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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

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.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

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.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

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.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘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.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

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. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

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.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

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.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

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.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

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.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

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.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

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

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.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

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.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

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).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

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’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from Cléopâtre [Photo by Christian Dresse courtesy of Opéra de Marseille]
17 Jul 2013

Cléopâtre and Les Troyens in Marseille

There are forces to be reckoned with at l’Opéra de Marseille — a first class orchestra, a first class chorus, first class casts (with notable exception, see below) who inhabit an extraordinarily fine old opera house.

Cléopâtre and Les Troyens in Marseille

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: A scene from Cléopâtre

Photos by Christian Dresse courtesy of Opéra de Marseille

 

(And, yes, Roberto Alagna as Enée [Aeneas]).

French grand opera adores the mezzo-soprano voice, among its greatest roles are legendary personages who expound human warmth and honest sensuality. Just now there were three of these unique creatures in Marseille — Cléopâtre, Cassandre and Didon — all in the person of French mezzo-soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon (born of a Spanish father).

Mme. Uria-Monzon was the Carmen ne plus ultra on major stages twenty years ago. Her roles are now mature women of courage and resolve (like Tosca too, Mme. Uria-Monzon’s current rôle fétiche). At fifty years of age now Mme. Uria-Monzon reads as a beautiful woman in her vocal prime. Her sound is big and secure, beautiful and elegant, uniformly produced throughout the mezzo register. Her expressive subtleties, her musicianship are created by rhythm and volume gradation more so than by variation of color.

Not that Massenet’s Cléopâtre is among French grand opera’s greatest works. Having long since given the world his masterpieces Massenet kept turning out operas, the last opera, Cléopâtre, premiered posthumously in Monte Carlo (1914). It is almost the same story as Dido (beautiful woman entraps vulnerable man who abandons her). By 1912, the year of his death, Massenet knew how to write an opera, the final count was forty.

Cléopâtre takes place in a warring world (lots of fanfare) engendering wrenching farewells not to mention betrayals (lots of singing). It was therefore a very pleasurable afternoon if you like fanfares and arias (well, we all do) and you do not look to closely or expect too much. Marseille’s venerable metteur en scéne Charles Roubaud endowed this slight work with a perfect staging that would have pleased the monegasques (those who reside in Monaco) in the heady days just before the first world war.

Its hero, Marc Antoine was impersonated by handsome Canadian (Quebec) baritone Jean François Lapointe who sings well and seems most at home in giddy moments. His rival for Cleopatra’s attention, Spakos was keenly portrayed by Marseille born tenor Luca Lombardo, and Mark Anthony’s faithful and forgiving wife Octavie was beautifully sung by Canadian (Quebec) soprano Kimy McLaren. Conductor Lawrence Foster realized the maximum possible from Massenet’s score.

As Carthage’s Dido in Berlioz’ Les Troyens mezzo soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon towered in stature far above Egypt’s flighty Cleopatra. Berlioz’ endows his tragic queen with sublime music. The Berlioz muse is iconoclastic, quite personal, even naive allowing this heroine an emotional simplicity and honesty that explodes first in delicate sexuality and finally in rage at Aeneas. Mme. Uria-Monzon as Troy’s Cassandra on the other hand needed to threaten the Trojans with her prophecies. These menaces lie in an emotional range less present in Mme. Uria-Monzon’s persona, though such violent utterances did find resonance within her voice.

IMG_0608-photo-Christian-DR.gif

It was a concert version of Les Troyens in Marseille, within this format Mme. Uria-Monzon shined, creating first Cassandra and then Dido in her voice then adding minimal physical movement in gesture and expression that carefully etched and held character even in concert format. Overt physical action was however implicit in the Berlioz orchestra, the five trumpets and four trombones detailing its bellicose happenings (the finale of the Trojan War, the proto-Hannibal invasion of Carthage and, not least, the founding of Rome).

Seventy-two year old American conductor Lawrence Foster, the lone linguistically foreign presence (well, save a tenor from Texas), drew an always driving, rhythmically square, colorfully detailed performance from the Marseille Orchestra who skillfully created non-stop thunder, be it military description or deeply personal emotional statement. Mo. Foster is the new music director of the Marseille orchestra, its first in many years. He has the task of honing it into an ensemble of true stature. Much progress has already occurred, there is the assumption that obvious deficiencies will soon disappear as well.

The violins are solid (twelve firsts and twelve seconds), the cellos and violas sang quite beautifully. Berlioz makes much use of a wind quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon) in various combination to color his story, and these players proved fully capable of providing this big time maestro and Berlioz what they demanded. The French horn duet was intoned and echoed in appropriately sweet and supple tones, a very visible and very appreciated orchestral high point of the evening.

Among the high points of the five hour evening was the fourth act Anna (Dido’s sister) and Narbal (a government minister) duet discussing, no surprise, duty versus love. In this concert performance several roles were double cast, not just the tour de force of Cassandra/Dido. Bass Nicolas Courjal sang Narbal, Priam and the ghost of Hector. He is a beautifully voiced young singer who early in the evening had made Priam’s description of the sack of Troy especially moving.

IMG_1490-photo-Christian-DR.gif

Texas tenor Gregory Warren as Iopas softly sang the Ode to Cérès as well as the Song of Hylas in sweetly beautiful tones (he also urgently delivered a few messenger one-liners). In a staged performance both of these stand alone songs assume greater relief than in a concert performance. Here they were the only episodes where scenic atmospheres were sorely missing.

The field of mezzo-sopranos (not a soprano in sight) was completed by Clémentine Margaine as Dido’s sister Anna and Marie Kalinine as Aeneas’ son Ascanio. Mlle. Margaine is obviously a Carmen of stature whose bolder presentation served to underline the subtlety and delicacy of Béatrice Uria-Monzon’s Dido.

Not to forget the Trojans and the Carthaginians, the eighty or so voices of the Opéra de Marseille chorus who suffered and raged with Berlioz’ inimitable gusto and proved themselves an ensemble of true operatic stature. The tenors made an exceptionally beautiful sound.

That leaves Aeneas, Roberto Alagna. Sad to say this famous tenor was a black hole in an otherwise superb evening. He was obviously unprepared, losing his way in his big moment in the fifth act; unsure of himself he resorted to inappropriate tenorial vocal mannerisms (heaving the voice, exaggerated scooping); unable to trust his musicianship he compensated with non-stop gesturing; apparently unable to deliver the nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie he availed himself of sotto voce, vocal trickery that simply caricatured a lover. Most disappointing were the antics he affected as he was being booed.

Michael Milenski

For an appreciation of the Opéra de Marseille please see Marseille, Capital of European Culture

Cléopâtre: Cast and Production
Cléopâtre: Béatrice Uria-Monzon; Octavie: Kimy McLaren; Charmion: Antoinette Dennefeld; Marc Antoine: Jean-François Lapointe; Spakos: Luca Lombardo; Ennius: Philippe Ermelier; Amnhès: Bernard Imbert; Sévérus: Jean-Marie Delpas. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Marseille conducted by Lawrence Foster. Mise en scéne: Charles Roubaud; Décors: Emmanuelle Favre; Vidéos: Marie-Jeanne Gauthé; Costumes: Katia Duflot; Lumières: Marc Delamézière. Opéra de Marseille, June 23, 2013.

Les Troyens: Cast and Production
Didon / Cassandre: Béatrice Uria-Monzon; Ascagne: Marie Kalinne; Anna: Clémentine Margaine; Hécube / Polyxène: Anne-Marguerite Werster; Enée: Roberto Alagna; Chorèbe: Marc Berrard; Panthée / Mercure: Alexandre Duhamel; Narbal / Priam / Ombre d’Hector: Nicolas Courjal; Iopas / Hylas: Gregory Warren; Un Chef grec / 1ère sentinelle: Bernard Imbert; Prêtre de Pluton / 2ème sentinelle: Antoine Garcin; Helenus: Wilfried Tissot. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Marseille conducted by Lawrence Foster. Opéra de Marseille, July 15, 2013.

Photos: copyright Christian Dresse, courtesy of Opéra de Marseille

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):