Feb 27, 2009

Hail to the chief: Muti in Paris

Attending a concert conducted by Riccardo Muti is my version of church-going, and it seems that feeling was shared by the whole audience of the TCE this Thursday night.

The silence in the auditorium was astonishing, as we couldn't bear for any noise to disrupt the interpretation of Il Maestro (the funny consequence of that was, in the second half of the concert, that people were coughing when Depardieu was speaking, which everybody seemed to agree was the most appropriate time, that is, anytime but when the music was playing).

The critics of Muti may argue (and they usually do) that he's not really transcendent in slow and emotional pieces.
To all those skeptics, Muti answered with a magnificent interpretation of both the first and the third parts of La Symphonie Fantastique. His approach of the whole piece is yet another of those defining moments for me, as it was for everybody in the room this evening.

Although the end of the Symphonie Fantastique didn't mean the end of the concert but only the beginning of the intermission, cheers and applause were huge, as nobody wanted to leave and have a drink until Muti fully got how extatic his reading truly felt to us.

The second part, Lélio ou le retour à la vie, during which the orchestra was hidden behind a translucid curtain (dreams of Lélio) while Depardieu (Lélio) was alone in front of the stage (Lélio's reality) was exquisite on so many levels.

The last scene, inspired by Shakespeare's Tempest was, all 15 minutes or so of it, in itself worth the trip to Paris. Muti showcased there what he does best: giving life to the music and the orchestra, especially the strings, which he mastered throughout the entire concert (the restraint he demanded from the violins in the Symphonie Fantastique was simply glorious).

The aria of Ludovic Tézier was also memorable, and it's the first time he actually made a favorable impression on me - ever (I suspect either an intense coaching by Muti or some real and hopefully sustainable progress).

Marc Laho had less of an impact, but obviously it's harder to shine when surrounded by such talent, including a phenomenal performance of the chorus (truly the first time I hear such quality in Paris, and at this point it seems appropriate to praise chorus master Matthias Brauer).

Gérard Depardieu, whose "acting" skills I despise, as well as the human being ("un voyou" as my neighbor put it quite accurately when the concert was about to start) has obviously strong affinities with Berlioz (as proven by the recording he made alongside Alagna in a CD of Berlioz's extracts - see there).
He was fascinated (but weren't we all?) by the way Muti played that music - and clearly had the best view available in the house. His reading was unequal though, as I suspect he was drunk as usual (he admitted in a recent interview with Télérama of such practices). Quite a few words were misspelled, and his inflammatory lines were way over the top.
On the other hand, many others (especially the whispered ones) were perfect in context.

The Orchestre National de France played with brio after a bit of a mess with the woodwind section in the first few minutes, and overall delivered a performance worthy of Muti's conduction.

Obviously the real star of the evening was Riccardo Muti and that feeling was undoubtedly shared by all of us, fortunate enough to be there. Next stop in Paris: Jommelli's Demofoonte with his youth orchestra Luigi Cherubini at the Palais Garnier next June. 

Further readings:
"La Fantastique de Muti est donc résolument fantasmatique. Traversée de visions délirantes telles qu'en provoquent les vapeurs d'opium dont le jeune homme du récit s'est empoisonné. Finesse arachnéenne du "Bal" et son rêve de valse, fantaisie chambriste de la "Scène aux champs", et la "Marche au supplice" jouée comme en apesanteur avant le cauchemar final du "Songe d'une nuit de Sabbat" : pour tout cela, ovation méritée. [...] Derrière le rideau, Muti sera de bout en bout aussi admirable qu'en lui-même. Il plongera le "Choeur d'Ombres" dans les moires chatoyantes d'une "nuit de la mort" aux sonorités hallucinantes, festoiera de cuivres la "Chanson de brigands" comme il convient, chantera la brise mordorée de la "Harpe éolienne" avant les fastes de la grande "Fantaisie sur La Tempête de Shakespeare"."
"La situation a quelque chose d'improbable. Dans une loge du Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, on retrouve Riccardo Muti égal à lui-même (...) le maestro frappe toujours par l'élégance de sa mise, le regard perçant, un mélange d'extraversion latine et de rigueur germanique qui pourrait le faire paraître pète-sec s'il n'était si courtois.
Puis un fracas : la porte, fermée de l'intérieur, menace d'être enfoncée sous les assauts d'un bélier. Gérard Depardieu arrive, pléthorique, pantagruélique, intarissable, serre dans ses bras jusqu'à l'étouffer le chef devenu un roseau battu par les vents d'une tempête shakespearienne. (...) L'instinctif excessif et le maître de la rigueur classique s'aiment. Mariage de la carpe et du lapin?

Muti fait remarquer que, dans son chant d'amour, Berlioz commence par la voix parlée, puis la voix chantée, avant de conclure par une clarinette entrecoupée de silences, nous emmenant plus loin à ­chaque fois.

(...) Lorsque Muti évoque la manière mystérieuse dont le chef d'orchestre transmet ses idées musicales à l'orchestre et crée sa sonorité, Depardieu est confondu d'admiration : «Un acteur est une merde à côté. L'acteur pèse, il est lourd, il n'est intéressant que transcendé par autre chose. Le chef donne sa connaissance sans peser, il élève les autres et les rend meilleurs. Quand je joue, je regarde Riccardo et il m'inspire par le regard, l'énergie, l'écoute.»

(...) La musique est centrale pour Depardieu mais il en écoute peu, tout simplement parce que l'émotion qu'elle lui procure est trop forte, trop électrique. Et s'il admire tant un chef comme ­Riccardo Muti, c'est pour l'art avec lequel il met de l'ordre dans la passion : «Il fait entendre le vertige de ce que peut être la folie sans pour autant tomber dedans.»"

Permalink: - Bravo Muti, il-figlio-del-sud.cocolog-nifty.com, Japan

Feb 25, 2009

TCE 2009-10

The website of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées may not be updated yet, but I've received by mail the program of next season. The operas that will be staged are:
  • Weill's Die Sieben Todsünden (Jérémie Rohrer conducting, with Angelika Kirschschlager, Sept.2009)
  • Rossini's La Cenerentola (Michael Güttler conducting the Concerto Köln, with Elina Garanca, Stéphane Degout and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Irina Brooks' direction, feb.2010)
  • Verdi's Falstaff (Daniele Gatti conducting the Orchestre National de France, with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Mario Martone's production, march 2010)
  • Cavalli's La Calisto (Christophe Rousset conducting Les Talens Lyriques, with Sophie Karthäuser and Véronique Gens, Mai 2010)
  • Handael's Semele (Christophe Rousset again, with Danielle De Niese, Richard Croft and Viviva Genaux, in a David Mc Vicar's production, june/july 2010)
Also worth noticing:
  • Berg's Wozzeck (concert version, Oct.6) with Simon Keenlyside, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (concert version, Nov.5 and 7) with Waltraud Meier & Daniel Harding conducting the Malher Chamber Orchestra
  • Puccini's La Bohème (concert version, Dec.15) with Anja Harteros and Joseph Calleja, Asher Fisch conducting the Orchestra of the Munich Staatsoper
  • A concert of Cecilia Bartoli (Nov.22) and Annick Massis (Dec.4)
  • And last but not least, Riccardo Muti will direct two performances: Beethoven's 3rd with the Philharmonia Orchestra (March 24, 2010) and a Ravel/Ginastera/De Falla concert with the Orchestre National de France on Jan.15
Until the new season appears online, one can ask for more detailed information by leaving a comment.

Feb 24, 2009

Jommelli, by Muti

This is why I've got to get tickets for Demofoonte next June in Paris. Muti can really turn anything into gold.

Con l'alto partocinio della presidenza della repubblica, in occasione del restauro del teatro di San Carlo di Napoli, 07-02-09

Feb 22, 2009

Les voies ensevelies

So the BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), helped by EMI, released the first extracts of those 1907 recordings that were opened in September (due to technical difficulties, the opening was delayed from 2007).

The website, Les voix ensevelies, provides a short film to introduce the concept (French only, no subtitles), great photos from 1907 as well as some from the opening process, and a wide selection of audio extracts.

Audio extracts (more available on the BNF website):
Also see:

Feb 16, 2009

New chief in Buenos Aires

Pedro Pablo García Caffi is the new GM of Il Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. The grand reopening of the Opera House is scheduled for May 15, 2010, when Aïda will be conducted by Placido Domingo. From Qobuz.

Feb 14, 2009

The cost of composing an opera

Interesting article in Le Monde today about the creation of a new opera, "Avec Philippe Boesmans, dans les secrets d'un opéra nouveau".

According to Gérard Mortier, the most paid composer these days is Philip Glass (no surprise there), whose salary could compare to the one Laurent Pelly received for his Fille du Régiment, "Le mieux payé aujourd'hui est Philip Glass qui reçoit à peu près ce qui est versé à un metteur en scène connu pour un opéra coproduit par trois maisons. Au prorata du temps passé, un compositeur reste donc beaucoup plus mal payé qu'un chef d'orchestre ou un metteur en scène...".

Another interesting fact is that 70-year period after a composer's death where you are required to pay royalties to his heirs, meaning for instance playing any Richard Strauss' opera (he died in 1949) costs as much as any performance of Glass or any other composer still alive.

Feb 13, 2009

Pêcheurs, Montreal 2008 & Seattle 2009

As the 2008-09 season continues, two other runs of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles were performed, in Montreal in November and Seattle some weeks ago. Both runs were recorded live to be radio broadcast.

Being so focused on the musicality of a language and its diction, one could argue it's hardly a surprise if my favorite version of the two is the Montreal one, based on the obvious fact people from up there, thus singers, are born in a bilingual city that provides them with the knowledge required to sing in French.

Yet the Montreal run was also amazingly well conducted, and the cast was not just a good-French speaking cast. The Seattle run on the other end is less successful, as it suffers mainly from an astray and swamped conductor, with no clear understanding of the score, with some of the same flaws as heard in Chicago early on.

Both runs however presented the original 1863 version with the revised 1893 duet "Au fond du temple saint" from 1893. An interesting musical choice that is true to Bizet but also corrects the less dramatic original version of the famous duet in Act I.


Leila - Mary Dunleavy
Nadir - William Burden
Zurga - Christopher Feigum
Nourabad - Patrick Carfizzi
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Seattle Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Audio Broadcast of the January 17, 2009 performance

Gerard Schwarz's conduction: C-
William Burden's Nadir: C
Christopher Feigum's Zurga: C
Mary Dunleavy's Leïla: B
Patrick Carfizzi's Nourabad: D  

Overall performance: C

One hardly thinks to link Gounod's Faust and Les Pêcheurs, with what seem perfectly valid reasons, relying mainly on the intensity of the libretto and the exotism of Bizet's score. Yet Gerard Schwarz thought it would be a good input to have the orchestra play as solemnly as if they were playing Faust.

It always amazes me how some conductors aren't interesting in the context a piece was created in, and assume a century and a half later they know best, when the only thing emerging from their conduction is their obscurantism. Hardly a compliment.

The musical execution also lacked too many ingredients to be decent. The brass, the flutes and the percussion sections were the weakest elements of an overall uninspired orchestra.

The chorus had another impact: vibrant, disciplined, and musically sharp (a claim to the fact diction is not nearly as important as understanding the musicality of a language).

I was not really receptive to William Burden's Nadir. He's a bit short on emotions (especially on the introduction and aria "Je crois entendre encore"). He's portraying a Nadir that has more to do with style and dandy than hunting in the woods alone (what he's supposed to be about, according to the libretto). His top notes were quite weak also.

Christopher Feigum's Zurga is decent yet frail and lacking leadership. He was also leaning on the dandy side a bit too heavily at times (such as on the opening aria of Act III, "L'orage s'est calmé").

Mary Dunleavy portrayed a good Leïla, although I have to report some tempi problems in her big aria, "Me voilà seule dans la nuit".



Leïla - Karina Gauvin
Nadir - Antonio Figueroa
Zurga - Phillip Addis
Nourabad - Alexandre Sylvestre
Frédéric Chaslin, conductor
Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Chœur de l'Opéra de Montréal

Audio broadcast of the Nov.3, 2008 performance

Frédéric Chaslin's conduction: B+
Antonio Figueroa's Nadir: B
Phillip Addis's Zurga: C
Karina Gauvin's Leïla: A-
Alexandre Sylvestre's Nourabad: D
Overall performance: B+

The Montreal run is on a whole different level - and as a matter of fact, this performance I will actually keep.

The conduction of Frédéric Chaslin is clearly the main reason for its success, as he managed to provide an interesting and original view on the score. There's a quite unexpected swinging touch to his reading. Some kind of a groovy feel to the music (especially in the scenes where the chorus is singing) that is very distinctive and that also works pretty well, in a strange yet fascinating way that only truly comes to light when totally immersed in the performance. How refreshing for someone like me who's kind of obsessed by this particular opera to still be moved by a conductor.

Karina Gauvin is pretty interesting as well. She's not the typical Leïla at all, with her dark and low voice. As a result, she portrays a more real character, stripped of all the stupidity and naïveté that are usually humongous. Clearly a charming Leïla.

Antonio Figueroa, that I saw in this role I saw in Avignon in 2007, is turning into a very fine and moving Nadir, with the finesse and tenderness required. His technique needs little improvements here and there (especially on his high notes where he lacks confidence), hopefully he'll continue working on the role.

Phillip Addis as Zurga doesn't display the authority and leadership he should, mainly because he abuses of vibratos, extensively, which makes me question his ability to keep a note for more than a mere second. He also lacks the strength that makes a great Zurga. His expressivity (interesting otherwise) adds to the previous in portraying a weak and emotional Zurga (at least, it's a new take on the role).

Feb 12, 2009

Met 2009-10

Complete season here, HD broadcasts there.

Evidently, I'm hugely disappointed Riccardo Muti's Attila (new Pierre Audi production) won't be part of the HD season next year, because it means a trip to NY if I really want to see it (Feb.23 to March 15 with Muti, March 19 to 27 with Armiliato conducting). The cast includes Ramón Vargas, Violetta Urmana, Carlos Alvarez and Ildar Abdrazakov.

La Fille du Régiment will be back with Laurent Pelly's successful production (Vienna 2006, London 2007, NY 2008). Juan Diego Flórez will be paired this time with Diana Damrau (Feb.6 to 22, 2010). Amazingly enough, if I could catch the premiere of Attila, I could also attend the last performance of La Fille.

Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet is also appealing, with Natalie Dessay and Simon Keenlyside (March 16 to April 9), conducted by Louis Langrée. The production comes from Geneva.

Frittoli, Gheorghiu, Alagna, Kwiecien will sing Bizet's Carmen conducted by that intriguing Yannick Nézet-Séguin (premiere on New Year's Eve).

Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman will be performed from Dec.3 to Jan.2, with Rolando Villazón, Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča and René Pape, under the baton of James Levine.

Robert Lepage’s production of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust will also be back (Oct.23 to Nov.17).

So if some French fellow like myself want to see XIXth century French operas with great casts, the only reasonable option at this point is to move to NYC. Other bloggers commenting the 2009-10 Met season:

Feb 10, 2009

[sans titre]

Opéra Garnier, Paris
Oct.9, 2007

[sans titre]

Opéra de Lyon
Feb. 26, 2007

Feb 7, 2009

[Les Pêcheurs de Perles] 2009-2010 performances

Performances of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles from September 2009 to August 2010 :
  • Opera Mauritius, Fort Adelaïde, Sept.4-13 2009
    Gérard Sullivan direction Martin Wettges conduction, Leila: Véronique Zuël-Bungaroo, Nadir: Francesco Petrozzi, Zurga: Matias Tosi, Nourabad: Prof. Michael Schopper
  • Folkoperan, Stockholm, Sept.16-17 2009
  • Minneapolis Opera, Sept.26-Oct.4 2009
    Andrew Sinclair director Jacques Lacombe conductor, Leïla : Isabel Bayrakdarian, Nadir : Jesus Garcia, Zurga : Philip Cutlip, Nourabad : Jonathan Kimple
  • Wichita Grand Opera, Feb.14 2009
  • Aalto Theater, Essen, Germany, May 24 to June 30 2010 Noam Zur conduction
  • English National Opera, London, June 1 to July 8 2010
    Penny Woolcock direction, Rory MacDonald conduction

So what, exactly?

The 4 bloggers whose opinions I have learned to trust most in the virtual reality of operafans feel very oppositely about the recent performances of Rolando Villazón. Intermezzo and Mostly Opera were charmed by his Hoffmann at the Royal Opera House late last November.

But now, it seems his Edgardo in the current Met's Lucia is a disaster, if you're relying on Maury d'Annato and Sieglinde.

Add to that he just cancelled Jolanthe for the upcoming Baden-Baden festival.  

Can someone please tell me what the f... is going on with Rolando Villazón?


Feb 1, 2009

Young Glass

Metropolitan Opera
April 25, 2008

New Glass in town

In the penal colony
chamber opera by Philip Glass (Seattle 2000)
libretto Rudolph Wurlitzer from Kafka's In the penal colony, available here.

Stephen Owen - the officer
Stefano Ferrari - the visitor
Mathieu Morin - the convict (non singing part)

Philippe Forget, musical direction
Richard Brunel, staging

Quintette à cordes des musiciens de l'opéra de Lyon

Opéra de Lyon hors les murs
Studio Lumière 2, Villeurbanne

January 31, 2009
French premiere new prodution

Written for two singers (a baritone and a tenor), one speaking actor (the convict) and 2 non-speaking ones, In the penal colony lasts 80 minutes and is played by a string quintet (two violins, one alto, one cello and one double bass). The libretto, very close to Kafka's original words, is divided into 16 shorts scenes plus one epilogue. In an island converted into a surrealist prison, we follow the last 12 hours of a convict before his execution by the Harrow which inscribes his offense on his body with multiple needles.

The score Philip Glass composed is a well-balanced act that alternates between contemplative sections and very dramatic ones, complementing the story perfectly.

As for this French premiere run, it was originally scheduled at a real prison, but the suicide rate among convicts in France is so high at the moment the competent authorities thought it would be a bit too controversial to have this pamphlet in their own dirty backyard.
So instead, the Opéra de Lyon chose the Studio Lumière 2 (named after the world famous two lyonnais brothers) somewhere far far away from the city center, in a gloomy area (especially at night) perfect in the context.
The seats on the other hand could have been changed into something actually comfortable.

Mathieu Morin (left) as the convict (non singing role) was phenomenal, simply put. He really was the focus point on stage at all times, and his breathing was mesmorizing.

The two others non-singing roles, Gérald Robert-Tissot and Nicolas Hénault were clearly not on the same level, as their acting was relatively uninspired.

The staging of Richard Brunel, though filled with small good ideas (the musicians dressed as judges during the first scene especially), was overall radiating amateurism, and reminded me of my college years, when we used to have DIY productions with little money but "big" ideas. Coming from the Opéra de Lyon, I find this to be stingy at best. The conceptualization of the Harrow was especially clumsy and distractive.

I also question the will of the director to place the musicians on stage, because someone like me ends up spending half of the performance (maybe more) watching them instead of watching the actual action.

I reckon I was probably the only one doing that so extensively, but still. I was a bit afraid when I heard some not so perfect notes from alto Donald O'Neil in the first 20 bars or so, but the overall performance of the 5 musicians was no less than amazing.

They played with poise, finesse, sensibility, nuances and perfect unison, and all that without a conductor on stage. Some notes of the double bass were doubtful, but really, fantastic job from Nicolas Gourbeix (first violin of the Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon), Karol Miczka, Donald O'Neil, Jean-Marc Weibel and Cédric Cartier.

Stephen Owen (left) as the officer was also a sensation. His low notes were superb and his expressivity perfectly dosed. His acting skills are a bit limited, but his singing is clearly not.

Stefano Ferrari (the visitor) was less successful; he tried to mask the weakness of his high notes with a bigger sound and it did not work. He also had issues projecting his voice: in this small hall (200/300 people), he sang too loudly and without the proper restraint. His middle and lower register were fine, but he also overdid it with regards to his expressivity: then again not enough restraint, that sometimes led to ridicule.


All and all, if you have strong affinities (like myself) with Philip Glass, this was a great evening.

As I've already mentioned, Lyon is indeed a city in love with Philip Glass, and this run is sold out, even with the extra performance added to the schedule (Jan.27). Last two performances on Monday (Feb.2) and Wednesday (Feb.4).
Extra performance in Nîmes on March 4.  

All pictures (except the first two) from the Opéra de Lyon