Feb 28, 2008


Amongst the things that could be improved at the Paris Opera, the 102 member chorus sure could use some help. I've always found they could work on homogeneity, nuances and other aspects and, because I'm used to our fantastic chorus here in Lyon, I can't remember the last time I was not disappointed by the Paris counterpart.

Austrian Peter Burian, the actual chorus master who was hated by the singers, already left to prepare for his new job (starting on Sept.1, 2008) as head of the chorus of Il Teatro Real (Madrid).
In his absence, his position is already being shared between his former assistant Alessandro Di Stefano and former Netherlands Opera chorus master Winfried Maczewski, until new director Nicolas Joël makes a permanent decision when he will effectively be in charge (september 2009).

I'm not sure promoting Di Stefano will improve drastically the situation, as he was already in charge of some productions last year (La Juive, for instance) and was all but spectacular.
Moreover, in the current performances of Verdi's Luisa Miller, some reports are pretty harsh against his work: "Les chœurs sont d’un statisme qui appartient à une autre époque et les chanteurs semblent livrés à eux-mêmes." [The chorus is so static it belongs to another era and the singers seem to be left to themselves].

So I guess the endless problems in that department are far from over at the Paris Opera...

Feb 26, 2008

A revolution under way

As unreal as it may seem (mostly to me I presume), my very thick shield against Mozart is starting to crack. Seriously.

The reason?
A combination of Riccardo Muti (who else) and Diana Damrau in this live Salzburg Festival performance that I started listening to with attention (I really don't care that much about seeing a performance, in case you're still wondering).

I wouldn't say I suddenly fell in love with Mozart or Die Zauberflöte for that matter, but I'm beginning to find some pieces not so boring, even interesting. A huge step for me.
Love is still far far away, but I've always been convinced that taste is evolving, in opera and in other matters (wine...).
So it seems I'm not that hopeless with Mozart after all.
A work in progress, really.

You Tube extracts:

- extract from the beginning (excuse my ignorance about the exact title, but feel free to bring your knowledge to this blog)
- "Der Hölle Rache", Dana Damrau

Feb 25, 2008

A bit of chauvinism

With Natalie Dessay all over NY in September for the opening night at the MET (and coming back in March and April for Lucia di Lammermoor and La Fille du Régiment) and newly Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (whose dress was Jean Paul Gaultier's by the way) all over the West Coast, remind me again who said the French culture was dead?

On the outside

Lyon's City Hall View from the Opera House's Grand Foyer Jan.25, 2008

Feb 23, 2008

A week in music: week 5

  • Monday Juan Diego Florez's Arias for Rubini Roberto Abbado cond. the orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Decca, 2007
  • Tuesday Verdi's I due Foscari Live broadcast from Il Teatro degli Arcimboldi di Milano, May 13 2003, Leo Nucci, Dimitra Theodossiu, Aquilès Machado, Riccardo Muti cond. orch. & coro del Teatro alla Scala
    Natalie Dessay recital Live broadcast from Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb.11, 2008, Pinchas Steinberg cond. die Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
  • Wednesday & Tuesday Bellini's Norma With Franco Corelli, Maria Callas, Tullio Serafin cond. EMI, 1961
  • Friday Jacques Offenbach's La Belle Hélène Felicity Lott, Yann Beuron, Laurent Naouri, Marc Minkowski cond. Virgin Classics, 2001

Annick Massis

Late last night on France 3, Toute la musique qu'ils aiment was all about French soprano Annick Massis.

I had never heard an interview of her and I must admit the way she speaks and her gestures are surprisingly rural. I guess her middle-class origin can't be hidden when she stops singing and starts talking.

Anyway, she spoke about how her career started, and I had no idea she had a life before opera, spending 10 years (!) teaching in an elementary school before being discovered when she auditioned for Aix-en-Provence Festival first director Gabriel Dussurget when in her 30s.
With her new life beginning in the 1990s (first performances in Mozart in Toulouse), she admitted her personal life also took a new turn, as her first husband could not adjust to her new status and divorce was inevitable.

As she turns 50 this year, she is coming back to Mozart (Don Giovanni currently playing in Monte Carlo) and grew from the mistakes she made when she first started singing ; she told the reporter she thought beginning a career with Mozart now seems to her like an heresy, as one needs a good amount of vocal maturity to fully render the complex scores of pieces such as Don Giovanni (Donna Anna).

Her recent performances included Lucia di Lammermoor at the MET (last October) and last year's Princess Eudoxie in Halévy's La Juive at the Paris Opera (Bastille, review here) where she was sensational.

Her future engagements will consist of Les Pêcheurs de Perles (Leïla) in Trieste (Italy) in March, a role she sang many times, La Sonnambula (Amina) in Belgium and Salerno (Italy) and Lucia in Rome this summer (Terme di Caracalla).
She was very excited to also mention her role debut in the French version of Lucia, Lucie de Lammermoor in a concert version on March 8 in Amsterdam.

I know I'm not the only one thinking it's a shame she's not cast more often on French scenes, as her appearances since several years brought her to Berlin, Zürich, Japan, Belgium, even La Scala but on too few occasions here in her native country.

Feb 22, 2008

New Opera House in Greece

Renzo Piano, the famous Italian architect who designed the new building of the New York Times, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris (museum of modern art) and the Cité Internationale here in Lyon, amongst many other things, has just been chosen by the Niarchos Foundation to build a new cultural center in Athens that will consist of a new national library and the new building of the Greek National Opera, within an educational and cultural park.
The building site is on a former racecourse in the Greek capital's southern coastal suburbs.

As reported on the Niarchos Foundation's website, "with the use of new technology, the Opera will be able to travel via Internet to other Greek cities while the Cultural Park, which will surround it, will be used as a grand outdoor theater where selected performances will be held."
The foundation has budgeted 300 million euros ($442 million) for the center and will hand over the project to the Greek state on completion.

Feb 20, 2008

The cost of things

Also in this Le Monde special edition from last year, a very educating article about the actual cost of producing an opera, with the example of the 11 performances of Mozart's The Magic Flute in Paris (2005, Opéra Bastille). This production generated 2.3 million € from the ticket & subscriptions sales, whereas it cost 5.7 million € (42% to pay the permanent staff of the Opera House, 29% to pay for the artists and production staff, 15% for the orchestra and 5% for the costumes, sets and various accessories). In the full article below, the journalist also points out Opera Houses could not survive in France without subventions from the government: of the 160 million € budget of the Paris Opera (both Garnier and Bastille), they represent 100 millions; in comparison, the ticket & subscriptions sales provide with only 46 millions. 13 additional million € come from private fundings and other commercial transactions (renting to host private parties, movie filming, ...). Yes indeed, opera is an expensive business.

Feb 19, 2008

Cinderella story

Paul Whelan, centre, Clive Barda's picture

Ever heard of ENO understudy bass-baritone Paul Whelan?
Last Saturday night, he saved the English National Opera performance of Lucia di Lammermoor.
When Clive Bayley (left on the picture), in the role of Raimondo, lost his voice after the first scene, Whelan, who was attending the show with a group of friends, was hurriedly ushered backstage but didn't have enough time to put the costume and had to sing from the side of the stage, while Bayley stayed in costume to mime for the next two hours.

This incredible story has been extensively reported on in the British press, of course.

- "Opera saved by a star in the wings as lead singer is taken ill", Benedict Moore-Bridger for the Evening Standard
- "Why the man in a suit took the curtain call in Lucia di Lammermoor", Andrew Pierce for The Telegraph
- "ENO's Lucia Offers Drama Off- and Onstage
Indisposition of two singers does not compromise the sense of sheer, familial madness", Keith Clarke for MusicalAmerica.com
- "Bravo for stand-in opera hero", The Sun
- "Is there a baritone in the house? Opera saved by a star in the audience as lead singer is taken ill", The Daily Mail
- "ENO understudy steps out of shadows", The First Post

Feb 18, 2008

Festival de Radio France - summer 2008

July 14 -> 31, 2008

The Festival has announced its schedule for this summer (online booking available on March 3).
Amongst the things to miss, are Purcell's King Arthur (when two clowns like Shirley and Dino that have no talent try to stage an opera, it's rarely anything but atrocious) and Pergolese's Salustia.

La Esmeralda from Louise Bertin (libretto by Victor Hugo, 1841) could have been interesting, but it's a concert version with unknown (or bad) singers, as well as Ildebrando Pizzetti's Fedra (same problems).

The only evenings noticeable are the piano recitals of Christian Zacharias (Haydn, Schumann, Scarlatti) on July 21st and Aldo Ciccolini (Clementi, Czerny, Beethoven) on July 24, as well as the concert of the Orchestre National de France on July 30 directed by Danielle Gatti (Prokofiev, Stravinsky).

Oh, and did I mention the July 31st concert?
Natalie Dessay is back in Montpellier for the first time in 16 years and will sing alongside Jonas Kaufman duos from the French and Italian repertoire...

Pina Bausch's Orphée et Eurydice

So, this Saturday was supposed to be a day out for opera lovers, to enjoy all the backstage elements you don't normally see when attending a performance.
It turned out to be a day in for me, as the program Arte presented all day long was too good to be missed - even by a few hours. I even turned off my plans for the evening, as the live performance of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice was broadcast from the Garnier Opera House in Paris.

I had never seen an opera where acting singers were substituted with dancers, and this Pina Bausch choreography from 1975 was the perfect opportunity, since after all it is based on a music I love, Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (although sung in German, which is so weird for this piece that I know so well).

First of all, the format of this "opéra dansé" (danced opera) was actually pretty good, since every last piece of recitative (the plague of Gluck's music) was ripped off. Obviously, dancing doesn't go too well with speaking parts, so the Gluck's score was shorter than the usual (a mere 90 minutes), more condensed, in other words easier to follow.

I am sceptical about the conducting of Thomas Hengelbrock at the helm of his Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble & Chor (but nobody can really find a place in my heart after Riccardo Muti reinvented the piece last year) as well as the overall performance of the musicians and choristers (not nearly enough nuances from both of them, plus I'm really fed up by now by the trend of playing on ancient relics).

Both Maria Riccarda Wesseling (Orphée), Julia Kleiter (Eurydice) and Sunhae Im (l'Amour) who were singing their respective parts on stage while their counterpart (the dancers interpreting Orphée - Yann Bridard -, Eurydice - Marie-Agnès Gillot - and l'Amour - Miteki Kudo -) were doing the choreography gave average performances.
The notes were where they are supposed to be (for the most part) but the voices were too weak and almost inaudible at times.

I know nothing about dance, so I couldn't judge anything from that angle, but I do have to say a few words about the choreography. Its modernity is undoubtable (even if the ballet was created in 1975), the costumes, lights and sets were really interesting but the choreography left me perplexed (to say the least).
The one thing I did love however was Cerberus, which was portrayed by three dancers (picture above) and was just perfectly though through. The rest was too full of wide gestures, crazy running and endless movement.

Overall, contrary to what you might think after these few lines, I did enjoy the show - very much (other substances may have helped).

Feb 17, 2008

A week in music: week 4

  • Monday Nino Rota's Il Capello di Paglia di Firenze Live from La Scala January 1998, with Juan Diego Flórez, Giovanni Furlanetto, Bruno Campanella cond.
  • Tuesday Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment Covent Garden broadcast Jan.23 2007, with JDF, Natalie Dessay, Bruno Campanella cond.
  • Wednesday Donizetti's Maria Stuarda Live from La Scala Jan.15 2008 with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Mariella Devia, Francesco Meli, Antonino Fogliani cond.
    Note I finally listened carefully to this broadcast and Antonino Fogliani's conducting is pretty dreadful, as is once great orchestra del Teatro alla Scala. Mariella Devia not at her best, Meli average, thank God Antonacci was there to save the evening.
  • Friday Richard Strauss' Salomé MET broadcast April 10 2004, with Karita Mattila, Bryn Terfel, Matthew Polenzani, Siegfried Jerusalem, Scott Bergeson cond.
    Note You should never say you don't like an opera until you've actually listened to it. So, I definitelly don't like this one.

Lucia revelation

My love story with Gaetano Donizetti is still young and in the makings.
Already it has developed to a level I had never forecast.

Up until last year, my experiences with that composer were limited to Lucia (a bunch of different versions hadn't convinced me that much), L'elisir d'amore (Lyon 1999 with Alagna and Gheorghiu, Pidò conducting, which was fun but not mind-blowing), a few extracts of Don Pasquale and La Fille du Régiment (then again, experiences not great enough to be memorable) and Roberto Devereux (Lyon 2005 concert version, boring).

As I had learn the Opéra de Lyon was planning a concert version of Maria Stuarda with Patrizia Ciofi for September 07, I embarked on the discovery of this opera. And came upon the 2003 Liceu concert version (with Juan Diego Florez and Olga Borodina, broadcast available on Operashare, extracts on YouTube) which was indeed my first mind-blowing experience with Donizetti.

Yesterday I had my first Lucia moment.
I'd never empathized with the character before (no Dessay, Scotto, Tebaldi, Sutherland or even Callas had the key to unlock my emotions). The 2006 Orange performance of Patrizia Ciofi had similar non-results.

This Saturday, Arte broadcast the 2002 Lyon performances of Lucie de Lammermoor with Ciofi*. To be perfectly honest, the first thing that drawn me in was the great performance of French baritone Ludovic Tézier (as a matter of fact the first time I hear something worth noticing from him).
Ciofi was not really a factor at the beginning, but she managed to turn a slow start into a fantastic performance. How she did that I have no idea and don't really want to know.

But for the first time I felt the emotions Lucia is going through in this opera and the road to madness she portrayed was one I could understand and relate to, as well as the madness itself.
There's something in her intensity that is truly overwhelming and totally shadows her strange looking face when she sings.
Her madness is jerky, convulsive, on the edge whereas others portray flat or totally eccentric. The journey that leads to it is full of contradictions, back and forth, maybes, improbable possibilities. It is just full of life, really.

That's the reason why I was blown away I think.
She is so alive in that performance.

* In 2002, the Opéra de Lyon scheduled Lucie de Lammermoor, the 1839 French version approved by Donizetti with a top-class cast: Roberto Alagna as Edgar, Ludovic Tézier as Ashton, Natalie Dessay as Lucie and Evelino Pidò conducting.

Alas, the vocal problems of Dessay (forcing an operation on her vocal chords) prevented her from singing in all the dates and a backup had to be found.
Patrizia Ciofi, a young singer who was the only one knowing the role (as she was the one to sing the modern recreation of this version in 1997 for the Festival della Valle d'Itria - Martina Franca, conducted by Maurizio Benini, CD live available) was hired and ended up performing on the day the DVD was recorded.

Overall cast performance

Edgar - Roberto Alagna : A
Henri Ashton - Ludovic Tézier : A
Sir Arthur - Marc Laho : C+
Raymond - Nicolas Cavallier : B+
Gilbert - Yves Saelens : D

YouTube extracts:
  • Maria Stuarda, 2003 Liceu, JDF, Borodina: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Lucie de Lammermoor, Lyon 2002: none available, can you believe that? plenty of Dessay though (1, 2, 3)

Feb 16, 2008

Lucie de Lammermoor

Part of today's event Tous à l'opéra!, the TV channel ARTE (one of the great products of German/French collaboration) has cleared all of its schedule to make room for opera (with a live broadcast tonight from Paris Garnier's Opera House of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice in a Pina Bausch's choreography).

A few minutes ago, they played some extracts of the 2002 Lyon performances of Lucie de Lammermoor (French version) with Natalie Dessay and Ludovic Tézier (Evelino Pido conducting), alongside an interview from that time of Dessay.

In that interview, she speaks about the catharsis of playing Lucie (or Lucia, depending on the version) which is, according to me, the reason why she's so inspired in that role.

After the triumphant opening night at the MET in September, her Lucia will be radio broadcast live on March 8 (1:30pm ET, 6:30pm London time, 7:30pm Paris time), part of the MET's Saturday Matinee Broadcasts (on BBC3).

The state of opera audiences

Last year, for the Tous à l'opéra !-day, Le Monde (daté du 15 février 2007) published a special edition with a very interesting article about the opera goers. Here it is:
My translation: A study in ten European Opera Houses shows the audience keeps getting younger and intellectual middle-classes are more present.
30% of the audience is 45 or younger.
My [partial] translation: A 2001 study by consultant Gérard Doublet for the Réunion des Opéras de France had previously already shown the audience is younger in the French Opera Houses. A new study, made by the same consultant, ordered this time by Opéra-Europa, made during 2006 and published on Feb.17, 2007 reveals the same trend. Conducted in 10 European Opera Houses (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna, Brussels, Cardiff, Oslo, Paris Garnier and Paris Bastille, Strasbourg and Vilnius), the study shows more and more intellectual middle-class opera-goers, as well as women, occasional spectators. It also confirms the audience is getting younger, though only 30% is under 45. On the other hand, 23% of the spectators are older than 65. 30% are between 55 and 64, although this age group only represents 17% of the general population in the countries where the study was made.
53% of the seats are occupied by subscribers, a high figure that shows how traditional the public still is. At the Paris Opera, the public younger than 35 went up from 24% in 2003 to 32% in 2006 (compared to the 34% this age group represents in the general population). 58% of the public is made of women, mostly junior managers, teachers or even factory workers. And they tend to be younger than men. "Women first come to the Opera House to see a ballet, and via that way, attend an opera two or three years younger than men" says Gérard Doublet. "They often bring their partner." Adds Gérard Doublet, "if you don't go to the Opera before 35, chances are you won't come later."
58% of the audience are women. In 2005-2006, the Paris Opera sold 62% of its individual tickets (not counting subscriptions) via the Internet.
In 2001, 56% of the spectators went to the Opera based on the piece played, 42% based on the composer, 13% because they simply wanted to go out with friends, 4% because of the ticket price, 2% because they heard about the performances via friends, 2% via publicity and 1% because they heard about it in the medias. All over Europe, a drop in the number of subscriptions has been noted, except in Barcelona where 17 types of subscriptions are offered, some of which including B-cast performances (therefore cheaper). In Paris, subscriptions represent 200 000 of the 800 000 tickets sold each year (25%). Far from the European average. The main concern for spectators? Flexibility.
To draw more people to the Opera, Bordeaux director Thierry Fouquet scheduled longer runs for popular pieces: La Traviata, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Tosca... "We went from 4 to 8 or 10 performances. The 4000 subscribers still have their seats, but 6000 others are available for others. We loose 15 000 euros per performance, but we attract a larger audience" he adds.
In Rennes, director Alain Surrans opted to keep the tickets cheap, between 5 and 48 euros (8 to 75 euros in Bordeaux, 9 to 130 euros in Paris). He also focused on working with schools and social centers. He also introduced the happy hours system: two one-hour sessions, at 6pm and 8pm when you can approach the piece played for 3,5 euros including a nursery. Finally, he chose to play performances in difficult neighborhoods.
Spectator's profile: Left column: Opera-goers by age Red line: Opera-goers % Brownish line: Overall population % Right column: Opera-goers ranked according to their social status A - CEOs, executives, MDs, lawyers B - Junior managers, engineers, state employees, teachers, storekeepers, craftsmen C - Employees, factory workers D - Students E - Retired people

Feb 14, 2008

2 year delay for Colón

I've already talked about the delays and numerous problems the renovation of Il Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires has raised.

The "wait and see" part is over. It has now been announced that the Opera House, scheduled initially to reopen in May 2008 will remain closed until 2010.
The grand reopening celebrating the centennial of the place is off, as is indeed the 2008-2009 season.

Director Horacio Sanguinetti insisted the Colón will be ready for the 2010 season, which includes commitments by the orchestra of Il Teatro Alla Scala led by Argentine-born conductor Daniel Barenboim.

If you want first-hand news and opinions from Buenos Aires, I recommand Habitués del Teatro Colon Weblog (in spanish).

Feb 12, 2008


Of course people can argue all they want about the recent production of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice by the Alagna brothers.
Both in Bologna and in Montpellier, the staging was a key issue. Too modern, too provocative, too Eurotrash (I've never actually read that word on the several papers/forums I've been through but it seems to be appropriate).
It doesn't strike me as awful (pictures here) and as a matter of fact, I'm rather intrigued.

The other thing people went nuts about in Bologna was Roberto Alagna's singing. I've heard the broadcast of one perfomance there and it was indeed dreadful.
And I was having second thoughts about that ticket I bought for this summer's Faust in Orange (with Alagna).

A few weeks passed.
And came the Montpellier performances. This time, everybody praised him for his singing.
Jean-Louis Validire for Le Figaro had empathic words about his diction and his energy. Even these guys, who make a habit of trashing everything, were almost kind to him (not to each others though).

This is just why Roberto Alagna bothers me so much.
He is so unreliable.

YouTube extracts:

- interview (in italian, Roberto first then brother David) and extract of "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" from Bologna (Rai Tre)

Jour O

Let me tell you people this year's "let's attract new audiences to the opera by showing them some backstage stuff"-day in Lyon is way less attractive than last year (schedule here).
To the point I even consider not going...

By the way, this is part of the nationwide event Tous à l'opéra! (under the patronage of national pain-in-the-ass Roberto Alagna), and is also part of the European Opera Days, also happening at the Liceu (Barcelona), Teatro Real (Madrid), Théâtre de la Monnaie (Bruxelles), Bayerische Staatsoper (München), Opéra National de Paris (Bastille) as well as the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden, London).

Feb 10, 2008

A week in music: week 3

  • Sunday
    Bellini's Bianca e Fernando, Hayashi, Savostano, Gabriele Ferro cond., Teatro Reggio Torino May 29, 1976

  • Monday
    Verdi's Rigoletto

  • Tuesday
    Méhul's Horatius Coclès (1794), Massard, Orliac, orchestre de l'ORTF, cond. Yves Prin, mid-1960s

  • Wednesday
    Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, MET broadcast Nov.10 2006 with Juan Diego Flórez, Diana Damrau, Peter Mattei & Samuel Ramey, Maurizio Benini conducting

  • Thursday
    Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Scala July 13 1999, JDF, Jennifer Larmore, Roberto Frontali, Giorgio Surian, Riccardo Chailly conducting

  • Friday
    Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Macerata - Arena Sferisterio Agosto 1980, Ernesto Palacio, Leo Nucci, Marylin Horne, Cesare Siepi, Nicola Rescigno conducting

NB. Even if you are not a belcanto addict, you must admit "Largo al factotum" from Il Barbiere is one of the most difficult aria there is. Of the three versions above, Leo Nucci's interpretation is the only good one (also see this one).

Feb 7, 2008

Time for change

I don't always agree with what Natalie Dessay has to say, but I must admit she was right to cancel her engagement at La Scala last year when she found out they were running the old Zeffirelli production of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment.

This week, New Yorkers buzz about Carmen at the MET, in an old 1996 Zeffirelli production.

I'm so fed up with this guy; his aesthetics hasn't changed since the 1964 Covent Garden production of Tosca (everybody has seen the video of Callas singing that Tosca)(not to mention he actually started directing operas in the fifties), yet he's still everywhere.
I just can't understand why. Aren't people bored with this old-fashioned style of directing? Everything in there smells ancient. He still lives in the 1800s, and nobody seems to care.

I'm not a fan of "Eurotrash", but truth be told, I'd rather attend something disturbing yet new and original than the same old crap Zeffirelli constantly provides us with.

Some photographs of his work here and there.

Picture : La Bohème, Ken Howard/MET

Feb 5, 2008

Down to earth

Opéra de Lyon Jan.28, 2008 View from the 5th balcony