Oct 31, 2008

"Création et internet"

 Little brother Sarkozy is watching us

I tried very hard not to intrude on this blog with my views about the latest bullshit the French government is sponsoring, but things have become so ubuesque, to use Ionesco's word, that I have to speak my mind.

This story is basically the battle of creationism vs Darwinism. Or, as the French government is calling it, the law that will safeguard the artists' royalties by preventing P2P illegal downloads. Currently debated in the senate, this law is built around a new concept, "la réponse graduée" (graduated response) that would be enacted when music and movies majors would suspect someone of such downloads.

Detected by his IP address, the hacker would first receive a mail warning him of future repercussions if he continues with his illegal activities. Then, he would receive a letter with the same warnings, and finally would be banned of his internet access for up to one year.

Never mind that the Conseil d'Etat, the highest administrative court of the country, the CNIL (an independent commission that has authority over individual liberties thus liberties related to numeric files and listings) and the ARCEP (another independent commission that regulates all communications - web and phone) all expressed deep concerns about various aspects of the text.
The government is determined to push congress to pass this law. Never mind that in these tough economic times, a night at the movies will cost a family of 4 at least 40€, that any new CD is at least 20€ or that a DVD is 25€.

Does anyone really believe that the law will do anything to boost the music or movies sales [1]? Seriously [2]?

Never mind, furthermore, that both the European Commission and the European Parliament explicitly forbade this law regarding the suspension of the internet access. French Mantova president Nicolas Sarkozy and hunchbacked jester Christine Albanel (ministre de la Culture) have reenacted a long-forgotten concept: the French Empire, run by a small tiny tiny man: Napoléon.

Can someone please remind me what the word democracy stands for?

Further readings:

[1] It's a good time to be a TV-executive, obviously
[2] The government is saying sanctions will force the music and movies industries to expand their Vod offer - currently almost nonexistent in this country. Another naive idea blinded by dogma.

Oct 29, 2008

To tag or to be tagged

I'm usually quite reluctant to be part of those games that appear randomly on the web. It reminds me of those childhood weird moments when I would hide in hopes no one would chase me to be part of the human chains. But since I've been tagged by a blogger I do appreciate a lot (although I've never actually met her... one day maybe), I'll make the effort and continue the chain. Evidently, this provides for a perfect opportunity to share some of my favorite blogs.
The rules:  
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. I was tagged by Mostly Opera.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.  
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.  
5. If you don't have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.

The 7 facts:
1. Because one expects the French to be cliché, I do live in a very old building - in a canut apartment, named after the silk workers, that can only be found in Lyon.
2. Like the vast majority of French, I'm not really that French (since half of my blood is Sicilian).
3. I'm entirely self-taught regarding opera - and came to it by chance, following my goth period (Sisters of Mercy, Dead can dance...) in my 20s
4. I used to be the laziest student you could think of - rarely attending classes. I had this thing going on though: having some good friends bring me their notes directly at home. It worked, since I never failed a class in my live and ended up with a great diploma in my field (chemical engineering).
5. I never liked our current bling-bling president, Nicolas Sarkozy, but I'm now totally over him (don't even get me started on the subject!). The saddest thing? The current state of the French opposition party...
6. My favorite word in French is atavisme (English translation: atavism).
7. I'd never been in the Netherlands until my brother had the strangest idea - move in Den Haag a few months ago.

I tag:

1. My Favorite Intermissions - Maury d'Annato is only one of the several New Yorkers blogging about opera, but has a great sense of humor and I enjoy his writing a lot.
2. Intermezzo - this blogger (whose sex I haven't found out yet, despite reading this blog religiously since many many months) provides an exhaustive coverage of the opera and classical scene in London.
3. I hear voices - citizen of the world, Rodrigo Maffei Libonati's posts are always insightful, whether he writes about opera, classical music, Broadway shows or other art forms.
4. Billevesées - William Madison fled the US after George W. was first elected and ended up sharing his time between Paris and Beynes, a tiny village somewhere in France. He may not write much about opera, but, amongst many other things, has a hilarious way of dissecting French icons.
5. The Opera Tattler - based in San Francisco, she also travels regularly throughout the West Coast and in Germany.
6. Le Poisson Rêveur writes passionately about classical music (I wish he would explore more the world of opera). The only thing that could prevent you from reading him? He writes in French. No no, don't be afraid, there are lots of translation sites available nowadays...
7. C mon oeil is my final pick, as a good Lyonnais can only share the wonders of her magnificent city with the world. This blogger will provide you with some great pictures from Lyon, just in case you still haven't heard about us.  

NB. I chose 7 bloggers I have never met...

Oct 21, 2008

JDF & Bartoli's Sonnambula

Vincenzo Bellini

The line of Amina was initially written by Bellini for Giuditta Pasta, a mezzo-soprano, before being turned into a soprano role by Maria Malibran in 1833. Therefore, this combination was the perfect excuse for Cecilia Bartoli to push for this project. Furthermore, the marketing campaign is rather easy to set: first recording with a mezzo as Amina, and "world premiere recording on period instruments".

The thing is, I never liked period instruments and I still don't after listening to this new release.

And - how should I put that as gently as possible? - Cecilia Bartoli does not make for a good Amina. Despite all my sympathy for the woman, her Amina will not be remembered as a defining moment for the role. Of course one could argue that nobody is used to listening to Amina as a mezzo and that's why her performance is not appreciated at its true merits. That assumption is obviously relevant, yet my dislike of Bartoli's Amina has little to do with it - but rather speaks to the essence of bel canto. This style demands a perfect breath control to live up to the expectations of the score, yet Cecilia Bartoli fails to provide it in this studio recording.

I'm rather embarrassed for her, truth be told, because if what's burnt is the best she could do with the score (and why wouldn't it be? it's a studio recording after all), it's definitely not flattering.

On the other hand, both Juan Diego Flórez and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo are insanely brilliant here, and that alone requires to buy the CD (JDF's highlight must be in Act II, "perché non posso odiarti"). The chorus and Liliana Nikiteanu deserve praise as well (I'm much more skeptical about Gemma Bertagnolli's Lisa).

The conduction of Alessandro di Marchi starts off as messy and strangely dissonant (especially in "In Elvezia non v'ha rosa", and the period instruments don't help) but, by the second scene of Act I, is showing interesting colors and nuances that keep developing throughout the entire piece.

This CD is presented in a book-like packaging, which is OK I guess, until you realize how hazardous this may turn out to be for the protection and conservation of the CDs. The iconography chosen is highly reminiscent of Madama Butterfly's (awkwardly anachronic and off topic).

Oct 17, 2008

The Opéra de Paris on the web path as well

Starting on November 4th, the Opéra de Paris will offer free live streamings. First up, Janacek's Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen) whose current revival at Bastille received good reviews (the production premiered in Lyon in 2000). The streaming will start at 7:30 pm (Paris time) and will be available via the Opéra de Paris website, France 2 and Medici Tv websites.

Oct 16, 2008

Panique à bord!

Since I don't like Mozart, I was not at the Lyon's opera yesterday to witness the mess that occured for the 3rd performance of La Clemenzia di Tito.

(Clic above to read the press release - in French) 

Apparently, a major electrical blackout shut down all the lights of the stage.

Pelly's Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi 
Music - Giaccomo Puccini
Libretto - Giovacchino Forzano
Opéra de Paris, Palais Garnier (programmed with Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole)
2004 - Mezzo Broadcast

Gianni Schicchi - Alessandro Corbelli
Lauretta - Patrizia Ciofi
Conductor - Seiji Ozawa
Director - Laurent Pelly

In a nutshell, the staging might have worked, hadn't it been for the costumes and sets (and that's even before mentionning the ultimate boredom generated by the lightning).

The libretto being obviously very simplistic doesn't provide for anything but a Labiche-like vaudeville but still. Emphasizing too much the comic elements only proves how little faith Laurent Pelly had in Puccini's music. And the huge nose, "une péninsule"[1], Schicci is disguised with is too much a distraction from this piece - the caricature is so finesse-less it's outragious to Puccini's work.

Furthermore, the fifties atmosphere Pelly chose has been seen so many times in Paris over the recent years it has become almost unbearable. This facette of Pelly - that is overwhelming in half his productions - is the reason why I won't ever consider him as a great director; consistancy is something he desperately lacks. A quick word on the cast; Corbelli's Schicci is the only outstanding performance - and Patrizia Ciofi is rather disappointing (voice and stage presence problems).

YouTube extracts:
- "O mio bambino caro", Patrizia Ciofi
- end of the opera  

[1] Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac

Oct 13, 2008

2 years in perspective

Since this blog will be two years old this week (and since I'm pretty sure going for the exact date is too much of a challenge for me), I just wanted to "celebrate" by pointing out my most memorable operatic moments for the past 2 years.
  • Best overall production (incl. cast & staging): Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, Dessay/ Florez/ Pelly (London 2007, Vienna 2007, New York 2008)
Satyagraha, AFP
  • Best staging: Glass' Satyagraha, (London 2007, New York 2008)
  • Best conduction: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, Riccardo Muti (Florence 2007)

Oct 9, 2008

Costumes sale

The Opéra de Paris is selling 5000 costumes from 30 past productions in November (Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th) in the Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier. To access the sale, one will have to pay a fee of €8 and will be able to buy only one costume and 5 accessories.

Oct 7, 2008

Loc's opening performance of Les Pêcheurs

Les Pêcheurs de Perles Georges Bizet Nadir - Eric Cutler Zurga - Nathan Gunn Leïla - Nicole Cabell Nourabad - Christian van Horn John Mauceri cond. Lyric Opera of Chicago October 6, 2008 WFMT radio broadcast next performances: October 10th, 13th, 22nd, 25th, November 1st, 4th In short: N.B. This review being based on an audio broadcast does not take into account the stage presence of the cast. Weaknesses of this production: Nathan Gunn, John Mauceri, the orchestra and chorus of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Highlight: Eric Cutler
Leïla and Nadir, Act II Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
French diction First of all, let me state my disappointment over the musical execution of Bizet's masterpiece. I know this is the US and nobody cares about the French diction but I do. A lot. In that department, the chorus (mainly the female elements) and Nathan Gunn should invest in some desperately needed French lessons. I don't know what language they think they're singing, but I can assure them it has absolutely nothing to do with French. Obviously, this is not an easy language to speak, especially for Americans, because of the strange sounds they're not accustomed to (and Eric Cutler is not very good at that either), but the main thing when singing in French is to understand the musicality of the language. Some may say such a thing doesn't exist but the truth is, it does, even if it's not obvious. Nathan Gunn has no clue about that. Words are dissolved in one another and really, his diction sounds like he's chewing several marshmallows while singing. As a result, his Zurga lacks leadership (a crucial element to the role), charisma and passion. The orchestra & John Mauceri's conduction The orchestra had some issues as well - double basses in the opening scene (especially "chassez tous ces méchants!"), violins in "voici les deux coupables!" (Act II), orchestra as a whole in the opening chorus of Act II and in the bars before Leïla's aria "Me voilà seule dans la nuit" (a true nightmare). The conduction of John Mauceri lacked sharpness and was overall very uneven. The first chorus "Dansez" was interesting, but things became too heavy after that. A bit of staccato would have be appreciated in Zurga's aria "Amis, interrompez vos danses et vos jeux", for Leïla's arrival "Une femme inconnue", "Seule au milieu de nous" & "Si tu restes fidèle" but should have been avoided in parts such as "Chassez tous ces méchants" (first scene). The rhythm was also an issue; too fast in "Une femme inconnue" and too slow at the end of the same aria "Et son chant, qui plane sur nos têtes"; very fast also after that, "Sois la bienvenue amie inconnue" & "Si tu restes fidèle"; slow again in the beginning of Act II (chorus and duet between Leïla and Nourabad); too "military" at numerous times throughout the entire piece (very unpleasant I must say, especially in the big duet between Nadir and Leïla in Act II and the end of the act). All and all, the view of John Mauceri on this piece is - let's not be afraid to use the word that comes to mind - boring.
Nadir (front) and Zurga "Au fond du temple saint", Act I Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Eric Cutler As stated before, I like Cutler's Nadir. His performance was once again interesting, as his Nadir is full of character and life. His high notes were beautiful - except for the sentence before the beginning of "Je crois entendre encore" where one note was a total disaster "ces doux chants emportés dans l'espace" and a little later on for the second "charmant souvenir". The duet with Leïla in Act II was beautiful, as well as the big aria of the first act with Zurga, "Au fond du temple saint". He might not be the greatest Nadir of all times, but he's amongst the best of this time, for sure. Nathan Gunn If Nathan Gunn's diction is truly a sinking parameter for his Zurga, his vocal performance for the Chicago premiere of Les Pêcheurs was equally unpraiseworthy. Truth be told, I was really eager to hear him in this role - well, it turns out I'm hugely disappointed. He struggled with his high notes from the middle of Act I (just after "Au fond du temple saint" but he was too weak a counterpart to Eric Cutler in that aria either) and never fully recovered ("robe son visage" was the first of many totally screwed notes). He completely drowned at the end of Act II (from "Vengez-vous, vengez-moi" to the end of the act - just several bars - I counted way too many totally awckward moments). The beginning of his big aria in Act III, "L'orage s'est calmé" was not good either but he somehow managed to get out of his mess by the second half of the piece, which was a relief (especially for me). His duet with Leïla after that was much better, and he ended the opera as an acceptable Zurga.
Zurga and Leïla, Act III Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Nicole Cabell I was wrong to be so skeptical about her. She turned out to be a pretty decent Leïla (though Patricia Ciofi was on a whole different level in Avignon last year). My issue with her is her high register, that I find oddly disgraceful. Other than that, her Leïla was worth listening to ("Me voilà seule dans la nuit" being the highlight of her performance).
Nourabad, Nadir and Leïla, Act III Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
Christian van Horn As predicted, the version played in Chicago is the original 1863 version, so his score is especially tiny - hard to judge on just a few sentences. His French diction was the best of the cast, and his low register is nice. The high notes on the other hand were problematic. YouTube extract: - audio medley In conclusion, here's how I would rate the performance; John Mauceri's conduction : D Eric Cutler' Nadir : B+ Nathan Gunn's Zurga : C- Nicole Cabell's Leïla : B- Christian van Horn's Nourabad : C+ Overall : C

Oct 1, 2008

Les Pêcheurs à Chicago

Obviously, I should report more about the event of the year, as far as Les Pêcheurs de Perles are concerned: the upcoming Chicago performances (Oct.6 to Nov.4) at the Lyric Opera. The cast is indeed incredibly appealing. Nathan Gunn may be well-known because he's a very attractive man but, being lesbian and all, I must say what drives me to him is not his alleged sex-appeal but rather his beautiful voice. His Zurga should sound very memorable indeed (although obviously nobody will ever surpass Ernest Blanc*). Eric Cutler might not be Nicolai Gedda* but his Nadir - that I already heard - was more than honorable. So basically the two most important roles (at least as far as I'm concerned) are beautifully cast. On the other hand, I have strong reservations about Nicole Cabell as Leïla. But then again, if one compares her with History, you can't really be worse than Janine Micheau*, can you? I don't know conductor John Mauceri or Christian Van Horn as Nourabad, so I reserve my judgement until the day I can hear their performance, since I won't be in Chicago. Christian Van Horn by the way left a nice comment on this blog yesterday asking for a bit of publicity. I didn't manage to find anything on the subject (I wonder why the Lyric Opera has such a poor - and empty - website) so I'm just guessing here, but I would be very surprised if the LOC was performing the revised 1893 version (that is totally obsolete [1] and shouldn't be). You know, the version where Nourabad is not ripped off of half his score... So Christian Van Horn has all my sympathy and definitely deserves twice the publicity. * references to my ultimate recording of this piece [1] now that the original 1863 version has been rediscovered - full story (in French) here

New Glass' operas to come

I wonder why the media widely reported about the new commission of the New York City Opera for The Perfect American, a piece about the late years of Walt Disney and NOT at all about Philip Glass next world premiere - Kepler, scheduled in September 2009 in The Landestheater Linz (Austria). Could it be that the media world is a bit snobbish ? Doesn't it sound like Philip Glass' work is only worth reporting about if it is played in a major Opera House? Anyway, the greatest of news is that The Perfect American will be staged by Improbable. Their work on Satyagraha last spring at the Met (ENO's original production) was clearly a defining moment for me.