Jun 28, 2008

La Damnation de Faust

Légende dramatique en quatre parties
Hector Berlioz
Paroles de Hector Berlioz, Almire Gandonnière et Gérard de Nerval
[the original manuscript states "Les paroles du récitatif de Méphistophélès dans la cave de Leipzig, de la chanson latine des étudiants, du récitatif qui précède la danse des Follets, du Final de la 3ème partie, de toute la 4ème (à l’exception de la Romance de Marguerite) et de l’Epilogue, sont de M. H. Berlioz."]
After Goethe's Faust
Libretto available here, synopsis here.

Opéra de Lyon
27 juin 2008
Concert version

Marguerite - Katerina Karneus
Faust - Vincent Cole
Méphistophélès - Lionel Lhote
Brander - Nicolas Testé
Choeurs, maîtrise et orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon
Emmanuel Krivine conducting

La Damnation de Faust definitely demands a conductor that knows how to get the best of the orchestra & chorus, and understands that the crucial part here is the attacks of the notes, as well as the delicate balance between soft bars and aggressive ones.
In that regard, the conductor is more than ever the key to a successful evening.

Lyon favorite Emmanuel Krivine (who was the principal conductor of the Orchestre National de Lyon - the other orchestra of the city - from 1987 to 2000) was indeed an interesting choice.
His reading of the first two parts of the piece was undoubtedly superb (including the famous Hungary March, which was extraordinary); his interpretation of the last two left me more sceptical, as I would have liked a slightly faster tempo in arias such as "D'amour l'ardente flamme" and "Nature, immense, impénétrable", as well as "Ange adoré" the duet between Faust and Marguerite at the end of Part III. But his choices made sense and, most importantly, were adequate for the poor performances at this stage of both Vincent Cole and Katerina Karneus.
And his conduction in the big "La course à l'abyme" scene near the end of the piece was an exquisite way to bounce back before the last appearance of the chorus.

The orchestra had some issues in the cellos section as well as the brass, but the wind section was beyond reproach (especially first oboe Frédéric Tardy) and the solo of first alto Natalia Tolstaia was magnetizing.
The female part of the chorus was a bit off balance in the first part, but managed to regroup to match the excellent performance of the male singers, whose unison and nuances were as perfect of one can hope for in a chorus performance. Once again, chorus master Alan Woodbridge did a fantastic job.

My love for French bass Nicolas Testé was once again rewarded with a marvelous interpretation of his only aria as Brander, and in that short instant, he totally overshadowed the overall very good performance of Lionel Lhote as Méphistophélès.
Once again, I'm left wondering why this incredible performer is not used at his true value and cast in major roles (he would be an extraordinary Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust for instance).

As mentioned before, Lionel Lhote (already seen in Mary Stuarda this season) was excellent as Méphistophélès, especially in "La course à l'abyme" scene (Part 4 scene XVIII).

Vincent Cole started well as Faust.
Unfortunately the intermission (after the first two parts) was fatal to him, as his performance afterward declined from hardly audible to not audible at all at the end of the piece (which, in theatrical terms, completely sold the final victory of Méphistophélès).

Mezzo Katerina Karneus was well into character - but her singing was mediocre and uninspired.

All in all, a very decent evening to close my season here in Lyon (the piece will be performed one more time tomorrow for the final evening of the season), thanks to Emmanuel Krivine, the chorus and Lionel Lhote.

Hector Berlioz

(as some would say):

I spotted GM Serge Dorny during the intermission in the Grand Foyer, showing off as he always does, "les épaules en arrière et la poitrine en avant"*, a good testimony to the "bling-bling" culture currently ravishing the French society (thanks to "bling-bling"-president Sarkozy).

* children chorus, Act I, Carmen, Bizet

YouTube extracts to familiarize with this piece:

Jun 20, 2008

TCE new GM

As you know, I wish the Opéra de Lyon GM, Serge Dorny, was somewhere else experimenting with his "extraordinary" ideas. Turns out, he almost left. He was in the final two for the job of director of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris (the actual director Dominique Meyer will depart to head the Vienna State Opera in 2010), as reported by Le Figaro. Hélas, Michel Franck was chosen and we are stuck in Lyon with Serge Dorny.

Jun 15, 2008

[Rigoletto] III. The score

Act I

I'll easily admit that the first 15 minutes of the score are forgettable and basically not an ideal way to get hooked to this overall admirable piece.
The main reason is the obvious similarity with the beginning of La Traviata: same context, same structure and same harmonies. Yet, let's remember the plagiarism is on La Traviata's side, composed after Rigoletto, although it has become through the years Verdi's most performed opera; obviously a decadent young woman is more appealing to the masses then a bipolar hunchbacked jester whose stupidity is literally bigger than life.

Anyway, after the first frivolous scene, the score gets more and more interesting as the action unfolds.

The first jewel is undoubtedly Monterone's maledizione (Act I, scene 6) when the score suddenly looses all foolishness and switches to fit the dramatic appearance of this deceived father. The violins' line when he sings is a wonderful preview of the end of the act, when Rigoletto realizes he contributed to his own daughter's kidnapping.
The dichotomy of the score, constantly oscillating between easy-listening bars and dramatic intensity is I believe, its biggest asset throughout the entire opera and certainly one of the main reasons for my unconditional love for it.

The only aria of Rigoletto (Act I scene 8), though libretto-wise especially irritating and condescending, is musically full of dark emotions briefly lightened by the flute line and acts as the perfect introduction for the exquisite duet between him and his daughter Gilda.
This duet (also pretty dumb libretto-wise) is unforgettable and the highlight of the first act, especially the part below:
"Solo, difforme, povero,
Per compassion mi amo.
Ah! moria... le zolle coprano
Lievi quel capo amato.
Sola or tu resti al misero...
Dio, sii ringraziato! ..."

Act I middle of Scene 9, Rigoletto, Sony live recording, 1994
Renato Bruson as Rigoletto, Andrea Rost as Gilda,
Riccardo Muti conducting the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala.

Act I finale, Rigoletto, Sony live recording, 1994
Riccardo Muti conducting the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala
Listen to the extraordinary breath of the orchestra at 2:38 min.

Acts II & III

The second act opens on the Duke's aria "Parmi veder le lagrime" and is overall the less compelling of the three.

The last act on the other hand is fantastically well-balanced and a marvel of orchestration on Verdi's part.
The highlights are the magnificent 2-movement quartet "Ebben, osserva dunque" that starts with the mega hit "La donna è mobile" and especially the second part "Bella figlia dell' amore", the Tempesta scene, and of course the finale where the theme from the end of Act I is modified, ending with Rigoletto's heart-breaking last shout, "La maledizione!".

YouTube extracts

- "Parmi veder le lagrime" Jussi Björling
- "Bella figlia dell'amore" Siepi, Peters, Valletti, Thebom
- same aria, Filippeschi, Gobbi, Pagliughi

Opera quizz

You are a real opera fanatic if all of the following answers are obvious to you ;
1. Who composed the first opera? a. Giovanni Gabrieli b. Giacomo Carrisimo c. Claudio Monteverdi 2. Didon was the queen of which city? a. Carthage b. Troie c. Tyr 3. Where is buried Georg Friedrich Haendel? a. Westminster Abbey, London b. Hamburg c. Rome 4. Which two composers wrote an opera about Orfeo? a. Claudio Monteverdi b. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. Christoph Willibald von Gluck 5. Which writer created the Don Juan myth? a. Cervantès b. Tirso de Molina c. Lorenzo Da Ponte 6. Cosima Wagner was the daughter of: a. Weber b. Hans von Bulow c. Franz Liszt 7. How is called Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung? a. the Tetralogy b. the Cosmology c. the Ontology 8. For which piece was Berlioz inspired by Shakespeare? a. La Damnation de Faust b. Roméo et Juliette c. Les Troyens 9. Who composed Il Barbiere di Siviglia? a. Mozart b. Rossini c. Puccini 10. What writer was the inspiration behind Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor? a. Walter Scott b. Alexandre Dumas c. Victor Hugo 11. In Verdi's Otello, how is called Otello's wife? a. Desdemona b. Mimi c. Violetta 12. Which two operas were composed by Gounod? a. Faust b. Mireille c. Samson et Dalila 13. Which writer inspired Bizet for Carmen? a. Prosper Mérimée b. Garcia Lorca c. Halévy 14. Which two operas were composed by Jules Massenet? a. Werther b. Manon c. Les Pêcheurs de Perles 15. Which librettist is behind Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande? a. Maurice Maeterlinck b. Pierre Louÿs c. Tristan L'Hermite 16. With which librettist did Richard Strauss most work? a. Oscar Wilde b. Hugo von Hofmannsthal c. Eichendorff 17. Where was Janacek from? a. Romania b. Bulgaria c. Czech Republic [Extract from L'indispensable de la culture musicale, Marie-France Castarède and Benoît Berthou, published in 2004, in French] [Answers on demand]

Jun 10, 2008

Dark future ahead

After An inconvenient truth and Brokeback Mountain, the time for someone to adapt Sex And The City into an opera libretto is just seconds away I'm afraid... Where has the imagination to write original new operas instead of recycling others' ideas gone? On Mars?

Jun 8, 2008

[Rigoletto] II.Synopsis

Not that I have forgotten about my previous commitments, but work is eating me alive right now. Yet, I have to find some time for Rigoletto if I want my series to end with my journey to Dresden.
Today is synopsis time, obviously.

Enrico Caruso as Il Duca di Mantova

PREMIER ACTE - La scène représente un bal animé, dans les magnifiques salles du palais ducal.

Le duc et ses familiers se promènent, en causant de leurs aventures galantes.
Un courtisan raconte, en riant, que Rigoletto, l'horrible bouffon, possède une maîtresse et qu'il l'a vu pénétrer, la nuit, en se cachant, dans la demeure de la belle. Pour se venger des railleries de Rigoletto, les courtisans complotent l'enlèvement de sa bien-aimée et se donnent rendez-vous pour la nuit suivante.
La fête est interrompue par l'apparition de Monterone, qui vient demander compte au duc de l'honneur de sa fille. L'indignation et les plaintes du vieillard sont accueillies par les plaisanteries des courtisans et les quolibets moqueurs de Rigoletto. Le duc, enfin lassé des objurgations de Monterone, le fait arrêter par ses hallebardiers. Le vieillard jette, en partant, sa malédiction au bouffon.

DEUXIEME ACTE - Un carrefour désert, la nuit; à droite, les murs très élevés d'un jardin; à gauche, la maison de Gilda.

C'est dans cette demeure isolée que Rigoletto cache son trésor le plus cher, non pas sa maîtresse, ainsi que le croient les courtisans, mais sa fille Gilda. Lui, homme sans moeurs, âme vile et conseiller pervers, il aime son enfant avec idolâtrie et il veut la conserver pure de toute souillure.
Au moment où il va pénétrer chez Gilda, Rigoletto est accosté par un spadassin, Sparafucile, qui lui offre ses services; quelqu'un rôde souvent autour de la maison et l'épée du bandit délivrerait Rigoletto des importuns.
Le bouffon entre dans la maison, interroge avec anxiété Gilda et sa gouvernante. Rassuré par leurs réponses, il sort bientôt, tandis que le Duc, qui s'est introduit dans la cour, se met aux genoux de la jeune fille et lui dit son amour. Le Duc se fait passer, auprès de Gilda, pour un étudiant pauvre nommé Carlo Baldi, il la suit depuis longtemps, lui a parlé plusieurs fois, et Gilda l'aime de toute son âme.
Pendant la causerie des deux amoureux, les courtisans surviennent, pour mettre à exécution leur projet d'enlèvement. Le Duc se sauve. Par un stratagème infernal, les courtisans amènenent Rigoletto, qu'ils ont rencontré, à se laisser bander les yeux et à tenir l'échelle aux ravisseurs de son enfant. Le crime accompli, le bouffon s'aperçoit qu'on s'est cruellement joué de lui; mais il est trop tard, sa fille a disparu.

TROISIEME ACTE - Le théâtre est séparé en deux; à gauche une place déserte; à droite, l'intérieur du cabaret tenu par Sparafucile.

Le Duc et la courtisane Maddalena, soeur du spadassin, sont dans la salle basse de l'auberge, visible pour le spectateur. Une lézarde dans la muraille permet aussi aux passants de voir ce qui se passe à l'intérieur du bouge; c'est ainsi que Rigoletto et Gilda voient le Duc, déguisé, se livrer à une orgie au plus bas étage, qui le révèle tel qu'il est à la fille du bouffon.
Cette situation, une des plus fortes qu'on ait produites au théâtre, donne lieu à un magnifique quatuor, qui est sans contredit la plus merveilleuse page musicale qu'on ait jamais conçue.
La galanterie du Duc, la coquetterie de Maddalena, l'horreur et le désespoir qu'éprouve Gilda à ce spectacle, les sentiments de compassion de Rigoletto pour sa fille et de vengeance à l'égard du Duc, tout cela est coordonné dans une conception d'une force, d'une hardiesse et d'un effet admirables.
Rigoletto renvoie sa fille, en lui enjoignant de prendre un habit d'homme et de se rendre à Vérone; il concerte ensuite, avec Sparafucile, la mort du Duc, moyennant une somme de vingt écus, et sort à son tour.
Maddalena implore la pitié de son frère en faveur de leur hôte, dont la jeunesse et la grâce l'intéressent vivement.
Un violent orage éclate.
Gilda, poussée par un funeste pressentiment, revient, habillée en homme, et reprend son poste devant la fente de la muraille. Elle apprend ainsi le coup qui menace le Duc, et entend Sparafucile promettre à sa soeur d'épargner le jeune homme, si un autre voyageur se présente et s'il peut livrer un autre cadavre au client qui l'a payé.
La pensée de mourir, à la place du séducteur qui la trahit, vient à l'esprit de Gilda; elle frappe à la porte, elle entre; Sparafucile l'assassine et met son cadavre dans un sac.
Rigoletto se présente, afin de s'assurer par ses propres yeux que l'oeuvre de sa vengeance est consommée. Il ouvre le sac, voit les traits inanimés de sa fille chérie, et tombe presque sans vie sur le corps de la malheureuse, tandis que le Duc s'éloigne tranquillement, aux premières lueurs de l'aurore, accompagné par Maddalena, et chantant gaiement sa chanson favorite:

Comme la plume au vent,
Femme est volage,
Et bien peu sage
Qui s'y fie un instant.

Extrait de L'album-guide parisien, 1889, p74
" Portraits des principaux artistes des théâtres de Paris
Analyse et distribution des rôles des ouvrages du Répertoire de l'Opéra."

Jussi Björling as Il Duca di Mantova
Copenhagen, 1942

Synopsis in English by the Met here.

Jun 7, 2008

Opera against Alzheimer

On June 21, the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg will hold on its parvis an auction sale of previous productions accessories to raise money against Alzheimer's disease.
The "pot-pourri" selection includes a fake strawberry tart from Der Rosenkavalier (1995-96, 5 euros listing), a polystyrene Virgin Mary from Héloïse et Abélard (2000-01, 150 euros), a 233-kg bell from Die Tote Stadt (30 euros), a motorless fire fighters truck and many more disparate and unlikely stuff.

More on the auction:
Qobuz, Opera du Rhin website.

Jun 4, 2008

Doctor Atomic

John Adams' Doctor Atomic
Chicago Lyric Opera, Dec. 2007

"EU Issues Alert After Incident at Slovenian Nuclear Plant"

And yet I had no idea Slovenia was so close to where I live.
Utterly scary, come to think of it.

Jun 3, 2008

Opera rara

Because I love "almost beyond-obscure operas", especially XIXth century French rarities, I am one of the only few eagerly waiting for the Summer release of the recording (video extracts there, click on Videotrailer at the bottom of the page) of Gounod's La Nonne Sanglante recreated last January in Osnabrück (Germany), by CPO (who else knows that, seriously?).

In that line of unseen/unheard/unknown operas, Intermezzo just came back from Zürich where Halévy's Clari was recreated in May (mainly due to the obstination of Cecilia Bartoli), with some clues about the score, the libretto and of course the performance.
Other reviews: ResMusica (in French), Diapason (also in French), International Herald Tribune.

Now, who would be kind enough to schedule my all-time favorite in that category, Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais?

Jun 1, 2008

Athénée's operas for 08-09

The Eden-Théâtre, build in the 1880s rue Boudreau in Paris after an Hindu temple, underwent many changes before becoming in 1896, l'Athénée Théâtre. The theater's name is now inseparable with its greatest director of all, legendary actor Louis Jouvet (who died in his office from a heart attack on August 16, 1951).
After Jouvet's death, the theater never really recovered until owner Pierre Bergé sold it to the state in 1982 for "un franc symbolique". It became a place of choice for XXth century theater.

In 1999, the orchestra pitt was rediscovered, allowing the seasons to include staged operas.

The 2008-09 season has been announced this week (though not yet available on the website), and will include La Cantatrice chauve (opera composed by Jean-Philippe Calvin based on Ionesco's play), L’Opéra de quatre notes from minimalist composer Tom Johnson, Mauricio Kagel's Le Tribun/Finale, Delibes's La Cour du roi Pétaud and Vaughan Williams's Riders To The Sea; two revivals from la Maison de la culture de Bourges will be scheduled : Philip Glass's Les Enfants terribles, and Mozart's Cosi fan tutte (version with wind instruments only).