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

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

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):