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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 15 MARCH 2007—As readers have had occasion to remark, going to the opera house is not always a pleasant experience these days when stage directors have been given carte blanche to perpetrate their personal and often irrelevant views on a given work. Examples are too numerous to cite, and New Yorkers will soon be able to judge for themselves when Gérard Mortier—who has always valued the provocative over fidelity—takes over as head of the New York City Opera. Of course there are still bastions where older values reign, but too often the resulting productions in smaller, provincial houses come out only as provincial, as was the case recently when I saw Bizet’s Pêcheurs de Perles where a star (Patrizia Ciofi) was surrounded by a young tenor with no charisma and a barking baritone in a production of staggering incompetence that took me back at least fifty years.

One way to avoid irritation and aggravation is opera in concert, a form not immune to problems but in which we are not distracted by the on-stage goings-on. In the 1960s, the American Opera Society was in its heyday, introducing major artists to New York, reviving forgotten operas (some of which are today back on the edges of the repertoire), a task shared at the time with Thomas Scherman’s Litte Orchestra Society and which has now been taken over by Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York.

In recent years I have greatly enjoyed performances of Massenet’s Jongleur de Notre Dame in Montpellier, where Roberto Alagna once again demonstrated that he has few rivals in the French repertoire. But Montpellier offers at least one opera each year, usually recorded by Accord (Offenbach’s Rheinnixen, Alfano’s Risurezzione, Ponchielli’s Marion Delorme, Bloch’s Macbeth, to cite a few) and eagerly awaited in many circles. The  Opéra National de Lyon entered the fray recently, this year featuring Bellini’s Sonnambula with Natalie Dessay where pleasure was mitigated by the not always fresh condition of the singers due to recording sessions concurrent with three performances. Other problems are sudden defections resulting in less than optimal solutions.  

Opera Rara’s newly-issued Dom Sébastien by Donizetti, recorded at concert performances at London’s Covent Garden in 2005, offers still further proof that rewards to performers and audiences are maximal when given optimum conditions.

London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels are but a few of the cities that now offer this option to music lovers, all the more welcome in today’s climate. If you are attracted by the notion of appreciating the music without a directorial intervention, here is a choice of events in the coming months:

20, 22, 26 May –  Brussels (La Monnaie), 24 May –  Amsterdam (Het Concertgebouw)

I Puritani (Bellini), with Désirée Rancatore, Antonino Siragusa, Stefano Antonucci, Michele Pertusi, conducted by Maurizio Benini

23 May – Rome (Parco della Musica), 25 May – Rotterdam (De Doelen), 28 May – Valladolid (Auditorio Nacional), 30 May – Barcelona (Palau de la Mùsica), 1 June – Valencia (Palau de la Mùsica), 3 June – Paris (Salle Pleyel), 5 June – Cologne (Philharmonie), 7 June – Brussels (La Monnaie)

Tancredi (Rossini), with Rosemary Joshua, Bernarda Fink and Lawrence Brownlee, conducted by René Jacobs

6, 8 July –  Barcelona (Gran Teatro del Liceu)

Thaïs (Massenet), with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, conducted by Andrew Davis

12 June – Montpellier (Le Corum)

Germania (Franchetti), with Manuela Uhl and Carlo Ventre, conducted by Renato Palumbo

At the time of writing, the program for Beaune’s International Festival of Baroque Opera had not been released, but there too the pleasures can be great.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com. .

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