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January - February 2002

13 January - Lyons
Donizetti :
Lucie de Lammermoor

  • No, I did not make a mistake in my heading. The Opéra National de Lyon offered Donizetti's own reworking of Lucia de Lammermoor for the Parisian scene; this version has the novelty of making the action much clearer with the new character of Gilbert who replaces both Normanno and Alisa. Directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser opted for the simplicity of Christian Fenoillat's sets, but for some strange reason decided that the chorus should all be dressed as men, duelling during the festive music prior to the mad scene. Natalie Dessay (for whom the production was scheduled, later reducing her participation to three of the six performances) unfortunately was ill ) so that Patrizia Ciofi, who was sharing the title role, took over despite being unwell herself. Of course, she then proceeded to give a performance that most singers would be happy to have given on their best day. Her voice is a bit fuller than that of Dessay, and she only shirked a few high notes. Her slim silhouette meant that she was able to inhabit not only the costumes but the drama as seen through the eyes of the directors. Roberto Alagna applied the decibels for most of the evening but sang an exemplary tomb scene. Ludovic Tézier's Henri sang elegantly but was not sufficiently powerful dramatically. Nicolas Cavallier sang well the little that remains of the role of Raimond. Evelino Pido and the orchestra were clearly fueled by the upcoming recording plans.

18 January - Nantes
Gurlitt : Die Soldaten

  • Manfred Gurlitt is one of the forgotten German composers of the inter-War period. Staunchly anti-Nazi, he chose to go to Japan (his wife was Japanese) and was never welcomed back after the War. After seeing his Wozzeck (contemporaneous with that of Berg) a few years ago in Rouen , a singularly impressive work, the city of Nantes has put us in its debt with the French premiere of Die Soldaten. Once again, Gurlitt has been trumped by a different setting of the same drama, this time that of Bernd Alois Zimmerman. Gurlitt has the advantage because his work is far more linear in its narrative, far less aggressive to the auditory senses. Unfortunately, the program was not particularly clear in its cast list or synopsis, because I have no idea who the Joel Grey-like figure was in the soldiers' cabaret. The story is the familiar fable of the girl who allows herself to be seduced by an officer, eventually winding up on the streets while the faithful fiancé kills the faithless lover. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis (already on the battlefield at Rouen) communicated his faith to all participants. The directors of the Opera in Prague were responsible for the visual elements: Jiri Nekvasil for the staging and lighting, Daniel Dvorak for the sets, costumes and lighting. In order to accommodate the rapid scene changes, the stage was divided into five unequal areas with sliding platforms to advance the participants towards the apron. The updating towards the period of composition, the 1930s, resulted in a number of tableaux resembling the paintings of Max Beckmann. Rayanne Dupuis in the central role of Marie may not have the most pleasing of timbres, but her conviction compensated. Oldrich Kriz as the faithful Stolzius convinced once he became less caricatural. Rod Nelman's Wesener and Christophe Crapez's Desportes were effective, but the only ones who possessed sterling vocal qualities in addition to strong presence were Curt Peterson and Gillian Webster as the La Roche family.

22 January - at home
Donizetti: Lucie de Lammermoor

  • The Franco-German television channel, Arte, broadcast a Lyons Opera performance of Lucie, once again with Patrizia Ciofi demonstrating that she too is a major talent. Ludovic Tézier was far more impressive here than in the theater, the camera capturing his facial expressions. Roberto Alagna's performance demonstrated that when he sings French he is a far more sensitive and expressive singer than when singing in Italian. The camera emphazised the expressionist "darkening" of the stage - it would be difficult to speak of lighting.

25 January - Monte Carlo
Verdi : Nabucco

  • The Monte Carlo Opera's first season away from home (the theater is closed for renovations) offered the opportunity to present a work that would be beyond the demands of the small Palais Garnier. Nabucco, with 150 choristers, for the first time occupied the panoramic stage of the Grimaldi Forum's Salle des Princes with a full-scale production. Renato Bruson showed his class in the title role but could not easily disguise the fact that age is taking its toll. Giacomo Prestia's Zaccaria had the voice but not the class, so that there was no balance at all. Only Susan Neves in the killer role of Abigaille made an effect, her laser-like soprano dominating the ensembles, but able to fine itself down for the Bellinian cantilena of her aria. Tatiana Gorbunova was far more impressive in the ensembles than her solo, sung in a veristic fashion and with very Russian-sounding vowels. Tenor Gianluca Zampieri's throaty sound made the role of Ismaele even more insignificant than usual. Conductor Nello Santi, by virtue of age, seems to have acceded to the unclaimed title of senior routine Italian conductor. Sets by Isabelle Partiot, costumes by Katia Duflot and staging by Charles Roubaud were effective and should be even more so when the production arrives at Orange.

26 January - Nice
Mozart : Don Giovanni

  • An evening to forget. Conductor Marco Guidarini and Mozart seem not to be in sympathy with one another, a disappointment after hearing the conductor's previous work.. Paul-Emile Fourny's staging basically followed the book, but the contemporary curse of irrelevant personages occupying the stage during solo moments was omnipresent. Unforgivable was the dead moment after the first scene, with a frozen tableau of Anna, Ottavio, the body of the Commendatore and the servants holding him aloft until the monumental mobile décor of Poppi Ranchetti revolved. An ill-assorted cast added to the confusion. Natale de Carolis lacks the charisma for the title role, Antonino Siragusa's scratchy tenor made his recitatives intolerable (he was better in his solos), Monica Colonna's Anna indicates that she might perhaps consider giving the part a rest, Dagmar Schellenberger's Elvira emphasized the hysteria at the expense of smooth vocalism. Members of the troupe took the other roles, both Daniel Djambazian (Leoporello) and Bernard Imbert (Masetto) indicating that they were seriously overparted, while Gisele Blanchard's Zerlina was sung at a relentless mezzo forte.

27 January - Marseilles
Verdi : Macbeth

  • Marseilles took the initiative of presenting the original 1847 Macbeth, which had the merit of demonstrating how much Verdi got right the first time around. Yes, the aria for Lady Macbeth that replaced the virtuoso cabaletta at the start of Act 2 is a finer piece, but it also reminds us just how much the composer expected of his interpreters. The same applies to the duet at the end of Act 3 replaced by a duet for the Macbeths. The Prisoners' Chorus of the later version is a much finer piece as well, but the sleepwalking scene is present in all its glory. In the title role, Lucio Gallo was said to be indisposed, but he nonetheless largely managed to disguise whatever was bothering him. Ines Salazar does not possess the lower register indispensable for those singing Lady Macbeth, but those high notes sure are effective, even if she could not manage the fil di voce for the end of the sleepwalking scene. Misha Didyk offered the best tenor singing heard all weekend, the voice clear and focused. Andrea Papi's Banquo sang nobly, while Giuliano Carella's incisive leadership occasionally startled me with his brisk tempi. Riccardo Cannessa's staging was effective but once again Poppi Ranchetti's monumental sets were a hindrance.

1 February - Strasbourg
Rossini : Maomoetto II

  • It requires great courage to present Rossini's monumental Maometto II, for the generous musical design requires four exceptional singers and sympathetic staging. Despite conductor Cyril Diederich's explanation that cuts were made to enhance the dramatic flow, the musical damage is considerable. It is the responsibility of the stage director, Daniel Slater in this instance, to make the music work and not manipulate it to suit his staging. In fact, the production was extremely effective from a dramatic point of view, assisted by Francis O'Connor's simple sets and costumes. One might question a curious procession in the second act preceding Anna's marriage in which her dead mother and a priest killed in the first act appeared. Denis Sedov in the title role surprised with his command of coloratura, offering a complete portrayal, as did Enkelejda Shkosa in the travesty role of Calbo. The edgy sosprano of Irini Tsirakidis (Anna) tended to go flat when approaching the high notes, whether sustained or in coloratura, and she was flummoxed by the movement demanded of her during some musically difficult moments. It is fortunate that Rossini wrote no aria for the tenor role of Erisso, as Stephen Mark Brown's every intervention was painful to hear.

2 February - Metz
Daugherty : Jackie O

  • The Opéra de Metz celebrated its 250th birthday on this occasion with the French premiere of Michael Daugherty's Jackie O, a work created five years ago in Houston, Texas. Danielle Ory, director of the Opéra, staged the work emphasizing the musical comedy elements, but nonetheless allowing Jackie full tragic stature at the end. A largely French-speaking cast bravely tackled the English text, experiencing greater difficulty with the spoken word. Canadian soprano Rayanne Dupuis in the title role encompassed the wide gamut of musical styles in her role, with Jacques Catalyud's Ari and Patricia Fernandez's Maria providing excellent foils. Didier Henry's Andy Warhol, complete with white wig, lacked the extravagance we might attribute to his real-life counterpart. Conductor Giuseppe Grazioli held the disparate work together, until running out of steam near the end. Philippe Fraisse's simple-looking décor must have been more complicated than it looked, as the improvising saxophonist ran out of steam before the scene change in the middle of Act 2 was completed.

5 February - Geneva
Berio : Il Re in Ascolto

  • Kasow's Law once more proved to be true: beware if there is no intermission. Luciano Berio's intellectually pretentious libretto in collaboration with Italo Calvino furnished designer-director Philippe Arlaud a framework to fill with all sorts of mostly irrelevant nonsense. Why were all the stage personnel wearing angel wings? Why a circus motif with acrobats, clowns, etc.? It all adds up, in my mind, to much ado about nothing in order to distract us from the poverty of invention because in fact nothing much happens in a customary dramatic sense, something the composer himself claims as if it were a virtue. Armand Arapian offered a slightly lacklustre Prospero, in contrast to Pierre Lefebvre's hysterical Regista. Each of the four women made the most of her big opportunity (Sophie Fournier, Mary Saint-Palais, Nona Javakhidze and particularly Donna Ellen as the Protagonista), with Georg Nigl enjoying his comic turn as Venerdi. Conductor Patrick Davin's efforts failed to convince this listener

6 February - Monte Carlo
Cimarosa : Il Matrimonio Segreto

  • The Opéra de Monte Carlo moved into a second temporary home, the Théâtre de Fontvielle - Salle du Canton, far more intimate than the Grimaldi Forum where I saw Nabucco (25 January). The theater was once a large triangular multi-purpose space atop a shopping center, but somehow a stage and shallow orchestra pit were created as well as a slightly raked auditorium in a relatively low-ceilinged area. Painted flats frame the stage opening, reminding us of the Salle Garnier. Michael Hampe's production of Cimarosa's Matrimonio Segreto has been seen in numerous theaters but still remains its charm, particularly when interpreted with the vivacity with which the current cast invested the work. Eric Hull's affinity for the early classic period was an advantage, his direction of the orchestra crisp and to the point. Myrto Papatanasiu's sweetly-acted Carolina was belied by the slightly acid tones with which she sang, while Rachele Stanisci's Elisetta lost her aria, perhaps because it was beyond her technical resources, though she too acted up a storm. Della Jones's Fidalma was another instance in which stagecraft almost compensated for diminished vocal powers. Dario Solari's Count Robinson was perhaps the best all-round performance of the evening, closely followed by Bruno Pratico's silly old Geronimo. Mirko Guadagnini's Paolino fell easily on the ear when it could be heard, once more his stage presence making up the shortcomings.

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