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17 October - Toulouse

  • One of the evident requirements for a new staging of Carmen these days seems to be the presence of Béatrice Uria-Monzon in the title role. This is at least the fourth staging in which she has participated in four years, and for the first time it was possible to understand what she was singing. Her experience of the role in widely divergent productions stands her in good stead in Nicolas Joël's no-nonsense production. This is a proud woman, self-aware and yet fatalistic, all of which comes across. That the others are not as successful is also partly a result of the production, but the pinched voice of Patrizia Pace's Micaëla or the fortissimo swagger of Franck Ferrari's Escamillo offer few compensations. Keith Olsen's José seemed to be in vocal trouble, but at the same time had few interpretative insights to offer. Fortunately, Michel Plasson and the Orchestre du Capitole offered a sumptuous reading, Giraud version with recitatives and all. They and the heroine deserved better companions. Sets and costumes by Ezio Frigerio and Franca Squarciapina remained resolutely in 19th century Spain to the delight of this viewer who has seen too many "relectures" of too many masterpieces which have tended to diminish the work they were pretending to enlighten.

25 October - Lyons

  • The Orchestre National de Lyon is celebrating its tenth year with their musical director, Emmanuel Krivine, and its home, the Auditorium Ravel, has been remodeled so that the acoustics are approaching the acceptable. Unfortunately for some segments of the public, the lounge chairs have been replaced by seating which is more favorable to the acoustics. Eliahu Inbal is a frequent guest of the orchestra, and this year he chose to give us Mahler's Klagende Lied, restoring Part One. I will not go into the debate as to whether Part One should be performed, or whether Mahler's desire for its suppression should be respected, but in this instance the conviction of the performers outweighed other considerations. The orchestra has now reached a stage at which they may be considered one of the best in France, soloists - who have much to do in this work - all exceptional. The work is oddly constructed, as the vocal soloists have little to do, the odd phrase here and there to no evident dramatic end, but the color they supply is important. Françoise Pollet, Donald Litaker and Johannes Mannov entered wholeheartedly into the proceedings, with vocal projection to match. Mezzo Sylvie Sully has more to do than her colleagues and her luscious sound is right for the role; unfortunately, she occasionally tended to lose projection in the middle of phrases. This was only a minor blight on what was otherwise an excellent way to spend my birthday.

2 November - Lyons

  • Busoni's Doctor Faustus is one of the operatic casualties of our time, its neglect totally inexplicable. Yes, the composer died before he had quite finished his work but his pupil Philip Jarnach completed the opera (shades of Turandot), and perhaps the subject is not quite to contemporary taste. Today, however, we are more accepting of an episodic libretto, and it is surely time that we admit that Busoni is a major musical figure of the 20th century. Kent Nagano demonstrated once again his feeling for this tortured composer in a reading that did not spare us the bleakness of Busoni's outlook. Unfortunately, designer-director Pierre Strosser - despite his excellent work with singers - showed that his pictorial imagination is limited. To what end was the stage encumbered on three sides with enormous scaffolding, but rarely used, which further prevented the voices from projecting into the auditorium? To what end were the costumes updated to the 1920s other than that was the period of the work's composition? Neither of these clichéd concepts offered any compensatory flashes of illumination. Dietrich Henschel's extraordinary performance in the title role will only grow along with his voice which was not well-served by the decor. Kim Begley's formally attired Mephistopheles had the requisite clarion sounds and also the sardonic manner which is part of the role. A host of lesser roles were well-taken, and the ensuing recording by Erato, which will use the Beaumont version rather than the Jarnach used in the performances, is eagerly awaited.

6 November - Geneva

  • Mozart's Mitridate, his first full-length opera seria, is too easily written off as unstageworthy, but that it not taking into account the talents of director Francisco Negrin and designer Anthony Baker who follow a course of simplicity and clarity so that the fraternal-paternal struggles become extremely vivid. An evenly matched cast featured Donald Kaasch in the fiendishly difficult title role, singing with (comparative) ease over a greater than two octave range, Fiorella Burato making the most of Aspasia's despair while executing some of the most reckless and daring coloratura, Sandrine Piau as the more soubrette Ismene, and Inger Dam Jensen and Dagmar Peckova as the warring brothers. No one has an easy time of it vocally and amazingly the cast came through with flying colors, other than one of the subsidiary singers. John Keenan and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande were in fine form throughout, and it was good to hear Peckova in much happier condition than last month in Lausanne. And to think that Zürich also just came forth with its own new production of this difficult work, while concert performances next spring with an all-star cast (Dessay, Bartoli, Asawa) are scheduled for recording.

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