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January - February 2000

11 January - Lausanne

  • Haydn's operas are so rarely presented, that each time one is on a bill it virtually becomes an event. The composer's last opera, L'anima del filosofo ossia Orfeo ed Euridice, is one of most elusive, with its static story, extensive use of the chorus and profligacy in its casting requirements. Mark Padmore and Sophie Daneman in the title roles were near ideal, though the tenor showed signs of tiring before the intermission, understandable given the inhuman demands of the role. Gaëlle Méchaly's Genio may have been a bit too pert for some, but her fiendish aria was tossed off as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

    Conductor Jonathan Darlington and the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne did well by the composer, but director Stefan Grögler once again resorted to the tired idea of setting the work in the time of its composition, with all sorts of extraneous personnel on stage, so that we were largely denied the impact of the drama, until the scene where Orfeo is killed by the Bacchae, where Padmore overcame the divide and was genuinely moving.

21 January - Monte Carlo

  • Hearing French operas in French-speaking countries with non-French-speaking casts is always a bit discombobulating: Massenet's Manon poses further problems with its extensive spoken passages. Curiosity centered on Marc Minkowski in one of his ever-increasing forays beyond the baroque divide, with mixed results. The conductor's penchant towards extremes in tempo was omnipresent, but his feel for the flow of the work could not be faulted. Mary Mills in the title role was too American, an epithet I have never previously used but well-merited this time. She looked and acted too much the country bumpkin, while tenor Ivan Momirov, not yet 30, needs to work on focussing his voice as well as improving his French. Sam McElroy as Lescaut was more to the point, while Alain Vernhes as the Comte des Grieux gave everyone a lesson in style. Nicolas Joël's staging, a co-production with La Scala and the Opéra de Toulouse, was efficient in Ezio Frigerio's simple décors that made use of projections.

3 February - Lyons

  • Philippe Boesman's new opera, Wintermärchen, based on Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, turned up at the co-producing theater immediately following the premiere in Brussels. The composer's previous opera, Reigen, is one of the few contemporary works I have ever wanted to experience a second time, also true of the new opera, although there are serious problems with this Shakespearean adaptation. Director Luc Bondy is also the librettist and has efficiently reduced the playwright to operatic proportions, though one might wonder at the use of English only for Act 3, devoted to Perdita (a dancer in army boots) and Florizel (a rock singer) with stylistic results heavily at odds with the remainder of the work.

    Juha Kotilainen had the difficult task of following Dale Duesing in the role of Leontes, but he succeeded in convincing us of the King's jealous rage. Susan Chilcott's Hermione was perfect, the soprano, as always, totally subsumed by her role. Anthony Rolfe-Johnson's Polixenes was more stolid, while Franz-Josef Selig's Camillo had to overcome the disadvantage of a silly costume, resembling a toddler's outfit. Heinz Zednik as Green and also Time carried out his framing function, while conductor Patrick Davin did his best to convince us of the composer's melodicity.

11 February - Nancy

  • Béatrice et Bénédict should probably be the most performed of Berlioz's operas, with its small-scale requirements and uncomplicated textual history, but it remains as rare an item as the monumental Les Troyens and the rollicking Benvenuto Cellini. It is also difficult to stage because of the extensive spoken dialogue and finding the right tone. Director Pierre Constant did a good job of the former, but fell apart when the music started, with a staged overture in semi-obscurity, the men doing a soft-shoe routine and the women rolling around the floor. Fortunately, Jean-Yves Ossonce had the Orchestre de Nancy playing well above their customary level, while Béatrice Uria-Monzon took total charge of the stage as Béatrice. Danielle Streiff's Hero may have lacked the requisite ease in coloratura, but the way she blended with Annelise Theodoloz's Ursule in the ensembles was adequate compensation. Unfortunately, Yves Saelens (Bénédict) found it difficult to liberate his tenor from a constricted throaty sound, though the occasional moments we were able to hear him clearly showed that there is some promise.

12 February - Geneva

  • Pelléas et Mélisande has suffered through some odd stagings in recent years (Sellars, Wernicke, Wilson), but Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser came through with one of their successful evenings, despite the swimming pool that had been created beneath the stage floor and was intermittently visible and even used. But what a pleasure to hear a largely francophone cast making the surtitles superfluous. Louis Langrée once again demonstrated that his understanding of French opera is unsurpassed among conductors of his generation. Simon Keenlyside and Alexia Cousin in the title roles were far more flesh and blood than is customary, but then they are both performers who become totally possessed by their roles.

    José van Dam's Golaud is a better-known quantity, but his command of the role remains undiminished. The diminutive Françoise Golfier may have claims to being the definitive Yniold, while Nadine Denize (Geneviève) and Markus Hollop (Arkel) were equally present.

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