Aix-en-Provence: where's the
by Joel Kasow
FRANCE, 14 August 1998 - The Festival International d'Art Lyrique
d'Aix-en-Provence, new style, is off and running. Stéphane
Lissner, maître des lieux, has made certain choices bearing not
only on this year's festival but that are also intended to leave a
mark on future editions. The establishment of the Académie
Européenne de Musique is the start of a long-term commitment to
a training programme for young artists, both performers and composers.
This year the Académie presented Purcell's Dido and Aeneas
and Britten's Curlew River on alternate evenings (more or
less), even though the works will be offered on a double bill in 17
different cities on tour next spring. Workshops were devoted to Zauberflöte
to be presented at the next festival.
The two new "major"
productions were very much of the 'Emperor's new clothes' variety.
Don Giovanni was entrusted to Peter Brook, Lissner's Parisian
colleague from the Bouffes du Nord, thereby encouraging some wags to
dub the festival the Bouffes du Sud. Claudio Abbado opted for more
reasonable tempi than Daniel Harding. Brook's "poor"
production profited from unusually generous rehearsal time: rarely are
the recitatives delivered with such conviction. Unfortunately, the
arias too often left much to be desired.
Peter Mattei in the
title role may have a certain good-natured sex appeal, but lacks
charisma. Gilles Cachemaille's Leoporello has seen better days
vocally, but his extensive knowledge of the two main roles helps him
through. John Mark Ainsley's Ottavio is not the traditional wimp;
moreover, his arias became positive statements. Till Fechner's slender
Masetto and Gudjon Oskarsson's sturdy Commendatore rounded out the
male contingent. Carmela Remigio's Anna sounds more substantial in the
flesh than on the recent Abbado recording, but she remains stretched
by the arias, while Lisa Larsson's charmless Zerlina seems to possess
one vocal tone colour. Melanie Diener's Elvira seemed to have strayed
from another opera, unmoved by the events around her and not always
comfortable vocally. Chloe Obolensky's costumes looked as if she had
gone shopping at the summer sales, while the experimental approach was
not appreciated in all quarters. At 900 francs (£85 or $150) a
seat, festival audiences might reasonably expect a more glamourous
visual and vocal experience. The production will be seen in Stockholm,
Lyons, Milan, Brussels and Tokyo before it reappears at next year's
Bluebeard's Castle (30 July) was in safe
hands under Pierre Boulez, aided by Laszlo Polgar in the title role
and Violetta Urmana as Judith. All were betrayed by Lissner's choice
of choreographer Pina Bausch as director, whose eight dancers made an
enormous racket running around the stage so that at times it was
difficult to hear the music. One hoped that such key episodes as the
opening doors might be treated with some awareness of the text but all
we got were obsessive repetitions of the same gestures and gags, so
that the well-dressed, older man two seats down from me was moved to
boo the dancers at the end, and he was not alone in his disapproval.
For more festival information and Operanet
recommendations, see Culturekiosque's
Opera Festival Calendar
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