Nov 27, 2008

Mortier & Joël news

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

Nov 24, 2008

Ermonela Jaho answers my questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 21, 2008

Anna Jaho

Anna Bolena 

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

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

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

The orchestra and the conduction

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

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

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

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

The cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion [2]

Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho

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

Strike threat hangs over La Scala gala opening

AP/Luca Bruno

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

Nov 19, 2008

Another great Arte moment - opening night at La Scala

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

Via Qobuz.

Teatro Colón - when will it be ready?

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

La Bohème, Sydney 2008

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

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

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

Antoinette Halloran & Carlo Barricelli

The production

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

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

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

The cast

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

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

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

Overall, a broadcast of very limited interest.  

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

Nov 18, 2008

Jonas Kaufmann’s Romantic Arias

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 16, 2008

Internet audiences

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

Nov 15, 2008

Don Giovanni, Salzburg 2008

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

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

Wiener Philharmoniker, KV Wiener Staatsopernchor

Salzburg Festival August 2008 Unitel Classica Broadcast

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Salzburg productions at the movies

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

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

Nov 14, 2008

Figaro ?

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

Nov 13, 2008

Salzburg 2009: where are the stars?

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

Nov 9, 2008

Dessay, between Paris and NY

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

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

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

Faustus by Dusapin

Pascal Dusapin
Faustus, the last night

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

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

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

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

Nov 8, 2008

Resigning before taking office

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

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

Yes he can.

Further reading: