Jan 31, 2008

A pain in the throat

La Fille du Régiment, 2007

I get that you can't always be lucky in life, and that you can indeed become sick over almost everything.

But when I hear (via this or that) Juan Diego Flórez is canceling both his Kansas City recital and all the performances of the upcoming production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia in Chicago over ... a fishbone, "les mots me manquent" (I'm speechless) to use a very recurrent expression of mine.

But then again, fishbones are a real con to eating fish anyway.
Doctors told Flórez to cancel all engagements til the end of March.
He'd better keep his April 21st one at the MET though.
I hope I'm not flying over the Atlantic to attend the premiere of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment without Flórez. That would be a real pain in the ass.

Score di bravura

Semirade, Antonio Salieri "Sento l'amica sperme" Opéra de Lyon Diana Damrau recital Jan.25, 2008

Jan 29, 2008

Tri karty: La Dame de Pique

Opéra de Lyon
Jan.28, 2008 (next performances Jan.30, Feb.1, 3 & 5)

The Queen of Spade
Opera in 3 acts
Music - Piotr Illitch Tchaïkovski
Libretto - Modeste Tchaïkovski (adapted from Poutchkine's novel)
New production

Conductor - Kirill Petrenko
Stage director - Peter Stein
Orchestra & chorus of the Opéra de Lyon

Hermann - Viktor Lutsiuk
Liza - Olga Guryakova
The countess - Marianna Tarasova
Tomski - Nikolai Putilin
Prince Eletski - Andrey Breus
Pauline - Elena Maximova

Libretto in russian here, in russian and french here.

I have never been a great admirer of Tchaïkovski's operas (nothing to do with his music for ballet or symphonies). The Queen of Spade is no exception.
Musically, I find the first act very painful, and the only interesting pieces in here are, for me, the duet scene between Liza and Prince Eletski (middle of act 2) and the suicide scene of Liza (beginning of act 3).
I also admit dramatically the long scene at the end of act 2 where the countess dies without revealing to Hermann the 3 winning cards he desperately longs for, is indeed quite interesting.

But the libretto has some big dramatic issues; the first scene of the opera, with the kids soldiers brings absolutely nothing to the action and actually harms it, as well as the ridiculous entrance of tzarina Catherine after the opening scene of act 2.

The recurring appearances of the countess' phantom during act 3 are also difficult to stage, because it's so easy to fall to ridiculous images and lightning effects.
So I think this opera is actually pretty hard to direct, thus requiring a very talented guy at the helm.

Peter Stein is not that guy.

When a good idea is required to make the scene believable, Peter Stein delivers a stupid and unimaginative cliché, that lacks complexity and sophistication.

The entrance of Catherine is beyond ridiculous (picture left) and would be expected if you were attending a circus show, definitely not an opera. Both appearances of the countess' phantom are equally preposterous and ludicrous.

The thunderstorm (scene 1 #6, act 1) was also totally screwed (picture left), in that recurring "circus for dummies" kind of atmosphere (the picture does not accurately demonstrate the ridicule of the staging).

So basically, I don't understand at all why Serge Dorny, the director of the Opéra de Lyon, likes this guy so much; why he keeps on inviting him to direct Tchaïkovski (Mazeppa in 2006, Eugene Oneguine in 2007), unless his plan all along was to present a silly and unattractive trilogy (these three operas will be shown here all together next season).
But then again, this is just one of the many issues I have with Dorny.

The chorus of the Opéra de Lyon was great, as usual, totally deserving his title as best chorus in France, with nuances, subtility and incredible homogeneity, as always.
The orchestra responded pretty well to young and interesting conductor Kirill Petrenko, although sometimes the brass section was lacking a bit of clearness and smoothness.

Finally, a word about the singers: great performance of mezzo Elena Maximova as Pauline, interesting ones from bass Nikolai Putilin as Tomski and tenor Andrey Breus as Prince Eletski.
Both Viktor Lutsiuk (Hermann) and Olga Guryakova (Liza) were forgettable, not awful, just average.

Last 3 pictures
1. Beginning of Act 1
2. Act 2
3. Death of the countess, end of act 2

All pictures above courtesy of the Opéra de Lyon

Curtain calls.

Further readings:
- "Une lecture fidèle", Jean-Louis Validire for Le Figaro, who liked his evening a lot (I wonder if this guy ever disliked an operatic performance).
- "Décevante Dame de Pique", Marie-Aude Roux for Le Monde, was disappointed by Peter Stein like I was but loved the chorus and the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon as well as the conducting of Petrenko.
- "Peter Stein tire la mauvaise carte" from ResMusica.com
- "Trois sept as : Dame de Pique à Lyon" from concertclassic.com

Jan 26, 2008

Queen of the night

The program can be downloaded here.

An evening with Diana Damrau is full of fun, for starters.
If some people still have that cliché about opera, serious and solemn, where there's absolutely no place for fun or spontaneity, they definitively need to attend a concert with Damrau, who will tear to pieces these preconceived ideas.

Singers in their thirties and forties are generally fun and do not hesitate to interact with the public, some (Natalie Dessay) more than others (Juan Diego Flórez). Diana Damrau beats out everybody, making jokes just a few seconds before an aria whilst having problems adjusting her score holder, coming back on stage with a sweater in her hands to tell people to go have a drink because it's intermission time, having a laugh on stage, miming a sore throat to explain why there won't be more than one bis - one of the true disappointments of the evening, I would have hoped she would have sung an aria from Die Zauberflöte, after all Mozart was the core of this program (such as this one).

The pleasure she takes singing is communicative beyond words and I found myself smiling every time she was on stage, filled with unconditional joy.

And it is really a true blessing to hear her sing: the high notes are always spot on, the low ones are outstanding (which is not often true with sopranos) the nuances are superb, the emotions are always there - as she really experiences each and every note and its emotional intend, all concurring to a magnificent performance (being able to overshadow my dislike for Mozart and Salieri is an accomplishment very few have achieved).

Alas, the concert was really built to showcase equally Damrau and Rohrer, meaning she only sang in half of the pieces performed - 8 total, including the only bis. I would have loved for her to sing more... I guess I'll just have to wait till the end of June to hear her live again...

All photographs taken during the evening.

Jérémie Rohrer, le roi de l'esbrouffe

Diana Damrau Recital
Ensemble orchestral: Le Cercle de l'Harmonie
Direction musicale: Jérémie Rohrer

Opéra de Lyon
January 25, 2008

Julien Chauvin (left), Diana Damrau (middle), Jérémie Rohrer (with the glasses)

It took me an awfully long time to figure out Jérémie Rohrer.
On the first aria (Mozart's Thamos, König in Agypten KV345, #2), I was quite impressed by the way he handled his musicians (impression later proven to be wrong) and heard some interesting nuances. Then, 5 pieces later, on Mozart's 26th symphony, I simply dozed off, therefore effectively ending my 5-minute love affair with Rohrer.

It took me a while to recover but I was looking forward to the two Gluck's pieces from Orphée et Eurydice. When the first one was played though ("Ballet des ombres heureuses"), I couldn't believe my ears: this is one of the worst performances of this piece I have ever heard. But it led me to figure this Jérémie Rohrer out. I am all for fresh, young and dynamic new conductors... as long as they have something new to bring to the table.

Playing with 18th century instruments is definitely not a good way to start something new. I'm sorry, but the flute has more to do with the "thing" we each experimented with in school than with an actual instrument capable of emitting beautiful sounds. The violins induce a weird resonance and a rather irritating sound, the oboe is... not the oboe I love so much and even the bassoons are funny sounding. The biggest problem with Rohrer though, is that he can sound dynamic and sharp. This illusion is well preserved when the scores are deliberately staccato, as often with Mozart and Salieri.

But when the music is legato (in the Gluck's piece for instance), Rohrer looses all perspective and ends up delivering a slow and boring interpretation. Nuances are nowhere to be found, but heavy and solemn are everywhere.

So in the end, it all seems like a fraud, because what's happening really is that he only delivers nuances because the few milliseconds between each staccato allow him to switch to another idea. But when there's no time for switching, boredom is just around the corner. Everybody seems to be talking about this guy (at least they do all the time) well, I was rather disappointed there.

From ForumOpera: "Mais si Rhorer sait être – extrêmement – rapide, il peut aussi être impitoyablement lent. Le ballet d’Orphée étiré comme un vieux chewing-gum sans goût ne s’en remet pas. L’auditeur non plus, d’ailleurs. (...) Si encore l’orchestre était bon ! Mais non ! (...) ce n’est qu’attaques floues, imprécises ; cuivres naturels qui détonnent ; équilibres très instables où la partie droite écrase impitoyablement la gauche. Ce sont des cordes rêches, métalliques, sans aura ni portée."

Jan 25, 2008

A week in music: week 1

I wanted to do this for a long time, so here I start it, finally.
A day-by-day music journal, so that I can keep track of the CDs I listen to most.

Week 1: Monday 21 -> Friday 25, January 2008
  • Monday
    Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, MET live performance, 1972; Richard Bonynge conducting, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti (available in CD with the same previous three, but recorded with the Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra, Covent Garden).

  • Tuesday
    Beniamino Gigli's New York recordings (1927-1928), volume 5

  • Wednesday
    Verdi's La Forza del Destino, CD1 (Act 1 & beginning of act 2)

  • Thursday
    Verdi's Don Carlos, CD3 (Act 4 & 5)

  • Friday
    Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni conducting in this 1938 recording)

Jan 23, 2008

The decline of obscurantism in Turkmenistan

Congress Centre
Achgabat- Turkmenistan

"Our flourishing nation should not stand separate from the world. It absolutely should have a worthy operatic theater and a worthy state circus."
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov - Turkmenistan president

Can you believe opera was banned for 7 years in Turkmenistan, before Berdymukhamedov announced this week "Today a new period is starting in our country which we have called an era of great renaissance", effectively ending this ridiculous ban set by former leader Saparmurat Niyazov (who died in late 2006) ?
This announcement was made during a televised interview during which he also estimated the first opera would be performed in six or seven months. He did not mention anything regarding the return of ballet.

Where the operas would be performed remains a problem, as Niyazov also destroyed the only building available for that purpose in Archkhabad in 2001.
And one more good news for people living there: they will be able to watch movies in theaters again, as Berdymukhamedov also ended that ban.

More on the matter:

- Reuters: "Country ends ban on opera and circus"
- AP: "Opera, circus bans in Turkmenistan ended"
- International Herald Tribune (from AP): "Turkmenistan's president lifts 7-year ban on operas, circuses, citing country's development"
- Le Parisien: "Réouverture des cinémas, interdits depuis une dizaine d'années"

Jan 22, 2008

... so am I

Nothing to look forward to at the Paris Opera...
Palais Garnier Opéra de Paris Jan.19, 2007

Jan 18, 2008

Insane marketing

I've already talked about the obsession of Summer Festival Les chorégies d'Orange with Roberto Alagna.
Well, the frenzy is far from over.
He will sing Faust in the eponym opera of Gounod this summer, but it's not the only thing he will appear on. Look at what I just received, inserted in the mail with my ticket:

So now, you will also be able to watch him in Massenet's Werther, as they will project the recorded video of his performance in 2005 in Torino on July 14th (the French equivalent of US 4th of July). And have the opportunity to ask for autographs (which I'm sure a lot of people are going to queue for) to Roberto himself, who will be attending the show.

Enough with the star-mania.
He should really be focusing on improving his singing instead.

Another thing with my tickets, this ad (because you know, despite all and all, we are still in France, the country where everything rhythms with wine).

Jan 17, 2008

2008-2009 season schedules

This post will remain available via the left column of this blog and is updated regularly.


  • Pesaro (summer 2008) - Rossini Festival
    Highlights: Juan Diego Flórez, pagine da La donna del lago e Guillaume Tell (Aug.9); Patrizia Ciofi, concerto di belcanto (Aug.22); Joyce DiDonato, Malibran recital (Aug.19); Maometto II with Daniella Barcellona; Stabat Mater with Daniella Barcellona (Aug.20)
  • Teatro del Maggio Fiorentino, Firenze
    Highlight: Lucia di Lammermoor, revival of Graham Vick's production from 1998, Elena Mosuc as Lucia, Stefano Secco as Edgardo
  • Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova
    Highlight: Rigoletto with Leo Nucci & Annick Massis, prod. Festival Verdi di Parma, May-June 2009
  • Teatro alla Scala, Milano: introduction, schedule
  • Teatro Regio, Torino
    Highlights: Anna Caterina Antonacci as Medea (Cherubini), Stefano Secco in cast B as Giasone, Evelino Pido cond., October 2008; Nicolas Joël new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (coprod. Torino, Toulouse, Teatro Real, Madrid & Tel-Aviv) with Désirée Rancatore as Olympia, Jan.-Feb. 2009
  • Teatro La Fenice, Venezia
    Highlights: to open the season on Jan.23, 2009, Fenice premiere of Korngold's Die tote Stadt ; Gounod's Roméo et Juliette with Jonas Kaufman & Nino Machaidze, coprod. with Arena di Verona & Trieste, Feb.2009 ; to end the season, a strange combination of Janáček's Šárka & Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Dec.2009 ; introduction of the season here
  • France
  • Paris Opera, my comments there
  • Salle Pleyel, Paris
  • Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, my comments there
  • Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris
  • Opéra Comique, Paris (a season that consists of revivals from Paris or Lyon basically)
  • Théâtre de l'Athénée - Louis Jouvet, my comments there
  • Lyon, my comments there
  • Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse, my comments there
  • Opéra de Monte Carlo
    Highlight: a new production of Norma directed by JC Maillot (costume design: Karl Lagerfeld, set design: Rolf Sachs) with Hasmik Papian (Norma), Beatrice Uria Monzon (Aldagisa) and Nicola Rossi Giordano (Pollione) in March 2009
  • Opéra du Rhin, Strasbourg
    Highlight: Ludovic Tézier and Sophie Karthäuser in Le Nozze di Figaro (Dec 08, Jan 09)
  • Opéra de Marseille
  • Opéra National de Bordeaux
  • Opéra National de Lorraine (Nancy), my comments there
  • Opéra de Toulon, season online in the beginning of June


  • Liceu, Barcelona
  • Teatro Real, Madrid
    • Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, Sept.Oct. 2008 (Marcelo Alvarez, Violeta Urmana, Carlos Alvarez, Jesus Lopez Cobos cond.)
    • Janacek's Katia Kobanova, Dec.2008 (Karita Mattila, director Robert Carsen)
    • Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust (concert version), May 2009
    • Rigoletto, June 2009 (Francesco Meli, Roberto Frontoli/Leo Nucci, Patrizia Ciofi/Inva Mula, Roberto Abbado conducting)
    • Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, July 2009 (Ludovic Tézier/Mariusz Kwiecien, Barbara Frittoli/Annick Massis), another impressive casting there
    To avoid : Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in the production seen in Lyon last year (my review in French here), Jan. 2009
  • Teatro Pérez Galdós, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • UK
  • Covent Garden, London (Royal Opera House)
    • Mozart's Don Giovanni, Sept.2008, Mariusz Kwiecien/Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Patrizia Ciofi (Donna Anna), Ramon Vargas (Don Ottavio), Joyce DiDonato (Donna Elvira), Antonio Pappano conducting. Can't have a more brilliant cast, can you?
    • Juan Diego Flórez in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, Oct/Nov.2008
    • Rolando Villazón in Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Nov/Dec.2008 (returning for a recital conducted by Pappano on June 24)
    • Hänsel und Gretel, Dec.2008, Diana Damrau (Gretel) and Angela Krichschlager (Hänsel) conducted by Colin Davis in a new production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser
    • Rigoletto, Feb.2009, revival of David McVicar 2001 production, Leo Nucci (Rigoletto), Francesco Meli (Duca di Mantova), Ekaterina Siurina (Gilda), Daniel Oren cond. (not that memorable a cast, especially since Leo Nucci's singing has clearly deteriorated in the past fex years, but what a difference with the cast scheduled in Paris!)
    • Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, March/April 2009, revival of a production from 1984 (really?), Anna Netrebko (watch out for the inevitable last minute cancellation here), Elina Garanca (Romeo), Dario Schmunck (Tebaldo)
    • Verdi's Messa di Requiem, March 13 & 20, Antonio Pappano cond., Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina
    • Il Trovatore, Apr/May 2009, Roberto Alagna (Manrico), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna), Carlo Rizzi conducting the revival of the great 2002 production by Elijah Moshinsky
    • Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, May 2009, revival of the 2006 production of Laurent Pelly, Diana Damrau (Adina), Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino), Simone Alaimo (Dulcamara), Richard Hicknox conducting (music director of the Opera Australia)
    • La Traviata, Renée Fleming (Violetta), Joseph Calleja (Alfredo), Thomas Hampson (Giorgio Germont), Antonio Pappano cond.
    • Il Barbiere di Siviglia, July 2009, Juan Diego Flórez (Almaviva), Simon Keenlyside (Figaro), Joyce DiDonato (Rosina), Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo), Antonio Pappano cond. (another fantastic cast for this revival of the 2005 production of Caurier & Leiser)
    • Tosca, July 2009, Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Bryn Terfel (if not dead by then), Daniel Oren conducting
    This is only a personal selection of the great season to come in London. No doubt the Royal Opera House is one of best opera houses in the world, as far as their schedule is concerned. If you can afford the high prize tickets that will become even more expensive next season (£190 to £165 for the best seats), London will be a great place to hear some fantastic casts.
  • English National Opera
    Cav/pag, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Haendel's Partenope, Aïda, Boris Godunov, Vaughan Wiliams' Riders to the Sea
  • Welsh National Opera (official website)
  • Scottish National Opera
  • Germany
  • Deutsche Oper, Berlin
  • Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin (also there)
  • Dresden Semperoper, Germany
  • Bayerische Staatsoper (new productions, repertoire)
  • Austria
  • Wiener Staatsoper
  • Switzerland
  • Grand Théâtre de Genève
  • Opéra de Lausanne
  • Zurich Opernhaus (pdf link)
  • Benelux
  • Théâtre de la Monnaie, Bruxelles
    Highlights: Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande with Stéphane Degout, Sandrine Piau and Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Pierre Audi directing (they somehow forgot to put the dates on the website) ; Marc Minkowski conducting Rossini's La Cenerentola with Jennifer Larmore (Oct.08)
  • Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège, Belgium
    Highlights: Juan Diego Florez in concert (Dec.5); Auber's Fra Diavolo, hardly ever played anywhere (April 2009); Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia with June Anderson (June 2009)
  • De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam
  • Northern Europe
  • Den Norske Opera, Oslo, Norway
    Highlights: Verdi's Don Carlo (in Italian) with René Pape (Sept.-Oct. 2008)
  • Det Kongelige Teater, Copenhagen, Denmark

United States
  • Atlanta
    Highlights: Rossini's La Cenerentola with Jennifer Larmore (Nov.08), Verdi's Il Trovatore with Ewa Podles as Azuncena (March 09)
  • Arizona Opera
  • Baltimore
    Highlight: Bellini's Norma with Ruth Ann Swenson and Hasmik Papian (Nov.2008), via Operatically Inclined
  • Boston
  • Chicago
    (audio preview here, complete review here) highlights include Massenet's Manon (to open the season in September) cond. by Emmanuel Villaume with Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kaufman in a David McVicar's production & Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles in October (John Mauceri cond, Nicole Cabell as Leïla, Nathan Gunn as Zurga and Eric Cutler as Nadir)
  • Cincinnati 2009 Summer Festival
  • Colorado
  • Dallas
  • Houston
    Highlights: Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict Oct.30 to Nov.14, with Joyce DiDonato, André Previn's Brief Encounter, libretto by John Caird, world premiere (commissionned by HGO), directed by John Caird, with Elizabeth Futral and Nathan Gunn
  • Los Angeles
    Highlights: Madama Butterfly in October with Liping Zhang & Franco Farina (James Conlon cond., Robert Wilson directing), La Traviata with Elizabeth Futral, Massimo Giordano and Andrzej Dobber (May-June, performed in the same production in Washington in September); Puccini's Il Trittico will also be performed in October.
  • Minnesota Opera
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera
    My complete review here.
  • Philadelphia
    Highlights: Puccini's Turandot with Francesca Patané and Ermonela Jaho (Feb/March 09); Britten's The Rape of Lucretia with Nathan Gunn and William Burden (June 09).
  • Pittsburgh
    Highlight: St Saëns' Samson et Dalila with Stephanie Blythe singing Dalila (Oct.08)
  • Portland
  • San Francisco
    Highlights: Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Barbara Frittoli in September & Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore with Ramon Vargas and Inva Mula in November.
  • San Diego (press release)
  • Santa Fe
  • Seattle
  • Washington
    Highlights: Puccini's Turandot with Maria Guleghina/Sylvie Valayre as Turandot and Franco Farina. The Andrei Serban's production comes right from Covent Garden.


South America

Jan 15, 2008

[Les Pêcheurs de Perles] 2008-2009 performances

It's only fair to say that the 2008-09 season will be all about Les Pêcheurs de Perles in the major American Opera Houses. A fantastic year for Bizet's masterpiece. So far, we have:
  • Sydney, Australia, Sep.4 - Oct.11 2008
  • Leïla - Leanne Kenneally Nadir - Henry Choo Zurga - Michael Lewis Nourabad - Shane Lowrencev Conductor (until Sept 25) - Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, Brian Castles-Onion (after Sept.25) Director - Ann M. Pettersson Set Designer - John Conklin Costume Designer - Claire Mitchell
  • Washington, Sept.20-Oct.7 2008 Leïla - Norah Amsellem Nadir - Charles Castronovo Zurga - Trevor Scheunemann Nourabad - Denis Sedov Conductor - Giuseppe Grazioli Director - Andrew Sinclair Production from San Diego Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre (scheduled at the Florida Grand Opera at the end of this month and in May in San Diego). Extracts here.
  • Chicago, Oct.7 -> Nov.4 2008 Leïla - Nicole Cabell Nadir - Eric Cutler Zurga - Nathan Gunn Nourabad - Christian Van Horn Conductor - John Mauceri
  • Metz, October 2008 [same production I saw in Avignon on Feb.2007] Leïla - Magali Léger Nadir - Florian Laconi Zurga - Patrice Berger Conductor - Jacques Mercier
  • Montréal, Nov.1-13 2008 Leïla - Karina Gauvin Nadir - Antonio Figueroa (seen in Avignon in the same role) Zurga - Philip Addis Nourabad - Alexandre Sylvestre Conductor - Frédéric Chaslin Stage director - Andrew Sinclair Production : San Diego Opera & Michigan Opera Theatre
  • Seattle, Jan.10-24 2009 Leïla - Mary Dunleavy / Larissa Yudina Nadir - William Burden / John Osborn Zurga - Christopher Feigum / David Adam Moore Nourabad - Patrick Carfizzi Conductor - Gerard Schwarz Stage director - Kay Walter Castaldo Set and costumes - Philadelphia Opera
  • Toulon, January 30 - Feb. 3 2009 [coproduction Avignon, Metz, Toulon] Leïla - Kimy McLaren Nadir - Jesus Garcia Zurga - Jean-François Lapointe Nourabad - Wojtek Smilek Conductor - Claude Schnitzler Director - Nadine Duffaut
  • Denver, Opera Colorado, Feb.14-22 2009
  • Frankfurt, Feb.23-25 2009 (concert version) Leïla - Tatiana Lisnic Nadir - Joseph Calleja Zurga - Zeljko Lucic Nourabad - Bálint Szabó Conductor - Christoph Poppen
  • Teatro de la Maestranza, Sevilla, June 6 2009 (concert version) Leïla - Nathalie Manfrino Nadir - Roberto Alagna Conductor - Pedro Halffter
  • Teatro Municipal de Santiago, Aug.21-29 Leila - Ailyn Pérez Nadir - Dimitri Korchak Zurga - Vitaliy Bilyy Nourabad - Homero Pérez-Miranda Alain Guingal conducting.

Jan 13, 2008

I Should Be So Lucky Lucky Lucky Lucky

[Incredible news do indeed call for inept pop song references]

Natalie Dessay, Act I, La Fille du Régiment, Covent Garden 2007

Remember when I said yesterday the best way to get tickets is to plan way ahead?
Well, that's true, for sure. To a certain extend.

"Never underestimate the power of luck" is my new motto today. And what a beautiful Sunday it has been. Full of passion, emotions and luck.
Especially full of luck.

This afternoon, I was watching, in total despair, the magnificent Covent Garden's La Fille du Régiment I also talked about yesterday. I was contemplating, with greater desolation, the fact that it will only come back in Paris in 4 years (2012). Who knows what can happen, in 4 years, to the voice of Dessay or JDF. I was therefore envying these lucky New Yorkers who will enjoy this production in April / May.

I went to check the dates of the performances, in order to schedule the day of the broadcast. But then again, and I never say that, this production is going to lack so much with the sound only.
And that's when the lightning struck.
Not only were there still few seats available for the premiere on April 21, but I am indeed on vacation on this very week.

So, ladies and gentlemen, with overwhelming emotion, I will see this fantastic production of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment live, in a few months. How great is that seriously?


Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Marie: Natalie Dessay
Marquise of Berkenfeld: Felicity Palmer
Tonio: Juan Diego Flórez
Sulpice: Alessandro Corbelli
Duchess of Krakenthorp: Zoe Caldwell

Production: Laurent Pelly
Set Designer: Chantal Thomas
Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly
Lighting Designer: Joël Adam
Choreographer: Laura Scozzi
Associate Director/Dialogue: Agathe Mélinand (whose name is wrongly spelled on the MET's website - no luck for her there).

YouTube extracts of this production
[London / Vienna performances]

Oh and by the way, I love the weak dollar against the euro too. €450 for plane tickets from Lyon to New York, that's what I call a bargain!

Jan 12, 2008

2009-2010 preview

Building of the underground station in front of the Garnier Opera in Paris

In the operatic world, the best way not to be left behind is to plan way ahead. I've never been very good at planning, quite the opposite actually. But since my failure to attend any performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden last year, with the brilliant production of Pelly (feat. Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez), I've decided to take matters into my own hands, for a change. For the first time ever, I started planning. My record so far is buying tickets 13 months before the performance (for the Lehnhoff's production of Rigoletto in Dresden in June/July 2008, feat. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez). This week, some US Opera Houses started to disclose their 2008-2009 schedules (LA, Seattle, Dallas, Washington). So obviously, I'm now focusing on the 2009-2010 season (exacerbated by the fact that the previews I have read so far about the 2008-2009 season in Europe aren't especially appealing to me). And what a year the 2009-2010 season is going to be. Absolutely amazing. So far, worth noticing, we have:
  • Gounod's Mireille to open the first season of new Paris Opera director Nicolas Joël
  • La Sonnambula, Opéra National de Paris, in a Marco Arturo Marelli's production, already seen in Vienna (2001) and London (2002), with Natalie Dessay
  • Norma, Toulouse, with Anna Caterina Antonacci
  • La Fille du Régiment, Liceu Barcelona (march 2010) with Patrizia Ciofi and Juan Diego Florez
And at the MET, some amazing previews as well:
  • Verdi's Attila, conducted by maestro Riccardo Muti and directed by amazing Pierre Audi, with Violetta Urmana, Ramon Vargas and Carlos Alvarez
  • La Fille du Régiment with Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau
Also worth noticing:
  • this will be the first season of Dominique Meyer as director of the Wiener Staatsoper

Head of state

Not that this has anything to do with opera or has any interest other than an anecdotic one, but it definitely seems like president Sarkozy (I should really be able to write his name properly without having to check the internet by now. Well, it turns out I still can't) is indeed watching each and everyone of us in this country, Big Brother/Giuliani like. This morning, for the first time ever, I got a visit from the Elysée Palace:
HostName : mars.elysee.fr ISP: PRESIDENCE-DE-LA-REPUBLIQUE Country: FRANCE City: PARIS Domain: France Google search: Serge Dorny (GM of the Opera de Lyon)
So dear mister President, feel free to link on your site to this little blog. I guess a bit of publicity there can't hurt...

Jan 10, 2008

Les Pêcheurs de Perles in Colombo

This will probably interest nobody but me...

Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles takes place on the island of Ceylan (now Sri Lanka).
Well, for the first time ever, the opera is actually being performed in Sri Lanka since yesterday (Jan 9 & 11), and it seems like THE event not to miss in January in Colombo.


Leïla - Aude Priya-Engel
Nadir - Jamie Allen
Zurga - Vikrant Subramaniam (18-yr old!)
Nourabad - Philippe Désandré
Conductor - Benjamin Levy
Stage director - Patricia Panton
Much of the chorus, orchestra and dancers in the near 120-member cast are from Sri Lanka.

The 42,000-dollar budget for the opera was funded by governments of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Tourist Board), India (ICCR, Indian Council for Cultural Relations), France (The French Embassy in Sri Lanka) and private sponsors (Sri Lanka Telecom, Delair Events from Delmage group, The High Commission of Sri Lanka in India/ The India Sri Lanka foundation, CulturesFrance in Paris, Lafarge, BMICH Auditorium, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, Maharaja Group, Wijeya Newspapers, The Galle Literary Festival).

More on the matter:

- "Come to the opera!", Madhushala Senaratne, The Sunday Times
- "Bizet opera set in Sri Lanka finally comes home", Mel Gunasekera, AFP
- "The waves of the coast of Sri Lanka bring the music of Bizet to you", to know more about the cast
- "Opera places Colombo in the ‘Spotlight’ in January", Sri Lanka Tourism
- "Patricia Panton. Pearl Fishers. Bizet. Apartheid. South Africa", Jagath Dheerasekara

Jan 9, 2008

Rude awakening

Ouch! What happened to Roberto Alagna during the Christmas Holiday? After all the good reviews he got for his Ramadès in Aïda and his Roméo in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (MET), the premiere in Bologna of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (version de Paris, aka in French) was a disaster. And I'm not talking about the mess his brother David did directing this production, that's hardly a surprise if you know a little about the guy. I'm talking about the singing of Roberto. Out of balance, weak, hardly right, hardly in rythm, hardly anything, really (and it seems I'm definitely not the only one sharing that view, see Parsifal's and OperaChic). The performance was broadcast by Rai Radio Tre and recordings can be found here and there. This production will travel to Montpellier (Jan.29 and Feb.3) where the bookings start tomorrow. Cast: Orphée - Roberto Alagna Eurydice - Laura Giordano in Montpellier (Serena Gamberoni in Bologna) L'amour - Marc Barrard Conductor - Marco Guidarini in Montpellier (Giampaolo Bisanti in Bologna) More on the matter: - "Orphée et Eurydice" con Alagna e Osborn tenori (in Italian) - Orfeo a Bologna: facciamo una retata! (in Italian) - Fratelli flop, Corriere della Sera (in Italian) - ANSA: " Orphée et Eurydice, presentato in un provocatorio riadattamento della partitura di D. Alagna, ha diviso il pubblico di Bologna. Alagna ha reinventato l'opera approntando un prologo per far vedere il matrimonio tra Orfeo e Euridice e la morte di lei dopo un incidente d'auto, ha tagliato e spostato pezzi dell'opera e cambiato il finale: Euridice non ritorna in vita, ma muore per sempre. Tutto questo col consenso del direttore d'orchestra, G. Bisanti." Let's hope Alagna will be in better shape this summer for Orange's Faust...

Jan 8, 2008

Buy me, get an opera for free

I don't know if the marketing heads of the French press have any clue about what their readers want but if they had, I doubt they would continue offering "free" opera recordings if you buy their paper.

Le Monde was the first to start the dance, as they surfed on the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's Orfeo (supposedly the first opera ever) in 2007 to offer 37 operas (one each saturday) on CD. I did notice a change in the routine of Le Monde buyers on Saturday though. They each started to ask specifically for the "normal" version of the paper, as none of them was interested in paying €9.90 to get the extra "free" CD instead of the normal prize, €1,25.

But since no one seems to learn from the others' mistakes in this country, Telerama, the very elitist and boho TV Magazine is following the same path. Starting tomorrow, they will offer with their weekly issue an opera on DVD.

Their series will feature well-known operas such as tomorrow's Magic Flute, Puccini's Butterfly, Traviata, Lohengrin, Tosca or Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

The two incredible tries to get away from this mainstream selection will be Debussy's Pélléas et Mélisande and Berg's Wozzeck. Pretty risky, hugh?

Of course, the "free" DVD will come with Telerama for only €9.90 (instead of the regular prize of €2).

Jan 6, 2008

[La Nonne Sanglante] Genesis

Young Charles Gounod.

Synopsis in French here.
Libretto in French and in English here (or there, French only), also an interesting essay "Lewis/Gounod's Bleeding Nonne: An Introduction and Translation of the Scribe/Delavigne Libretto" by Anne Williams (University of Georgia) here.

In the beginning of the 1840s, the prolific librettist Eugene Scribe started a new project, surfing on the success of a play by Anicet-Bourgeois and Julien de Mallian (performances in the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin), La Nonne Sanglante, an adaptation of The Monk (1795) written by Matthew Gregory Lewis, very different from the original book (the play also inspired Donizetti's librettist Salvatore Cammarano, and became Maria de Rudenz, which premiered on Jan. 30 1838 in La Fenice).

The music was to be composed by Hector Berlioz (Memoirs of Berlioz, p309 here), who worked on it from 1841 to 1847 (two aria and a duet remain) before giving up.
Scribe had difficulties finishing the text (in July 1843, Berlioz refers to the project as "cette Nonne éternelle que Scribe ne finit pas" - "this eternal Non that Scribe can't finish"), and Berlioz had some personal issues with the Paris Opera directors Nestor Roqueplan and Duponchel (both of whom finally agree to stage the opera in 1847 under the express condition that rehearsals start immediately, which is impossible for Berlioz, first because the score isn't finished, and also because of his previous commitments as conductor in England). According to Berlioz, Scribe is delighted by the situation, as it means more time for him to complete the libretto.
The project is then proposed to David, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Halévy and Auber, only to be refused each time, and end up in Scribe's drawers for 4 years.

In 1852, a contract is signed with young and unknown Charles Gounod, whose first opera Sapho, created in Paris in 1851 was praised by critics (Berlioz, Adam and Ernest Reyer amongst others) despite a lack of public success. Scribe and fellow Germain Delavigne have agreed to finish the libretto in three months, and Gounod is to introduce the complete score to the Paris Opera on Dec.1, 1853.

An accumulation of failures (Halévy's Le Juif Errant, the French version of Verdi's Luisa Miller, Niedermeyer's La Fronde) results in the early scheduling of La Nonne Sanglante, and rehearsals start way before the original contract agreements stated (1856-57 season), in September 1853, even though the score is not finished.

The premiere is finally set for October 18, 1854.
Unfortunately for Gounod, a huge scandal breaks at the Paris Opera on October 9: the star soprano at the time, Sophie Cruvelli, cashes in her monthly check and disappears without notice. She's left with young baron Vignier without forgetting to bring along jeopardizing love letters from minister Achille Fould, and as soon as he hears that, Verdi threatens to cancel the premiere of his newest piece, Les Vêpres Siciliennes, in which Sophie Cruvelli is supposed to sing the leading role.

This episode is the final crack in the already very fragile Paris Opera administration, financially crippled for several years despite the drastic measures in place (the Opera is under direct funding from the State since the summer again).
Eccentric Roqueplan is forced to resign on Nov.6, 1854 and he's replaced by François Crosnier on Nov.11, former director of the Opéra Comique, who can't stand Roqueplan and immediately puts an end to the performances of La Nonne Sanglante, stating, according to Gounod, that as long as he will remain director of the Paris Opera, "pareilles ordures" (such trash) won't be tolerated (the libretto is the problem, not the music), hereby putting an end to the opera, whose 11th and last performance is played on Nov.17, 1854.

1854 critics about the libretto:
  • La France Musicale, Oct.22 1854
"Le sujet, il faut bien le dire, ne présente nulle part les éléments organiques d'un drame musical bien constitué; la vie est nulle part."
[One must say that the subject does not anywhere offer the organic elements of a well-constructed musical drama; there is no life in it.]
  • Anonymous parody, Le Mousquetaire, Oct.19 1854
" Eh bien! repentez-vous, ô Delavigne, ô Scribe!
Ou bien craignez Dieu la vengeance terrible.
Et si vous faites des opéras
Ne les faites plus comme ça. "
[Delavigne and Scribe, repent!, or else fear the wrath of God. If you're going to make operas, don't make them like this.]
  • Théophile Gauthier's opinion
" Le poème, combiné avec une maladresse et une négligence qui étonne chez un homme d'une habilité aussi proverbiale que M. Scribe, contenait cependant deux ou trois situations de nature à tenter un musicien, et dont M. Gounod a tiré le plus grand parti."
[The poem, a combination of awkwardness and carelessness astonishing for someone of M. Scribe's proverbial cleverness, nevertheless contains two or three situations that might tempt a musician, and M. Gounod has used most of them.]

Scribe is furious and blames Gounod for everything: "Pour le coup, j'en ai assez! Comment! Je vous donne le plus beau poème, le plus dramatique, le plus à effet que j'aie jamais écrit, et voilà les feuilletons qui le mettent en pièces, qui me crient que j'ai fait mon temps et qu'il ne me reste plus qu'à prendre ma retraite! C'est bien; je la prendrai. Ainsi ne comptez pas sur moi!".

My translation: "I've had enough of it! I give you the most beautiful poem, the most dramatic, the most trickery I have ever written, and the papers destroy it, yelling at me that I've done my time and the only thing left for me to do is to retire. That's settled; I will retire. Therefore don't count on me!".

1854 critic about the score: L'Académie Impériale de Musique, Castil-Blaze, p.302
" La Nonne sanglante, opéra en cinq actes , de MM. Scribe et Germain Delavigne, musique de M. Gounod, divertissement de M. Petipa.
Bel ouvrage où M. Gounod tient une bonne part de ce qu'il nous avait promis. L'intermède qui suit l'apparition de la nonne est une symphonie fantastique du plus grand mérite, l'imitation pittoresque y déploie ses magiques effets. La scène des morts , le chant de la croisade, le duo fort ingénieux où la croyante chante en mineur et l'incrédule en majeur, le pas des Bohémiens, l'apparition, les finales, beaucoup de traits de sentiment et d'esprit, que je ne puis signaler ici, font le plus grand honneur à M. Gounod. Son style gracieux, plus souvent énergique, il fallait adopter la couleur du livret, son style est toujours d'une clarté, d'une maîtrise précieuses. "

My translation: "Beautiful piece in which M. Gounod lives up to what he had promised us. The intermezzo following the arrival of the nun is a fantastic symphony with huge merit, the colourful imitation spreads out its magical effects. The death scene, the crusader aria, the very ingenious duet where the believer sings in minor and the incredulous in major, the Bohemian extract, the appearance, the finales, many flashes of wit and emotion that I can't all mention here, all concur to honor M. Gounod. His gracious style, more often energetic, but it had to adapt to the libretto, his style always shows exquisite clearness and skills."

Musical edition: published by Gounod; 12 extracts published by Brandus, Dufour et Cie (La France musicale, 24 Fevr. 1855, p. 56). Piano arrangement by Bizet (Choudens, 28 juil. 1855).

Further reading:
- Mille et un opéras, Kaminski, Fayard (p511), Les Opéras de Charles Gounod, Steven Huebner, Actes Sud (p53-58, 212-214)
- Dossier de ForumOpera (in French)
- review of the premiere in Osnabrück (Jan.19) in German, Opernnetz (pictures incl.)

Jan 4, 2008

World event in the middle of nowhere

On October 18, 1854, the Paris opera salle Le Peletier premiered La Nonne Sanglante, opéra en 5 actes de Charles Gounod (libretto Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne). The piece was played 11 times before falling to the chaos of the Paris Opera at the time (more on that to follow). The last performance was on Nov.17 1854. It has never been performed since then. On January 19, the Theater Osnabrück somewhere in Germany will create the sensation as they will premiere this Nonne Sanglante. For the first time ever outside of France, and for the first time since 1854. A recording is supposed to follow, though I doubt the cast will be anything but memorable, one of the reasons why I won't attend any performance (two weeks before the premiere, still no name of any of the cast members published on their website, this can't be good). Since I am a great Gounod admirer, I will most certainly try to catch a recording or broadcast of it (and does heavily count on the help of the guys of OperaShare for that matter). And intend to start a mini-series of posts about the events around the genesis of this opera, some of which are truly enjoyable. So I declare this January to be the month of La Nonne Sanglante.

Opéra de Paris ubuesque

Suite à la grève à l'Opéra de Paris;

Jan 1, 2008

Preview; Faust in Orange

Affiche pour la 500e lithographie de Auguste Lamy Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra http://www.charles-gounod.com/
I've finally given up to the outrageously expensive tickets for the Orange Summer Festival. And will attend one performance of Gounod's Faust. My regular reading of several blogs sure had a great influence on this decision, as well as a friend constantly telling me the acoustics there, alongside the size of the audience is actually an amazing experience in itself. The blogs had an impact on the cast, since I tend to trust more people I can have a general sense of their taste (as well as beloved Le Monde's writer Renaud Machart, of course). Supposedly, the recent performances of Alagna in the MET's Aïda were great. Plus, he always has been a great Faust, at least until 2005.

This one always chats about how fantastic René Pape is, and since he almost exclusively sings Wagnerian operas, Faust is indeed one of the only occasions I truly have to appreciate his singing (of course he'll have to master the very difficult part of Méphistophélès first with special care to the beginning of the church scene in act IV, if it's not too much to ask).

Inva Mula could make a good, if not great, Marguerite, though I must admit I already prepare for the worst in the marathon that is the famous jewels aria. Nicolas Testé will be a real joy to hear again, even if it's only for a few sentences.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux made a good impression in Paris recently, but then again, the part of Dame Marthe is almost insignificant. I've never actually heard the part of Siebel being sung by a male singer, despite my numerous recordings of this opera, so it should be interesting enough.

The part that really scares me, though, is the one of Valentin. The brother of Marguerite has some amazing arias to sing, specifically "Avant de quitter ces lieux" and "Ecoute moi bien, Marguerite", the aria he dies after. Not even to mention the great "C'est une croix". Valentin is the part I love most in Faust. The baritone singing it must really own the score to make it work, and that's no easy job to master. As a matter of fact, all the Valentins I know range from average to pretty bad. All but Ernest Blanc. Is unknown Jean-François Lapointe up to the challenge? I fear he isn't.

Another fear I have is conductor Michel Plasson. He could alone ruin the whole thing. He is supposedly great at understanding French operas, but I'm sorry, he sucks. He destroyed Les Pêcheurs de Perles, his recording of Gounod's Mireille (scheduled for 2010 in Orange with him, once again) is a must-have only because it's the only decent one available, but it does definitely not showcase Gounod's music at its best.

The staging could be less boring than the average standard in Orange, considering Nicolas Joël, soon to become the new director of the Paris Opera, wouldn't put up a dumm concept knowing everybody is watching him. On the other hand, he could.

Finally a word of advice to those who might want to come and see this Faust this summer. You do not want to be trapped on one of the biggest travelling week-ends of the year, aka forget about the August 2nd performance unless the perspective of spending countless hours stuck in traffic or in crowded train stations is one of those you embrace.