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November 1998

3 November - Nancy

  • Productions of Handel's operas are sufficiently rare, and successful productions even more rare, that we can welcome this Alcina, even with plentiful misgivings. Taking advantage of the regional government's sponsorship of Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, the Opéra de Nancy allowed him to inculcate the Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy with baroque music practices. Carlos Barcena's staging could have used a bit more depth and tried harder to bring some basic principles of stagecraft across to the least experienced members of the cast. The sets of Jean-Jacques Le Corre and costumes of Dominique Burté were further positive elements to which must be added the computer-generated imagery of Marc-Joseph Sigaud that supplied some of the requisite magic touches specified in the libretto. Unfortunately, Yvonne Kenny in the title role had difficulty focussing her voice, so that only at rare moments was her dramatic engagement matched by comparable vocalism. Sophie Pondjiclis's Ruggiero had the measure of her role, sufficiently at ease in the higher reaches of what is essentially a soprano role, but with sufficient reserves at the lower end of her register. Annelies Théodoloz's plummy contralto suited Bradamante as did her slim figure, while Hélène Le Corre made the most of Oberto's three arias. Simon Edwards's inelegant tenor and Gregory Reinhart's hollow-sounding bass rounded out the cast. Despite the carping, an enjoyable evening.

7 November - Lyons

  • Ariane et Barbe-Bleue is rarely encountered in the theater, so that it is doubly unfortunate that this performance was sabotaged by directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser who chose to stage the interior drama rather than offer us a "first-degree" interpretation, but then in a pseudo-Escher box, to which a railroad box car was added for the second act. Conductor Louis Langrée did his best to overcome the prevailing murkiness, French music seeming to bring out the best in him, the orchestra also having a whale of a time. Further calamities arose with the title role, as Françoise Pollet was clearly indisposed although no announcement was made, so that only Nadine Denize as the Nurse made a positive impression. And what are we to make of Agostino Cavalca's costume for Pollet, perhaps the most inappropriate she has yet been asked to wear? At one point she looked more like a Madame surrounded by her flock.

10 November - Geneva

  • Occasionally one goes to the opera and things are almost perfect. Such was the case this evening. Hugo de Ana's monumental production of Semiramide from Pesaro may not be to everyone's taste, but it has the virtue of being totally coherent. Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti chose to give us the uncut, 4-hour version, and the time flew by. Nelly Miricioiu in the title role once again demonstrated that she has few rivals in this repertoire when it comes to combining vocal fluency with dramatic presence. Daniela Barcellona's full-blooded Arsace was a far cry from the timid singer I heard less than a year ago as a soloist in Rossini's Stabat Mater. And how good it is to hear Michele Pertusi on form, leaving us with few regrets that Samuel Ramey has chosen other directions in his choice of roles. Gregory Kunde's fearless high notes were ample compensation for little flaws in getting around the coloratura. I had a good time.

11 November - Lausanne

  • And then there was Jonathan Miller's Florence production of Ariadne auf Naxos, full of gimmicks but little characterization, only Angelika Kirschschlager's first try at the Composer showing some independence of spirit, and well-sung to boot. Robert Bork's Music Master was also masterful, and then it was downhill. Elizabeth Meyer-Topsoe (Ariadne) found it necessary to chop her first phrase in three, Lisa Saffer (Zerbinetta) was ill (again unannounced) and cracked on her high notes in the aria, Jon Ketilsson (Bacchus) occasionaly emitted a sound that was musical. Add an ungraceful, raucous trio of nymphs costumed as Botticelli's three graces, the group of comedians as silent film comics, an orchestra that consoled itself with a steady mezzo forte despite the professed love for the score of conductor Jesus Lopez Cobos who was conducting the work for the first time since he first studied the score 30 years ago. I did not have a good time.

12 November - Lyons

  • Hoping that something non-operatic might be more successful, my hunch proved correct as Peter Wispelwey engaged in the marathon of all six Bach cello suites in one evening, starting at 8 and ending 3½ hours later, with two intermissions for both him and the audience to breathe. Without the media hype surrounding some of his confrères, Wispelwey has entered the ranks alongside the likes of Ma and Harrell, to cite a few of his only slightly older colleagues. The concentration required of both player and public in such an endeavor is monumental, and neither of us flagged, the final suite on the violoncello piccolo rightly bringing the evening to a triumphant close.

21 November - Lyons

  • Peter Brooks Hommage à Jerzy Grotowski, aka Don Giovanni, started a European tour in France's second city. Things were marginally better vocally than at Aix, perhaps because this second cast was better balanced, perhaps because Véronique Gens made Elvira a far more striking character than did Melanie Diener. The only other remarkable voice was that of Kenneth Tarver as Ottavio, the others acceptable but little more. Daniel Harding's fast, faster, fastest reading slowed down to half tempo for the Serenade so that Roberto Scaltriti's Giovanni nearly choked himself. If you go to Don Giovanni for impeccably delivered recitatives, than this is for you, but if you also want to hear the arias sung by singers who are not intimidated by the music, you will have to search elsewhere.

24 November - Toulouse

  • Once again, a designer who chooses to stage his productions demonstrates that capability in one domain does not automatically result in efficacy in another. Petrika Ionesco's approach to Pêcheurs de Perles was to impose continual hyperactivity by chorus and corps de ballet, occasionally to the detriment of the music. The sets and costumes were a throwback to earlier times, and the overall impression was a parody of a Hollywood film of the 40s. Fortunately, things were on a higher plane musically, with Reynald Giovaninetti keeping a firm hand over the orchestra. Annick Massis has a role made to measure as Léila, needing only to free herself of a certain self-consciousness in her stage demanor. Gregory Kunde's Nadir was a last-minute replacement for Bruce Ford, and he seemed more comfortable here than as Idreno in the Geneva Semiramide (see 10 November), while Rodney Gilfry's soft-grained baritone may not be exactly what the role of Zurga requires. He does, however, have a nice set of pectorals.

25 November - Paris

  • Once again someone is striking, so that this evening's double bill of Zemlinsky's Zwerg and Ravel's Enfant et les sortilèges is given a concert performance, which if the photos I have seen of the Zemlinsky are any indication may be to the work's advantage. Conductor James Conlon's total mastery of the Zemlinsky idiom is evident throughout, superbly seconded by David Kuebler's Dwarf. The role holds no terrors for him, and the possibility of singing the role standing up evidently removes a constraint. Christine Schäfer's Infante allows a glimpse of her star qualities, but it is Susan Anthony's Ghita who the audience most appreciates. Ravel is also the beneficiary of a sensitive reading, with the help of Laurent Naouri, Georges Gautier, Anna Maria Panzarella, Mireille Delunsch, Hélène Perraguin, Natalie Karl and especially Gaëlle Le Roi as the protagonist.

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