrossimova, Princess Marya, Aide de Camp de Murat, Mavra Kuzminichna: Leah-Marian Jones. Hélène, Prince Eugène’s Aide de Camp, Dunyasha: Jurgita Adamonytė. Anatole, First General, Kutuzov’s Aide de Camp, Bonnet, Barclay: Adrian Dwyer. Count Rostov, Tichon, Berthier, Ramballe, Beningsen: James Platt. Old Prince Bolkonsky: Jonathan May. Jacquot, Second General, General Belliard, Yermolov: Donald Thomson. Dolokhov, Denisov, Napoleon, Raevsky: David Stout. Balaga, Kutuzov, Davout: Simon Bailey. Sonya, Peronskaya, Kondratyevna: Samantha Price. Servant, Dr Métivier: Julian Boyce. Housemaid, Vasilisa: Carolyn Jackson. Valet, Gavrila, Matveyev: Laurence Cole. Joseph: George Newton-Fitzgerald. …

VPO under Gergiev in an all-Prokofiev programme

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Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Tuesday October 9 2018

Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Pianist: Denis Matsuev. Wiener Philharmoniker

Prokofiev:
Romeo and Juliet:
Montagues and CapuletsJuliet as a Young GirlMasksRomeo at the Tomb of JulietConcerto pour piano n° 2 op. 16Symphony n° 6 op. 111 This concert with the VPO under Gergiev had a markedly different temperature (or perhaps the word is temperament) from the one last week with the Philharmonia under Salonen. While both were virtuoso performances, naturally, Salonen’s was relatively cool and restrained and the Philharmonia’s sound overall was what I called “matter of fact”, while Gergiev’s thermometer went frequently up to red hot and occasionally - as in the angular (“constructivist”, the programme notes suggested) 6th symphony - white and, just as I said Salonen was not, paroxystic. Yet Gergiev can also do meltingly tender when the work calls for it. As I remarked later to an old lady living in the States, it’s amazing what one man can …

Michael Jarrell - Bérénice

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ONP Garnier, Monday October 8 2018

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Claus Guth. Sets: Christian Schmidt. Costumes: Christian Schmidt, Linda Redlin. Lighting: Fabrice Kebour. Video: rocafilm. Titus: Bo Skovhus. Bérénice: Barbara Hannigan. Antiochus: Ivan Ludlow. Paulin: Alastair Miles. Arsace: Julien Behr. Phénice: Rina Schenfeld. Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.

I’ve often joked, with friends who also sat through it dying for a chance to escape, that Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin set my personal gold standard in buttock-aching operatic boredom. You can’t really compare Saariaho’s score with Michael Jarrell’s. It would be like comparing chalk and cheese or silk brocade (Saariaho) and sackcloth: they have nothing much in common other than that they are, each in its own way, more atmospheric than action-packed. Jarrell’s is uncompromisingly bleak: long, dark chords or clusters punctuated with outbursts of brass or percussion. The singing, mainly recitative, sometimes vi…

Wagner, Schönberg and Bruckner at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées

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Théatre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday October 5 2018

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Philharmonia Orchestra.
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Prelude and LiebestodSchönberg: Verklärte NachtBruckner: Symphony N°7 'Giving Wagner's Tristan, Bruckner, then Schönberg's Transfigured Night, in concert, is one way of staking out a certain history of atonality using three works. (...) The chord that opens this opera plunges the listener into tonal uncertainty verging on neurosis. (...) This masterstroke by Wagner would feed the post-romanticism of Bruckner and Mahler, then that of the first Schönberg, Zemlinsky, Korngold and Richard Strauss, the last romantic, astray in the age of radical modernity.' (Translated from the notes on the theatre's website.)

As I stood up to leave for dinner after enthusiastic applause I remarked to my neighbour, of Bruckner's 7th as conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, "That was super-interesting." At the same moment, I overheard a lady …

Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots

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ONP Bastille, Monday October 1 2018

Conductor: Michele Mariotti. Production: Andreas Kriegenburg. Sets: Harald B. Thor. Costumes: Tanja Hofmann. Lighting: Andreas Grüter. Choreography: Zenta Haerter. Marguerite de Valois: Lisette Oropesa. Raoul de Nangis: Yosep Kang. Valentine: Ermonela Jaho. Urbain: Karine Deshayes. Marcel: Nicolas Testé. Le Comte de Saint-Bris: Paul Gay. La dame d’honneur, une bohémienne: Julie Robard‑Gendre. Cossé, un étudiant catholique: François Rougier. Le Comte de Nevers: Florian Sempey. Tavannes, premier moine: Cyrille Dubois. Méru, deuxième moine: Michal Partyka. Thoré, Maurevert: Patrick Bolleire. Retz, troisième moine: Tomislav Lavoie. Coryphée, une jeune fille catholique, une bohémienne: Élodie Hache. Bois-Rosé, valet: Philippe Do. Un archer du guet: Olivier Ayault. Quatre seigneurs: John Bernard, Cyrille Lovighi, Bernard Arrieta, Fabio Bellenghi. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

My mother was always careful, when I was a lad, not to dre…

Mozart - Die Zauberflöte

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La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 30 2018

Conductor: Ben Glassberg. Production, sets, costumes, lighting: Romeo Castellucci. Choreography: Cindy Van Acker. Algorithmic architecture: Michael Hansmeyer. Artistic collaboration: Silvia Costa. Added dialogues: Claudia Castellucci. Sarastro: Gabor Bretz. Tamino: Ed Lyon. Sprecher: Dietrich Henschel. Königin der Nacht: Sabine Devieilhe. Pamina: Sophie Karthäuser. Erste Dame: Tineke Van Ingelgem. Zweite Dame: Angélique Noldus. Dritte Dame; Esther Kuiper. Papageno: Georg Nigl. Papagena: Elena Galitskaya. Monostatos, ein Mohr: Elmar Gilbertsson. Erster Priester / Zweiter geharnischter Mann: Guillaume Antoine. Zweiter Priester / Erster geharnischter Mann: Yves Saelens. Drei Knaben: Sofia Royo Csoka, Tobias Van Haeperen, Elfie Salauddin Crémer. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, MM Academy & La Monnaie's Children's and Youth Chorus.

As it happens, I was quite amused just this last week by a cartoon in VIZ lampooning what …

Beethoven, Bruch and Mussorgsky in Brussels

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Bozar, Brussels, Sunday September 2 2018

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Piano: Katia and Marielle Labèque. Orchestre Symphonique de La Monnaie.
Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62Bruch: Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 88aMussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition. [Encore - Glass: Four Movements for Two Pianos, IV]

The Sunday matinée subscription I have had for over 25 years in Brussels is a set menu: you pays your money and you gets no choice. And as La Monnaie usually offers interesting seasons and good productions with very decent teams of singers, that's fine.

I was surprised, though, not to say a bit miffed, to find my first "opera" of the season would be an orchestral concert. It wasn't a programme that would have caught my eye in Paris, even if Cleveland or Dresden were coming to play it, let alone La Monnaie's pit band. But I supposed the house needed to save money after the presumably costly plastic-tent fiasco a couple of years back. Making the best of a what…

Verdi - Il Trovatore

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ONP Bastille, Wednesday July 4 2018

Conductor: Maurizio Benini. Production: Àlex Ollé. Sets: Alfons Flores. Costumes: Lluc Castells. Lighting: Urs Schönebaum. Il Conte di Luna: Željko Lučić. Leonora: Sondra Radvanovsky. Azucena: Anita Rachvelishvili. Manrico: Marcelo Alvarez. Ferrando: Mika Kares. Ines: Élodie Hache. Ruiz: Yu Shao. Un vecchio Zingaro: Lucio Prete. Un Messo: Luca Sannai. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

I’d seen this production in 2016 and quite liked it at the time, the lighting especially, but the main reason for buying tickets again this season was to see and hear Anita Rachvilishvili as Azucena. It turned out she was not the only treat.

The four principal voices were very distinct. Željko Lučić’s singing style is quite odd and unexpected in Verdi. It’s gruff-sounding, not at all lyrical and with a tendency sometimes to bark, sometimes to bray. Yet quite effective if you’re playing Luna as relatively old, disgruntled and rough.

Anita Rachvelishvil…

Mussorgsky - Boris Godunov (1869)

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ONP Bastille, Monday July 2 2018

Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski. Production: Ivo van Hove. Boris Godunov: Ildar Abdrazakov. Fyodor: Evdokia Malevskaya. Xenia: Ruzan Mantashyan. Nurse: Alexandra Durseneva. Prince Shuysky: Maxim Paster. Andrey Shchelkalov, Clerk of the Duma: Boris Pinkhasovich. Pimen: Ain Anger. Grigoryi Otrepiev: Dmitry Golovnin. Varlaam: Evgeny Nikitin. Missail: Peter Bronder. Innkeeper: Elena Manistina. The Yuródivïy (Innocent): Vasily Efimov. Mityukha: Mikhail Timoshenko. Police Officer: Maxim Mikhailov. A boyar, voice in the crowd: Luca Sannai. Sets and lighting: Jan Versweyveld. Costumes: An D’Huys. Video: Tal Yarden. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine / Paris Opera Children’s Choir. 

The ever-excellent ConcertoNet headlined its review of this new production of Boris at the Bastille “Un tsar et un chef” (a Czar and a conductor, only it doesn’t sound as good in English) and I can understand why. Ildar Abdrazakov and Vladim…

Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle/The Miraculous Mandarin

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La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 24 2018

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production and Costumes: Christophe Coppens. Sets: Christophe Coppens and I.S.M.Architecten. Lighting: Peter Van Praet. Video: Jean-Baptiste Pacucci, Simon Van Rompay. Prologue: Gabor Vass. A Kékszakállú Herceg: Ante Jerkunica. Judit: Nora Gubisch. La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus.

A good-looking but somehow not, ultimately, very exciting Bartok double-bill in Brussels last Sunday. To me it came across more as a carefully-crafted "designer" production than a fully theatrical one.

The last time I was at La Monnaie was at the end of April, so not so long ago, for Lohengrin. "Act three involved a kind of Celebrity Squares or noughts-and-crosses set-up: three floors of three square spaces, making nine boxes in all, with steel stairs between." I did wonder, this Sunday, if they'd recycled the same structure for the Bartok, to save money. It would have made sense - especially as La Monnaie must have …

Ravel: L'Heure espagnole; Puccini: Gianni Schicchi

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ONP Bastille, Tuesday May 22 2108

L'Heure espagnole
Conductor: Maxime Pascal. Production: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Florence Evrard, Caroline Ginet. Lighting: Joël Adam. Concepcion: Clémentine Margaine. Gonzalve: Stanislas de Barbeyrac. Torquemada: Philippe Talbot. Ramiro: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Don Inigo Gomez: Nicolas Courjal.

Gianni Schicchi
Conductor: Maxime Pascal. Production: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Florence Evrard, Caroline Ginet. Lighting: Joël Adam. Gianni Schicchi: Artur Ruciński. Lauretta: Elsa Dreisig. Zita: Rebecca De Pont Davies. Rinuccio: Frédéric Antoun. Gherardo: Philippe Talbot. Nella: Emmanuelle de Negri. Betto: Nicolas Courjal. Simone: Maurizio Muraro. Marco: Jean-Luc Ballestra. La Ciesca: Isabelle Druet. Maestro Spinelloccio: Pietro Di Bianco. Amantio di Nicolao: Tomasz Kumiega. Pinellino: Mateusz Hoedt. Guccio: Piotr Kumon. Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.

I was told, by someone who's usually right, that Stéphane Lissner explained he replaced K. Warlikowski&#…

Wagner - Parsifal

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ONP Bastille, Sunday May 20 2018.

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Richard Jones. Sets and costumes: ULTZ. Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin. Amfortas: Peter Mattei. Titurel: Reinhard Hagen. Gurnemanz: Günther Groissböck. Klingsor: Evgeny Nikitin. Kundry: Anja Kampe. Parsifal: Andreas Schager. Zwei Gralsritter: Gianluca Zampieri, Luke Stoker. Vier Knappen: Alisa Jordheim, Megan Marino, Michael Smallwood, Franz Gürtelschmied. Klingsors Zaubermädchen: Anna Siminska, Katharina Melnikova, Samantha Gossard, Tamara Banjesevic, Marie‑Luise Dressen, Anna Palimina. Eine Altstimme aus der Höhe: Daniela Entcheva. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine, Children’s Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

A practising Catholic once told me I was a "païen né" - a born pagan. I'm sorry to say that no amount of gruesome, guilt-infested, sado-masochistic mumbo-jumbo is likely to ensure my salvation. I find it mostly tedious and sometimes frankly n…

Wagner - Lohengrin

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La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday April 29 2018.

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production: Olivier Py. Sets and costumes: Pierre-André Weitz. Lighting: Bertrand Killy. Heinrich der Vogler: Gabor Bretz. Lohengrin: Eric Cutler. Elsa von Brabant: Ingela Brimberg. Friedrich von Telramund: Andrew Foster-Williams. Ortrud: Elena Pankratova. Heerrufer: Werner Van Mechelen. Vier Brabantische Edle: Zeno Popescu, Willem Van Der Heyden, Kurt Gysen, Bertrand Duby. Edelknaben: Raphaële Green, Isabelle Jacques, Virginie Léonard, Lisa Willems. La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus. 

As a persistent opera-goer, however loudly you applaud Bieito or Warlikowski and however assiduously you seek out new works, you get used to being dismissed as a hidebound fuddy-duddy. And some directors also give the impression they think you're thick and need things spelling out. In the case of Olivier Py, this is often literally the case: his chalk bills must be huge, so often do his characters scrawl things on the walls then th…