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.