Mar 30, 2008

Zeffirelli era

Franco Zeffirelli at a Met rehearsal of La Bohème with Angela Gheorghiu (Mimi). Andrea Mohin for The New York Times

In an article published yesterday by the New York Times, Daniel J. Wakin had the opportunity to interview Franco Zeffirelli, 85, currently in New York to direct, once again, a revival of his Bohème production (which premiered in 1981 and had only 346 performances); the MET also celebrated him onstage after Act II of yesterday's evening and presented him with a plaque (as reported in the article, "plaques honoring him will also be permanently affixed on both sides of the proscenium, at eye level for anyone entering or leaving the stage"). According to the MET archives, the total performances of Zeffirelli's productions are a mere... 1,637.
Of course opera is in desperate need to renew itself, and many (including myself) wish the old Zeffirelli view on things was moved from the stages to the museums. Yet, the MET (and others, particularly La Scala) keep on scheduling his productions.
Said Zeffirelli, “What hurts me is a lack of respect for the importance of opera as an art form.”, speaking about the new directors and their view. Seriously?
Well, Mr Zeffirelli, what hurts me is your lack of respect for others' perspectives on opera and your inability to accept that new forms of directing can be as artful as any productions (especially yours).
During the interview, he called himself the best living opera director, but caught himself: “I am the most correct living opera director.” Seriously ?

Mar 27, 2008

More news from JDF

March 28 update:
Don't look for the link anymore, the Peruvian blogger must have been overwhelmed by all the visits from here - or simply was contacted by the Teatro Municipal in Lima, and deleted all files.

March 30 update:
Video on YouTube here, "Questa e quella" during the dress rehearsal (the orchestra is in desperate need of help there); photographs here.

Photograph by Carlos Guerrero

Of course you must know I'm interested in the role debut of Juan Diego Florez as Il Duca di Mantova (Rigoletto) in Lima in a few days (March 31). Especially since I'm going to attend the next run of JDF performances in June in Dresden.

Well, some extracts from the dress rehearsal (audio + one video) have been posted by a Peruvian blogger.
The sound is not very good and the conducting of Michele Mariotti has more to do with Kubelik than Muti (which is definitely not a compliment coming from me). I'm yet to be convinced that JDF's voice is not too light to sing the role, though things are looking brighter for me with the "Possente amor mi chiama" extract where he sounds really... interesting.

The director must be a child of Franco Zeffirelli, and that's one of the reasons why the upcoming performances in Dresden are so promising (let alone JDF and Damrau): Nikolaus Lehnhoff will be in charge.

Photograph by Carlos Guerrero

Fratelli d'Italia

To be in the perfect mood to read this post, may I suggest you open a new window to hear this YouTube extract while you continue reading?

Apart from the obvious reasons (blood and identity), my love for Italy is also based on its history, especially "il risorgimento" and the unification, both in the 1800s.

The national anthem (chosen when the monarchy fell after WWII in 1946), was composed at that time (1847) and is also a favorite of mine.
Can't you just love an anthem where Verdi's influence is so obvious?

The lyrics are something too.
Not only do they praise patriotism and unity (the basics for a national anthem, I suppose), they are also a great testimony of what the Roman Empire is reminiscent of in this country. Long lost times when Italy was the most powerful country in the western world.

YouTube extract with the lyrics here.

The genesis of the piece, now called Inno di Mameli is also an emblem in itself.
Goffredo Mameli, who wrote the lyrics in 1847, was a 20-year old music student from Genova, one of those patriots that would soon follow Garibaldi (picture above). He died two years later in the siege of newly-conquered Rome (victory over the Austrian Empire) which was lost to the French troops.

The music was composed by Michele Novaro, also from Genova, who was the chorus master at both Teatro Regio and Teatro Carignano in Torino, as well as their second tenor.

Inno di Mameli
Goffredo Mameli (lyrics)
Michele Novaro (music)

Fratelli d'Italia,
l'Italia s'è desta,
dell'elmo di Scipio
s'è cinta la testa.
Dov'è la vittoria?
Le porga la chioma,
che schiava di Roma
Iddio la creò.

Stringiamoci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l'Italia chiamò.
Stringiamoci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l'Italia chiamò, sì!

Noi fummo da secoli
calpesti, derisi,
perché non siam popoli,
perché siam divisi.
Raccolgaci un'unica
bandiera, una speme:
di fonderci insieme
già l'ora suonò.

Uniamoci, uniamoci,
l'unione e l'amore
rivelano ai popoli
le vie del Signore.
Giuriamo far libero
il suolo natio:
uniti, per Dio,
chi vincer ci può?

Other YouTube extracts:

Mar 23, 2008

Demofoonte, rè di Tracia

Dramma per musica in tre atti di Pietro Metastasio
Musica di Niccolò Jommelli 1714-1774

It turns out the internet is full of informations about both Napolitan composer Niccolò Jommelli and Demofoonte, so my research was unexpectedly quick and thorough.

About Niccol
ò Jommelli (1714 - 1774) :
  • Complete biography (in English) by
  • "The evolution of Jommelli's operatic style" by Marita P. McClymonds (in English, extract from The Journal of the American Musicological Society) - see pages 338 to 350 (pdf pages 13 to 30) for a comparison of the 1764 and 1770 versions of Demofoonte
  • Biography (in French) by
  • Quelques jalons préliminaires (also in French) by

About Demofoonte:
  • One sentence to sum up the story: King Demophon wants to sacrifice a virgin to appease Apollo, but the intended victim (Dirce) is secretly married to his son, Timante.
  • Synopsis and complete genesis of the opera (in French) here
  • Libretto (pdf format) here
  • Synopsis in Italian here

Demofoonte was originally composed in 1743 (premiere in Padova) but underwent several revisions: Milan 1753, Stuttgart 1764, Naples 1770 (four versions total).
If the Paris Opera website is accurate, Riccardo Muti should conduct the original version of 1743 in June 2009.

Mar 19, 2008


Ever heard of this 1743 Napolitan opera from Niccolò Jommelli? Neither did I. This piece is the only really amazing thing happening in Paris next season, because the one and only Riccardo Muti will conduct it. So I am definitely going to do a little research on the matter (as soon as my work allows me a little thing called free time). Demofoonte Opéra napolitain en trois actes Livret de Pietro Metastasio Direction musicale Riccardo Muti Mise en scène Cesare Lievi Décors Margherita Palli Costumes Marina Luxardo Lumières Luigi Saccomandi Chanteurs et musiciens de l’Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini Palais Garnier Première 13 juin 2009 19h30 Représentations 16*, 18, 20, 21 (14h30) juin 2009 19h30 Prix des places 172€, 116€, 68€, 39€, 21€, 10€, 7€ Ouverture des réservations individuelles Internet 9 mars 2009

Opéra National de Paris 2008-09

Following the press conference on Monday, the new season at the Paris Opera is now available on the web. As expected, this last season of the Gérard Mortier era is less than attractive. Rigoletto for instance, scheduled in late September and October suffers from a bad conductor (Daniel Oren is so not the right guy to exploit the brilliant Verdi's score), a mediocre production (Jérôme Savary is directing), unimpressive cast (Stefano Secco as Il duca di Mantova, Juan Pons/Ambrogio Maestri as Rigoletto, Ekaterina Syurina as Gilda). Things are looking a little brighter for the Ballo in Maschera production that premiered last June (May & June 2009). At least as far as the cast is concerned: Ramon Vargas will be Riccardo, Deborah Voigt Amelia and Franck Ferrari will take on the role of Renato (I'm not thrilled by Renato Palumbo conducting, though). Verdi's Macbeth, in a new production directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov has also an above-average cast (yet not compelling enough for me I'm afraid): Carlos Alvarez, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Violetta Urmana and Stefano Secco (April-May 2009). Puccini's Tosca (May-June 2009) and Madama Butterfly (February-March 2009) are clearly unattractive (except maybe for James Morris as Scarpia in Tosca). All and all, if you love russian (Tchaikovski, Chostakovitch) or eastern operas (Janacek, Smetana, Szymanowski), you will find this season quite interesting. Finally, worth noticing is the world premiere of Philippe Boesmans' Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne on Jan.24, 2009, but then again with an awful choice at conducting (arrogant and heavy Sylvain Cambreling) and nothing much to cheer for as far as the casting is concerned (except for Mireille Delunsch). Otherwise, you might end up thinking, like I do, that you just can't wait for the 2009-2010 season to begin. Seriously, where are Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Thomas Hampson, Patrizia Ciofi, Anna-Caterina Antonacci, Annick Massis and so many more (not even mentioning the conductors)?

Mar 17, 2008

The great voice is back

Remember the fishbone story Juan Diego Flórez had to deal with a few weeks ago, causing him to cancel (amongst other things) his performances in Chicago (Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia)?

Well, last week, JDF made a triumphant return in Parma (reported on Opera-L) and used this recital as a giant rehearsal for both Rigoletto and Orphée et Eurydice.

Welcome back JDF, see you soon in NY and Dresden...

Next scheduled performances:

- Lima, Teatro Alejandro Granda del Callao, Rigoletto, role debut as Il Duca di Mantova, March 31 and April 3
- NY Met, Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment (Laurent Pelly directing, with Natalie Dessay): April 21, 26, 29, May 2, 5, 8 and 16
- Madrid, Teatro Real, Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (Paris version, in French that is), May 27, 30 and June 2
- Dresden, Semperoper, Rigoletto, June 21, 24, 27, 30, July 3

Mar 12, 2008

Salle Pleyel, 2008-09

The new season of the Salle Pleyel in Paris has been released. Of course the symphonic concerts are plethoric, but a few operas in concert version are scheduled, as well as some interesting recitals. Opéras en concert - oratorio
  • June Anderson, Paolo Olmi conducting l'Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Oct.1 2008 Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Bellini
  • Joyce DiDonato, Christophe Rousset conducting Les Talens Lyriques, Dec.9 2008 Haendel
  • Cecilia Bartoli, Sergio Ciomei at the piano, Dec.20 2008 Rossini
  • Rolando Villazón, Paul McCreesh conducting the Gabrieli Consort & Players, May 5 2009 Haendel
  • Deborah Voigt, Ingo Metzmacher conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, June 24 2009 Debussy, Wagner, Malher, Strauss

Mar 10, 2008

Marketing lesson #1: avoid DG

Has anybody seen the big Deutsche Gramophon campaign to promote Villazon's lattest CD Cielo e mar?
First off, let me introduce you to the New Rolando.
The New enhanced Villazón is not only a tenor, he's also a supermodel/movie star/ Lamartine.

© Felix Broede / DG

Then, there's the troubling negation of the past.
The DG website clearly states that this is "Rolando Villazón's solo debut".

Yet I seem to remember owning a previous solo CD of Rolando...
Oh, sorry DG, you meant to say "Rolando Villazón's DG solo debut"?
I guess this must only be a typo on the website, convincingly convenient in terms of marketing, I may had.

I admit releasing a live footage of the launch event was a good idea ("online for a few days only" they say in the newsletter -seriously this marketing is so primitive it's scary-), especially because it's not another of those 30-second teasers that aren't interesting a bit. The video is indeed worthy of watching... until Villazón introduces "the best conductor in the world (...) he's my idol", who else but Placido Domingo.

That's really the cherry on the cake.
Too much marketing definitely kills marketing (great example for tomorrow at work by the way).

Mar 9, 2008

The MET in HD: finally coming to France

It's been a while since the MET experience in HD started outside of the US, and I was wondering when it would come here in France.
The answer finally came; it will be on April 5th, for Puccini's La Bohème with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas, live from the MET, in the ancient production of Franco Zeffirelli.

Stay home for this first broadcast is my advice, but book your tickets for the second performance on April 26th, with Donizetti's La fille du régiment starring Dessay and Florez (being able to go there myself for the premiere earlier on, I doubt I will enjoy my first MET in HD on that particular date).

Here are the movies around the country that will broadcast these performances:

BLOIS : Cap Ciné, 11, rue des Arpents
CANNES : Olympia, 5, rue d'Antibes
LILLE : Kinépolis, Zone Artisanal Grand But, 59160 LOMME
LYON : Pathé Lyon Vaise, 43, rue des Docks, 69009 LYON, Tel : 04 72 18 59 90
METZ : Kinépolis, 10, Av. Paul Langevin, 57070 SAINT JULIEN LES METZ
MONTPELLIER : Le Royal, 13, rue Boussairolles
MULHOUSE : Kinépolis, 175, Av. Robert Schumann
NANCY : Kinépolis, 3, rue Victor
NICE : Pathé Masséna, 31, Av. Jean Médecin
NÎMES : Kinépolis, 130, rue Michel Debré
PARIS : Gaumont Marignan, 27, Av. des Champs-Elysées
PERPIGNAN : Mégacastillet, ZAC Mas Balande
THIONVILLE : Kinépolis, 50, route Arlon
TOULON : Pathé Grand Ciel, Centre Commercial Grand Var - ZAC Grand Ciel, 22 Av. André Lurçat, 83130 LA GARDE
TOULOUSE : Gaumont Wilson, 3, Place Wilson
PERIGUEUX : Cap Ciné, Place Francheville

Mar 5, 2008

2008-09 at the Met

The 125th season at the Met will open on Sept.22, 2008 with a gala performance from Renée Fleming (extracts from Massenet's Manon, La Traviata and Strauss' Capriccio) and will feature 6 new productions (including the Met premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic).

Amongst the new productions, Berlioz's La damnation de Faust is an interesting attempt to make this opera available to everyone. This Robert Lepage's production was first created for the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto (Japan) in september 1999 and already traveled to Paris (Opéra Bastille in 2001 and 2004) and Bruxelles (Théâtre de la Monnaie, 2002).

Massenet's Thaïs should be a great opportunity for Renée Fleming to shine.

Another new production will be Puccini's La Rondine, by future Paris Opera director Nicolas Joël, with Duane Schuler as lightning designer (a very recurrent artist here in Lyon). Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna are supposed to share the stage. I hope Peter Gelb has already thought of alternative names for when they cancel (say, three days before the premiere).

David McVicar's new production of Il Trovatore should have New Yorkers all excited, although the cast seems a little weak (except for Dmitri Hvorostovsky of course).

Finally, last but not least, a new production of Bellini's La Sonnambula will feature the well-known couple Natalie Dessay/Evelino Pidó (who performed this piece in Lyon in Nov.2006, my reviews in French here and there, with a recording by Virgin Classics) with the notable addition of Juan Diego Flórez, in the Ricordi edition recently rediscovered.

The oldies are back with Zeffirelli's production of La Bohème and Cavalleria Rusticana (Roberto Alagna and José Cura will share the role of Turiddu, with Andrea Gruber as Santuzza, a much better cast than last year's performers) and Pagliacci (Alagna/Cura as well as Canio), and finally with La Traviata (enough with Zeffirelli already).

Interesting cast in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore (Gheorghiu, Villazón/Calleja, Terfel), Eugene Onegin (Mattila, Hampson).

Finally, I want to point out the return of fantastic Ewa Podles as La Cieca in Poncielli's La Gioconda (dream cast indeed with Deborah Voigt as Gioconda, Aquiles Machado as Enzo and Olga Borodina as Laura).

Mar 4, 2008

"Vesti la giubba", Pippo has left

Giuseppe di Stefano
July 24, 1921 - March 3, 2008

It's on a very sad note that my day has just begun.
Giuseppe Di Stefano was not only a great tenor, he was also Pippo, this Sicilian fellowman born in the western suburbs of Catania, in Motta Santa Anastasia, on the piana di Catania, a place where you are constantly reminded of how small you really are, compared to the giant Etna just miles away.

Though he and his family moved early on (he was 6) to Milan where he pursued both musical and theological studies, he was always proud of his blood and remains for me a great example of the spirit of Sicilians; when face with adversity (in his case WWII and being a POW in Germany for 3 years), never lose hope in the future and faith in the present.

That's why, for me, Pippo is much more than the great tenor that started in the fifties and was a recurrent partner of Maria Callas.
That's why this morning, only these words from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci come to mind to describe my feelings: "Ridi del duol, che t'avvelena il cor!" [Laugh of the pain, that poisons your heart!].

Addio Pippo.


- Giuseppe di Stefano, a Tenor Whose Career Flamed Out Too Early, Is Dead at 86, Jonathan Kandell for the NY Times
- Giuseppe di Stefano, Alan Blyth for The Guardian
- Giuseppe Di Stefano, Operatic tenor blessed with a voice of unforgettable, golden plangency, The Times
- Giuseppe Di Stefano, celebrated Italian tenor, dies at 86, AP
- Le ténor italien Giuseppe Di Stefano est décédé, AP

Selected YouTube extracts:

- "Vesti la giubba", from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, 1955 audio recording , Tullio Serafin conducting il orchestra del Teatro alla Scala
- "Sicilia Bedda", when the voice of Pippo combines with some pictures of that Sicilia Bedda (beautiful Sicily)
- "Je crois entendre encore", romance de Nadir from Les Pêcheurs de Perles (Italian version)

Mar 2, 2008

Other horizons

Up until a few years ago, I used to be interested in all kinds of music, besides opera. Now, I find it hard to feel passionate about new pop albums for instance. Everything is so unoriginal, so plagiarized from far greater bands with far more identity. Those twenty-something bands all sound like Joy Division, Blur, David Bowie, The Cure, Depeche Mode or even Siouxsie and the Banshees, do they not? I find myself so blasée that I don't listen to any album of pop music anymore. I shouldn't.
Thanks to Juno [that I only saw originally because I have this crush on Allison Janney], I've rediscovered Belle and Sebastian's Tigermilk LP (1996) and was reminded of their unique, contrasted and strangely familiar universe. There are wonders of the past to be listened to again. I should really try exploring my own CD collection more for starters...
Most liked songs: 2. Expectations 5. Electronic Renaissance

On the technical note, I can't emphasize enough how great it is to have a sound recording of this quality. Listening extensively to old recordings or MP3s, I guess I had forgotten about progress.

Mar 1, 2008

Prosjekt NYTT Operahus

The new Opera House in Norway is getting ready for his grand opening on April 12; Den Norske Opera in Oslo is a strange building in the middle of what seems to be a very industrial port (webcam here), designed by Norway National Agency Snohetta.
Construction started in 2003; the inaugural season will run from April 2008 to June 2009 and has already been announced.

The main auditorium will offer 1364 seats (varies depending on size of orchestra pit), scene 2 up to 440 seats, and the small auditorium Prøvesalen 200 seats.
The flat roof of the building can be walked on and is covered with 37,000 marble stones; one facade is covered with solar panels (the biggest area in Norway).
The original cost of 2.2 billion Norwegian crowns (250 million euros) had to be doubled...

Thomas Siversten, ANB

On the roof of the main auditorium stands a very impressive art piece of 8.5 tons made of 5800 crystals and 8000 LED.

Pictures of the construction here and there.