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October - November 2001

Paris - 21 October
W.A. Mozart :
Le Nozze di Figaro
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

  • A largely Italian cast under the baton of René Jacobs showed that there is still life in the existing repertory, particularly if the director does not impose an alien interpretation on the work. Jean-Louis Martinoty did not lack for original touches, but the characters all reacted and interacted, though there were far too many distractions when other people provided background action that is not in the libretto, the worst example being Susanna's picking up the pieces of broken china that the Countess has thrown prior to beginning "Porgi amor". Sylvie de Segonzac's sumptuous costumes deserved better than the makeshift sets of Hans Schavernoch, blown-up bits of paintings placed strategically around the stage. The triumph, however, was that of René Jacobs, who encourages his singers to ornament in style, (over) encourages the loquacity of continuo player Nicolau de Figueiredo, encourages Concerto Köln to ever-greater virtuosity. Véronique Gens was less elegiac than some Countesses, much closer to Rosina in her child-like reactions, really blooming in 'Dove sono' taken at quite a slow tempo. Patrizia Ciofi was a perfect Susanna, not overly familiar with the Countess but nonetheless showing a complicity. Her silvery tones were just right for 'Deh vieni', but once again the producer's conceit had her hidden behind a scrim while the Countess in Susanna's clothing mimed the action. Monica Bacelli was not the most boyish of Cherubinos, but made something special out of her two arias. Pietro Spagnoli's Count and Lorenzo Regazzo's Figaro lacked ringing tone but their musicality offered more than sufficient compensation.

Geneva - 12 November
Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan
Théâtre de Geneve

  • Performances of Maria di Rohan are rare, and even rarer are those that revert to the opera's original form when the work was created in Vienna. Unfortunately, total miscasting left us bereft of drama in any form, the main reason for choosing the highly compact ur-version. Annick Massis in the title role was underpowered for the many dramatic moments, her voice lacking the capacity to expand when required. Stephen Salters as Enrico, Duca di Chevreuse seems ignorant of the rules of bel canto. Octavio Arevalo as Riccardo, Conte di Chalais, offered solid singing, for once neither over nor under-parted. Designer-director Giorgio Barberio Corsetti had already presented this production in Venice in 1999 where it was not favorably received. The sets are simple, the colors primary and much use is made of two concentric revolving platforms, as well as sliding tracks, perhaps as an indication that the characters are marionettes in the drama they are enacting. Conductor Evelino Pido tried his best to impart some notion of drama into the proceedings.

St. Etienne - 13 November
Jules Massenet : Roma

  • The Sixth Massenet Festival enabled us to see Roma, a late work of the composer, one that has never ranked high on anmyone's list of favorites, with few recorded traces. Jean-Louis Pichon's production for the Festival at Martina Franca was recorded by Dynamic, but the all French-speaking cast put together for St. Etienne offers a more authentic flavor than that assembled in Italy a few years ago. Of course, it would have been even better had the enunciation of the cast been uniformly excellent. Rather than focusing on one or two characters as in most of his operas, Massenet offers a panoramic drama spread over five acts, but lasting just over two hours. Anne-Marguerite Werster's dramatically impressive Fausta seemed to operate on a single dynamic level, unlike the Junia of Florence Vinit who tried to do more with less impressive means. The young, inexperienced tenor Carlo Guido, a Frenchman despite his name, could be an impressive singer if he continues to work on his voice, overcoming problems at the passagio and becoming more focussed. Baritone Jean-Marc Salzmann (Fabius) offered a convincing portrayal of a man in conflict (love vs. honor). Valérie Marestin's Posthumia was insufficiently solid vocally and dramatically, while Fernand Bernadi's High Priest lacked physical and vocal maturity. Conductor Patrick Fournillier once again demonstrated his mastery of the Massenet idiom, while Pichon's staging erred only with a pantomime during the overture.

Lyon - 14 November
Antonin Dvorák: Rusalka

  • The Opéra National de Lyon for the first time in ages offered a satisfying evening, despite a cast that was far from front-line, a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of all its parts. Conductor Iván Fischer's first staged production as Music Director showed him in supreme form, absolute concentration from start to finish. Director Jean-Claude Berutti has given us some horrors in the past, but Rusalka seems to have brought out the best in him. The distinction between the two worlds was clear from the start (the stage was covered with water), while the comic aspects of the role of Jezibaba were integrated into a total portrayal, though why she had to be foraging among her garbage bags during Rusalka's aria at the start of Act 3 was one of the few missteps. The cast presented no weak links, but then again there was a general lack of impressive vocalism. Klaudia Dernerova in the title role lacked the vocal radiance and stage presence that one might think necessary for anyone undertaking the role. Francisco Araiza's Prince sounded tired, while the Vodník of Ludek Vele lacked vocal majesty. Mzia Noradze's Jezibaba lacked weight, while Hedwig Fassbender's Foreign Princess looked more authoritative than she sounded.

Lausanne - 20 November
Dmitri Shostakovich: The Nose

  • The Nose is not a frequent visitor to operatic stages as its music offers little in the way of lyric respite, and its huge cast makes enormous demands on anything other than a repertory system. The Opéra de Lausanne is all the more to be commended for its excellent rendition of Shostakovich's first opera, with its influences of just about everything possible prior to the Soviets forbidding just about everything. I think the clue to the production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser comes from an interview they gave: "This is certainly not a culinary opera; it is not meant to be relished but to be experienced. There is really nothing to charm the audience. In fact, it is an anal work." Conductor Armin Jordan and the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne had a great time, as did the cast with Andrew Schroeder in the leading role of Kovaliov, Vladimir Matorin as the erring Barber and several other roles, and the multi-cast Jennifer Smith, Alexandre Kravetz, Ivan Matiakh, Beau Palmer, Barry Mora, Jeannette Fischer, Linda Ormiston.

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