- The increased media exposure of Angela Ghiorghiu and Roberto Alagna has
raised the expectations of audiences to a level which becomes more and more
difficult to sustain. The Alagnas descended on Lyons for two performances of
Elisir d'Amore which were televised in HDTV, recorded for
Decca/London (audio and video) and also benefitted the Fenice reconstruction
fund. The last is the sole laudable aspect if what I saw at the first
performance is any indication.
Frank Dunlop's updated production to the 1930s shed little
light on the action, introduced Mrs. Dulcamara as a character, encouraged
Alagna's booby antics which were extremely amusing as his comic talents are not
that often called upon. Aside from Simone Alaimo's quack, there was little vocal
pleasure to be had.
Ghiorghiu's miniscule voice at times verged on the
inaudible, except for her final aria and the occasional blasted high note. Worse
still, Alagna sang the entire performance without a single vocal nuance, and
amusing enough as he was from a visual point of view the steady mezzo forte
rapidly palled.Their recent cancellation of dates in London due to exhaustion
may offer a partial explanation for this minority report.
Roberto Scalitri's Belcore was also amusing to watch, but
his forced singing out of one side of his mouth was unpleasant to watch and not
always easy on the ear. Evelino Pido kept things under control, but his personal
contribution was imperceptible. The audience loved it, reserving a genuine
ovation for the end. Let us hope that the recorded version is not a replica of
what I heard but more musically responsible.
- A trip to Geneva for the seldom-encountered Hamlet
of Ambroise Thomas was well worth the detour. Simon Keenlyside in the title role
displayed excellent French, entered into the skin of his character to the extent
that he once or twice threatened to go off the vocal rails, and is a worthy
competitor to Thomas Hampson's more traditional view of the character (as seen
at Monte Carlo a few years back).
Natalie Dessay's Ophélie cannot be considered a
revelation as her career is one I've followed for several years. Her singing and
acting fuse into a total portrayal, capped by a mad scene which sent chills down
the spine. Her Lucia can't be too far away, but we will have to adjust our ears
to the pre-Sutherland era. Alain Vernhes's Claudius showed once again his
capacities as a singing actor, the words crisply enunciated, the voice a solid
bass-baritone capable of providing the necessary counterweight to the young
lovers. Kathryn Harries, replacing the ailing Martine Dupuy, was certainly in
the same league from a visual point of view, but her singing offered no pleasure
with its squally high notes and wide, uncontrolled vibrato.
Louis Langrée's conducting was the best I've heard
from him to date, the direction of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser was up to
their usual standard but aren't they getting as tired as audiences of the
contrast of elegant female costumes and army surplus for the men? Nonetheless,
thanks to three artists who believe, Hamlet came to life and
showed that Thomas was capable of writing good music alongside the 19th century
trivialities usually attributed to him.
- A new production of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie
at the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier) was entrusted to the hitherto winning team
of William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and Jean-Marie Villégier. A
program note by Villégier unfortunately makes it clear that this time he
was unable to find the key which would have unlocked the piece, so that he
slavishly follows one of the least distinguished libretti set by Rameau,
forgetting the drama when the divertissements occupy center stage and creating
characters for the singers in the divertissements. Worse still is the treatment
of Diana as a middle-aged, gossipy school-mistress, Eirian James winking at the
audience almost as much as Felicity Lott's Marschallin.
Fortunately, Christie surmounted the obstacles
singlehandedly, the soloists needing a few more performances to get into their
roles. Only Laurent Naouri as the first-cast Thesée seemed to have
understood what was needed, his wide-ranging bass-baritone allied to a
formidable scenic presence standing well above the others.
Thierry Félix in the other cast has neither the low
notes nor the ability to throw himself into a role which are among Naouri's
major attributes. Let us hope that when he and Dessay perform together that the
temperature will rise to explosive heights, unlike the Lyons non-event.
Phédre was entrusted to Lorraine
Hunt and Isabelle Vernet and one kept wishing for a fusion of the technique of
one and the voice of the other which would have resulted in something
unforgettable. The title roles were evenly cast, both pairs of lovers somewhat
lacking in personality, with the English tenors (Mark Padmore and Paul Agnew)
particularly wan vocally. Anna-Maria Panzarella and Annick Massis should settle
nicely into their role of Aricie. The most questionable aspect remains the
choice of venue, the Opéra-Comique remaining far better suited to this
type of venture.
Erato is scheduled to take the work into the studio with
the first cast and performances will follow in the new year at Nice,
Montpellier, Caen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.