Jul 31, 2008

New website for an old Opera House

Ever visited Il Teatro dell'Opera di Roma website?

Up until a few days ago, it was incredibly amateur, the kind of html site with minimal graphics and no animation whatsoever...
Well, it has undergone a complete renovation and is now more worthy of a 21st century website for one of the best Opera Houses in Europe.

Among the features that were desperately missing and are now available, instructions to access the Opera House, "come arrivare"; online tickets sale, "biglietteria"; as well as audio and video extracts of previous productions.

Still missing: the 2009 season schedule (not disclosed yet) and archives...

Jul 26, 2008

Massimo 08-09

New season of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo:

Press release here.

ROH 08-09 in HD

In late March, the Royal Opera House joined with Arts Alliance Media and DigiScreen to screen performances of live and recorded operas, ballets and concerts in digital cinemas all over the world.
The schedule includes ROH coproductions as well, meaning some performances will not be recorded/played in London such as Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera on Sept.28 that will be performed live from Madrid.
The recent Don Carlo in London with Villazón, Furlanetto and Keenlyside will be screened on May 3.

DigiScreen will be responsible for the North American screenings, Arts Alliance Media will take on Europe (list of participating cinemas here). For now, only the UK, Spain, Germany, Austria and Norway are scheduled. Some other countries are to follow, according to a press release from April 1: Ireland, France, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Benelux.

The full 08-09 schedule is available here.

Met Simulcast 08-09 in France

10 out of 11 broadcasts will be screened in France for the upcoming 08-09 Met simulcast season. All performances will begin at 7:30pm (Paris time).
  • October 11: Strauss' Salomé with Karita Mattila
  • Nov. 8: John Adams' Doctor Atomic
  • Nov.22: Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, James Levine cond., Robert Lepage's production, with Susan Graham & Marcello Giordani
  • Dec. 20, Massenet's Thaïs, with Renée Fleming & Thomas Hampson
  • Jan 10, Puccini's La Rondine , Nicolas Joël's production, with Angela Gheorghiu & Roberto Alagna
  • Jan. 24, Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice, James Levine cond., with Stephanie Blythe & Danielle de Niese
  • Feb. 7 février, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón & Mariusz Kwiecien
  • March 7, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Anthony Minghella's production
  • March 21, Bellini's La Sonnambula, with Natalie Dessay & Juan Diego Flórez
  • May 9, Rossini's La Cenerentola, Maurizio Benini cond., with Elīna Garanca & Lawrence Brownlee
List of participating cinemas in France here. Lyon: Pathé Vaise Lyon - 43 rue des Docks - 69009 Lyon The website will be updated on Sept.1 with the booking conditions.

Jul 18, 2008

08-09 Schedules major update

Just to mention that my post with all the links to the 08-09 schedules has been updated with the latest news from Italy, where Opera Houses are beginning to unravel theirs; now available are the 08-09 seasons for Firenze, Genova, Torino and Venezia (whose schedule has literally just appeared on their site).
Still waiting for Napoli, Palermo, Parma and Roma.

Jul 17, 2008

Inside the Semperoper

Semperoper Dresden June 30, 2008

Jul 13, 2008

A frog in the throat

Picture shamelessly stolen from Intermezzo

So it seems the end of the season is hard on Juan Diego Flórez. His London recital yesterday evening will not be remembered by posterity, as Intermezzo reports on the problems he had with his voice. Let's hope he'll learn someday not to have such a busy schedule throughout the season, or else I'm afraid his voice will be lost way too soon.

Travel guide: Opéra Bastille, Paris

More postcard pictures here

Stairs to the balconies

There is one thing to know about this opera inaugurated less than 20 years ago (in 1989): everything is wrong in it, especially the acoustics.
This building is truly a disgrace to the musicians, the singers, the audience, the French people whose taxes payed for this mess, absolutely everyone.

Auditorium - view of the balconies and galleries from the orchestra

Sure, the auditorium and the galleries are beautiful, and who cares if the facade is falling apart (and is currently under renovation with protective nets preventing any more stone falls), if the building is slightly falling on one side because the foundations were not built properly (our very own Pisa Tower in Paris), and if the acoustics is dreadful.

So if ever you decide to attend a performance at Bastille and care a great deal about the sound, the choice of the seat is of the utmost importance: forget about any seat on any of the two balconies (where some seats sell for 150€ and the sound is by any means a lot worse than in the Family Circle of the Met) or any of the side seats (galeries). The orchestra (parterre) is the only place where decent sound is available. More specifically, the seats in the middle and between rows 5 and 20 (150€) offer both a respectable acoustics and a good view (unless your front row neighbor is a bit tall).

Tickets can be bought online (French or English version) but require that you register online and remember your ID number for further purchases, which basically is not at all practical (you also have to ID yourself even if you just want to check whose categories are available for a given performance). You cannot choose a specific seat with the system, all you can do is choose the category, then see which seat has been assigned to you (there's a preview button right to the price that give you an idea of where you are and what you'd see if the auditorium was empty on the day of the performance).

Example of preview; orchestra, row 12, seat 40)

The access to the Bastille Opera is very simple by underground (1,5 and 8 trains, arrêt Bastille); at the end of the performance though, if you plan on leaving via métro and want to avoid the crowd, a smart way to do so is to walk from the place de la Bastille to the Gare de Lyon (via rue de Lyon just left of the exiting doors), just a few blocks walk really, that will prevent you from been crushed in the underground trains (and in the Gare de Lyon, you'll be able to catch the 14 train - the best way to travel underground in Paris).

There's also a cab station nearby, but the cab situation in Paris being pretty hopeless, don't dream of finding one at the end of an evening performance (especially on Fridays and Saturdays when no available cabs can be found in the entire city from 8pm to 3am).

Current renovations on the facade (rue de Lyon)

Jul 11, 2008

Lehnhoff's take on Rigoletto

I'm still not sure of my overall impression of Lehnhoff's staging of Rigoletto in Dresden. Somewhere in between "I liked it" and "I didn't like it" I suppose.

The ideas for this Regietheater approach on Rigoletto are always interesting - on paper.

The first scene with the animalistic chorus and JDF appearing as a modern Don Juan was totally adequate with the libretto - yet the set was ugly as can be (and an all-black set is rarely a good technical idea, as the lightning of such a set is almost impossible to achieve properly), JDF as a 1980s debaucher (improbable haircut & shirt of the time) was so not credible, and the choreography of the chorus was very disturbing and just too much.
As a result, this first scene was more of a failure - just another example of how good ideas don't always translate well on an operatic stage.

The second setting on the other hand (Gilda's room) was superb, powerful, poetic and fascinating (as her room seemed literally to be a TV screen image coming from the stage - I always have been a big fan of the mise en abyme ideas). The lightning was exquisite as well, with nuances to match the progression of the storyline that were both subtle and amazing.

The first act ends with Rigoletto realizing he's helped kidnap his own daughter and rushing back to her room in despair. Lehnhoff added another great image here, as a metallic grid descended from the ceiling to trap him in this TV-screen set (this is definitely the kind of stuff I love - simple yet powerful).

The second act opened with yet again that ugly all-black marble-like set but this time, the chorus had lost their animal heads and gestures to become a bunch of demons with a latex blue face and little red horns. I make it sound like it was not successful, yet it was - relatively (JDF's costume was once again totally wrong).

The last act set was very simple and once again perfectly complemented the libretto. Lehnhoff broke the horizontal floor by adding some stairs up (to the red box representing Sparafucile's tavern) and down (left, back of the stage) and added smoke on the ground, creating an interesting fuzzy atmosphere.
The figures on the back wall of the set were periodically illuminated to match the musical dramaturgy and I must say the painted characters were a perfect match for the Semperoper's ornamentation (this was the only time, really, that I though to myself it was an advantage to see this staging live - that's not taking into account obviously, the fact that the musical performance is always more interesting live than on TV).

Finally, the little touch about Rigoletto.
I loved the way Lehnhoff added duality to the character, and the way he did it with almost nothing. At the very beginning of the opera, while the orchestra was still playing the overture, Rigoletto appeared on the very front of the stage in a traditional suit and started changing clothes - to put on his jester costume, for his show at the duke's party. Then, at the end of the orgiastic night, he changed again into his civil suit; in the second act, it's obviously jester time again, and the last act was normal life suit again. Very simple, yet very appealing.

All and all, as I said in the beginning of this post, I remain sceptical about Lehnhoff's view - definitely some things to remember but then again, some ugly stuff too.

A video with extracts and a short interview (in German) with Nikolaus Lehnhoff can be seen here.

All pictures © Matthias Creutziger for the Semperoper except for the first one that I took on June 30.

Jul 9, 2008

Ferrucio Furnaletto's Filippo II

Paris, Opéra Bastille
July 6, 2008
4-act Italian version (Milan 1884)

First of all, the conductor: Teodor Currentzis, 36, should have been more humble in the Ligne 8 (the Opéra de Paris magazine, pages scanned at the end of this post).

According to him, nobody strictly follows the score when conducting this opera, nobody except him that is. Like a true Lohengrin on his white swan, he intends to show us, the ignorant and uneducated audience, how Verdi's music really sounds like. Well, his conduction fell terribly flat in regard to that pretentious statement, and the naive Currentzis should understand no amount of grandiose gestures and sweat can overcome a mediocre view on the score. He was rewarded with some well-deserved booing at the end of the performance, and should really focus on the music instead of constantly moving like a crazy person.

Both Yvonne Naef (Eboli) and Tamar Iveri (Elisabetta) were not at ease; Naef missed almost all of the high notes and was not into character at all (not frivolous and naive enough, too dark and almost Wagnerian); Iveri was not audible unless she was singing alone and without too many instruments, but she redeemed herself in her last scene where she sang beautifully.

It's the second time I see Dmitri Hvrostovsky (Marchese di Posa) in a few months (last time was in April in the Met's Ballo in Maschera).
It's the second time I'm disappointed by him.
He also had vocal problems in Paris, not as numerous as in NY (which is almost impossible), but at the end of long sentences, his breath was so short he had that ugly sound of someone clearly out of options.
His stage presence was disappointing as well. His Posa was cold as ice, stiff as a board and emotionless. Not at all what you'd expect for this character. As a result, the exquisite duet between him and Don Carlo was a failure, all because of Hvrostovsky (who had his fan club in the auditorium on this Sunday afternoon, as some people clapped when he appeared on stage and was still silent at this time).

Stefano Secco as Don Carlo however was a very good surprise indeed. His singing was full of life and emotions, and his acting was quite convincing, especially his facial expressions.
He was really worthy of compliments and I never thought he would be so successful in this role.

Mikhail Petrenko (Il Grande Inquisitore, left, opposite James Morris as Filippo II on the picture above) was not very spectacular, nor was he awful. Average is the only word I can think of.

The real star of the cast for me was Ferrucio Furlanetto (Filippo II). His "Ella giammai m'ammo" was exquisite and the highlight of this performance, and overall his singing and stage presence were superb.
He is currently, I think, the best Filippo II in the world (Intermezzo may agree, Mostly Opera won't).

Photo Christian Leiber

Graham Vick's production from 1998 has a beautiful and powerful set that hasn't aged a bit, but suffers from a lack of originality in the costumes and is too static and too manichaean to fully explore the characters of Carlo and Filippo II (the autodafe scene - picture below- is the perfect example of it).

Numerous pictures of this run of Don Carlo by Agathe Poupeney can be seen there.

Further reading (all reviews are in French except for the original IHT review):

- Review of ForumOpera (June 16 performance)
- Review of ResMusica (June 16 performance)
- Review of ConcertClassic (June 26 performance)
- Review of Anaclase (July 4 performance)
- Review of the IHT from the original production in 1998

Jul 2, 2008

Rigoletto in Dresden

Dresden Semperoper
June 30, 2008

N.B. This review only takes into account this performance, not the televised evening on June 21 by Arte.

If it hadn't been for Juan Diego Flórez singing Il Duca di Mantova, I wouldn't have gone to Dresden.
Yet if it hadn't been for Diana Damrau, I would have been quite disappointed by the musical performance (my comments on Lehnhoff's staging are still processing in my brain and will be the subject of another post later on).

First of all, let's face it: Rigoletto being one of my favorite operas, I am very critical about it, especially since a nearly perfect version exists, the one recorded live at La Scala by Riccardo Muti in the mid-1990s and already mentioned several times on this blog (the staging is out of the question, obviously).

And in this constant comparison of mine between any performance and the Muti version, the first thing to completely fall apart was the conduction of Fabio Luisi.
It's not the worse I have ever heard (Kubelik and Giulini put the bar pretty high), but it was uninspired (despite grandiose gestures from Luisi), clumsy at best, sometimes incredibly heavy and slow, and most of the time flat and rough.
On the last part, I can forgive Luisi for making things simple and easy, based on the poor performance of the orchestra. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden is obviously not at ease with the Italian repertoire (unless Luisi specifically asked the musicians not to play together, the flute to ruin the whole thing and an unidentified violin to suddenly play a note when nothing was written about it on the score). It was a huge disappointment for me, because I didn't expect the orchestra would be an issue.

The Staatsopernchores also had some major issues: specifically the Italian diction and the unison. Living in a city whose Opera House, if nothing else, has a fantastic chorus I always emphasize, the landing was harsh and unforgiving.

To get over with the bad news, both Sofi Lorentzen (Maddalena) and Matthias Henneberg (Monterone) were weak; the first being inaudible and inexpressive, the later having too weak a technique (but it should be noted the program clearly states he was a late subtitute for scheduled Rainer Büsching).

Stauffenbergall, Dresden
July 1, 2008

As for my dear JDF, I must admit all my love did not prevent a bit of a let down. Of course his voice is gorgeous and all, but the thing I was afraid of turned out to be true; and that is, he is too bad an actor to own a character full of villainy (at least that's how Lehnhoff tried to picture him).
He has neither the facial expressions nor the body language to successfully portray Mantova, and his singing is too bel-cantoish to fully explore the dark side of the character (of course I'm absolutely devastated by this conclusion). But I had prepared myself for that, so the fall is less painful, let's say (see how self-persuasion works?).

The thing I was definitely not expecting was a more technical problem; when JDF arrived on stage (having seen him live already two times this season and numerous others on DVDs and TV broadcasts), I immediately though to myself how tired he looked, hoping this fact would have little impact on his singing. Well, if all the notes were spot on, the tempo was not. On several occasions, there was a noticeable shift with the orchestra (most of the time he was late, as if he had trouble remembering the notes), that was more and more recurrent and culminated in the last act. This reminded me of his run at the Met of La Fille du Régiment when, by the end of the run, this cloud shadowed his performances on one or two occasions. In Dresden, the ones and twos became more like tens and twenties.
So all and all, I must admit I was disappointed by my dearest tenor.

On the other hand, Željko Lučić as Rigoletto was a pleasant surprise. I would have liked his voice to be a bit more expressive, but his stage presence was pretty good and his singing quite memorable (slightly less though than Renato Bruson in the Muti version).

Stauffenbergall, Dresden
July 1, 2008

Undoubtedly the real star of the night was Diana Damrau.
I was sceptical about her acting for about two minutes and then, I was simply blown away by her stage presence. Absolutely blown away.
She owned the stage and the character, with her entire body, with her entire soul. Her eyes were so expressive it was unbelievable, her movements were so fluid and natural, her hands were perfectly complementing the whole body.
The end of Scene 12 (Act I) when she faces Mantova alone was the turning point for me. From that time on, it seemed like she was the only one on the stage.
During the Tempesta scene in Act III (with the wonderful quartet Verdi wrote), which theatrically is one of the biggest challenges of the role (because you have to stand there for an awful long time so it's hard to make it believable), she also was extraordinary and I just couldn't get my eyes off of her.
The last scene, the bag thing was totally surreal (but Lehnhoff is also responsible for that). Instead of the usual girl dying on the floor and whispering the last replicas, she got up, very slowly. At first, I though "Now, what is that?" but then, I was completely fascinated by her portrayal - the image was so reminiscent of Lucia di Lammermoor and so powerful. What a magical way to end the opera...

In other words, she was perfect, nothing less.

Oh, and did I mention her singing was exquisite, too?

YouTube extracts (from the June 21 performance broadcast by Arte):

- "Pari siamo!.....Figlia! Mio padre!", Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau
- "T'amo ripetilo!", JDF & Diana Damrau
- "Addio, addio", Diana Damrau & JDF
- "Caro Nome", Diana Damrau
- "Si, Vendetta", Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau
- Last 10 minutes of the opera, Željko Lučić & Diana Damrau