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14 September - Lausanne

  • This year's outing to the uncomfortable, unfindable wooden barn at Mézières for Mozart's Clemenza di Tito was not as unhappy as last year's Visconti-Fellini vision of Don Giovanni, but the uninteresting conducting of Lü Jia in William Orlandi's monolithic decor was not easily overcome. Jorma Silvasti in the title role may have been a bit stiff but that is in character. Véronique Gens does not easily portray the scheming bitch that is Vitellia, but this was a creditable attempt of a role which is not especially congenial. Dagmar Pecková's Sesto sang well enough to make us forget the totally unbecoming costume she wore, while Laura Polverelli's Annio could easily be a Sesto in the making. That both mezzos only came up to Gens's shoulders provided an interesting gloss on the events.

19 September - Geneva

  • The Grand Théâtre's closing for a year of renovation has provided the Genevois with a new theatrical locale, constructed within the confines of a former hydroelectric plant where Lac Leman feeds into the Rhone. A scenically pared-down version of Orphée aux Enfers was entrusted to Marc Minkowski in one of his ever-more frequent excursions outside the domain in which he has for long been pigeonholed. The rhythmic alertness and attention to textures was as much in evidence as in the conductor's performances of Rameau. Laurent Pelly, an operatic newcomer, staged the opera avoiding the hoary gags that too often replace attempts to replicate the humor of the text, at the same time inculcating a young cast with the notion that comedy is only funny when the actors take themselves seriously. Yann Beuron's Mozartean credentials were a plus in the title role, while his visual and vocal opposite, Eric Huchet, had a whale of a time as Pluto. Laurent Naouri's Jupiter was a riot in the fly duet, while Annick Massis as his would-be conquest captured the spoiled brat aspect of the character and simultaneously singing up a storm. A host of secondary roles were impeccably performed and by the time the production reaches Lyons for the month of December that tiny bit of inspired madness should have been located. EMI will also record the work in December during the Lyons performances.

5 October - Brussels

  • Otello deserves better than the likes of director Willy Decker and designer John MacFarlane who once again have served up their tunnel decor with a sloping floor designed to give performers a permanent backache. The curtain opens with a ridiculous pantomime between Iago, Cassio and Desdemona during the otherwise unnoticed storm, and it was all downhill from there. A cross was often schlepped around by the various performers, broken by Otello at the end of the Act 2 duet with Iago and then put back together by Desdemona in the middle of the Ave Maria. Antonio Pappano's rough and ready conducting is one possible approach to the score, but subtlety was surely an integral part of the late Verdi's approach. Susan Chilcott's Desdemona emerges almost unscathed from this farrago, while Vladimir Galouzin's performance of the title role promised well. Tom Fox's badly sung Iago and Kurt Streit's overparted Cassio did little to raise the level of the performance.

6 October - Paris

  • Klaus Michael Grüber's well-travelled Parsifal alighted at the Châtelet preceded by an immense reputation. Although billed as a staged event, I saw a concert performance in which the singers constantly sang out to the audience, barely interacting, in a curious décor. Fortunately Semyon Bychkov arose from his customary torpor and gave one of his best performances in a long time, his Orchestre de Paris following brilliantly. Waltraud Meier clearly merits her laurels and this performance atones for her Eboli two years ago. Her new disc for RCA, reviewed elsewhere in CultureKiosque, is an accurate reflection of an exceptional performer. Matti Salminen's Gurnemanz operates on the same level. Poul Elming is too down to earth for the director's hieratic approach, while Monte Pederson's over-emphatic Amfortas and Günther von Kannen's barked Klingsor were overshadowed by the veteran Theo Adam's few utterances as Titurel.

7 October - Paris

  • And then there is another of today's cultural icons, Francesca Zambello, who has produced a "destroyed" version of Turandot. In terms of blocking, this production would not have looked out of place at the Met 40 or so years ago, except that Alison Chitty's sets and costumes were considerably uglier than anything we might have seen at that time. And then there are the Zambello touches, such as Amazon bodyguards for Turandot who at one point break out into a ballet which would not have been out of place in the Springtime for Hitler and Germany episode in Mel Brooks's film The Producers. And that Ms. Zambello chooses to indulge her erotic fantasies is of little interest to the general public, when three large, bare-chested gentlemen emerge to tickle Calaf while trying to find out his identity. Georges Prêtre's return to the orchestra pit at the Paris Opera was not the happiest of occasions, his tempi often too slow and too many moments where singers and orchestra were out of sync. In the midst of this, Sharon Sweet's imposing Turandot clearly had immense reserves, while Sergei Larin's sweetly sung Calaf lacked the squillo needed in the middle of the voice. Barbara Frittoli's sweetly sung Liu lacked body. There seemed to be little direction of the principals who all seemed to be functioning independently. And so we have seen in three days the work of three of the more esteemed directors of today, all of whom seem to be working to a formula which in fact seems more concerned with expressing their own inner agenda rather than trying to search out that of the work itself.

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