11 Jan 2011
Il barbiere di Siviglia in Montpellier
There is more than one way to skin a cat.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Montpellier’s old Comedie would have been a perfect venue for Rossini’s most famous comedy, but this fine, late-nineteenth century Italian style theater is closed for renovation. This left the huge, ultra-modern Théâtre Berlioz, a barn-of-a-theater that the Opéra National de Montpellier often makes work against all odds.
The solution for presenting Le Barbier de Seville in this vast space was to import an existing production from another barn-of-a-theater, the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The Deutsch Oper had some solutions of its own for blowing up Rossini’s diminutive masterwork to sufficient size to fill up its vast space.
To wit, performing it as a sort of commedia dell’arte on a stage wagon pulled by a tractor onto a beachfront esplanade in front of a lively square that was perhaps Seville. Though of course Seville is nowhere near any sea. There was a beach, and we presumably sat on it to watch the show, together with various little families, lovers, same-sex lovers and a donkey all of whom from time to time were doing their own thing.
It is Berlin after all, where artistic choices are sometimes questionable though usually amusing. The Deutsche Oper had hired Katharina Thalbach, a protégé of Brecht’s theatrically chic Berliner Ensemble, to stage the opera. Thus Rossini’s hyper-sophisticated early nineteenth century opera would have the gloss of hyper-sophisticated mid-twentieth century theater. It was simply the old-hat trick of a play within a play.
If you are getting the idea that all this could not possibly work you are absolutely right. And worse placing Rossini’s opera within quotation marks distanced us from Rossini’s inimitable musical immediacy. The theatrics were indeed clever (and there were abundant antics by the crowd watching [or not] the silly play to keep us amused). The great Rossini was reduced to a small stage on the stage. And the pit.
The Opéra National de Montpellier had made its choices too. A big theater demands a big conductor, and the Italian maestro Stefano Ranzani was an obvious choice, with credits of the biggest repertory in the biggest theaters. A lot of big music resulted, and of course some weird tempi. And there was even some Rossini to be heard though this was perhaps the first Rossini this maestro ever conducted — no Rossini credits were listed in his program biography.
There were even a few times when a modest Rossini boil was achieved, but those were moments when the maestro was aided by the two veteran Rossinians in the cast, Simone Alaimo as Basilio and Alberto Rinaldi as Bartolo. It was a hint of what Rossini can be but almost never is in great big theaters.
Bartolo’s ward and intended bride Rosina was Georgian mezzo soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze, a recent winner of the Placido Domingo competition (among many other competitions). Appropriately for winning competitions and for Rossini’s Rosina, Mlle. Kemoklidze exhibited boundless confidence. She possesses an unusually bright mezzo voice, a winning stage presence and obviously sings quite well.
Her lover Almaviva was Italian tenor Filippo Adami who sang very well too, and attacked Rossini’s fioratura with cool bravura. Mr. Adami possesses a voice with a fine edge and not much sweetness, attributes that would be more appreciated in productions with specific Rossini musico-dramatic values.
If Mlle. Kemoklidze and Mr. Adami came across as sophisticated performers, young French Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis, the Figaro, presented himself as a consummately charming performer, but one who does not yet possess the finesse and bravura to fully anchor Rossini’s comedy.
These three young performers are representative of a fine new generation of opera singers, well prepared vocally and musically, and willing and able to fit themselves into whatever directorial visions may occur. This Montpellier staging was obtuse, complex and demanding. These performers made all possible effort to pull it off, and they did. Bravo!
The mid-winter holidays are festive, and entertainments are meant to be festive. If nothing else Le Barbier de Seville in Montpellier was just that. Unlike Berlin, there are actually fine beaches not far away where we will soon find ourselves. All said and done this production was maybe right at home in Montpellier.