Jan 30, 2009

Jaho's update

Young soprano Ermonela Jaho, whose career I said I would follow when I first heard her a few months ago, is currently in Philadelphia rehearsing for her first Liu in Turandot (Feb.20 to March 6). On the web, her website has been drastically improved and now looks more like something a real webmaster has worked on, giving her some credibility as well. The schedule page is a nice add-on to the previous site, for instance. The multimedia page offers a relatively wide selection of her past performances, with some video extracts and 9 audio files from her Anna Bolena performed in Lyon and Paris last November.

Aix 2009

The program of the Aix en Provence festival next summer (June 27 to July 31) is now available online. 4 operas will be performed (prices range from 50€ to 350€):
  • Götterdämmerung, R.Wagner, part of the current ring production (also played in 2006 in Salzburg), Sir Simon Rattle conducting, Stéphane Braunschweig staging, with Ben Heppner, Anne Sofie von Otter and the Berliner Philharmoniker
  • Idomeneo, re di Creta, W.A.Mozart, Marc Minkowski conducting his Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble, Olivier Py's staging, with Richard Croft, Sophie Karthäuser and Mireille Delunsch
  • Orphée aux enfers, J.Offenbach, new production of Yves Beaunesne, Alain Altinoglu conducting the Camerata Salzburg
  • Die Zauberflöte, W.A.Mozart, René Jacobs conducting this William Kentridge's staging that premiered in Brussels in 2005
On the concert front, some big names should boost the sales: Magdalena Kozena (July 6 & 10), Pierre Boulez conducting the Berliner Philarmoniker, with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (July 5), Joyce DiDonato with her Furore tour, Christophe Rousset conducting his Talens Lyriques ensemble (July 27) and Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker (July 8 with Lang Lang and July 11). Online booking started yesterday.

Jan 28, 2009

Minimalist cocktail

What a great combination: Philip Glass and Muse.

Philip Glass - "Prophecies", Koyaanisqatsi 
Muse - "Take a bow", Black Holes And Revelations Watchmen trailer

Jan 25, 2009

Get involved and vote

In the vivid XIXth century Parisian society, competitions among young musicians, singers and composers played a crucial role in all those young careers (such as the Prix de Rome for young composers).

In this XXIth wired-century, television is the only way these new generations of artists can have a direct link with the audience as a whole, since you can now cast your vote online after watching their performances.
Some will say these competitions don't have the aura of Operalia or other recognized institutions. Yet, the public's opinion is the reward many seek in engaging in such careers.

So, if you have a short while to spare, you can do just that: let someone know they have some anonymous music lover who believe they can achieve their goal. You can vote online for the French Victoires de la Musique Classique until January 30.

Two categories are open to the public: best young instrumental soloist and best young lyric artist. My votes went to trumpeter Romain Leleu whose interpretation on Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice is hypnotizing, and to bass Yuri Kissin who has a superb timbre.

Blurry atmosphere

Opéra de Lyon
Jan.18, 2009

Lights on

Opéra de Lyon
View of the Grand Foyer
Jan.18, 2009

Stairway to Heaven

View of the City Hall
Opéra de Lyon
Stairs to the balconies
Jan.18, 2009

Jan 19, 2009

ACA intimiste

Récital Anna Caterina Antonacci
Piano Donald Sulzen
Opéra de Lyon
Jan.18 2008

Gabriel Fauré - Cinq mélodies de Venise
  • Mandoline
  • En Sourdine
  • Green
  • A Clymène
  • C'est l'extase langoureuse
Reynaldo Hahn
  • Tyrandis
  • Phyllis
  • Fumée
  • L'énamourée
  • Le printemps
Alfred Bachelet, Chère nuit [Intermission] Richard Strauss
  • Einerlei
  • Morgen
  • Zueignung
Paolo Tosti
  • My memories
  • Love me!
  • Summer
  • Once more!
  • Love's way
Pietro Cimara, Scherzo Ballade Ottorino Respighi, Nebbie Arturo Toscanini, Nevrosi Pieradolfo Tirendelli, Amor, Amor! Riccardo Zandonai,"Paolo, cate mi pace!" [Encores]
  • ? (spanish lyrics)
  • Francis Poulenc, Les chemins de l'amour (texte de Jean Anouilh)
  • ? (italian lyrics)

What better way to spend a grey and cold Sunday afternoon than spend it with Anna Caterina Antonacci and her pianist, Donald Sulzen?

I don't especially appreciate this format yet I reckon it has the vertue, in an average-size Opera House, of creating a very intimate atmosphere between the singer and the audience. The charisma, restraint and humility of ACA certainly filled the auditorium, as we embarked on a unique and timeless journey through French, Italian and German melodies from La Belle Epoque.

Despite the numerous coughing crisis due to the cold and polluted air over the city for the past week, the silence between pieces was astonishing, not that the audience didn't appreciate the performance, but ACA's presence was so magnetizing people couldn't get out of it to applause.

She was brilliant and at her best in Fauré's C'est l'extase langoureuse, Hahn's L'énamourée, Toscanini's Nevrosi and Tirendelli's Amor, Amor!. Also very intense were Fauré's En sourdine, Hahn's Le printemps and Bachelet's Chère nuit.

At times though, the expressivity was a bit short, especially in the Tosti's melodies in English; she wasn't able to apprehend the intensity of the text neither in English nor in German as a matter of fact, so clearly I question the selection chosen for this concert (especially since Tosti also wrote quite a few melodies in Italian).

I must also give credit to her pianist, Donald Sulzen, who did a marvellous job, especially with Fauré and Hahn. They complemented each other to perfection. A very cosy and comforting afternoon indeed.

PS. The concert was recorded so maybe it will be broadcast someday on French radio?

Jan 18, 2009

Hight-and-mighty Dorny

(c) Bertrand Stofleth

The GM of the Opéra de Lyon Serge Dorny was interviewed by Luc Hernandez for Libération, in a piece published today. Asked about the remarks Mortier made in a recent interview with Le Monde, he claims his work in Lyon has been innovative, creative and outstanding.

He defends his choices to favor stage directors over the singers, as his vision of opera is rather focused on vision impact than musical quality.

He also explains why the upcoming performances of Philip Glass' La colonie pénitentiaire, originally scheduled at the prison will be played elsewhere, confirms Mozart's Don Giovanni will open next season, directed by Christopher Moulds, and eludes the question about his big plans for La Traviata in June:
"Luc Hernandez - Mon petit doigt m’a dit que La Traviata que vous reprenez en juin sera l’occasion d’un dispositif de diffusion nouveau dans la ville…
Serge Dorny - Ça va se faire. Le spectacle sera diffusé en-dehors des murs de l’Opéra et décentralisé dans la région. Mais je ne peux pas en dire plus pour l’instant."

No news of him leaving soon elswhere though. [sigh]

Jan 14, 2009

High school bands

Never heard the overture of Les Pêcheurs de Perles?

I don't suggest you start by the following video, where the execution is amateurish as well as the conduction, but at least these teenagers will have discovered this piece (sounds a lot like a Sicilian marcia funebre at times, doesn't it?).

Although truth be told, it doesn't really resemble Bizet's score.

Jan 12, 2009

Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Cluytens 1954

Don't you people think it's been way too long since I last wrote about Les Pêcheurs de Perles? Well, I had the same thought.

A reader happened to mention, a few days ago, another CD recording of Les Pêcheurs that I own and still haven't commented on this blog [1].

Leïla - Martha Angelici
Nadir - Henri Legay
Zurga - Michel Dens
Nourabad - Louis Noguera
Choeur et orchestre de l'Opéra Comique
Enregistré au Palais de la Mutualité à Paris en juin 1954
1893 version (édition Choudens)

It appears to me I also have never mentioned here why older recordings of this opera are based on the revised version of 1893 while the new ones almost always are based on the original score (for more about the differences between those versions, see here) [2].

It's a fascinating story indeed, in Bizet's fascinating life (I'm currently on page 200 of the 800 pages biography of Hervé Lacombe and enjoying every line of it). Somehow the original partition of 1863 was lost, somewhere, between the initial run (18 performances) and the revival in 1893 [3], and nobody could ever find it. So all the early XXth century performances of Les Pêcheurs were played with the revised version of Benjamin Godard, from 1893 (édition Choudens).
Then, somehow in 1975, the original vocal score emerged in an auction sale in Paris and voilà, as Americans say (though nobody in France actually does).

Anyway, enough with the procrastination, back to the point: the review of this recording.
In the fifties and sixties in France, André Cluytens and Pierre Dervaux may not have been in the likes of Toscanini or Karajan, but they did insure the transmission of the French repertoire in a way few did after them (Michel Plasson and Sylvain Cambreling both failed though their intentions were noble).
Cluytens and Dervaux were especially very methodical in recording the masterpieces of the second half of the XIXth century, although inevitably some were forgotten. They both recorded Les Pêcheurs, in the 1893 version, Cluytens with this recording in 1954, Dervaux in 1961.
Their conduction is quite similar, and is supported by a great chorus. Overall, the musical execution puts both of them on the top of the existing recordings list.

The real difference between the two is the cast, and, despite obvious preferences, I reckon this 1954 recording is excellent as well. Michel Dens makes for a very good Zurga, while Henry Legay is also a fine Nadir. Martha Angelici is not well, brilliant or anything, but then again, it seems there where no decent French sopranos at the time.

Bought on sales last April a few days before the Met shop closed for redesigning, for something like 8$ (how could I have said no?)
although I had this conversation with several readers already

Although the opera was played again in Paris in 1889 in Italian (go figure)

Jan 11, 2009

Rondine from the Met

La Rondine 
Giacomo Puccini
Opera in 3 acts
Libretto Giuseppe Adami
Premiere Théâtre de Monte Carlo, March 27 1917

Magda: Angela Gheorghiu
Lisette: Lisette Oropesa
Ruggero: Roberto Alagna
Prunier: Marius Brenciu
Rambaldo: James Courtney

Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Production: Nicolas Joël
Set Designer: Ezio Frigerio
Costume Designer: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler

Premiere in Toulouse in March 2005, performed in San Francisco in Nov. 2008
Jan.10 Arte broadcast live from the Met

Synopsis here and there, libretto (Italian only) here

Act 1, Terrence McCarthy
Act 2, Terrence McCarthy

Not much to say about this production of Nicolas Joël, except for the obvious word that comes to mind: boring. The set, the costumes, the lights, the actors' direction, everything is very very forgettable.

His dollhouse version of La Rondine lacks any kind of statement, exploration of characters, work on the relationships between the characters, any kind of analysis really. As for the muscial performance, Marco Armiliato's reading of the score is also especially boring, as it lacks passion, emotions and life (so basically, he missed the whole point of the score there).

The cast was also pretty forgettable; Gheorghiu was out of breath from the start, displayed no real emotion and struggled with her voice all evening; Marius Brenciu' singing was inexpressive as well and his high notes were not particularly successful; James Courtney's use of vibrato was excessive; Lisette Oropesa's Lisette was energetic and full of life, but her diction was well, lost from the beginning.

The only one that stood out for me was Roberto Alagna. His diction is so refined he's the only one I know who can sing perfectly such lines as "Cosi timida e sola assomigliate alle ragazze di Montauban" (Act 2) with the perfect pronunciation, both in Italian and in French on "Montauban". His expressivity could have been better, but it was so much better than the rest of the cast, it felt like he was the only one really trying to portray his character. A rather disappointing evening.

Jan 10, 2009

High-and-mighty Mortier

Gérard Mortier gave an interview to Le Monde a couple of days ago, the occasion for him to speak about his 5 years as director of the Opéra de Paris, his futures plans, and his predictions for the years to come.

As usual, he whined about how misunderstood he is, said the Paris Opera doesn't have the audience it deserves (under-educated and over-criticizing), that he has done an extraordinary job in Paris in just 5 years.

For the future, he predicts Stéphane Lissner will become the director of the Opéra de Paris in 2013, and that he'll have a hard time educating the Spanish audience in Madrid (as he'll be the Teatro Real director from 2010) and that he will probably have some fights as well there (" Le handicap en Espagne est l'éducation musicale, ce qui fait que les orchestres espagnols sont pleins de musiciens étrangers. Je ne changerai pas mes convictions, même si je dois me colleter avec le public espagnol.").

One thing for sure: he will remain an arrogant ass til the day he dies.

Jan 5, 2009

Sicilien, Alagna

1 · Abballati
2 · Parla Piu Piano
3 · Mi Votu
4 · Ciuri, ciuri
5 · Carrettieri
6 · Li Pira
7 · A lu mircatu
8 · Sicilia Bedda
9 · Lu Me Sciccareddu
10 · N'Tintiriti
11 · Si Maritau Rosa
12 · Vitti'na Crozza
13 · Ninna Nanna

Once the organic emotion of a widespread [1] recording of the undeservingly ignored Sicilian music starts to fade (or at least becomes manageable), one starts listening to this album with less subjective ears.

The real surprise is how "un-Alagna-esque" the voice of Alagna sounds: much darker than usual, less flamboyant, almost humble at times. A great means to focus on the music rather than on Alagna. Of course it was too much to ask of him to stay in the shadow for the whole recording (thus the Ninna Nanna composed with one of his brothers at the end the CD), but his restraint is indeed quite praiseworthy.

I've already commented about the excellent selection this album offers (one could have forgotten the extract from The Godfather, truth be told), so I won't repeat myself (but I could, monomaniac that I am). There are some jewels on this recording, but don't get me wrong; there's also something desperately missing.
The jewels are Sicilia Bedda (whose arrangement is pretty relevant), Carrettieri (probably the most Sicilian song of all) and, less amazing but worth noticing, Lu me sciccareddu. Alagna had the idea of adapting the text from Si maritau Rosa in his Sicilian dialect (Siracusa region), but I'll admit that doesn't do it for me, which is a shame because this is one of my favorite Sicilian songs.

So what's missing? Simply put, life.
Let's not kid ourselves, my critic is based on my own experience with this particular music: live, in the streets, amongst a few compari [2], as part of life (just like cooking is part of life).

Alas, the recording of this album is too clean and polished for that feeling to emerge (I never thought, for instance, that the marranzano could sound so emotionless). There's no real excitement here, especially on the Tarentelle, that should only sound untidy, i.e. vibrant.

This is only me, for sure, so please don't let me dissuade you from discovering the Sicilian musical heritage.  

[1] #3 in the best selling list in France last week
[2] cf. Julius De la Rosa, see there

Jan 3, 2009

Dorny seeking job at the Staatsoper in Berlin

So it seems that the GM of the Opéra de Lyon, Serge Dorny, is the lead contender for the Unter den Linden director job in Berlin. It's obvious he's trying to leave town after his failed attempt at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées director job last June. For once, it seems we agree on something: get him out of Lyon.
Thanks to the fellow Lyonnais who alerted me of this news. German sources here and there.

Clari broadcast

This monday evening at 10:35 pm (Paris time), Arte will broadcast Halévy's forgotten Clari, performed last may in Zurich, with Cecilia Bartoli.

Der Vampyr, Mezzo Competition 2008

Heinrisch Marschner, 1828
Live Nov.15 2008 broadcast from the Szeged National Theatre
Hungarian premiere

Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Olari Elts

The Vampire, Ruthven: Nabil Suliman
Janthe/Emmy : Helen Kearns
Malwina : Vanessa Le Charlès
Aubry : Marc Haffner

Stage direction : Zoltán Balázs
Production of the Opéra de Rennes

Vanessa Le Charles (right), Marc Haffner (left) & Christophe Fel (middle) © afp Rennes, Oct. 28 2008, dress rehearsal

There are a lot if elements quite appealing about this piece I knew nothing about - most of them having to do with its similarities with both Weber's Freischütz and Gounod's Faust.
Marschner's score is indeed very reminiscent of Weber's musical construction: the harmonics, the use of spoken dialogues, the sometimes very unbalanced vocal lines (especially in Act I) and, most of all, the rhythm and orchestration, that is a clear signature of the XIXth century.

The libretto is a mix between manichaeism (thus the Gounod's feel to it - though musically there is a lot to be said about the influence Weber had on Gounod's music) and a Perrault's tale (specifically Barbe bleue); the happy ending that is a key element of the Freischütz is also present here, as the lovers defeat the vampire, get married and live happily ever after.

© afp Rennes, Oct. 28 2008, dress rehearsal

As for the production itself, there are much more bad choices to comment than praises to make. Basically, the concept doesn't work at all with this piece, that tells the quest of a vampire for the blood of three virgins before the end of the night. 

One could argue my main problem is that I am deeply formatted by my education - and that there's no reason why a vampire should live somewhere in Romania and not on a Japanese island, with the ad hoc aesthetics of the land of the Samurais and Geisha (set and costumes). The fact that director Zoltán Balázs added some awkward and peremptory gestures that don't have anything to do with the libretto obviously doesn't help, nor does the lack of expressivity from all the singers.

This actors direction is all to familiar with the recent Braunschweig's Don Carlo production in Milan (beautiful set lines on an empty stage) with ugly costumes and make-up, that doesn't use the scenic space at all. 

The cast is decent especially Nabil Suliman and Helen Kearns (who started slow but did well a great Act II), "only" lacking the vocal expressivity required nowadays; the conduction is inspired at times and overall serves Marschner's music quite well. The musical execution is indeed the driving force of this performance.