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April - May 1999

15 April - Lyons

  • In this day of economies, it is not unusual for opera houses to share productions, but it remains incomprehensible that after seeing what turns out to be a travesty that the other opera companies would continue with their plans to present such a failed production. Willy Decker has been having an impressive career, particularly in Cologne, Brussels and Paris, but the productions I have seen have all been willful and flawed, more a boost to the ego of the director than indicative of any respect for the work in question. This Falstaff began a few months ago in Florence and continues on to Brussels, where it will probably be as enthusiastically received as in Lyons, unlike the reaction of the audience in Florence. When the curtain rose on the restaurant at Windsor Station - which turned out to be the only set - and we were confronted with the bustle of such a location, I knew we were in for trouble. Almost 40 extras were named in the program. While Verdi's comic masterpiece effervesces, there is no need to provide an onstage perpetuum mobile, making total nonsense of the story. Occasionally I sensed a tangential connection to the opera I know and love, but such moments were few and far between. Updating the work to the 1940s has become a form of perverse chic that has the additional disadvantage of requiring the women to wear unflattering outfits. Once again, the use of surtitles negates the producer's relecture, as Pistol does not carry a sword now that he has become a shoe shine boy. Christian Badea led a performance in which subtlety was not of prime importance, while only the two baritones - José van Dam in the title role and Ludovic Tézier as Ford - seemed to be up to the composer's requirements. Approaching his 60th birthday ,Van Dam only occasionally showed signs of vocal wear. Tézier's return to the company where he spent a few years as a member of the troupe shows a singer who has now matured to the point where his voice and presence are in equilibrium, enabling him to tower over the rest of the cast, primarily members of the company who were at least competent (not the adjective that one would like to use for a performance of Falstaff): Sophie Fournier (Alice), Marie-Belle Sandis (Meg), Hélène Le Corre (Nanetta) who had trouble floating her high notes, Bruno Ranc (Caius), Etienne Lescroart (Bardolph) and Jérome Varnier (Pistol). Elena Zilio offered a youngish Quickly who probably should have been cast as Meg Page while the other visitor, Roberto Iuliano, made a most lacklustre Fenton.

28 April - Paris

  • I had been eagerly awaiting the production of Rameau's Platée, with the same team that gave us a successful Orphée aux Enfers last year in Geneva and Lyons. In the event, only conductor Marc Minkowski offered satisfaction with a reading even more acute than his recording that is already almost ten years old. Director Laurent Pelly and designer Chantal Thomas clearly think that repetition of the formula that proved successful for Offenbach would again work, but staging the work in a set that represents a theater is a tired concept, as is the non-stop motion of the dancers and chorus to which we were treated from the start of the overture. My guess is that the model chosen for emulation was a Busby Berkeley film, which seems perverse for Rameau. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt in the title role maintained his dignity throughout, essential for the equilibrium of the work, but he was just about the only one to do so. Annick Massis had ample opportunity to display her vocal command and her talents as a comedienne, as did Laurent Naouri and Yann Beuron but the overall vulgarity was depressing.

29 April - Monaco

  • For the Printemps des Arts, Marius Constant turned up with a work lasting for an interminable 75 minutes: Saisons d'Enfer, un amour fou: Rimbaud, Verlaine. Librettist Pierre Bourgeade has chosen to intersperse his interpretation of the Rimbaud-Verlaine confrontation with readings of the poems, while two roles are taken by actors who happen to be the children of the director, Daniel Mesguich. Nicholas Courjal (Verlaine) and Sophie Rehbinder (Rimbaud) have occasional lyric moments but the piece does not cohere.

    3 May - Geneva
    4 May - Toulouse
    7 May - Marseilles

14 May - Paris

  • The Paris Opera strikes again, with another textbook example of how to create total dichotomy between the visual and aural elements, the current victim being Wozzeck: Jeffrey Tate's mastery of the Bergian idiom was rarely in harmony with Pierre Strosser's idiosyncratic production. As usual, Strosser designed his own set, an enormous interior courtyard that might have been the barracks or a tenement as the windows were occupied variously by soldiers or whores. We should no longer be surprised when producers offer their own narrative, often at odds with the surtitles translating the original text. Perhaps in this instance we were meant to be witnessing the events through the eyes of the central character who was himself usually under observation, whether by Andres from the start when they were polishing the boots of their officers (sic) or the Doctor or Hauptmann. Within this context, Jean-Philippe Lafont in the title role once again surprised the audience with his moving portrayal of a role for which he might be considered physical but not vocal type casting, the true "untermensch", incapable of fighting back. Katarina Dalayman's Marie is a strong portrayal, convincing us that she too is incapable of resisting a superior force. Aage Haugland's Doctor and Robert Wörle's Hauptmann had little choice but to be caricatures, while Donald George was a super-sympathetic Andres and Stefan Margita strutted less than most Drum Majors. Unfortunately, the child was too old.

19 May - Lyons

  • Nino Rota's Cappello di paglia di Firenze offers a lot of bustling music that goes nowhere, and why the Opéra de Lyon chose to include such a slender work in its repertoire this season remains a mystery. Rota of course is best known for his film music, his collaborations with Federico Fellini long ago achieving historic status. Rota's adaptation of a 19th century farce by Eugène Labiche allows for much Rossinian busywork in the orchestra, alternating with the occasional long-breathed Puccinian reminiscence. It is all very pleasant if not especially memorable. Director Claudia Stavisky opted for a traditional production, assisted by the easily adaptable sets of Lili Kendaka, while her costumes seemed to span a considerable part of the late 19th century. Claire Gibault's enthusiasm for this minor work animated the orchestra and the young cast to surpass themselves - I have not previously noticed that Alain Gabriel had sufficient vocal presence to match his evident scenic gifts, and his role of Fadinard is almost non-stop. Christophe Fel's father of the bride and Philippe Fourcade's deceived husband are the other significant male roles, both gifts for comic actors. Chantal Perraud's beleaguered bride has little to do but sing prettily, while it is the Baroness of Marie-Thérèse Keller who steals the show in her sole appearance in Act 2. Philippe Georges as the thunderous soldier also impressed. A young audience enjoyed themselves at what was probably the first opera they heard, unfortunately a work of so little musical substance.

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