Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Diana Damrau as Philine [Photo by GTG / Yunus Durukan]
19 May 2012

Damrau Dazzles in Geneva

It is not long into Act One of Mignon at Geneva’s Grand Theatre when Diana Damrau glides on stage as Philine, commands our rapt attention, and sweeps all before her.

Ambroise: Thomas: Mignon

Mignon: Sophie Koch; Wilhelm Meister: Paolo Fanale; Philine: Diana Damrau; Lothario: Nicolas Courjal; Frédéric: Carine Séchaye; Laérte: Emilio Pons; Jarno: Frédéric Goncalves; Servant: Laurent Delvert; Conductor: Frédéric Chaslin; Director: Jean-Louis Benoît; Set Design: Laurent Peduzzi; Costume Design: Thibaut Welchlin; Lighting Design: Dominique Bruguiére; Choreography: Lionel Hoche; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

Above Diana Damrau as Philine

Photos by GTG / Yunus Durukan

 

The Divine Miss D immediately serves notice that she has no current equal in this repertoire, singing with a pristine beauty of tone, displaying effortless coloratura effects, and effectively modulating her beautifully limpid soprano from full-bodied forte to hushed pianissimo and all points in between. Moreover, Diana is a consummate stage creature who is capable of fully investing the character of the scheming coquette with endlessly inventive stage movement and business.

Mignon_GTG_05.gifSophie Koch as Mignon

Ms. Damrau not only boasts one of the most technically secure instruments in the business, she also has that elusive star quality that makes us unable to take our eyes off of her, with our ears joyously coming along for the ride. While it is no surprise that she crafts “Je suis Titania” as a veritable Masters Class in poised vocal perfection, the truth is that she makes nary a false move the entire evening. If Thomas were alive, he would most certainly write her back on stage in Act Three! Petite in physical stature perhaps, but Diana Damrau’s Philine is a towering artistic achievement that had me from “Bon jour.”

But the piece is called Mignon after all, and here too, Geneva cast from strength. One of the most celebrated (and busiest) French mezzos of our time, Sophie Koch gifted us with a deeply felt, wholly engaging performance. Her refined lyric voice has a hint of a dusky hue to it, and Ms. Koch is quite expert at crafting affecting plangent phrases. “Connais-tu le pays” was polished and poised, touching yet avoiding bathos. She also made Act Three her own with a solid understanding of the soft-edged dramatic and musical momentum.

Time and further experience with the character will likely lead this gifted performer beyond the somewhat generic to a more nuanced approach, by discovering a bit more variety that could be mined from the part. And she will no doubt refine the few phrase endings that lost focus or were characterized by a frayed release. Still, Sophie’s dramatic commitment was believably sincere, and she skillfully deployed her mezzo with admirable results.

Mignon_GTG_06.gifDiana Damrau as Philine, Paolo Fanale as Wilhelm Meister and Emilio Pons as Laërte

Paolo Fanale showed great promise as Wilhelm Meister. When Mr. Fanale sings at mezzo forte he impresses mightily with as creamy a lyric tenor as you are likely to hear. He also offers some superlative diminuendo effects that are cleanly executed. His upper range rings out freely and with amplitude well above the staff. However, at louder volumes in mid- and upper-range I had the impression that he was more forcing the placement into the mask than allowing it to simply be in the mask.

This is not to say it was unpleasant to the listener, but rather a bit worrisome for his future vocal health. Paolo is young, handsome, musical, and is possessed of a naturally glowing tenor. He is needed. While his Meister had much to recommend it, I would urge him to fine tune his vocal approach and liberate the tonal production in the passaggio. If more French opera is in his future, he might also be more attentive to his diction and nurture more comfort with the language.

Nicolas Courjal earned one of the biggest ovations of the night for his masterful Lothario. His gently throbbing vibrato and slightly grainy bass-baritone were perfectly matched to the rangy vocal lines of this highly sympathetic personage. Mr. Courjal was able to spin some flawless messa di voce effects and pour out any number of well-judged legato phrasings with a refinement that is not all that commonly encountered in this Fach.

Emilio Pons made his usual fine impression in the small-but-important role of Laérte. Mr. Pons was luxury casting, not only showing off an even, easily produced tenor of good ping and presence, but also declaiming some of the most idiomatic French dialogue of the cast, vivid and characterful. Emilio clearly relished his conspiratorial scene work with Diana’s Philine, who created real sparks as they prodded each other to ever more animated machinations.

Mignon_GTG_04.gifCarine Séchaye as Frédéric

Carine Séchaye had lots of fun with her goofy take on Frédéric. Her slightly steely mezzo had style and spunk, and her comic invention invested this suitor with a decidedly fresh perspective. As the meanie Jarno, Frédéric Goncalves avoided dramatic cliché and sang with an assured, virile baritone. In the inserted, mute role of the Servant, comic actor Laurent Delvert scored some good laughs as he set up ‘audience’ seating for the gypsy show during the overture’s Polonaise. The chairs were slid forcefully on stage on their backs from the wings, coming in ever-greater numbers and speed. Just as he finally got them all set up stage left, he suddenly realizes they should in fact be stage right. In a burst of manic madness he moved them all to the other side as the band played the frenetic finale.

Would that all of the stage direction had been similarly inspired. On the plus side director Jean-Louis Benoît did not get in the way of his first rate cast. Nor, however, did he add too much that was inventive or creative. He did manage the traffic well enough, groupings were clean and focused, and principal characters were never upstaged by irrelevant movement. Nor did the actors always seem to be fully connected, as Mr. Benoît was content to have them sing to us rather than each other, which was especially noticeable with Mignon and Wilhelm in Act Three.

While this did enable the singing to be heard to maximum effect, it did weaken the dramatic involvement in a piece that would benefit from more fully involved character interaction. “Je suis Titania” began with a very effective visual “build” which started with Philine on a platform up center and had her moving incrementally to the apron flanked by the chorus. But then the soprano was made to return way upstage for the finale, a visual, if not vocal retreat. The director might reconsider and let his star shine down stage through the end of the aria.

Mignon_GTG_08.gifNicolas Courjal as Lothario and Sophie Koch as Mignon

Laurent Peduzzi’s sets were not particularly detailed nor meant to be, but at least they did not distract. A false proscenium here, a drape there, a lone bed at one point, a sole armoire at another, all were carefully chosen and the whole was quite nicely showcased by Dominique Bruguiére’s well-judged lighting design.

The real design achievements of this production were the lavish, richly detailed period court costumes by Thibaut Welchlin. Too, the fanciful Shakespearean get-ups for A Midsummer Night’s Dream were delightfully eye-catching. What a shame then that this accomplished costumer made the miscalculation of dressing the title role in a well tailored man’s suit for her entrance (clambering out of a clothes hamper no less). Instead of looking like a somewhat androgynous, enigmatic gypsy girl, the lovely and statuesque Ms. Koch looked instead like Octavian wandered in from a bus and truck tour of Rosenkavalier. Mignon was thereby handicapped with attire that made her look more hangdog teenaged boy than melancholy love struck waif. And it made hash of the script’s requirement that Meister subsequently demand that Mignon indeed disguise herself as a man servant. Huh?

In the pit, Frédéric Chaslin made a strong case that he may just be the world’s leading conductor of this repertoire. The splendid Orchestre de la Suisse Romande collaborated with the Maestro to produce a reading that featured delicately refined solo work, richly rendered ensemble passages, and tremendously detailed layers of instrumental colors. The elegant harp solos alone were worth the price of admission. The chorus was meticulously prepared, tightly focused, and vibrantly emotive. Mr. Chaslin has elicited as persuasive a rendition of this gentle character study as will likely ever be heard, with an overall propulsive arc that was marvelously sustained for the entire evening.

Mignon’s starry cast, credible design elements, competent direction and superior musical values total up to a world-class opera-going experience.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):