23 Jan 2013
Pelléas et Mélisande in Nice
Pelléas et Mélisande, in t-shirts and jeans, were out riding bicycles. They came upon a fountain. You know what happened.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Pelléas et Mélisande, in t-shirts and jeans, were out riding bicycles. They came upon a fountain. You know what happened.
As we already did because it was all a flash back. We had seen Golaud, dead, a bullet hole on the top of his head, seated in a sort of chair carefully and cleanly created out of a piece of a classic Greek column. He was surrounded by a lot of strangely dressed people plus an even stranger one in a clown costume (lacking only the red bulb on the nose). This we soon found out was Yniold.
In a bit less than three hours Mélisande was dead too during a psychedelic light show that took place beyond the Zen garden behind the very gray, very angular Japanese pavilion that served as the unit set. This garden setting was perhaps intended to invite us to conjure in our meditations all those fountains and grottos and bleak seascapes that other times make Debussy’s masterpiece one of opera’s sublime experiences. We were however just then participating in a violent domestic tragedy making meditation difficult.
The day of Mélisande’s death and his own Golaud chose to wear a bright maroon suit with black stripes. Pelléas was of course already dead having chosen to wear red blazer and a yellow shirt with a colorful tie for his late night fateful farewell to Mélisande. Mélisande who had a short, pert haircut had to pretend that a blue and gold scarf, obviously from India, was the hair that Pelléas tried to wallow in.
Costumes were by the production’s stage director, René Koering (père), sets were by Virgil Koering (fils) who evidently has a thing about radio operated model cars because this high tech toy was also featured in Wolf-Ferrari’s Secret of Susanna [the secret was that she smoked dope] that he designed a few years ago for Montpellier. Arkel on the other hand was pushed around the stage in an antique wheelchair.
The Opéra de Nice, a Belle Époque monument, these days boasts fairly large pit, allowing a quite generous number of strings. The accomplished Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice did indeed provide some of the rich sonorities that can make this remarkable score an orchestral tour de force. The conductor was Philippe Auguin, its music director (Mo. Auguin is also the music director of the Washington National Opera).
The maestro surely will have had an agreement with the cast that they would be entirely on their own for the duration of the opera as he did not so much as even glance at the stage, remaining buried in the score when not energetically encouraging the various players and sections of his orchestra (Mo. Auguin was quite visible to me as I had press seats courtesy of the Opéra de Nice in a box directly over the pit and stage). This presumed agreement however had its flaws — the engrossed maestro did not connect with the stage. The huge, shattering moments that make Pelléas and Golaud two of the repertoire’s most complexly emotional roles were rendered orchestrally soulless, their impact filtered through the maestro’s ponderous orchestral processes.
The singers (directly below me) were in fact brilliantly connected to the Maeterlinck tragedy and were well able to negotiate the text rendered into Debussy’s urgent melodic shapes and rhythms. Baritone Franck Ferrari (a Niçois with an Italian surname) gave a powerful performance as Golaud. Ferrari possesses a dark hued voice with reserves of virile power, ideal for Maeterlinck’s tragic hero. He is a consummate singing actor who gamely executed even the strangest moments of the stage direction.
Lyonnais tenor Sébastien Guéze proved himself yet again to be a very accomplished interpreter of the French heroic roles (Faust as well as Pelléas as examples). His French is crystal clear, his voice is able to expand into ever greater fortes of emotional release in Debussy’s most intense moments. The scenes of his sexual discovery of and declaration of love to Mélisande were the most thrilling of the evening.
A last minute replacement for the Arkel listed in the program (no explanation why, leaving room for speculation) was American trained black bass baritone Willard White. Jamaican born White is one of the renowned basses of recent times. Obviously a powerful performer he added an unusual, lascivious magnitude to Arkel that seemed to make him the primary architect of the tragedy. Mr. White’s French had a bit of a twang at first but we got used to it.
French early music diva Sandrine Piau was the Mélisande. Her voice is of sufficient amplitude to convey the indecision of this famous enigma though the mise en scéne deprived her of the ambience and the persona needed to enflame the above gentlemen. Mlle. Piau gamely pretended that Mélisande had a psychotic breakdown before she died. Russian born, French trained soprano Khatouna Gadelia gave Yniold a far more energetic and knowing presence than this emblematic innocent usually possesses.
It is hard to fathom what quirk of old-boyism handed a new production of this masterpiece to veteran opera intendant René Koering when there are so many easily identifiable French stage directors who have the technique, experience and imagination to plumb its depths with intelligence and sensitivity. Mr. Koering is a jack-of-all-operatic-trades. This attribute served him brilliantly as general director of the Opéra National de Montpellier, but it does not give him the experience or artistic stature to mount a production on what should be an important provincial French stage.
Cast and Production
Pelléas: Sébastien Guéze; Mélesande: Sandrine Piau; Golaud: Granck Ferrari; Arkel: Willard White; Geneviève: Elodie Méchain; Yniold: Khatouna Gadelia; Doctor: Thomas Dear. Chorus of the Opéra de Nice Côte d'Azur. Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice; Conductor: Philippe Aiguin; Stage Director: René Koering; Costumes: René Koering; Set Design: Virgil Koering; Lighting: Patrick Méetüs. Opéra de Nice. January 17, 2013.