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Reopening of the Palais Garnier
By Joel Kasow

Dr. Mozart was on call for the reopening of the Palais Garnier, but was himself in need of some attention after the two evenings I spent there. A scenically lovely Così fan tutte was marred by the egotism of designer Mario Toffoluti who - as ill-advised as many of his predecessors - also chose to stage the work, forgetting that staging means not only organizing decorative groupings but getting the performers from one place to another as well. Jeffrey Tate led the Paris Opera Orchestra through its paces, his tempi sensible but never generating the drama missing onstage. A well-chosen cast on paper displayed some weaknesses. Susan Chilcott is an admirable soprano, one I've enjoyed hearing since a remarkable Ellen Orford in Brussels a few years ago, but she lacks the dramatic timbre and presence essential to the role of Fiordiligi (which she nonetheless sang well); she is by nature a Dorabella, but as is so often the case today has been unwisely pushed into the heavier role. Susan Graham's Dorabella missed the volatility of which we know she is capable, while Eirian James made the most of Despina's opportunities. Rainer Trost's Ferrando was hampered by a voice already in decline, all the notes around the register break being as uncomfortable for the audience as the singer. Simon Keenlyside (Guglielmo) and William Shimell (Alfonso) were much more at home vocally and dramatically.

Two days later, Sir Georg Solti's hard-driven Don Giovanni was typical of his work, as we can also experience on his newly issued recording of Così fan tutte (Decca). Michele Pertusi's Giovanni and Ferrucio Furlanetto's Leoporello displayed the sort of complicity not seen since the heyday of Siepi and Corena, while the solid bass of Mario Luperi's Commendatore was welcome. It was fascinating to hear Ildebrando d'Arcangelo's Masetto since his excellent Leoporello for Gardiner last year, a role he will soon be repeating while he also adds the role of Giovanni to his repertory later this year in Bonn. A bad cold prevented Herbert Lippert (Ottavio) from sounding his best. The real excitement was provided by the women. Renée Fleming's Anna already ranks with the best, as does her Fiordiligi on the new recording, a total command of words, period style and a voice of the right dimensions for both those roles, capable of sounding girlish but with enough heft to make an impact. Joan Rodgers's dramatic Elvira showed that a smallish but well-focussed voice can be as effective as a dramatic soprano in this crucial role, and the mezzo Zerlina of Monica Groop exuded charm.

The big excitement, however, was being back in the boutique.

New look for Palais Garnier

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