Sep 28, 2008

Orange 2009

Also on schedule 2 concerts:
- Tchaïkovski/Berlioz, Myung-Whun Chung cond, Renaud Capuçon (July 18) - Moussorgski/Rachmaninov/Tchaïkovski, Eivind Gullberg Jensen cond, Hélène Grimaud (Aug 3)

Sep 25, 2008

Cav/Pag, Madrid 2007

Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni) I Pagliacci (Ruggero Leoncavallo) Teatro Real Madrid, march 2007 DVD Opus Arte (video preview of I Pagliacci on the page)

Cavalleria Rusticana cast
Santuzza - Violeta Urmana
Turiddu - Vincenzo La Scola
Mamma Lucia - Viorica Cortez
Alfio - Marco Di Felice
Lola - Dragana Jugovic  

I Pagliacci cast
Canio - Vladimir Galouzine
Nedda - María Bayo
Tonio - Carlo Guelfi
Beppe - Antonio Gandía
Silvio - Ángel Ódena

Conductor - Jesús López Cobos
Director - Giancarlo del Monaco

This production begins with a brilliant idea that bends Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci in a unique and very coherent way. Since nowadays those two one-act operas are almost always performed together, director Giancarlo Del Monaco decided to include Cavalleria in I Pagliacci.
After all, Leoncavallo's piece is based on theater inside the theater, "mise an abyme" as we say in French [1] - with the characters oscillating between their real life and their performances in the circus and interactions with the crowd. After Pagliacci's prelude, Tonio enters the auditorium from the rear and makes his way onto the stage while singing "Si può? si può?". After his aria, the curtain opens on the sets of Cavalleria Rusticana, and the Mascagni's piece is fully performed, before I Pagliacci resumes.

The setting of Cavalleria is very well though off - and pictures adequately the XIXth century Sicilian atmosphere of the piece: bright white light, marble blocks (similar to those one can see in the region), sloping ground, all-black costumes, the way of the Cross, Catholic flagellants...

The musical aspect on the other hand is definitely not so successful. Vincenzo Scola has disastrous high notes that reminded me of Franco Farina (not the kind of reminiscence you want to have), and his big aria, "Vino generoso" was beyond mediocrity. The chorus is equally bad - lack of Italian diction, of fluidity and unison ("Regina coeli laetare" and "a casa amici" being the worst parts) and the musical execution is not much better either (the flutes are horrendous in Alfio's "Ad essi non perdomo" and "Viva il vino spumeggiante"). The conduction of Jesus Lopez Cobos is first-grade textbook: uninspired, laboured, with no sense of the rhythm of the score (too fast in "Regina coeli laetare", passionless in the intermezzo, too slow in numerous other times).

Violetta Urmana is kind of worthy of applause. Her stage presence is interesting and her portrayal of Santuzza is believable ("voi lo sapete" is superb and her "Bada!" is very convincing). Her low register is beautiful - but she can't be heard over the chorus. Marco Di Felice's Alfio is clearly one of the best I've seen in recent years; Viorica Cortez's Mamma Lucia on the other hand is hammered by an irritating vibrato that just won't stop.

As for I Pagliacci, Carlo Guelfi is a fine Tonio, but the rest of the cast is not up for the task (especially Vladimir Galouzine as Canio). And the conduction of Cobos once again fails to fully feature the score of Leoncavallo. The sets are pretty ugly and lack colors, light and life, basically.


All in all, I must say this DVD is not really worth buying - unless you are really fond of Cavalleria Rusticana, like myself.

[1] If some knows how to translate this literary term in English, please share - I'm all for expending my vocabulary.

Sep 21, 2008


Opéra de Lyon  

Concert for the 25th anniversary of the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon First appearance of new Principal Conductor Kazushi Ono.

Leonard Bernstein - Chichester Psalms
Christopher Ainslie, contre-ténor
Igor Stravinsky - Symphonie de psaumes
Manuel De Falla - Le Tricorne
Renata Pokupic, mezzo-soprano  

Extra: Johannes Brahms - first Hungarian Dance
The program is available for download here.  

The concert

Obviously, Kazushi Ono and I differ a great deal when it comes to music. His program, representative of his taste, was build around XXth century composers, among which only Bernstein has any kind of attraction on me.

I don't know why people love Stravinsky, I find his music utterly boring and unimaginative. The analysis of this particular piece on the program emphasized the last pages of the score as "one of the most beautiful piece ever written by Stravinsky: the pianos, the harp and the kettledrums slowly wave with three notes (E flat, B flat and F - mi bémol, si bémol et fa)". To me, this succession of notes is not musical at all, and definitely is not a highlight in any composer's career. So basically, I stopped listening carefully to this piece after a short while and waited for the intermission.

As for the Falla piece, amid the Spanish popular music influence, I noticed that violins can really make very ugly sounds - and furthermore do it on purpose.

The Bernstein piece was fascinating at times (beginning and end) - and the chorus was extraordinary (fantastic work as usual of Chorus Master Alan Woodbridge that we are so lucky to have since 1995 - and whose humility/shyness is very touching).

Ono conducted by heart the whole concert - for the Falla piece, the score wasn't even in front of him (but he did not open either of the Bernstein and Stravinsky scores). Whether this pratice adds anything to a performance and can be repeated with longer pieces (such as Prokofiev's The Player he will conduct later in the season) is highly questionable and frankly not really of any interest.

In an interview he gave to a local paper, Le Progrès, he said a conductor should be about sharing with the musicians and the public, rather than being authoritarian. I don't know what the orchestra thinks about him, and that opinion being just two weeks old, it may change in time, but one thing is sure: he did share quite a lot with the orchestra, musically speaking.

They played brilliantly yesterday (the only error I caught was a lack of synchronicity between the altos and the woodwinds on one bar in the middle of the Falla's piece, so that's clearly impressive) and, truth be told, I've never heard them play better.
The chorus here in Lyon always tends to surpass (by far) the orchestra; that's really the only time the musicians rose to the level of the singers. Their execution was inspired, focused (which can sometime be an issue with this orchestra), attentive to Ono's directions and extremely responsive.

Ono's conduction brought life, energy and that organic feel a orchestra can sometime achieve that drives me almost hysterical. There's truly nothing more beautiful than music breathing, with an internal rythm, an inner life that transcends the execution and the conduction. Well, Ono did just that, for his first performance as Lyon's Principal Conductor.

So even if I don't like his musical choices, the orchestra can only grow and learn from him - and that should benefit all their performances, whatever the score will be. So welcome to Lyon, maestro. May you always be as inspired as yesterday evening.
Marketing tips
The cake
To celebrate the orchestra, every musician got a flower at the end of the concert, and a birthday macarons cake was brought on stage (from Lyon's best, Sébastien Bouillet although I myself prefer his chocolates) as the chorus sang "Bon anniversaire".

Each spectator also got a macaron. Nice touch, as well as the cotillons part (a bad day to be sitting in the parterre).

I guess GM Serge Dorny had to make a speech at the beginning of the concert to mark the occasion and present Kazushhi Ono, but I can't get pass his lack of communication skills.

Anyway, the evening was the closest thing to an actual Opening Night at the Opera (although technically, due to the Biennale de Danse happening all over town, the season has already begun since a couple of weeks). So my question is: why not go the extra mile and promote the evening such as? It would have been nice, for instance, if the mayor of Lyon, Gérard Collomb, had made the effort of coming, as well as the major artistic actors of the city...

At least, the arrival of Ono did energize the Japanese community. I've never seen so many at the Opera (and I'm pretty sure Mrs Ono was the only woman dressed in the traditional Japanese style). At the end of the concert, the audience was equally excited - how nice it must be for him to have such a response after only one evening.

The parterre after the battle

Sep 19, 2008

The two Onos

La Fenice - Capodanno 2007 Rai Uno Broadcast Dimitra Theodossiou - soprano Giuseppe Filianoti - tenore Roberto Frontali - baritono Massimo Quarta - violino Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice Conductor - Kazushi Ono 1. Rossini, La Cenerentola: Sinfonia 2. Bellini, Norma: «Casta diva» 3. Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo 4. Verdi, La traviata: «Di Provenza il mare, il suol» 5. Verdi, Rigoletto: «Questa o quella per me pari sono» 6. Rossini, La danza. Tarantella napoletana 7. Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia: «Largo al factotum» 8. Paganini, Concerto per violino e orch n. 1 in mi bemolle maggiore 9. Verdi, Nabucco: «Va' pensiero sull'ali dorate» 10. Verdi, La traviata: «Libiam ne' lieti calici»
Marco Brescia, AP Scala, March 25 2008
Would I have watched this broadcast, hadn't it been for conductor Kazushi Ono, who will officially be introduced to us tomorrow night for his first concert as Lyon's Principal Conductor? Almost certainly not. But curiosity took the better of me, and I couldn't wait til tomorrow (especially since I'm not familiar with the program). As a result of this sneak peak, I am more perplexed than anything else (this basically is not useful at all). There were two concerts, really, in this broadcast. The first one consisted of the first 5 pieces, and it was awful. The conduction was stiff, emotionless, almost military at times, and desperately slow and laborious at other moments. At that point, I was in a total despair (thinking he's supposed to stick in Lyon for several years). And then, there was the second concert. The great one. Nuances and finesse started to emerge in Rossini's Tarantella Napoletana, but really exploded afterward. "Largo al factotum", conduction-wise, rose to the level of, let's say, James Levine; the Pagagnini piece was also a success, and the last two Verdi pieces were superb - full of subtlety, life and energy. So here it is people: I still have absolutely no clue as to what to expect from Kazushi Ono.

The ROH's proselytism

Hurrah for the Royal Opera House! Even if France is not (as usual) among the chosen sites for the HD telecasts, we will be able, as well as the rest of the world, to watch the London productions in streaming, via the ROH's website, starting Oct.5 (the website, by the way, has been drastically upgraded). Oh, and did I mention this treat is on the ROH? Free of charge, yes indeed.
Via the NY Times.

Sep 17, 2008

Long awaited release

The new studio recording of Bellini's La sonnambula with Cecilia Bartoli and Juan Diego Flórez will be released on October 17th.
Via Cecilia Bartoli's website.

Sep 15, 2008

Pig on a stick

A big digression from opera, for a change. In this ugly US election cycle, the sketch of SNL this week was at last something intelligent - with a rather sharp script. The impersonation of Tina Fey is absolutely amazing.

[Les Pêcheurs de Perles] 2010-2011 performances

  • Sept. 18 2010 (premiere, other performances see link), Zurich Opernhaus
    Leila - Malin Hartelius
    Nadir - Javier Camarena
    Zurga - Franco Pomponi
    Nourabad - Pavel Daniluk
    Conductor - Carlo Rizzi
    Director - Jens-Daniel Herzog

  • Sept. 23-26 2010, Cleveland Opera

    Leila - Caitlin Lynch
    Nadir - Robert McPherson
    Zurga - Michael Todd Simpson
    Nourabad - Ben Wager

    Conductor - Dean Williamson
    Director - Kay Castaldo
  • Oct. 4-7 2010, London Royal Opera House (concert version)
  • December 2010, Opéra Comique, Paris
Nadir - Dmitry Korchak [from an interview - in French - he gave to Forum Opera]

Sep 14, 2008

Il Tabarro, Scala 2008

Music - Giacomo Puccini
Libretto - Giuseppe Adami

Marco Brescia, Archivio Fotografico del Teatro alla Scala

Staging: Luca Ronconi
Sets: Margherita Palli
Costumes: Silvia Aymonino

Michele - Juan Pons
Luigi - Antonello Palombi
Giorgetta - Paoletta Marrocu
Frugola - Anna Maria Chiuri

Conductor - Riccardo Chailly
Teatro alla Scala
March 13 2008 live broadcast

There are very few positive things to say about this Tabarro (as well as the two other parts of this Trittico production). It is indeed a very bad celebration of Puccini's 150th birthday.

The cast is awful as the three main parts are sung with no passion and an inexisting stage presence. Leo Nucci should have been singing Michele but cancelled the entire run; Juan Pons is not the right substitute for the previous reasons and for his ugly high notes.

Antonello Palombi, who was pushed into the spotlight by Roberto Alagna's whim during a performance of Aïda in december 2006, clearly doesn't deserve to stay under this light, and should really go back to his studies - his high notes are positively disastrous.

Paoletta Marrocu is the best of the three but her performance is not praiseworthy either. She has problems with both her breathing and her vibratos.

The conduction of Riccardo Chailly is equally as bad and does not unveal the marvels the score contains. Instead, he presents a monochromatic reading beyond boring that, furthermore, is badly executed by the orchestra.

In this dreadful atmopshere, Luca Ronconi's staging is the least of the problems. It may not be inventive, but at least it's sober, elegant and appropriate for the piece.

Which is more than can be said of the musical execution. Such a poor production in the most famous Opera House in the world is indeed utterly shameful.

YouTube extract - "Scorri fiume eterno"

Sep 13, 2008

Roméo et Juliette, Salzburg 2008

Opéra de Charles Gounod
Juliette - Nino Machaidze Roméo - Rolando Villazón Frère Laurent - Mikhail Petrenko Mercutio - Russell Braun Stefano - Cora Burggraaf Le Comte Capulet - Falk Struckmann Tybalt - Juan Francisco Gatell Gertrude - Susanne Resmark Le Duc de Vérone - Christian van Horn Le Comte Paris - Mathias Hausmann Grégorio - Jean-Luc Ballestra Benvolio - Robert Murray Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor Stage director - Bartlett Sher, Sets - Michael Yeargan Costumes - Catherine Zuber Lightning - Jennifer Tipton 3SAT broadcast, August 2nd 2008 Numerous pictures of the production taken during the final dress rehearsal on July 28 here. First of all, I don't think musically Roméo et Juliette is nearly as good as Faust or even Polyeucte (which would deserve to be performed regularly if you ask me). I am truly amazed for instance, that nobody except me finds the introduction of the first big aria of Juliette, "Je veux vivre dans ce rêve" to be a total plagiarism of the beginning of the "Ah je ris de me voir si belle" aria in Faust.

That been said, and to focus on the actual broadcast, I have to say this was a rather frustrating performance. Both the staging, the costumes, sets and lightning were equally boring; as for the cast, I was not impressed by anybody - Nino Machaidze has a huge problem with her French diction, and the rest of the cast was average, as was the chorus, too inarticulate (special mention though to Mikhail Petrenko as Frère Laurent and his beautiful timbre - that, oddly enough, I didn't seem to be sensitive to in the recent Don Carlo in Paris).
Nino Machaidze & Mikhail Petrenko
I was extremely disappointed, on the other hand, by Rolando Villazon. Both his stage presence and his singing portrayed Roméo as a predator with bad intentions and that was a disaster for me. Some could argue this perspective is imaginative and brings an new light on the legend of Romeo and Juliette. To me, it's just like portraying Méphistophélès as a nice guy abused by Faust - and I have too much respect for both Shakespeare and Goethe to applause to such an alteration of the essence of their stories. Beyond that, the real problem was his singing; he had difficulties with the high notes and his breathing and failed to produce any nuance and sensitivity. The scenes requiring finesse and commitment were the worse, especially the final scene that was very well-conducted but failed due to his poor performance. The only highlight of the evening - a relative highlight I may immediately add - was the conduction of young Franco-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. There were true great moments in his vision of the score, but some arias were totally screwed up as well. To be precise, the beginning of the opera was fresh and extremely vibrant - but by the middle of the first act, both the conductor's intentions and the execution by the orchestra faded; things sounded much better again by the middle of Act 2, especially the last aria of the act, "Va! Repose en paix!" which was played with a rare finesse and a very organic fluidity to it. The 2nd scene of Act 3, with Stefano's Tourterelle aria was a failure; some of the most exquisite bars of this opera, the chorus sentences during the duel, "Capulets/Montaigus, race immonde" were very well thought of, but the brass section was at a total lost during that time; the last two acts were globally well-conducted and the final scene was brilliant (except for the singing, as mentioned earlier). YouTube extracts: - Mikhail Petrenko in "Dieu qui fit l'homme à son image" - final scene

Sep 12, 2008

Esthéthisme et sécurité [ter]

Follow-up on the judiciary battle between the City of Lyon and Jean Nouvel & Co, who designed and built the Opera House. Previous episodes (in French) here and there.
Hall de l'Opéra de Lyon Feb.17, 2007
The court has ordered 5 firms, including Jean Nouvel's, to pay 113 000€ to the City (which is a ridiculous amount considering the plethoric problems of the building) for the misconception of the restaurant's kitchen ventilation system. Said the judges, « Il résulte de l’instruction, et notamment du rapport de l’expert, que la gaine d’extraction et de désenfumage située dans la cuisine du restaurant du sixième étage de l’Opéra de Lyon, a été réalisée en un matériau qui, par sa porosité, provoque l’encrassement anormal de certains segments des réseaux d’extraction ». Via Qobuz.

Heaven in Seattle

In case nobody has noticed yet, Les Pêcheurs de Perles is my favorite opera... So the perfect night of the year for me seems to be happening on Jan.23 2009 in Seattle; this performance of Bizet's opera (cast here) will be a LGBT event, as the Seattle Opera, following on NY good ideas, has launched LGBT nights. Such events won't be coming to France anytime soon, let's not fool ourselves...

Sep 10, 2008

2 Roméos, 7 years apart

A long long time ago, when Serge Dorny was not the director of the Opera de Lyon, this house had a real talent for scouting new singers - since obviously it never has had the budget to hire real stars - except for Natalie Dessay, a native who is willing to sacrifice a little cash for the pleasure of coming home to a city one can only love once one knows it (but that's a whole different story). Furthermore, this house had the intelligence to schedule French masterpieces - after all, where better to promote the French music than in France? (Serge Dorny dismissed that idea as stupid as soon as he arrived here and has never changed his mind since). Anyway, in may 2001, the Opéra de Lyon had put Gounod's Roméo et Juliette on schedule, with a young and still relatively unknown tenor in the part of Roméo, Rolando Villazón. I had never heard of the guy before and I still remember the impact he made on me that night. The voice was light and extremely expressive, and I couldn't help but think of Franco Corelli - the similarities were indeed plethoric.
Extract of the original program with my comment from 2001 and the exclamation point, proof of my enthusiasm at the time (since I almost never use that punctuation mark).
This summer, Villazón appeared once again as Roméo, this time in Salzburg, and a performance was broadcast by 3sat, allowing me to watch it. Over the years, his voice has darkened, which is not at all my cup of tea. But the real surprise in Salzburg was how uninspired his acting was. I did not buy the character at all and that poor performance, combined with a rather inexpressive singing, concurred to a huge disappointment. And a serious nostalgia of 2001.

Sep 8, 2008

Which opera are you?

For those of you understanding French, take a few minutes for a little quiz created by the St Etienne's Opera House entitled "What opera are you?". It turns out I'm Offenbach's La Belle Hélène. Which, truth be told, is not so wrong; not exactly in the way they describe it (always moving to avoid boredom) but rather in the out-of-touch, dreamy and dilettante perspective.

Sep 4, 2008

Richter's vision for Geneva

Tobias Richter, the newcoming director of Le Grand Théâtre de Genève for the 2009-10 season, answered an interview for Le Monde yesterday about the Montreux-Vevey osbcure festival he heads. Renaud Machart managed to ask him a couple of questions regarding his vision for Geneva at the very end of the piece. Well, it seems like change will also come to Geneva, as Richter mentioned he plans to schedule contemporary operas that were never performed in Geneva and never performed anywhere after they premiered. I'm not sure how my dear Genevois neighbors will react to that...

Sep 3, 2008

Divorce à la française

La Liberté guidant le peuple (28 juillet 1830) 
Eugène Delacroix
Because, you know, Americans are what they are (...), the French language suffered yet another insulting ostracism a few days ago. Rufus Wainright, the Canadian pop singer, who was ordered a new piece by the Met two years ago, Prima Donna, has been released from his engagements as the Metropolitan Opera, esp. Peter Gelb, does not approve of the libretto been in French.

Obviously, the English people are a lot smarter, and Prima Donna will premiere next summer at the Manchester International Festival. Still anyone wondering why the French are so anti-American ?

More on the subject: Telegraph

Sep 2, 2008

A leap of faith

As another season is about to begin, I would like to expand my operatic horizons. If it wasn't for Philip Glass, my opera affinities would all be in the past (merely surviving World War I). So maybe some of you could make suggestions regarding living composers or composers who died not so long ago (Menotti would obviously fall in that category). Do you love some contemporary operas, which ones, and what makes you crazy about them? Or do I have to resign myself to forget about new pieces?

Joël's health problems

Nicolas Joël, a few days from starting his last season at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse, and headed for the Paris Opera after that, had a stroke last week. He's expected to make a full recovery (or is he?).