Jun 26, 2009

High skyes

Plafond du théâtre des Champs Elysées
Paris, Feb.26, 2009

Jun 25, 2009

Traviata in Lyon with Jaho

La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi
Opéra en quatre parties, 1853
Livret de Francesco Maria Piave d'après La Dame aux camélias d'Alexandre Dumas fils

Ermonela Jaho, Violetta Valéry
Edgaras Montvidas, Alfredo Germont
Lionel Lhote, Giorgio Germont

Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra de Lyon
Alan Woodbridge, Chef des Chœurs
Gérard Korsten, Direction musicale

Klaus Michael Grüber, Mise en scène
Ellen Hammer, Collaboration artistique et réalisation de la mise en scène
Recréation - Coproduction initiale Théâtre du Châtelet, Opéra de Lyon
June 23 performance


First of all, I know it's not very elegant to criticize dead people, but the late Klaus Michael Grüber who directed the original run of this production in 1993, really was uninspired.

Think about a stage where all the characters are static, with for whatever reason a naked woman appearing in the first part, a ridiculous use of the stage (or non-use I should say), this would have be comical if I had been in the mood to close my eyes. Unfortunately I was not, but I came to the notion as the music was unfolding.
Neither of the singers were really able to act convincingly in this ghost of a production (bad joke intended). Jaho didn't really have the stamina to portray the dying Violetta and her performance lacked intensity and ardor. The others were even worse.

The conduction of Gérard Korsten was unoriginal at best - but you can't except much from someone who doesn't hear how vivid and vibrant Verdi's music is (or rather only sees one dimension to it). The real disaster though came from the pit: all sections of the orchestra were horrendous, at one time or another (another being a number between 5 and 6), and all the time altogether. I have never heard it sound so badly in the years I've regularly attended performances at the Opéra de Lyon. This was an embarrassing nightmare really, but the audience loudly cheering the orchestra at the end must have been even worse. How bad are your ears people, seriously?
Lionel Lhote as Giorgio Germont was decent, but his voice quietly worsened during the performance.  

Edgaras Montvidas as Alfredo has still a lot of work to do to polish his sound and clear his timbre. But he displayed interesting and lifeful colours and emotions.

Ermonela Jaho was kind of a disappointment. Her voice started to emerge for the Sempre Libera aria, but she wasn't really a factor before that. Her notes were beautiful, her singing passionate, but somehow I didn't feel the emotions coming out of her voice. Kind of when you attend a play and aren't really touched by an actor you normally like. Hopefully I won't have the same impression when I come back for the last performance of the run (July 7).

Overall, once again, it's very unforgiving to come back to the Opéra de Lyon after a Muti experience...

All photos Opéra de Lyon except those below.

Further readings:
"La soprano albanaise Ermonela Jaho n'est pas encore très connue du grand public. (...) Présence magnétique et voix d'airain, la jeune femme incarne une Violetta sur le fil, alternant un chant très retenu, avec de brusques montées de fièvre - mimétique des symptômes phtisiques qui la rongent. A ses côtés, le solide Alfredo du ténor lituanien Edgaras Montvidas semble un tantinet froid, le Germont de Lionel Lhote un rien plébéien. Le seul bémol (de taille) vient de la très prosaïque direction du chef d'orchestre sud-africain Gerard Korsten."

Jun 24, 2009

Demofoonte, part II

First post about the June 16 performance of Demofoonte in Paris (Opéra Garnier) here.

III. The staging

Salzburg May 28, 2009

On paper, I like where Cesare Lievi went with his sets: a deconstructed Greek temple, where everything is upside down, with slight changes between the acts that focus on small details.

The concept would have worked brilliantly, hadn't it been for the complete lack of any actor's direction, an unimaginative scenography and an horrendous use of the stage.

Basically nothing ever comes to life in this context, and all it does really is focus on the repetitive aspect of Jommelli's music. Not exactly the best way to present his Demofoonte to a public that is not familiar with it. It seems to be a trend among stage directors these days, to do everything in their power to ruin the music and the singing. Muti should never have accepted that...

Salzburg, May 28, 2009 

IV. The AROP gala In Paris, if you're a wealthy opera geek, the AROP is the select club that will allow you to attend opera performances amongst high-end friends, with a beautiful dinner at the end of the evening, free champagne and canapés during the intermissions, and an Opera House specially decorated for the event.

Obviously this kind of evening is the perfect showcase for your latest designer dress, and you expect men to wear a tuxedo with a neck bow (or if you're a rebel, a tie). Anyway, this is the time to be glamorous among your fabulous friends.

On the down side, this is the night the Opera House is guaranteed not to be filled, because inevitably, some will have better things to do than attend the performance, and their expensive seats will remain desperately empty. Quite a shame, considering the whole run of Demofoonte is full. But hey, when rich and famous, who cares about waste? And who cares about the vulgare pecus?

Anyway, the auditorium was obviously not full, and the public reacted at the end of the performance with the appropriate restraint and elegance: not too much noise and certainly no bravo, this was not the time and place to be exuberant and lavish.

Fortunately, the 4th balcony was packed with ordinary people who were a bit louder and more enthusiastic, but I must say the applause was mainly directed at Riccardo Muti.

Further readings:

- "Les faux débuts de Riccardo Muti à l'opéra de Paris", June 19, Le Monde, M.A.Roux
"Mais qu'allait-il faire dans cette galère ? C'est le sentiment qui domine à l'issue des quatre heures de spectacle consacrées au rarissime opéra napolitain Demofoonte, de Niccolo Jommelli (1714-1774), avec lequel le chef d'orchestre Ricardo Muti a fait, à bientôt 68 ans, ses débuts à l'Opéra de Paris. Car il n'est pas sûr que ce Demofoonte (prochaines représentations au Palais Garnier les 18, 20 et 21 juin) marque durablement la rencontre tant attendue de Paris avec le maestro italien."

- "Le jardin napolitain de Riccardo Muti", Webthea
- "La première française de l’opéra napolitain", June 16, ResMusica, Francesca Guerrasio

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.

Jun 10, 2009

Traviata broadcast from Lyon

Complete list of outdoor broadcasts here.
The performance will also be broadcast live on France Musique and Mezzo, on the Opéra de Lyon website and on evene.fr.

Jun 9, 2009

Muti's Requiem

Giuseppe Verdi
Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Ramon Vargas, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass

Choeurs de Radio France, Matthias Brauer chorus master
Orchestre National de France
Riccardo Muti, conduction

Basilique de Saint-Denis
Medici.tv broadcast
June 8, 2009

Riccardo Muti & l'Orchestre National de France, Saint-Denis, 2006 © AFP

I initially didn't intend to review the Verdi's Requiem that Muti conducted yesterday, but, since I've been asked to, how can I resist sharing here the marvels Riccardo Muti once again accomplished in Saint-Denis?
Ultimately, the true star of any of Muti's performances is the composer, and he's uniquely talented, I think, especially when it comes to Verdi (and Berlioz too, and Gluck, and Mozart, ... you get the point) to extract the quintessential beauty of the score. Verdi's music can indeed be quite magical when performed in such a manner.

His requiem sure sounded amazingly well under the baton of Muti.

The chorus led by Matthias Brauer delivered a fantastic performance throughout the piece, to the level of the one they gave in February, with beautiful pianissimi and a splendid performance of the famous Dies irae.

The orchestra was overall also very good, and the conduction of Muti elevated Verdi's music to a heavenly level, with all the flamboyant tempi and gorgeous nuances one dreams of hearing.

Although she looked like she was floating in an alternate universe, Olga Borodina delivered a stunning performance as well. I was less impressed by Barbara Frittoli, who didn't quite deliver adequately the low notes (not loud enough) and Ramon Vargas, who had a few ugly high notes and was closely monitored all concert long by Riccardo Muti, to prevent him from yelling his notes. But overall, both of them were good.

Ildar Abdrazakov was the angel of the basilique, with his velvety timbre and delicate phrasing. He delivered such an exquisite performance he almost shadowed Muti. If that's not the ultimate compliment, coming from me...

Le Monde, Marie-Aude Roux, June 10 Riccardo Muti transcende le Requiem de Verdi
" A bientôt 68 ans (il est né le 28 juillet 1941), le maestro italien est au zénith de son art. Sa Missa da Requiem est une véritable leçon de style et d'élégance, qui n'exclut pas l'émotion mais la transcende.
(...) Le Choeur de Radio France, galvanisé, quoique fermement tenu, s'est surpassé en intelligibilité et en intelligence.
(...) On oubliera vite quelques imperfections de Barbara Frittoli (vibrato un peu large) dans la petite cantate pour soprano solo qu'est le "Libera me" ("Délivre-moi Seigneur de la mort éternelle"). Suspendu à la baguette de Riccardo Muti, soucieux de ses moindres intentions, donné à lui dans ce qu'il faut bien appeler une communion en musique et en esprit, l'Orchestre national a confirmé qu'il est bien le meilleur des deux orchestres de Radio France. "

Jun 8, 2009

Der Freischütz, Baden Baden 2009

Der Freischütz 
Carl Maria von Weber

Klaus Kuttler - Ottokar
Reinhard Dorn - Cuno
Juliane Banse - Agathe
Julia Kleiter - Ännchen
Dimitry Ivashchenko - Kaspar
Steve Davislim - Max
Paata Burchuladze - Ein Eremit
Ronald Spiess - Samiel
Matjaz Robavs - Kilian

Festspielhaus Chorus Baden-Baden
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Hengelbrock Musical Direction

Robert Wilson Direction, Stage Design and Lighting
Viktor und Rolf Costumes

Arte live broadcast June 1, 2009

Bob Wilson's new production of Weber's masterpiece is an heteroclite mix of bad taste (Viktor & Rolf's ugly costumes) and subtle aesthetics (especially the lights) that conveys the usual minimalist atmosphere what is really his one and only signature.

Apparently my dislike for naïve representations of fairy tales is no match for my deep attraction to minimalism, as I was overall quite disappointed by this production.

The actor's direction also didn't appeal at all to me, even if I liked the idea that the characters are all puppets of the providence (I just can't stand the way Wilson expressed it).

Adding an interlude before the scene of the Wolf's Gen (Wolfsschlucht) at the end of Act II with Baudelaire's Lithanies de Satan was, to my view, not quintessential to emphasize Samiel's presence (Viktor & Rolf's costume was more than enough) and I don't really think Baudelaire's world is somehow close to Weber's, even in that particular occasion.

The musical execution of the Mahler chamber orchestra was not really impressive (the French horns were horrendous) but Thomas Hengelbrock's conduction was interesting most of the time (though sporadically laborious and strained, especially during the overture).

The Festspielhaus Chorus Baden-Baden was spectacular on the other hand, each time they had any note to sing (the huntsmen chorus generated a well-deserved ovation and was encored). A truly superb and memorable performance.

Julia Kleiter as Ännchen was brilliant, both singing and acting (the only one who actually embraced Wilson's direction); her middle register is just superb and perfectly under control. The same thing can't be said about Juliane Banse as Agathe (too weak and hiding behind way too many vibratos), nor about Steve Davislim as Max (ugly high notes). Dimitry Ivashchenko was a very decent and colourful Kaspar.

Further readings:
- "Eine trifft, die andere äffet", I Hear Voices
- MusicalCritiscim.com, Francis Shelton

Jun 5, 2009

Muti in Saint -Denis

Télérama, numéro en date du 3 juin 2009

St Denis live on the internet

The Festival de St Denis will start on Sunday and 5 concerts will be broadcast live and free on the internet via medici.tv:
  • June 8 2009, 8:30pm (Paris time) Riccardo Muti conducting Verdi's Requiem with Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Ramon Vargas, Ildar Abdrazakov Choeur de Radio France (Matthias Brauer chorus master) Orchestre National de France 
  • June 18 2009, 8:30pm Félix Mendelssohn Concerto pour violon Les Hébrides – ouverture Le Songe d’une nuit d’été Amel Brahim–Djelloul, Renata Pokupic, Sergey Khachatryan (violin) Maîtrise de Radio France (Sofi Jeannin ch master) Orchestre National de France (Kurt Masur conducting)
  • June 23 2009, 8:30pm LEO Salve Regina HAENDEL Il Pianto di Maria PERGOLESE Stabat Mater Sabrina Puertolas, Vivica Genaux Les Talens Lyriques Christophe Rousset, direction
  • July 2 2009, 8:30pm RACHMANINOV Les Cloches TCHAIKOVSKI Concerto pour violon Marina Poplavskaya, Piotr Beczala, Vassili Gerello, Alina Pogostkina (violon) Choeur de Radio France (Matthias Brauer ch master) Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France Mikko Franck, direction
  • July 7 2009, 8:30pm Ludwig van Beethoven Fantaisie Chorale Symphonie n°9 Olga Guryakova, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Nikolaï Schukoff, René Pape, Herbert Schuch (piano) BBC National Chorus of Wales Ensemble Orchestral de Paris John Nelson, direction