Dec 28, 2008


" Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body "

Harold Pinter Nobel Prize Lecture, 2005 Art, Truth and Politics
Died at 78 on Christmas Eve... Tragic news for me, who adores him.

[just home for a few hours before leaving tomorrow again for the Netherlands] Auguri to all my fabulous readers. See you next year!

Dec 17, 2008

JDF for Xmas

This Sunday night at 7 pm (Paris time), Arte is devoting 45 minutes to Juan Diego Flórez in a program called after his latest soloist CD, Bel Canto Spectacular. With extracts from two recitals (Baden-Baden and Vienna). Rerun on Dec.26 (9am).

Dec 13, 2008

Taormina Arte 2009

Think about Sicily for your future summer holidays? This August, in the Teatro Greco of Taormina (one of the most fascinating sites in Sicily) , two operatic productions will be performed, the first one being more than decent on paper.

AIDA, G. Verdi on August 7, 9 and 11 with Maria Guleghina, Salvatore Licitra, Juan Pons and Sergio Fontana conduction Fabio Mastrangelo (who is directing the Festival for the 3rd year), stage direction Enrico Castiglione " Nuovo Allestimento in esclusiva " as they say  

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, P.Mascagni on August 19 and 21 with Chiara Taigi and Dario Balzanelli conduction James Meena, direction Bernard Uzan (none of those names ring any bell for me) Plus, there is a Vincenzo Bellini gala on Aug.24 (after all Catania and Taormina are not that far away from each other). I loved the experience of opera in an antic theater in Orange this summer, but in Taormina ... waou.

Pasqua 2007 (when Iddu was in the clouds and not visible)

Too bad the aera is unbearably overcrowded with tourists at this time of year.

Dec 12, 2008

Alagna's trap

I've always had a problem with Roberto Alagna. I find him incredibly fake as a human being. I couldn't explain this intuition because he is, from general concensus, a nice and passionate guy. I tend to make the amalgam that he is a fake artist as well, and he keeps surprising me, for the better.

Of his numerous soloist recordings, two immediately come to mind.  
The first one is Airs d'opéra français (EMI, 2001) with the orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Bertrand De Billy (already a very attracting point). But the real jewel of this CD is the track listing. All the best French composers from the XIXth century are highlighted in this recording, yet the arias chosen are not the best-known pieces from these composers.
The obvious choice to represent Gounod would have been an extract from Faust, yet the aria chosen was "Anges du paradis" from Mireille; furthermore, most of the extracts are from long forgotten composers such as Méhul, Thomas, Bazin or Bruneau.

What doesn't hurt either is the quality of the singing and the superb performance of the musicians.

The second recording of Roberto Alagna that everyone should know, is his CD entirely dedicated to Hector Berlioz with, again, the orchestra of the ROH conducted by Bertrand De Billy (EMI, 2003).

Once again, very interesting track listing and magnificent journey. This recording offers a rare cohesion that acts a bit like a gateway drug to Berlioz's fascinating world - the speaking parts from Gérard Depardieu (that I normally can't stand) in "L'onde frémit, l'onde s'agite" from Lélio, ou le Retour à la Vie are hypnotizing and that's not the only time in this recording time stops and you start floating in a parallel universe.

Yet Roberto Alagna is also responsible for preposterous discs that are an insult to good taste - so naturally, you learn to be cautious with the guy, as you tend to be very skeptical each time a new recording comes out - especially his non-operatic opus.

As I find myself enjoying a friday night show on French television he is part of, I was able to listen to three extracts from his latest CD, Sicilien (extracts here). It seems the track listing is a match made in Heaven and directly speaks to my Sicilian half. And yet I always thought he was fake in this department as well. It turns out - apart from the obvious fact that the Sicilian diaspora is desperately predictable (especially me) - that Sicilien is indeed a perfect compilation of the Sicilian heritage. How can I have a definite judgment on Alagna when he pulls such tricks out of his sleeve?

P.S. And then, such video clips should have been avoided (the musical arrangement on the other hand I love):

Dec 9, 2008

Don Carlo, Scala opening night '08

Don Carlo, G.Verdi 4-act Italian version
Teatro alla Scala, Dec.7 - Jan.15

Don Carlo - Stuart Neill
Filippo II - Ferruccio Furlanetto
Rodrigo - Dalibor Jenis
Il grande Inquisitor - Anatolij Kotscherga
Elisabeth de Valois - Fiorenza Cedolins
Princess Eboli - Dolora Zajick

Daniele Gatti conducting the orchestra and chorus of Il Teatro alla Scala
Staging and sets - Stéphane Braunschweig  

Review of the Dec.7 live Arte broadcast

This new production of Don Carlo at la Scala is indeed an incredibly accurate statement as to the current state of this Opera House: mediocre cast, mediocre staging and mediocre crowd. Welcome to Milan!

The only true vibrant and inspiring elements of this run were Ferruccio Furlanetto and the conduction of Daniele Gatti - who was booed during the performance because the loggione and the audience in general decided he was guilty of replacing tenor Giuseppe Filianoti the day before the premiere. Apparently that's against the étiquette in Milan (but what isn't in this town I wonder).

Daniele Gatti's view on Don Carlo is very personal, and the colors displayed by the orchestra create a global atmosphere that transcend personal taste and provide a coherent complement to Braunschweig's staging.

I may not agree with all the choices Gatti made, but his conduction was brilliant on several occasions - specifically the duet between Rodrigo and Don Carlo in Act I (although the singing and unison were nightmarish) and the second half of Act III (from the aria of Rodrigo visiting Carlo in jail). On the other hand, the tempi were off for Elisabeth's aria in Act IV and at the end of the opera.

Overall, the conduction of Gatti emphasizes the naive aspect of the score, offering a childish reading (especially when it comes to Don Carlo) that is echoing to Braunschweig's staging.

The only thing that doesn't work at all in that theme is Stuart Neill's timbre. His voice lacks the clarity necessary to make the concept work (truth be told, I don't think Don Carlo should be anything but a tenore lirico). The fact that he was preferred to Filianoti was probably a very tough decision to make, considering the cohesion of the production.

Stuart Neill as Don Carlo

The staging of Stéphane Braunschweig (a director that followed Lissner to Milan when he was hired) is, to me, the biggest flaw of this production. It's obvious he spent a lot of time designing the sets and thinking about their visual impact (his lines are indeed perfect, and his perspectives impeccable). He also focused on the spacial division of the stage - the upper background representing the past, when everybody was a happy, carefree child; the front of the stage being the present, tense and threatening.

These two elements are the only ideas Braunschweig projected on stage. Everything else is bland, apathic and desperately lacking any kind of statement from the director. My main critic though is Braunschweig's lack of any kind of actor's direction.

He has obviously not been given the best acting cast, but his absence in that department is what ultimately produced this utterly boring performance (imagine static singers with no gesture like in the 1950s productions and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Braunschweig allowed on stage). This casual approach is unforgivable (especially since he's a theater-turned-opera director) and completely ruins the performance, stripping it of any kind of emotion and life.

There's nothing either in the exploration of the characters - and then, you start realizing there's nothing original anywhere. Act II is basically a showcase of tawdry costumes (the costumes of the Graham Vick's production in Paris were beyond comparison) that ends up with a beautiful yet meaningless red lightning; "Ella giammai m'amo" in Act III is as empty as the stage of the Konwitschny's production with cliché lights (sorrow = blue atmosphere), and the dichotomy between the past and present situations is using the same tricks as Knowitschny did in the "Eboli dream" sequence. All and all, nothing new, only recycled ideas from others. That's what I call directing.

The autodafe scene in Act III

The singers

 With no help from the director, the acting part was a disaster for everybody except Ferruccio Furlanetto (who is relying exclusively but very successfully on his own charisma).

Fiorenza Cedolins and Ferruccio Furlanetto

Dolora Zajick's Eboli was vocally fine, Fiorenza Cedolins doesn't bring enough emotions to her singing and Anatolij Kotscherga lacks stage presence (and should really articulate). Dalibor Jenis as Rodrigo has a good technique and a beautiful timbre, but his good singing isn't enough to compensate for his non-existent acting skills (I wonder how much better he can act with a decent coach).

Stuart Neill and Dalibor Jenis

Stuart Neill is nothing but a poor Don Carlo. He doesn't move at all (unless the implant in his brain is remotely activated by Braunschweig thus starting a jerky and absurd movement), showcases absolutely no emotion (neither vocally nor physically), is unfit for the role (both vocally and physically, again) and has problems with his tempi.

Thank God for Ferruccio Furlanetto.  


All and all, the revival of Vick's Don Carlo in Paris last June was a much better experience for me than this mediocre Scala production. The cast, the sets, the direction and the costumes were better in Paris. Furlanetto was as good as in Paris, but the conduction of Gatti is obviously on a whole different level than Currentzis's.

Dec 7, 2008

La fin des bonnes manières

Reviewing a new production before its official premiere. Can someone please teach Le Monde and Marie-Aude Roux some basic manners? Pitiful.

Nov 27, 2008

Mortier & Joël news

Gérard Mortier will be the new Artistic Director of the Teatro Real in Madrid, starting January 2010. Official release here (in Spanish). About the successor of Mortier at the head of the Paris opera, Nicolas Joël, who suffered a stroke at the end of August, reeducation is going well, as he attended the premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro in Toulouse a few days ago (Nov.21).

Nov 24, 2008

Ermonela Jaho answers my questions

Ermonela Jaho, the young Albanian soprano, who recently impressed me so much in Anna Bolena was kind enough to take the time and answer my questions [1]. May she be sure of my gratitude for that.  

1. What is your favorite role so far and why?
I would say Violetta. La Traviata was the first opera that I attended in my teen years and it also was the reason I started singing. After all these years nothing has changed as I always find on it new dimensions and many times myself.  

2. Seeing you perform Anna Bolena recently in Lyon, I thought you would make a very interesting Lucia. Is this role one of those you would like to perform one day?
It definitely is on my wish list. Considering a lot of interpretations of it from many known sopranos I think I would be able to bring something new to it especially on the emotional part.  

3. What roles would you like to add to your repertoire and why?
Many of the roles I’d like to add will become reality very soon but to mention a few will be Madame Butterfly, Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller etc.  

4. What has been, so far in your young career, the most memorable moment for you?
Interestingly enough it was at a performance of Richard Strauss’ last four songs. After the last song the public stood still for a minute as it never wanted that music to end. It was a wonderful feeling to be a part of it.  

5. What was is like to substitute for Anna Netrebko and premiere at Covent Garden? Same question with Ruth Ann Swenson and the Met?
The pressure was immense on all directions. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles due to the short notice and complete lack of rehearsing time. I also did not know how the fans of another famous artist would react of a substitution and if they would give me the chance to prove myself. Considering that the biggest opportunities lay close to the greatest difficulties I tried my best of the circumstances and offered in both occasions my truest Violetta.  

6. Do you have mentors and if so, can you say a few words about them?
As the saying goes “a smart person knows how to learn from everyone.” My mentors include my husband, my teacher, my manager and many others. Luckily we all share the same artistic values and try to bring out in my singing what touches us all as human beings.
7. Which singers do you admire the most and why?
The times of admiration I would say are almost gone and it is being replaced with a sense of learning from every great interpretation done from almost any great soprano. I do have a weakness for the heart and passion that Callas put on many roles though.
8. Can you speak a little about your future engagements ?
To list a few; Madame Butterfly, which I will debut in Philadelphia this upcoming season,Turandot in Philadelphia, Traviata in Lyon, Clemenza di Tito in Avignon, Thais in Toulon, Traviata in Zurich, Norma in Florida,Traviata in Covent Garden, Anna Bolena in Trieste etc....

[1] Some might have advertised this post as "an exclusive interview" which frankly it is not because by all means, I'm not a journalist of any kind. I just asked the questions I wanted answers to, quite honestly, and apologize if some of you think they are very unoriginal.

Nov 21, 2008

Anna Jaho

Anna Bolena 

Gaetano Donizetti
Tragedia lirica in due atti, 1830
Libretto Felice Romani
Opéra de Lyon
November 20, 2008 Concert version

Next performance in Paris (Théâtre des Champs Elysées) on Nov. 23

Anna Bolena – Ermonela Jaho
Giovanna Seymour – Sonia Ganassi Enrico VIII – Marco Vinco
Lord Percy – Dario Schmunck
Smeton – Manuela Custer
Lord Rochefort – Shadi Torbey
Hervey – Stefano Ferrari
Evelino Pidó conducting the orchestra and chorus of the Opéra de Lyon

The orchestra and the conduction

I still remember how excited I was a couple of months ago, after hearing the great execution of the orchestra under new principal conductor Kasushi Ono. I then was pretty certain the era of unfocused musicians and approximate unison was past us. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Their execution during the first act yesterday was a total disaster, one of those unbearable moments that ruin an entire performance, no matter how good the conductor, the singers and the chorus. The violins started on that dreadful path from the very first bars of the overture and afterwards, the contagion pretty much extended to almost every section of the orchestra (most notably the altos and the horns). Every time I was beginning to relax and focus on the singers, a huge mistake would occur, one of those you would only expect from non-professional orchestras.

Evidently Pidó must have clearly voiced his concerns during the intermission, because the second act was much better executed – finally allowing the conductor's view on the score to fully emerge.

After that performance, I must admit I have a renewed appreciation of Evelino Pidó who, despite numerous efforts during act I couldn't prevent the catastrophe but didn't give up and managed to turn things around; I didn't even care that much for his grand gestures (although he constantly reinvents the concept and adds almost comic elements to it) for that matter.

The cast

An announcement before the start of the evening informed us that Ermonela Jaho was a bit ill but would sing anyway. She did massacre early on a high note and had slight problems with her breath in the first scene of act I and on several occasions after that. But the performance she delivered was clearly the huge highlight of the night.
If this is what she can do in those conditions, I can't wait to see her again in June, when she'll perform her alleged favorite role, Violetta, in the revival of Grüber's La Traviata [1]. I might even attend several performances, as a matter of fact.

The character of Anna Bolena was not just a role to her, as she completely embraced her and simply was her (both physically and vocally – the physical part being the biggest challenge of all in a concert version). She gave life to all the emotions the libretto unveils: deception, incredulity, aggressiveness, rage, despair, apathy, folly, derangement.

Her technique was pretty good as well, especially her sense of nuances and her ability to project her voice (no wonder she can sing in big houses such as Covent Garden or the Met).
Her absolute highlight, to me, was not so much the last scene of the opera but her "Sei t'abhorre / Ah! Per pieta del mio spavento" aria in the third scene of act I when I simply could not prevent my eyes to be filled with tears, something that doesn't happen to me very often at the Opéra de Lyon.

Truth be told, it's been an awful long time since I last felt so enthusiastic about a singer I had never heard before (probably since Rolando Villazón in 2001).

Jaho was also the driving force of the performance, as she clearly inspired Sonia Ganassi to be more expressive as Giovanna in their duet of the first scene of act II, an involvement Ganassi kept until the end. In the first act (especially the first scene) though, she had big issues with her breath (the unforgivable weakness with a bel canto piece); that part improved drastically during the performance. She couldn't obsviously compete with Jaho but was the second best element of the cast.

Manuela Custer as Smeton also had slight problems with her breath at the beginning, but ended up delivering a good performance overall, as well as both Stefano Ferrari and Shadi Torbey.

Both Dario Schmunck and Marco Vinco were unable to give life to their character and their singing was painfully inexpressive and emotionless. At least Vinco was pretty good on the technical side (though I didn't like his timbre); Schmunck's high notes on the other hand were bad at best, dreadful most of the time. That's the second opera I've heard him sing in (technically the third performance), and I'm pretty sure those recurrent weaknesses won't ever be conquered. So can someone please stop inviting him to perform in Lyon? I sure would appreciate that.

Conclusion [2]

Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho

[1] Grüber died last June at 67
[2] homage to the late Tim Russert

Strike threat hangs over La Scala gala opening

AP/Luca Bruno

Who said strikes were only happening in France? More on the subject here.

Nov 19, 2008

Another great Arte moment - opening night at La Scala

The great TV channel Arte will offer yet another thrilling moment on Dec.7 for the opening night of La Scala. It will broadcast the premiere of Don Carlo live from Milan, directed by Stéphane Braunschweig and conducted by Daniele Gatti, the new musical director of the Orchestre National de France. The evening will start at 7 pm (Paris time). Thank you Arte!

Via Qobuz.

Teatro Colón - when will it be ready?

In a recent interview, the minister of Urban Developing of Buenos Aires Daniel Chain confirmed the planned re-opening of the Teatro Colón on May 25, 2010, for the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution in Argentina. Yet this seems to be just the tip of the iceberg, as numerous problems emerge regularly, according to the excellent blog, Habitués del Teatro Colón.
To read more about the renovation plan, see there.

La Bohème, Sydney 2008

Mimi - Antoinette Halloran
Rodolfo - Carlo Barricelli
Musetta - Amelia Farrugia
Marcello - José Carbo

Conductor - Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo
Director - Simon Phillips [1]
Set and costumes designer - Stephen Curtis

Opera Australia production
ABC2 live [2] broadcast from Sydney Opera House
October 29 2008 (closing night of the run)

Antoinette Halloran & Carlo Barricelli

The production

This production (this year's run was a revival from 2005) might be attractive to Australian audiences but not really to Europeans; why such a statement on my part? Because this kind of concept has been seen extensively throughout the Old Continent (quick word for Sarah Palin: Europe is also a continent, not a country) and is full of archetypes and regurgitated ideas.

Mix two and a half spoons of Christopher Alden (overall aesthetics) with one spoon of Robert Lepage (market scene at the end of act 2) and you'll have a pretty good idea of this production. Simon Phillips, interviewed during the intermission, spoke about his will to modernize the action and bring back the nostalgia each of us kind of feels for his students years.

If I sure can relate to the ugly costumes of Stephen Curtis (we all made huge mistakes in that department when we were 20, didn't we?) - especially Marcello's -, there's on the other hand no way I can identify with using lamps as guitars ersatz, nor with battling with garbage bags (although I must admit, Musetta trying to warm water in a mug by using a lighter was an interesting and funny detail - too bad it happened when Mimi was dying, because it would have deserved to be more than just a detail).  

The cast

Conductor Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo wisely admitted during the intermission his stamp on the score was "still developping". As a matter of fact, it seemed like he had no point on the score at all, delivering a passionless and lifeless performance from beginning to end (the last scene was especially dull).

The stage presence and acting skills of this young cast were as a whole very weak (except for Amalia Farrugia's Musetta); Antoinette Halloran as Mimi had limited facial expressions and was overall too cold for the role, José Carbo was all but credible, and Carlo Barricelli was clearly not expressive enough.

Both Carbo and Barricelli had issues with their high notes, on a technical level (although apparently better at the end of the run than at the beginning); Antoinette Holoran gave a decent performance, yet her vocal expressivity is a bit weak; Amelia Farrugia (picture left) is the only singer that provide some Italian touch to the role (both in phrasing, diction and her personal involvement in the role).

Overall, a broadcast of very limited interest.  

[1] artistic director of Melbourne Theatre Company
[2] with half an hour delay

Nov 18, 2008

Jonas Kaufmann’s Romantic Arias

1. La Bohème, Puccini - Che gelida manina 
2. Carmen, Bizet - La fleur que tu m'avais jetée 
3. Martha, Flotow - Ach, so fromm 
4. Tosca, Puccini - E lucevan le stelle 
5. Don Carlo, Verdi - Io l'ho perduta... Io la vidi, a suo sorriso 
6. Der Freischütz, Weber - Nein, länger trag' ich nicht die Quälen / Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen 
7. La traviata, Verdi - Lunge da lei...De miei bollenti spiriti...O mio rimorso 
8. Manon, Massenet - Je suis seul...Ah, fuyez, douce image 
9. Rigoletto, Verdi - Ella mi fu rapita...Parmi veder le lagrime 
10. Faust, Gounod - Quel trouble inconnu...Salut! Demeure chaste et pure 
11. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wagner - Morgenlich leuchtend 
12. La Damnation de Faust, Berlioz - Invocation à la Nature 
13. Werther, Massenet - Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?


The perfect male voice, in my standards, would be an hybrid where the masculinity of a baritone timbre would be tempered with the clarity of a tenor. Or simply put, Ernest Blanc's voice. These affinities make me a hybrid myself, as those two aspects rarely come together. Juan Diego Flórez for instance is without a doubt the paragon for clarity these days. His masculinity on the other hand is a wishful concept longing for emancipation. So what about Jonas Kaufmann ?

This CD is a good way to apprehend him globally, as the track listing covers a wide range of XIXth century composers, mixing hackneyed extracts of Rigoletto, Tosca, Faust, Traviata with more unusual arias. Among the later, Flotow's "Ach! So fromm" offers Kaufmann a perfect opportunity to shine; his expressivity is through the roof and he exudes genuineness, especially when he calls Martha's name. Also striking are "Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen" from Weber's Freischultz and "Morgenlich leuchtend" from Wagner's Meistersinger. The German language is the one suiting him the best, I think, as it is obvious he gets all the subtleties of both the pronunciation and musicality of it. His dark timbre is perfect for this kind of repertoire – not so much for "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" from Faust or Berlioz's "Nature immense" – and that's when you realize, to relay my initial question, that his timbre – as gorgeous as it may be – lacks the clarity necessary for those arias.

His attempts at Puccini ("che gelida manina" and "e lucevan le stelle") are even less successful and to me, the main weakness of this recording – I consequently think it was a mistake to include them as it only brings light to a recurrent critic about Kaufmann – his inconsistency.

Alternating with the bad, his interpretation of arias from Werther and Manon offers a new perspective on Massenet's work – I never thought they had any kind of dramatic intensity in them. I suspect though this is symptomatic of Kaufmann's timbre and of the way he attacks notes (rather aggressively with that distinctive virility of his). His Rigoletto's "Ella mi fu rapita!" follows on the same path – for the exact same reasons.

Marco Armiliato's conduction is once again unimaginative and insipid, desperately neutral and without any kind of statement about the various pieces of this recording. One thing for sure: he doesn't overstep one inch his supporting role.

This recording provides indeed an exhaustive grasp of Jonas Kaufmann – showcasing both his strengths and his weaknesses. All and all, my final impression will remain his powerful interpretations of the 3 German arias chosen.

Nov 16, 2008

Internet audiences

The recent live internet broadcast of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen by the Paris Opera was seen by 40,000 people according to Forum Opera. The opera can still be viewed online for free by the way - until Dec.31.

Nov 15, 2008

Don Giovanni, Salzburg 2008

Don Giovanni - Christopher Maltman
Leporello - Erwin Schrott
Don Ottavio - Matthew Polenzani
Donna Anna - Annette Dasch
Donna Elvira - Dorothea Röschmann
Zerlina - Ekaterina Siurina
Il commandatore - Anatoly Kocherga
Masetto - Alex Esposito

Conductor - Bertrand de Billy
Director - Claus Guth
Sets and Costumes - Christian Schmidt

Wiener Philharmoniker, KV Wiener Staatsopernchor

Salzburg Festival August 2008 Unitel Classica Broadcast

First, I want to point out I'm rather unfamiliar with Mozart's operas - including Don Giovanni. My opinion is therefore one of a neophyte.

Most musical critics were skeptical about Claus Goth's new production, judging it controversial and lascivious. The staging might be a bit lustful (but really, just a bit) but isn't that the quintessential sense of the Don Giovanni's myth?
As far as I'm concerned, Claus Goth's work was true to the story, cohesive, aesthetically successful and very actual. What shocked the Mozart aficionados is undoubtedly what drew me into this production - that I would only describe as mesmorizing; portraying both Don Giovanni and Leporello as drug-addicted outsiders - some would refer to them as mavericks -, with the inevitable scene where Leporello injects in both their veins the illicit venom, was an interesting twist on the libretto - not a sacrilege.

The rotating stage (indeed a very pragmatic approach to the setting changes) was also a good idea; on the other hand, I was more doubtful about the chosen context at first (the story is unfolding in the woods) but all and all, the concept is solid and well-used [1]. Definitely a mesmorizing production.

I don't know what Mozart purists think about Bertrand de Billy's conduction but I found it vibrant, energetic and enticing.


Both Ekaterina Siurina, Alex Esposito and Dorothea Röschmann overplayed, ultimately looking more like Comedia dell'Arte characters - an unforgiving contrast with the tone Claus Guth was going for. Both of them also had vocal issues; Röschmann's breath was chaotic, Esposito couldn't properly project his high notes and Siurina was too distant and not focused enough on her Zerlina.

Annette Dasch's stage presence was much better, but her singing lacked implication (plus she has to do something to improve her Italian diction). As for Matthew Polenzani, he showcased poor acting skills and his singing was overall uneven (brilliant only once in Act I sc.14).

On the other hand, Christopher Maltman's Don Giovanni was praiseworthy (especially in the acting department [2]) and complemented perfectly Erwin Schrott's Leporello. The two created a fantastic dysfunctional pair, with a credible and powerful dynamics that is one of the two highlights of this cast, the other being Erwin Schrott.
His stage presence and his identification with the character were truly riveting, almost occulting his vocal abilities. I loved his performance.  


I might not appreciate Mozart's music to its (supposedly) true value, but this production was indeed a very unexpected and beautiful discovery. I only wish my "repertoire" would only be so lucky to be allowed such inspired staging and cast.

[1] My only criticism is about the Burger King crown Don Giovanni is wearing at the end of the opera (picture above)
[2] Vocally, he totally screwed "Finch'han dal vino" (Act I sc.15) with a tempo that had nothing to do with de Billy's. Also read the live review of Mostly Opera about this production - she calls a masterpiece (so we basically agree).

Salzburg productions at the movies

" For the first time ever, operas from the world’s premier classical music festival, the Salzburg Festival, will be presented on cinema screens in more than 200 theaters across America, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom." (also in Belgium and Sweden)

List of the participating theaters here, announcement made here.
The 3 productions that will be screened are Don Giovanni, Otello and Roméo et Juliette (all from the 2008 edition).
More on these productions (casts and pictures) here.

Nov 14, 2008

Figaro ?

As mentionned by An Unamplified Voice, the Met is offering a little quiz online, Ask Figaro, to sum up your personality with one opera. It may not have worked out that well for him, but it's a perfect pick for me: Bellini's La Sonnambula - indeed one of my favorite operas - where Amina, the lead role, has truly some intriguing similarities with my own character (hopefully not with my behavior though).

Nov 13, 2008

Salzburg 2009: where are the stars?

The Salzburg Festival program is out (see there) and a daunting question obviously comes to mind (as least as far as opera is concerned): where are the stars? Sure, Riccardo Muti will be there, conducting Rossini's Moïse et Pharaon (full cast there). Other familiar names include Adam Fisher (conducting Così fan tutte), Daniel Harding (Le Nozze di Figaro) and Daniel Barenboim, to conduct Beethoven's Fidelio. But none of the star singers are scheduled - no Villazón, Netrebko, Damrau... Is the Salzburg Festival also suffering from the economic crisis? Seriously?

Nov 9, 2008

Dessay, between Paris and NY

Several years ago, Natalie Dessay embarked on a video journey with Esti, who films her at chosen moments of her life, and releases a documentary once a year or so. So far, the most interesting opus of the series is undoubtedly when she filmed Dessay's vocal chords operations in 2002.

Because Natalie Dessay is French, those documentaries have a limited exposure outside of this country, for obvious language barriers, which is a bit of a waste. Anyway, the latest episode aired several days ago on French Television (France 2), and was a good recap of Dessay's 2007-08 season (beginning with the opening of the Met season in NY as Lucia). At one point in the film, Esti filmed Dessay singing (aria from Haendel's Alcina) and dancing alongside a Paris Ballet étoile. This scene has a magnetic and organic aura that completely stands out - especially for me. All and all, a good way to familiarize with Natalie Dessay, if you understand french...

Rapidshare links (join with HJSplit): Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

Faustus by Dusapin

Pascal Dusapin
Faustus, the last night

France 3 broadcast Nov.9, 2008
Live performance from the Opéra de Lyon (March 2006)  
DVD also available of the same run in Lyon

For someone like myself deeply attracted to harmony, this is not an easy opera.

Organized cacophony is how I would describe the score; as for the vocal lines, Dusapin turned singing into eructation, adding to my desperate confusion.

The quintessential idea of Peter Mussbach's staging (after all, this was a co-production with Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden so no surprise to see him direct this production) may be brilliant - this giant clock placed at a 30-degree angle is indeed very powerful - but the action being so nonexistent, the final result is a static staging where nothing is happening - forcing you to focus on Dusapin's music and libretto.
Reviews of the NY Times and ResMusica (in French).

Nov 8, 2008

Resigning before taking office

Current Paris Opera director Gérard Mortier resigned from his next position as head of the New York City Opera.

Money problems seem to be the main issue. "The new $36-million budget, Mortier pointed out, is smaller than that for the smallest opera house in France and about one-tenth of what he has at the Paris Opera" (from the LA Times).

Yes he can.

Further reading:

Oct 31, 2008

"Création et internet"

 Little brother Sarkozy is watching us

I tried very hard not to intrude on this blog with my views about the latest bullshit the French government is sponsoring, but things have become so ubuesque, to use Ionesco's word, that I have to speak my mind.

This story is basically the battle of creationism vs Darwinism. Or, as the French government is calling it, the law that will safeguard the artists' royalties by preventing P2P illegal downloads. Currently debated in the senate, this law is built around a new concept, "la réponse graduée" (graduated response) that would be enacted when music and movies majors would suspect someone of such downloads.

Detected by his IP address, the hacker would first receive a mail warning him of future repercussions if he continues with his illegal activities. Then, he would receive a letter with the same warnings, and finally would be banned of his internet access for up to one year.

Never mind that the Conseil d'Etat, the highest administrative court of the country, the CNIL (an independent commission that has authority over individual liberties thus liberties related to numeric files and listings) and the ARCEP (another independent commission that regulates all communications - web and phone) all expressed deep concerns about various aspects of the text.
The government is determined to push congress to pass this law. Never mind that in these tough economic times, a night at the movies will cost a family of 4 at least 40€, that any new CD is at least 20€ or that a DVD is 25€.

Does anyone really believe that the law will do anything to boost the music or movies sales [1]? Seriously [2]?

Never mind, furthermore, that both the European Commission and the European Parliament explicitly forbade this law regarding the suspension of the internet access. French Mantova president Nicolas Sarkozy and hunchbacked jester Christine Albanel (ministre de la Culture) have reenacted a long-forgotten concept: the French Empire, run by a small tiny tiny man: Napoléon.

Can someone please remind me what the word democracy stands for?

Further readings:

[1] It's a good time to be a TV-executive, obviously
[2] The government is saying sanctions will force the music and movies industries to expand their Vod offer - currently almost nonexistent in this country. Another naive idea blinded by dogma.

Oct 29, 2008

To tag or to be tagged

I'm usually quite reluctant to be part of those games that appear randomly on the web. It reminds me of those childhood weird moments when I would hide in hopes no one would chase me to be part of the human chains. But since I've been tagged by a blogger I do appreciate a lot (although I've never actually met her... one day maybe), I'll make the effort and continue the chain. Evidently, this provides for a perfect opportunity to share some of my favorite blogs.
The rules:  
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. I was tagged by Mostly Opera.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.  
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.  
5. If you don't have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.

The 7 facts:
1. Because one expects the French to be cliché, I do live in a very old building - in a canut apartment, named after the silk workers, that can only be found in Lyon.
2. Like the vast majority of French, I'm not really that French (since half of my blood is Sicilian).
3. I'm entirely self-taught regarding opera - and came to it by chance, following my goth period (Sisters of Mercy, Dead can dance...) in my 20s
4. I used to be the laziest student you could think of - rarely attending classes. I had this thing going on though: having some good friends bring me their notes directly at home. It worked, since I never failed a class in my live and ended up with a great diploma in my field (chemical engineering).
5. I never liked our current bling-bling president, Nicolas Sarkozy, but I'm now totally over him (don't even get me started on the subject!). The saddest thing? The current state of the French opposition party...
6. My favorite word in French is atavisme (English translation: atavism).
7. I'd never been in the Netherlands until my brother had the strangest idea - move in Den Haag a few months ago.

I tag:

1. My Favorite Intermissions - Maury d'Annato is only one of the several New Yorkers blogging about opera, but has a great sense of humor and I enjoy his writing a lot.
2. Intermezzo - this blogger (whose sex I haven't found out yet, despite reading this blog religiously since many many months) provides an exhaustive coverage of the opera and classical scene in London.
3. I hear voices - citizen of the world, Rodrigo Maffei Libonati's posts are always insightful, whether he writes about opera, classical music, Broadway shows or other art forms.
4. Billevesées - William Madison fled the US after George W. was first elected and ended up sharing his time between Paris and Beynes, a tiny village somewhere in France. He may not write much about opera, but, amongst many other things, has a hilarious way of dissecting French icons.
5. The Opera Tattler - based in San Francisco, she also travels regularly throughout the West Coast and in Germany.
6. Le Poisson Rêveur writes passionately about classical music (I wish he would explore more the world of opera). The only thing that could prevent you from reading him? He writes in French. No no, don't be afraid, there are lots of translation sites available nowadays...
7. C mon oeil is my final pick, as a good Lyonnais can only share the wonders of her magnificent city with the world. This blogger will provide you with some great pictures from Lyon, just in case you still haven't heard about us.  

NB. I chose 7 bloggers I have never met...

Oct 21, 2008

JDF & Bartoli's Sonnambula

Vincenzo Bellini

The line of Amina was initially written by Bellini for Giuditta Pasta, a mezzo-soprano, before being turned into a soprano role by Maria Malibran in 1833. Therefore, this combination was the perfect excuse for Cecilia Bartoli to push for this project. Furthermore, the marketing campaign is rather easy to set: first recording with a mezzo as Amina, and "world premiere recording on period instruments".

The thing is, I never liked period instruments and I still don't after listening to this new release.

And - how should I put that as gently as possible? - Cecilia Bartoli does not make for a good Amina. Despite all my sympathy for the woman, her Amina will not be remembered as a defining moment for the role. Of course one could argue that nobody is used to listening to Amina as a mezzo and that's why her performance is not appreciated at its true merits. That assumption is obviously relevant, yet my dislike of Bartoli's Amina has little to do with it - but rather speaks to the essence of bel canto. This style demands a perfect breath control to live up to the expectations of the score, yet Cecilia Bartoli fails to provide it in this studio recording.

I'm rather embarrassed for her, truth be told, because if what's burnt is the best she could do with the score (and why wouldn't it be? it's a studio recording after all), it's definitely not flattering.

On the other hand, both Juan Diego Flórez and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo are insanely brilliant here, and that alone requires to buy the CD (JDF's highlight must be in Act II, "perché non posso odiarti"). The chorus and Liliana Nikiteanu deserve praise as well (I'm much more skeptical about Gemma Bertagnolli's Lisa).

The conduction of Alessandro di Marchi starts off as messy and strangely dissonant (especially in "In Elvezia non v'ha rosa", and the period instruments don't help) but, by the second scene of Act I, is showing interesting colors and nuances that keep developing throughout the entire piece.

This CD is presented in a book-like packaging, which is OK I guess, until you realize how hazardous this may turn out to be for the protection and conservation of the CDs. The iconography chosen is highly reminiscent of Madama Butterfly's (awkwardly anachronic and off topic).

Oct 17, 2008

The Opéra de Paris on the web path as well

Starting on November 4th, the Opéra de Paris will offer free live streamings. First up, Janacek's Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen) whose current revival at Bastille received good reviews (the production premiered in Lyon in 2000). The streaming will start at 7:30 pm (Paris time) and will be available via the Opéra de Paris website, France 2 and Medici Tv websites.

Oct 16, 2008

Panique à bord!

Since I don't like Mozart, I was not at the Lyon's opera yesterday to witness the mess that occured for the 3rd performance of La Clemenzia di Tito.

(Clic above to read the press release - in French) 

Apparently, a major electrical blackout shut down all the lights of the stage.

Pelly's Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi 
Music - Giaccomo Puccini
Libretto - Giovacchino Forzano
Opéra de Paris, Palais Garnier (programmed with Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole)
2004 - Mezzo Broadcast

Gianni Schicchi - Alessandro Corbelli
Lauretta - Patrizia Ciofi
Conductor - Seiji Ozawa
Director - Laurent Pelly

In a nutshell, the staging might have worked, hadn't it been for the costumes and sets (and that's even before mentionning the ultimate boredom generated by the lightning).

The libretto being obviously very simplistic doesn't provide for anything but a Labiche-like vaudeville but still. Emphasizing too much the comic elements only proves how little faith Laurent Pelly had in Puccini's music. And the huge nose, "une péninsule"[1], Schicci is disguised with is too much a distraction from this piece - the caricature is so finesse-less it's outragious to Puccini's work.

Furthermore, the fifties atmosphere Pelly chose has been seen so many times in Paris over the recent years it has become almost unbearable. This facette of Pelly - that is overwhelming in half his productions - is the reason why I won't ever consider him as a great director; consistancy is something he desperately lacks. A quick word on the cast; Corbelli's Schicci is the only outstanding performance - and Patrizia Ciofi is rather disappointing (voice and stage presence problems).

YouTube extracts:
- "O mio bambino caro", Patrizia Ciofi
- end of the opera  

[1] Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac

Oct 13, 2008

2 years in perspective

Since this blog will be two years old this week (and since I'm pretty sure going for the exact date is too much of a challenge for me), I just wanted to "celebrate" by pointing out my most memorable operatic moments for the past 2 years.
  • Best overall production (incl. cast & staging): Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, Dessay/ Florez/ Pelly (London 2007, Vienna 2007, New York 2008)
Satyagraha, AFP
  • Best staging: Glass' Satyagraha, (London 2007, New York 2008)
  • Best conduction: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, Riccardo Muti (Florence 2007)

Oct 9, 2008

Costumes sale

The Opéra de Paris is selling 5000 costumes from 30 past productions in November (Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th) in the Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier. To access the sale, one will have to pay a fee of €8 and will be able to buy only one costume and 5 accessories.

Oct 7, 2008

Loc's opening performance of Les Pêcheurs

Les Pêcheurs de Perles Georges Bizet Nadir - Eric Cutler Zurga - Nathan Gunn Leïla - Nicole Cabell Nourabad - Christian van Horn John Mauceri cond. Lyric Opera of Chicago October 6, 2008 WFMT radio broadcast next performances: October 10th, 13th, 22nd, 25th, November 1st, 4th In short: N.B. This review being based on an audio broadcast does not take into account the stage presence of the cast. Weaknesses of this production: Nathan Gunn, John Mauceri, the orchestra and chorus of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Highlight: Eric Cutler
Leïla and Nadir, Act II Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
French diction First of all, let me state my disappointment over the musical execution of Bizet's masterpiece. I know this is the US and nobody cares about the French diction but I do. A lot. In that department, the chorus (mainly the female elements) and Nathan Gunn should invest in some desperately needed French lessons. I don't know what language they think they're singing, but I can assure them it has absolutely nothing to do with French. Obviously, this is not an easy language to speak, especially for Americans, because of the strange sounds they're not accustomed to (and Eric Cutler is not very good at that either), but the main thing when singing in French is to understand the musicality of the language. Some may say such a thing doesn't exist but the truth is, it does, even if it's not obvious. Nathan Gunn has no clue about that. Words are dissolved in one another and really, his diction sounds like he's chewing several marshmallows while singing. As a result, his Zurga lacks leadership (a crucial element to the role), charisma and passion. The orchestra & John Mauceri's conduction The orchestra had some issues as well - double basses in the opening scene (especially "chassez tous ces méchants!"), violins in "voici les deux coupables!" (Act II), orchestra as a whole in the opening chorus of Act II and in the bars before Leïla's aria "Me voilà seule dans la nuit" (a true nightmare). The conduction of John Mauceri lacked sharpness and was overall very uneven. The first chorus "Dansez" was interesting, but things became too heavy after that. A bit of staccato would have be appreciated in Zurga's aria "Amis, interrompez vos danses et vos jeux", for Leïla's arrival "Une femme inconnue", "Seule au milieu de nous" & "Si tu restes fidèle" but should have been avoided in parts such as "Chassez tous ces méchants" (first scene). The rhythm was also an issue; too fast in "Une femme inconnue" and too slow at the end of the same aria "Et son chant, qui plane sur nos têtes"; very fast also after that, "Sois la bienvenue amie inconnue" & "Si tu restes fidèle"; slow again in the beginning of Act II (chorus and duet between Leïla and Nourabad); too "military" at numerous times throughout the entire piece (very unpleasant I must say, especially in the big duet between Nadir and Leïla in Act II and the end of the act). All and all, the view of John Mauceri on this piece is - let's not be afraid to use the word that comes to mind - boring.
Nadir (front) and Zurga "Au fond du temple saint", Act I Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Eric Cutler As stated before, I like Cutler's Nadir. His performance was once again interesting, as his Nadir is full of character and life. His high notes were beautiful - except for the sentence before the beginning of "Je crois entendre encore" where one note was a total disaster "ces doux chants emportés dans l'espace" and a little later on for the second "charmant souvenir". The duet with Leïla in Act II was beautiful, as well as the big aria of the first act with Zurga, "Au fond du temple saint". He might not be the greatest Nadir of all times, but he's amongst the best of this time, for sure. Nathan Gunn If Nathan Gunn's diction is truly a sinking parameter for his Zurga, his vocal performance for the Chicago premiere of Les Pêcheurs was equally unpraiseworthy. Truth be told, I was really eager to hear him in this role - well, it turns out I'm hugely disappointed. He struggled with his high notes from the middle of Act I (just after "Au fond du temple saint" but he was too weak a counterpart to Eric Cutler in that aria either) and never fully recovered ("robe son visage" was the first of many totally screwed notes). He completely drowned at the end of Act II (from "Vengez-vous, vengez-moi" to the end of the act - just several bars - I counted way too many totally awckward moments). The beginning of his big aria in Act III, "L'orage s'est calmé" was not good either but he somehow managed to get out of his mess by the second half of the piece, which was a relief (especially for me). His duet with Leïla after that was much better, and he ended the opera as an acceptable Zurga.
Zurga and Leïla, Act III Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Nicole Cabell I was wrong to be so skeptical about her. She turned out to be a pretty decent Leïla (though Patricia Ciofi was on a whole different level in Avignon last year). My issue with her is her high register, that I find oddly disgraceful. Other than that, her Leïla was worth listening to ("Me voilà seule dans la nuit" being the highlight of her performance).
Nourabad, Nadir and Leïla, Act III Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Christian van Horn As predicted, the version played in Chicago is the original 1863 version, so his score is especially tiny - hard to judge on just a few sentences. His French diction was the best of the cast, and his low register is nice. The high notes on the other hand were problematic. YouTube extract: - audio medley In conclusion, here's how I would rate the performance; John Mauceri's conduction : D Eric Cutler' Nadir : B+ Nathan Gunn's Zurga : C- Nicole Cabell's Leïla : B- Christian van Horn's Nourabad : C+ Overall : C