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5, 6, 8 March - Lyons

  • The Orchestre National de Lyon has embarked on a series of concerts which will feature the complete works of Anton Webern. See article in Klassiknet.

10 March - Monte Carlo

  • Rossini's Turco in Italia deserved better than he got at the hands of designer-director Pier Luigi Pizzi, whose low-budget sets featured a few platforms that slid on and off stage with varying pieces of furniture, and a cyclorama on which enlarged black and white photographs of Naples were projected. Costumes were a mixed bag, with Fiorilla dressed in something more suitable to a provincial production of Lustige Witwe, Narciso looking like Chico Marx and take it from there. Yves Abel tried to keep things under control, but Pizzi's haphazard staging made it difficult to secure the required coordination in the ensembles. Only Alfonso Antoniozzi's Poet succeeded in making himself heard and understood at all times. The remainder of the cast seemed to be under the weather, from Michele Pertusi's lovesick Selim, Raul Gimenez lovelorn Narciso to Blancas Angeles Gulin as a stagewise Fiorilla with a soubrette voice. Bruno Pratico's buffo Geronio did not make us forget that one of the prime responsibilities in performing Rossini's operas is to sing the music.

13 March - Lyons

  • Peter Eötvös's first opera, Trois Soeurs, was a commission by the Opéra National de Lyon, and a more than fitting conclusion to the epoch-making Brossman-Erlo-Nagano/Gardiner era. Taking the Chekhov play as a basis, but reconstructing the text so that we are given a Rashomon approach as seen by Irina, Masha and Andrey, Eötvös creates an unusual sound world with a small orchestra in the pit conducted by Nagano while he (the composer) is occupied with a larger group backstage and an accordion occasionally makes its presence felt. Perhaps under the influence of director Ushio Amagatsu, founder of the Sankaï Juku bhuto company, the women's roles were filled by men, countertenors for the three sisters and their sister-in-law, a bass for their old nurse, with basses and baritones offset by three tenors in marginal roles. Right off the bat, let me admit that this is one of the rare contemporary operas I have seen in premiere that I have any desire to see and hear again. The Japanese influence in the decors and costumes does not seem in the least an external imposition but is integral to the composer's vision of the work. The preponderance of Russian singers speaking a Russian text lent a pungency that the non-Slavic contingent picked up. Alain Aubin (Olga), Vyatcheslav Kagan-Paley (Masha), Oleg Riabets (Irina), Gary Boyce (Natasha), Albert Schagidulin (Andrey), Nikita Storojev (Kuligin), Dietrich Henschel (Touzenbach), Wojtek Drabowicz (Verchinin), Peter Hall (Tchebutykin), Denis Sedov (Soliony), Marc Duguay (Fedotik), Ivan Matiakh (Rodé) and Jan Alofs (Anfisa) were the fortunate artists participating in this experience, one that was prolonged for the four countertenors as each gave a recital during the run of the opera featuring some unlikely repertory.

Lyons - 14 March

  • Alain Aubin accompanied by Bernard Robertson in a program entitled "The Mediterranean inspiration" chose works of a folk character in settings by Ohana, Ravel, Berio and Falla, occasionally using his baritone register for an entire song. One's ears need to adjust to the artifice of the countertenor voice in this repertoire, but the Ravel Greek settings, sung in Greek, were the highlight, singer capturing the simplicity. Falla's Seven Popular Spanish Songs probably need a more cante jondo approach, but the manifest sincerity went a long way towards winning over the audience.

17 March - Geneva Betrothal in a Monastery

  • The scarce performance history of Prokofiev's setting of Sheridan outside Russia is slowly increasing, these performances in Geneva among the rare performances by a Western company. Guillaume Tourniare, chorus master of the Opera, made the most of his first venture into the pit, giving us a Prokofiev much lighter than usual, though all the fingerprints were still omnipresent with echoes of the full-length ballets aplenty. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier are at their best in this type of work, welding a disparate cast into a dramatic team. Adriana Kohutkova's Louisa was matched at every step by Marie-Ange Todorovich's Clara, with Anne Howells as the scheming Duenna who gets her way at the end. Beau Palmer's skinflint father and Vladimir Matorin's Mendoza in the most prominent roles had a great time, while the under-the-weather Tracey Welborn and Richard Byrne as the lovers sounded good enough that it would be pleasant to encounter them once more. If only set designer Christian Fenouillat would vary his painting technique, because the color swashes are becoming tedious. In every other respect, the décors functioned well, using the unusual depth of the stage.

18 March - Lyons

  • Vyatcheslav Kagan-Paley offered the most unlikely choice of repertory for a countertenor, and perhaps the performances every other day robbed his voice of some of its freedom, but the question remains whether the timbre is "appropriate" to Brahms, Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov or Tchaikowsky, the Russian songs finding the interpreter slightly more at ease.

19 March - Lyons

  • I have the good fortune to attend a second performance of Three Sisters. I make no claims for it being a masterpiece, but it is already an excellently crafted piece that does not rapidly wear out its welcome, unlike most other works written today.

20 March - Lyons

  • Countertenor Gary Boyce takes the stage today, his voice much the finest so far, with almost none of the vocal "incidents" that have marked the other two recitals so far. Purcell, Britten and Copland along with spirituals mark an all-English program, but one sufficiently varied. The Purcell selections are in devotional mood which the singer succeeds in imposing on the audience. Britten's adolescent "Tit for Tat" engages the performer and audience equally, while the Copland settings of American folksongs show the singer in a more lighthearted vein, alternating between the serious and comic, a vein further exploited in the gospels. A certain gestural naïveté works well in the last two groups but a bit of work in this respect might be counselled by a well-wisher.

22 March - Lyons

  • Udo Zimmerman's Weisse Rose, or Rose Blanche in this production in translation, was receiving its French premiere, some 12 years after its premiere in this second version. The music is in the composer's typical vein, reasonably easy of access but soprano too often left stranded at the top of her range thereby occluding our comprehension of the text. Weisse Rose was the name of a group of resistants based in Munich, the leaders of which were executed in 1943. The two singers in this 80-minute chamber work represent Sophie and Hans Scholl, baritone and soprano. For the occasion, the Opéra moved to the Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation, housed in the building used by the SS during the War, using a cell in the basement that may have served a similar purpose at that time as theater. At the time of planning, it could not have been foreseen that the trial of France's last (one hopes) war criminal would be in its final days or that the center right political parties would be concluding unholy alliances with the fascist far-right. The climate was certainly ripe for this opera, but I don't think my reaction would be positive were I to be asked if I wanted to hear it again. Because we were confined in the small space available, the chamber orchestra was placed behind the necessarily limited audience so that the sound often resonated uncomfortably. That said, Stéphanie Morales and Richard Rittelmann were extraordinarily convincing, difficult in such close quarters, both responding in total fusion with Stephan Grögler's direction.

23 March - Lyons

  • Oleg Riabets bills himself as a sopranist, and while he has an impressive upper range, his notes at the bottom display all the typical countertenor shortcomings. A program of 17th and 18th century Italian arias was completed by an excerpt from Bach's St. Matthew Passion and an aria from Mozart's Re Pastore, without the violin obbligato. Riabets seems to be unaware of the contexts of some of the music, treating it abstractly as was done until about 40 years ago, rather than giving it a dramatic awareness. Why else sing Rodelinda's final virtuoso air which may be spectacular but inappropriate. These recitals have indicated that while in the context of a work specially written for the countertenor voice there is little problem in accepting the sound, but in the "standard" repertoire there are too many glitches that all too often remind us of the inadequacies. Before anyone gets too upset, the above remarks do not apply to the alas small group of singers of this category who have resolved the technical problems inherent in this approach to vocalism, but who nonetheless remain a small percentage of those practising in this area.

24 March - Strasbourg

  • The Opéra du Rhin bravely programmed Tchaikovsky's Orleanskaya Dyeva (aka The Maid of Orleans): unfortunately we got to hear only about two thirds of the work as whole numbers and large sections of other numbers simply disappeared, with no word of explanation. As conductor Oleg Caetani pointed out in a note in the program that he finds the opera "the most Russian in music and dramaturgy of all Tchaikovsky's operas", it is curious that there was no apology for the wholesale excisions. Apart from such moments as Joan's most famous aria and her two scenes with Lionel, Tchaikovsky's music lacks the individuality that sets apart his best works - it is all well-crafted but rarely moving. Simple sets and ragbag costumes by Robert Ebeling were used effectively by director Renate Ackermann, other than sadistically requiring the bass singing the small role of Loré to spend half an hour on stage as a dead body rather than being carried off stage, or imposing a Hollywood vamp movement of the chorus members who formed the court retinue. Ildiko Komlosi in the long and difficult title role may not have the requisite magnetism to be an ideal Joan, but there is no denying her vocal capacity. Evgeny Dmitriev's soft-grained baritone did not always project well as Lionel, unlike the Dunois of Mariusz Kwiecien who had no problems with audibility. Egils Silins (Archbishop) and Wojtek Smilek (Thibaut) rounded out the lower-voiced contingent, while tenor Valery Serkin made an excellent impression in the curtailed role of Raymond. While Ludmila Slepneva's Agnès made the most of her limited opportunities, Alexander Fedin's King Charles had one cringing every time he went after a high note that almost invariably resulted in an indeterminately pitched yowl.

25 March - Lyons

  • As part of its series of operas in concert, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants brought the second Rameau of the season, Zoroastre. As this was the fourth performance in six days, it was no wonder that some of the singers were not at the top of their form, particularly as two more performances on the other side of the Atlantic at the Brooklyn Academy of Music were scheduled for the 28th and 29th. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt in the title role - despite fatigue - demonstrated that there are few tenors today who can rival him in this repertoire, while Nathan Berg's Abramane displayed an ample bass-baritone while relishing his words. Gaëlle Méchaly's thin-voiced Amélite (the good girl) made the most of her concluding air, while Anna Maria Panzarella's Erinice (the bad girl) indicated good dramatic sense, even in this concert performance. Where was Alan Ewing, replaced with no explanation as Vengeance by Matthieu Lécroart, already present as Zopire. Christie may also have been a bit tired, thus explaining a certain automatism in the performance as a whole.

31 March - Monte Carlo

  • Giordano's Andrea Chenier for some reason unknown to me gets revived from time to time: it is a glorious role for the tenor, who has lots to sing, and if he has a good top range he will always make an effect. Lando Bartolini has at least the top notes, but is sorely deficient in poetry for the role. Diana Soviero as a sort of third-string Scotto makes the most of the ungrageful role of Maddalena, while it is Nadine Denize singing both the Contessa and Madelon who almost steals the show. A series of defections brought a last-minute Gerard in the person of Lorenzo Saccomani and Eric Hull to replace the previously announced conductor, James de Priest. And there at least was an interesting presence. The music was given at face value, which means that it is worth about as much as the Russian bonds over which negotiations are taking place at present, never inflated beyond its feeble powers, so that we are constantly aware of how little Giordano has to say and how little with which to say it.

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