Jun 17, 2009

Demofoonte in Paris with Muti

Drama per musica (opera seria) in 3 acts
Nicolo Jommelli
Libretto Pietro Metastasio
1770 Napoli version

Demofoonte - Dmitry Korchak (tenor)
Dircea - Maria Grazia Schiavo (soprano)
Timante - José Maria Lo Monaco (mezzo-soprano)
Matusio - Antonio Giovannini (counter-tenor)
Creusa - Eleonora Buratto (soprano)
Cherinto - Valentina Coladonato (mezzo-soprano)

Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini
Riccardo Muti conducting
Stage direction - Cesare Lievi

Opéra National de Paris
Palais Garnier  - Gala AROP
June 16, 2009

Grand escalier décoré pour Demofoonte

I. The score

Pietro Metastasio's libretto is quite a success, as things flow with an acute sense of dramaturgy, displaying intricate situations in which characters unfold, with mixed personalities and a certain sense of humour.

In that regard, not only is this libretto quite ahead of his time, it's also a very cohesive and homogeneous piece. Jommelli's music however doesn't have this continuous appeal. The last two acts are rich and audacious for the time, and contain real jewels (Demofoonte's aria in Act II, scene 10 being the highlight of the score for me), but the first act is really disappointing (and terribly long: 1 hour and 15 minutes). It doesn't display the originality Jommelli put in the last two, and all the arias are built on the same scheme: two quatrains.

As for the music, this first act is saturated with da capo (when the aria is a closed loop with a ABA structure). All it does really is allow you to fall into a semi-conscious state of mind where you desperately wait for something unusual to come along - a vain hope in the first act obviously.

Fortunately, the drought ends after the first act, and I must say the transition between boring and exciting was quite astonishing. The second act is the most appealing for me, with once again that sublime aria of Demofoonte in scene 10.

The end of Act III is a bit long, and Muti's choice to conduct the 1770 version is indisputably relevant after hearing the piece (Jommelli cut 8 of the 24 arias in this version!).

II. The musical execution

The youth orchestra Luigi Cherubini that Riccardo Muti created in 2004 to give back to young Italian musicians was recast in 2008 to allow for new instrumentalists to learn, and to send the original musicians to the real world of professional orchestras around the world.
This Demofoonte production is their biggest work so far, having previously traveled to Salzburg this Spring and heading to Ravenna for this summer.

For such a young group, their performance was phenomenal. They played with poise, finesse, intelligence, sensitivity, passion, at such a level it's hard to figure they're not professionals yet. They responded with verve and perfect accuracy to the conduction of Riccardo Muti.

The strings were brilliant (especially the cellos), the horns were exquisite, and it turned out to be such a shame Jommelli didn't orchestrate his piece for more instruments.

As for the singers, the level was quite unequal - Maria Grazia Schiavo as Dircea was amazing, as was Eleonora Buratta as Creusa (their duet was pretty intense): beautiful breath, perfect placement of the voice, great high, low and middle registers, adequate projection, magnificent phrasing, they simply delivered an outstanding performance.

The rest of the cast I was disappointed by. José Maria Lo Monaco, although an audience favorite, seemed cold and somehow not in the mood for the piece, and her timbre is neither velvety nor coarsed, just unpalatable to my taste.  

Dmitry Korchak on the other hand as Demofoonte had gigantic issues with ornamentation and his high register. He's supposed to sing Nadir in Santiago at the end of August, and I feel sorry for Bizet already. His stage presence was not really convincing also, and Cesare Lievi didn't help by not hiding this age (he's way too young for the part).

I also didn't react positively to neither Antonio Giovannini as Matusio nor to Valentina Coladonato as Cherinto. Their performance was mediocre at best, and their technique is not quite yet where it should be (especially the breathing for Giovannini and the high register for Coladonato).

Finally, a few words about Riccardo Muti. Once again, I can only praise the work he's done with this piece. The orchestral bars were all sublime and magical, and that's when you regret Jommelli didn't put as many of those as Gluck. One thing he did do however, is moderately use the recitativo secco and extensively substitute them with recitativo accompagnato, where Muti's input was exquisite. One can only attempt to describe with words what marvels Muti can accomplish with so few notes.

NB. There will be another post about this performance, because I have to talk about the stage direction and this special evening, the AROP gala.


Anonymous said...

What were audience's reactions?
Was the opera theatre full?

Extatic said...

More on that in the next post I will write about this performance some time next week.

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but I think every Muti fan should watch this youtube clip:) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnGielu9vuY

Extatic said...

Although I can't see any interest in this video myself...