May 22, 2008

ACA's Carmen

London, Royal Opera House
Broadcast of the Dec.19, 2006 performance
DVD also available
Pictures of the production there

Carmen : Anna Caterina Antonacci
Don José : Jonas Kaufmann (role debut)
Michaëla : Nora Amsellem
Escamillo : Ildebrando d’Arcangelo
Zuniga : Matthew Rose
Le Dancaïre : Jean Sebastien Bou
Le Remendado : Jean Paul Fouchécourt
Morales : Jacques Imbrailo
Fraquita : Elena Xanthoudakis
Mercedes : Viktoria Vizin

Conductor : Antonio Pappano
Director : Francesca Zambello

Anna Caterina Antonacci
© 2006 by Catherine Ashmore

At last a production that captures the true essence of an opera…

Francesca Zambello’s view may seem unoriginal on the surface (simple set, costumes that could have been seen in Paris when Carmen was created in 1875, choreography true to the Spanish/Gypsy atmosphere), yet it’s the first time I’ve seen such a care to portray Don José as he was intended in Bizet’s mind.

In June 1872, the Opéra Comique in Paris ordered a new opera to Bizet, who chose to build the story based on Prosper Mérimée’s novel, Carmen (1845). If the librettists Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy were excited by this choice, the minister Adolphe de Leuven was horrified by it: it was unconceivable, according to him, to see a dramatic ending in the Opéra Comique, as well as depraved and low-life gypsies.
After all, this House was the place of choice for families and wedding arrangements.
In order for the piece to be accepted, Bizet was urged to change the ending into a happy one (which he refused) or at least to make Don José more lovable by introducing a new and pure character, Micaëla, his childhood sweetheart.
In the composition of the opera, the distinction between the arias of Carmen and Micaëla is obvious, the latter singing in the usual Opéra Français style (duet “Parle-moi de ma mère” in Act One for instance), while Carmen is granted with the Spanish connotation.

The Opéra Comique is also responsible, by the way, for the spoken parts in the piece (which I don’t think add anything to the story).

The audience at the premiere included Délibes, Gounod, Massenet, Offenbach, Thomas, Alphonse Daudet and Alexandre Dumas-fils. Yet the piece was a huge failure, as the libretto was too shooking and the music too awkward.

In any case, Carmen was build around an aggressive and mean Don José, and nowadays, almost all the productions of this piece portray him as a kind soul whose only fault is his jealousy.

Well, Francesca Zambello took on Bizet’s approach, and Jonas Kaufman, with his dark voice and rustic appearance was indeed the perfect tenor for this (although I was very sceptical in the beginning). We’re miles away from the crystalline singing of Nicolaï Gedda but this approach definitely made me revisit what I expect of Don José. How often can a production alter for the best the perception you have of a piece, seriously?

The children’s chorus was full of life and extraordinary realistic, and I also loved the first silent picture of Don José (during the overture), handcuffed, dirty, visibly disoriented and in despair, holding the faded rose Carmen once gave him and being taken away to die. A simple idea, yet perfectly describing the essence of this opera in just a few seconds.

I know Londoners don’t like it when someone dares to criticize Antonio Pappano and his conducting, but I have to say his interpretation lacks the flamboyance of Georges Prêtre’s and I’m not sure being a singers’ conductor turns out to suit this work: it slowed down the rhythmn at times, and the rhythmics is paramount in this piece.

© 2006 by Catherine Ashmore

Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (or Michelangelo, as I call him) was a powerful Escamillo (even if bringing a magnificent horse on stage didn’t really bring anything to the production, it was fascinating to watch him sing while riding it). The score is not really his cup of tea, and neither is the French language, but his stage presence is always outstanding and made up for his weaknesses.
Nora Amsellem was a weak Micaëla with way too much vibrato everywhere; the two gypsies Elena Xanthoudakis and Viktoria Vizin were pretty good, especially the latter.

The Carmen of Anna Caterina Antonacci is simply extraordinary.
She has the fire in her eyes to own the character from the very first few seconds; her stage presence is phenomenal and suits exactly the role, her acting skills are brilliant, her French diction is perfect and her singing is amazing. What more can you ask for?

So obviously people, I will try and see her in Toulouse next April…

YouTube extracts of this production:

- Carmen’s Habanera, " L’amour est un oiseau rebelle "
- Carmen, gypsy's song "Les tringles des sistres tintaient"
- Carmen & Don José, final duet "C'est toi, c'est moi"
- Don José, "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée"
- Escamillo, Toreador's song, "Votre toast, je peux le vous le rendre"

© 2006 by Catherine Ashmore

Toulouse 2008-09

The last season of Nicolas Joël as head of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse is once again very well-balanced and has two majors highlights, in my opinion (full brochure there):

- Anna Caterina Antonacci will be Carmen alongside Zoran Todorovich (Don José) and Inva Mula (Micaëla). The production, a revival from 1997 (directed by Nicolas Joël), will be conducted by Daniele Callegari (April 3 to 12).

- The Faust production by Nicolas Joël that will premiere this summer in Orange will be performed in Toulouse from June 19 to 30. Orlin Anastassov should make a very fine Méphistophélès, and will share the stage with Inva Mula (Marguerite) and Giuseppe Filianoti (Faust). Emmanuel Plasson (the son of Michel Plasson who will be in Orange) will conduct.

The 2008-09 season in Toulouse will also feature Marco Armiliato (conducting Le Nozze di Figaro in Nov.), Karine Deshayes (Offenbach's La Périchole for the Christmas holidays), Stéphane Degout and Emmanuelle Haïm and her orchestra and chorus of Concert d'Astrée for Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, and Ludovic Tézier (Jochanaan) and Thomas Moser (Herodes) in Salomé.

May 21, 2008

Opéra National de Lorraine 08-09

Ever heard of this Opera House? I won't blame you if you haven't, since it's a very small one in Nancy with little to offer.

I don't know where they found the money, but the 2008-09 season is indeed worth noticing.

It will open on Sept.30 with the world premiere of Divorce à l'italienne composed by Giorgio Battistelli (who is also responsible for the libretto, inspired from the Pietro Germi's movie Divorzio all'Italiana). The director brought in is David Pountney, not a bad name for opening a season.

Rossini's La Cenerentola will be up next (November and early December) with Nicolas Testé as Alidoro and Donato di Stefano as Don Magnifico.

The comic opera staged next season will be a very original choice indeed: Les neveux du Capitaine Grant from Manuel Fernandez Caballero (1877), with a libretto by Ramos Carrion (from Jules Verne) in January and February.

To broaden the audience, Rigoletto is scheduled in March and Haendel's The Messiah in April (Jean-Christophe Spinosi conducting his Matheus Ensemble).
Back to original choices in May with Maurizio Kagel's Le Tribun (1979) with a singing cast of one (a calvary if Dominique Pinon turns out to be bad).
Finally, the season will end with Mozart's Idomeneo in June.

Not bad a season for such a small Opera House, wouldn't you say?

Season brochure available for download here.

May 19, 2008

Laurent Pelly and Offenbach

Laurent Pelly
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 2000 (revival at the ENO in may 2006)


Hélène - Felicity Lott
Paris - Yann Beuron
Ménélas - Michel Sénéchal
Agamemnon - Laurent Naouri
Calchas - François Le Roux

Marc Minkwoski
Musiciens du Louvre

First, I want to emphasize how Felicity Lott is the true jewel of this DVD. Her singing and acting are indeed very convincing.

As for the production itself, as usual in Pelly's team, the work of Agathe Mélinand rewriting and updating the spoken parts is hilarious and very well done. Unfortunately for Pelly, that's when the compliments stop. The choreography by Laura Scozzi is off, the use of the chorus on stage is as awful as can be (without even mentioning their singing performance which is no better than average), the costumes are noticeably unbearable and the overall result is less than convincing.

Pelly, when staging a comic opera (especially Offenbach's), always has the same approach: rewriting the libretto with modern references and staging the action in the contemporary world (not in La Fille du Régiment where he chose WWI, with was a breath of fresh air). His sets are always over the top to create a kind of parallel reality where time and space collide into a clownesque atmosphere, a lot like I Pagliacci, if you think of it (especially with the dream inside the dream - when Hélène ends up in bed with Paris while Ménélas returns, with sheep appearing on stage); that impression is reinforced by the way he defines the movements of the actors or the chorus: always speedy, staccatoish and excessive. The problem is, it gets redundant after a few productions. And redundant inevitably leads to boredom.

Take this production of La Belle Hélène for instance.
Many of the tricks he used there could be interesting, hadn't he recycled almost all of them for last December La Vie Parisienne here in Lyon. I think the anachronism between the singing parts and the spoken dialogue is one of the true forte of his work.
The problem specifically here is that the characters are very unupdatable. Agamenmon wearing a bath sheet, Ajax with a broom on top of his helmet, Calchas dressed as a caveman, all that is nothing if not awkward and ugly.

Pelly chose to focus the action around the dysfunctional wedding of Ménélas (a very funny Michel Sénéchal) and Hélène (this, in itself, is a valid point), making the rest of the characters outcasts. Whether he intended to purposely create such an mess is the big question I have regarding this production, but the result leaves me very sceptical. The whole opera could be entitled "Hélène's dream"; the sole element of the set in the first act is the bed, in the center of the stage, where Hélène and Ménélas sleep as an old couple would do (far apart); Calchas, appearing in the second scene, is definitely portrayed as her imaginary friend, always offering a shoulder to cry on.

Everything else (the chorus, the kings, Paris) is her little fantasy and her salvation. The intention is laudable, the result doesn't live up to the expectations. And the blame falls mainly on Pelly, for not being able to make something beautiful out of it. I know beauty is not on the directors' minds these days, but I think it's a shame to sacrifice the aesthetics on the altar of intellectual supremacy.

May 17, 2008

[Ears openers] V. Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter
Usher Hall - Edinburgh Festival, 7 September 1949

One of the few voices I am haunted by.
I simply cannot escape her radiant magnetism.
Who can?

I won't even try to describe the emotions that overwhelm me when she sings.
Nor will I attempt to write about her tragically short life and career (see here or there).


- Ombra mai fu (Haendel), YouTube
- Que faro senza Euridice (Gluck), YouTube
- Das Lied von der Erde - « Abschied » (Mahler) from Kozlika (mp3 available in the middle of her post).

May 16, 2008

Berlin Staatsoper 2008-09

After the turmoil of the last few months ending yesterday with the resignation of Peter Mussbach, Daniel Barenboim was giving a press conference this evening to unfold the new season (already online).

Among the premieres, Gounod's Faust will receive a new treat with Charles Castronovo (Faust), René Pape (Méphistophélès) and Marina Poplavskaya (Marguerite) in February 2009.
Lohengrin will also premiere in a new production directed by Daniel Barenboim, with Burkhard Fritz as Lohengrin and René Pape (Heinrich der Vogler) in April.

The returning repertoire will include performances by Ermonela Jaho in La Traviata (she seems to start a tour with her Violetta, doesn't she?) in October and November.

May 14, 2008

Netrebko out, Ciofi in

So it seems Patrizia Ciofi made a little announcement after Sunday last performance of Maria Stuarda in Liège... she will sing Giuletta in place of Anna Netrebko for at least three performances in Paris in Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi, On May 31, June 11 & 15. In any case, Ciofi will be there every night of the run to cover for last minute cancellations. All that is now confirmed on the Paris Opera website. In a way, no surprise to hear Netrebko is canceling once again. The excuse this time? "I'm five months pregnant, so it either that or I cancel the whole run." (which is basically what the Paris Opera released there).

May 10, 2008

Konwitschny's Don Carlos at the Liceu

Don Carlos
Opéra en 5 actes de Giuseppe Verdi (original version)
Livret de Joseph Méry et Camille du Locle (en français)

Production of Peter Konwitschny
Wiener Staatsoper / Liceu
Premiere in Hamburg in 2001
Premiere in Vienna on Oct.18 2004 (DVD available)
Premiere in Barcelona on Jan.27 2007 (review of the broadcast)
Last performances in Vienna on June 19, 24 and 28, 2008

Don Carlos - Franco Farina
Elisabeth - Adrianne Pieczonka
Princesse Eboli - Sonia Ganassi
Philipe II - Giacomo Prestia
Rodrigue, marquis de Posa - Carlos Alvarez
Le Grand Inquisiteur - Eric Halvarson

Conductor - Maurizio Benini

I. The staging

This was a very controversial production from the beginning, and I do understand why. While the motives of Peter Konwitschny are often appropriate, the aesthetics is rather disconcerting and preposterous.

Eboli's dream (Vienna 2004)

It was indeed a good idea - as this production is build on the integral 5 act version of the opera, including a 20 minute ballet (mandatory for the creation in 1867 in Paris) -, to use the time to a fantasy scene entitled "Eboli's dream" of the perfect suburban life she could have had with Carlos. But Suburbia and XVIth century aren't related in any way, and as Konwitschny chose costumes inspired from the XVIth century for the entire opera, the dream of Ebony ends up being totally awkward. The anachronism just didn't work at all for me (especially this one, where the audience is suddenly submerged into this burlesque movie from the 1960s).

The auto-da-fé scene was the highlight of this production and yet again, I couldn't make the switch from the XVIth to the XXIth-media frenzy century. What definitely didn't help was Carlos wearing a XVIth century dagger under his XXIth century tuxedo.

The moves the singers had to perform were also too exaggerated and I don't like it when the Opera House turns into a circus and the singers into clowns. I really don't.
It's the ultimate pleonasm if you think of it: "look at me, I'm singing I'm miserable because I'm trapped in that relationship, I'm feeling it but in case you still haven't noticed, with the music and all, I'm showing you with wide mimic gestures Konwitschny dug out from old Marcel Marceau's tapes".
It's very condescendent to the audience and I can't really see beyond that.

The set on that production is non-existent, for the most part, and it gets utterly boring in the last two acts. The light designer must have been desperate for something to do in that production, I'm afraid he either died of desolation or boredom, as Konwitschny had no interest whatsoever in that department.

II. The cast

Adrianne Pieczonka

Lots of disappointments there.
Franco Farina was awful as usual (this tenor I especially don't like), with awful high notes and awful diction (see by yourselves how he ruins the most beautiful aria of this opera, the duet with Rodrigue in Act 2, "Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes"); Giacomo Prestia (Philippe II) abuses of vibratos in hopes nobody notices he can't sing in French; Sonia Ganassi (Eboli) was musically weak but managed a good acting performance (especially in Act 4); Adrianne Pieczonka was vocally the best of the cast but her acting skills are limited to one facial expression; Carlos Alvarez lacked something as Rodrigue - authenticity I suspect, and the stage directions obviously didn't help.

III. The music

Another huge disappointment there.
The reading Maurizio Benini has of that piece seems to be that, since Don Carlos is so long it's bound to be boring, the best thing to do is to rush the musicians, speed things up - and be done with it. The problem with that assumption is that it doesn't reveal the beauty of the score at all, as he used no nuance, lacked finesse and passion. His conduction was flat and linear yet extremely speedy (very disturbing indeed).

I'll stick to my DVD conducted by Pappano with Alagna, Hampson and Van Dam.

Further readings:

- A piece (in French) written by Jaime Estapà including the historical discrepancies of the opera
- Michael Milenski (in English)

May 8, 2008

Wim Mertens

Live at Nieuwe Workshop, Brussels, Belgium, 1981

And yet I had no idea Philip Glass had a child...

Video Clip on YouTube there.
Official website here.

May 7, 2008

Ciofi role debut in Maria Stuarda

Maria Stuarda
Gaetano Donizetti

Maria Stuarda - Patrizia Ciofi
Elisabetta - Marianna Pizzolato
Leicester - Danilo Formaggia
Talbot - Federico Sacchi
Lord Cecil - Mario Cassi

Conductor - Luciano Acocella
Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège, Belgium
Radio broadcast of the May 3 2008 performance

Patrizia Ciofi as Maria Stuarda

Quick review for the impatient Polish fan community of Patrizia Ciofi;

- poor performance of Danilo Pizzolato as Leicester; the problems are too numerous to list here, but the main thing is he has no voice whatsoever
- vibrant performance from Marianna Pizzolato as Elisabetta, average one from Mario Cassi as Cecil
- big problems of unison in the orchestra, in the chorus and between each other
- interesting conduction of Luciano Acocella, the word coming to mind is "primesautière", one of those words there is no proper English translation for

Since Patrizia Ciofi was not at ease from the beginning, I wasn't expecting anything in the 2nd and 3rd acts. I was right, though she did manage to step things up by Act 3 (the version played in Liège is the one in 3 acts). She sounded tired (exhausted at times), and her voice was weak, metallic and not at all representative of her usual talent.
A series of performances to forget I would say, glad that I am I didn't make the trip to Belgium.

May 6, 2008

La Forza di Mehta

La Forza Del Destino
Giuseppe Verdi
Synopsis here, libretto there.

Current repertoire of the Vienna State Opera.
Next performances here.
Review of the premiere (March 1, 2008) broadcast on 3 sat.

Leonora - Nina Stemme
Don Carlo - Carlos Alvarez
Alvaro - Salvatore Licitra
Preziosilla - Nadia Krasteva
Marchese di Calatrava / Padre Guardiano - Alastair Miles

Conductor - Zubin Mehta
Director - David Poutney

Axel Zeininger / Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

I. The staging

This part I didn't like for sure (but I liked the production of Il Tabarro by Poutney seen here in Lyon last Spring), and especially his choice to portray the Bohemians as a Cowboy-style Crazy Horse show. I get he tried to update the story, but the main reason for his failure is his ostentatious disrespect for the religious matters that are so intrinsic to this opera.
It's hard not to be upset, even for deeply atheist people like myself, by the antinomy between those Cowboy-evangelical freaks acting out while Carlo is singing "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti." (Act II) for instance, especially when the costume design is so provocative and vain.
[Someone from the audience shouted "Assassino di Verdi" and others booed at the end of the most absurd scene - Act 3 -, when Melitone lectures the people on their decadent and ungodly manners while being strapped in duct tape and bullied.]

Realistically, the only way to succeed would have been to step the ideas down, be less incendiary of the Catholic Church and stage the religious parts in a TV evangelical context.

The set design in that militant production managed to create some beautiful images though, such as the cross at the end of Act 2 or the industrial framework at the beginning of Act 3 (before the political madness of Poutney overwhelms it).

II. The cast

Surely the team assembled for the premiere was very decent and talented, yet I can't feel passionate about either of the singers.
Nadia Krasteva was average, Stemme was not at ease, Alvarez was good but his acting is just not right, and Alaistar Miles had a great evening, even if I strongly disagree with the choice (probably Poutney's) to cast him in both Il Marchese (Leonora's father) and Padre Guardiano (head of the monastery she enters i.e. her religious father, a idea that is just too simple for me).

Salvatore Licitra

If tenors were judged upon their middle and low registers, Licitra would be in line at the gates of their pantheon. Unfortunately for him, opera standards haven't changed on that matter in over 400 years, and high notes are still what tenors are remembered for.
Since what he lacks in singing is not counterbalanced at all by his acting, he will remain, by my personal standards, an average tenor who incomprehensibly is casted by all the major Opera Houses around the world.

III. The music

This is the real catch of this production, at least conducted by Zubin Mehta.
I'll admit it is very difficult for me to be open to hearing Verdi's music conducted by someone else than Riccardo Muti because obviously he had a tremendous influence on the way I perceive music (especially Verdi's).
That explains why for instance, I am very reluctant to attend performances (unless JDF sings in it, that goes without saying) of the operas I love most (in Verdi's case, Rigoletto, Don Carlos, Il Trovatore, Attila and La Forza, in that order).

The conduction of Mehta was under scrutiny from the very first seconds of the overture, let me tell you.
Well, I was blown away, simply put.

On a scale from 0 to 10 (10 being Muti), I would give Mehta a 9.5.
His reading of the piece is exquisite, really.
All in finesse and style, always spot on, served by a brilliant execution of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, full of live and light. A magnificent piece of jewelry.

Further readings:

- A review from someone who actually attended the piece (not the premiere though)
- The Associated Press review from March 2

May 5, 2008

Gone with the wind

"Dear Friends,

It is my extreme pleasure to share with you some very exciting news!

We have just announced the appointment of Riccardo Muti—one of the most extraordinary and respected conductors of all time—to the position of music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His unparalleled musicianship, steadfast commitment to the highest level of music making, and dedication to preserving the rich history of the CSO while continuing to propel the organization into the future perfectly complement the world-class stature of our Orchestra and its musicians. He will begin his tenure in September 2010.

Our goal was to bring the best musical leader to Chicago, an extraordinary musician that would match the international profile of our Orchestra, and we have found this in Maestro Muti. I would like to thank all of you for your support, advice, guidance and input throughout the search. Your enthusiasm and passion for our great Orchestra inspired us all. I know that Maestro Muti looks forward to getting to know our wonderful city and community.

Most sincerely,
Deborah Rutter Card
President, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association"

Read the entire announcement there or the pieces from the NY Times here and there.
The candidates the CSO considered besides Muti were Riccardo Chailly, Antonio Pappano, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Very exciting news for Chicago of course, not so exciting for me, as it means Europe will see and hear even less of Riccardo Muti...

May 3, 2008

Impromptu concert at the NYCO

On the balcony of the NYC Opera, a high school band from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, performed a free concert. Typical band music was played, as well as a piece from Bach.
All photographs of the New York City Opera taken before the performance of Il Ballo in Maschera at the Met on April 19, 2008.

[My non-opera related pictures from New York can be seen there.]

Roméo et Juliette, Met broadcast Dec. 2007

Roméo et Juliette
Opéra en 5 actes de Charles Gounod
Livret de Jules Barbier et Michel Carré d'après la pièce Romeo and Juliet de Shakespeare

PBS TV broadcast
December 15, 2007
Metropolitan Opera

Placido Domingo, Conductor

Tybalt: Marc Heller
Paris: Louis Otey
Capulet: Charles Taylor
Juliette: Anna Netrebko
Mercutio: Nathan Gunn
Romeo: Roberto Alagna
Gertrude: Jane Bunnell
Gregorio: David Won
Friar Laurence: Robert Lloyd
Stephano: Isabel Leonard
Benvolio: Tony Stevenson
The Duke of Verona: Dean Peterson

I get that, after a few hundred years singing almost every operatic role ever written for a tenor, you will eventually get so bored you'll try to expand your musical experiences by, say, conducting operas.
Considering you spent ages under the most brilliant conductors of the XXth century, you should have such a depth at understanding the scores your conduction should really be something unique.
Everybody knows though, that Placido Domingo as a conductor has raised a lot of criticism (and booing from the audience too), and up to now, I really couldn't get why. Sure, the conductions I heard from him were nothing but average, but most of the conductors these days (at least in the bel canto area) are mediocre at best.
Well, all that changed after I watched this broadcast from the Met.

Being such a freak for Gounod, I of course get emotional pretty quick - in that case pretty upset.
The best way to describe Domingo conducting that piece is to picture the vacuum of the universe (which is not really made of nothing, but this blog isn't about to start on physics), and its freezing temperature of roughly three Kelvin.
The render of Gounod's music Domingo provided the Met with is a emotionless and cold as the universe. His understanding of the rhythm of Gounod is desperately wrong and boring, as everything is played on a military mode - one, two, one, two, one, two.
I don't question his musicality as much as I question his hearing though. How can he not hear the orchestra sounds flat and mechanical? There's an ugly monotony to everything (in all fairness, except for the waltz parts), especially to the non-singing parts of the score, and he seems to have no interest whatsoever for the attacks of the notes.
A big cold vacuum, really (sorry!).

Ruby Washington for the NY Times

As for the chorus of the Met, which can't basically deal properly with the French language, no offense to New Yorkers, the conduction of Domingo ruins every chance of extracting a decent performance out of it. Once again, everything is blind and tasteless, especially my favorite intervention of the chorus (even if it last no longer than thirty seconds) during the duet between Tybalt and Mercutio (Act 3) with the supposed-to-be vindicative and passionate "Capulets! Capulets! Race immonde!".

Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera

The cast was equally disappointing, Marc Heller (Tybalt) and Louis Otey (Paris) been horrible; the French diction (or the lack of, rather) and over-the-top acting of Nathan Gunn make him a mediocre Mercutio indeed.
Anna Netrebko surprised me a lot as she was pretty good at playing the ingénue part of Juliette; the problems obviously start when she starts singing (I notoriously don't like her, so I won't go into further details). Charles Taylor as Capulet, the father of Juliette, was interesting enough, and Alagna, though pretty good at the beginning of the performance, slightly slipped into uncharted waters by the end of the broadcast. The last scene in front of Juliette's grave was rather painful to hear, as his voice was so tired he could hardly control it at all.

All and all, a very disappointing broadcast.

May 1, 2008

The perfect tenor for the job

The thing about Gounod's music is that it can quickly seem heavy and solemn if sung by the wrong kind of tenor.
One has to have a light enough timbre and an excellent French diction to be able to showcase how aerial this music really is. Both criteria are of the utmost importance which is why, one of the best tenors ever, according to me, Franco Corelli, made such a mediocre Faust. He obviously had a magnificent timbre perfect for Gounod, but his diction was horrible. On the other hand, Nicolai Gedda was less emotional but the combination of his voice and his diction was a recording marvel (this is also why he is the ultimate Nadir).

Nowadays, nobody speaks French properly (not even the natives, no wonder), and the tenors have lost that leggero touch so many before them had (Gigli, Bergonzi, Corelli, DiStefano ...).

The only true leggero tenors left are Juan Diego Flórez (it seems like a post without mentioning his name is out of the question these days) who, despise his "stacatoish" way of singing (and his too ostensible rrr), is actually amazing once a century, when he sings one aria composed by Gounod (such as "Ah! Lève toi Soleil" from Roméo et Juliette he performed last March in Parma), and Roberto Alagna.

As I am watching the broadcast of Roméo et Juliette from last December at the Met, with Roberto Alagna as Roméo, I suddenly remembered why it is that I fell in love with him some years ago.
He can be so brilliant singing French operas.
Truly the best tenor to do so since Nicolai Gedda.

Even if his voice is not as secure and light as it used to be, he still makes a great service to Gounod's music. And I suddenly feel better to have my ticket for the upcoming Faust in Orange...