La Scena Musicale

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two Different Productions of Elektra Enthuse Italian Provincial Opera Houses

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Generally, Strauss-Hofmannsthal’s “tragedy for music” Elektra is normally performed in comparatively small opera houses in Germany and in a few Central European countries. Most administrators and musical directors are scared by the thought of assembling a 115-piece orchestra, five Wagnerian singers, a large number of soloists in smaller roles and keeping the audience enthralled in their seats for nearly two hours of extreme tension and emotion.

Well, this season two different productions of Elektra can be seen in Italian Provincial theatres. They are quite successful and surprisingly attract also a new and younger audience, and they are likely to be revived next season.

Italy has many beautiful theatres, smaller than the main Opera Houses (at 500-900 seats) but very elegant and with a perfect acoustics. They are one of the outcomes of the complicated Italian historical development: until less than 150 years ago, the country was fragmented in a variety of small Kingdoms, Gran-Duchies, Counties and other small independent States; like in Germany, each was proud to have its own princely theatre. In addition, in the Italian unification movement and in the romanticism period, Italy opera had the function otherwise played by literature. On the top of the royal or princely theatres, a number of Opera Houses were built, and owned, by the palchettisti, the rich bourgeoisie that had individual boxes; comparatively small towns like Spoleto and Piacenza have two very separate theatres: one (generally smaller) for the aristocrats and other (somewhat larger) for the bourgeoisie. Many of these theatres are labeled, in the legislation, teatri di tradizione; they receive only limited financing by the central Government – most of the funds are channeled to the 13 national fondazioni liriche in major towns – and are supported by local authorities and private sponsors. Co-productions are necessarily quite frequent.

Of the two Elektras, one is a co-production of the theatres of Bolzano, Ferrara, Modena and Piacenza but Reggio Emilia and Ravenna may join in. The other is a production of Catania’s Massimo Bellini – the Italian theatre known for the best acoustics in Europe – but there are rumors that it may travel in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy next season. From these productions there are lessons to be drawn also for smaller Houses in North America – those that normally shy away from Elektra.

From the musical standpoint both productions are presented unabridged – a real rarity. In 1909, at its première in Dresden, a few verses of the text (and the relevant music) were cut because their explicit sexual references were considered unbecoming. Indeed as late as 1968, in the Golden Encyclopedia of Music, Normal Lloyd calls even the 'abridged' text “too lurid.” Although the sense of what is or is not prude has changed over the decades, it was only two years ago in a small Austrian festival that Elektra was performed unabridged for the first time. Although the unabridged is far from lurid, its sexually explicit text is essential to fully understand the Freudian overtones of the tragedy and the dazzling excitement of musical forces that goes beyond Wagnerian lines.

Situating an orchestra much larger than the theatre’s pit was solved in imaginative manner in both cases. In the Bolzano-Ferrara-Modena-Piacenza production, under Gustav Kuhn's baton, two highly professional orchestras were amalgamated: the Haydn Orchestra of Trento and Bolzano and the Orchestra of Emilia-Romagna. With a strength of 115, the orchestra was not in the pit but on the stage, on the steps of a semi-circular auditorium (looking like a Greek theatre) with each element or group of elements visible to the audience; tragedy was staged right at the front of the stage on two levels: Elektra's claustrophobic room at the lower level and the empty Royal Palace at the upper level.

In the Catania production, under the baton of Will Humburg, the orchestra is also on the stage (the “Massimo Bellini” regular orchestra is strengthened by musicians on contract for this very opera in order to reach 114), but it is also in some of the boxes. The action is in the front stage, the orchestra pit and other boxes. In both productions, the audience has the feeling of being part of the plot.

Maestros Kuhn and Humburg have different temperaments – the former more passionate and the latter, tragically dryer. The cast of both productions is mostly German and young. Interestingly, in the Bolzano-Ferrara-Modena-Piacenza production, the role of Kytamnestra is sung, for the first time in history, by an Italia (Anna Maria Chiuri) and in Catania by Gabriele Schnaut who for several years had sang Elektra.

The Playbill

Elektra in Bolzano, Ferrara Modena, Piacenza

Elektra Anna Katharina Behnke, Elena Popovskaya
Klytamnestra Mihaela Binder Ungureanu, Anna Maria Chiuri
Chrysothemis Maida Hundeling, Michela Sburlati
Aegisth Richard Decker
Orest Thomas Gazheli, Wieland Satter
Der Pfleger des Orest, L`aio di Oreste Igor Bakan
Die Vertaute Elisa Maffi
Die Schlepptragerin L`ancella dello strascico Charlotte Soumiere
Ein Junger Diener Un giovane servo Arnold Bezuyen
Ein Alter Diener Vito Maria Brunetti
Die Auseherin La sorvegliante Martina Bortolotti
Magden: Jolena Bodrazic, Monika Wackerle , Anita Ahsef, Jae Hee Kim, Lara Martins

Stage direction Manfred Schweigkofler
Costumes Hans-Martin Scholder
Sets Michele Olcese
Lighting Andrej Hajdinjak
Chorus Master Corrado Casati
Orchestra Haydn of Bolzano and Trento
Orchestra of Emilia Romagna

ELEKTRA in Catania

Conductor WILL HUMBURG Stage Direction GABRIELE RECH
Sets and lighting Giuseppe Di Iorio
Costumes Sandra Meurer
Chorus Master Tiziana Carlini

KLYTÄEMNESTRA Gabriele Schnaut, Renèe Morloc

ELEKTRA Janice Baird, Jayne Casselman

CHRYSOTHEMIS Elena Nebera, Elizabeth Hagedorn

AEGISTH Roman Sadnik

OREST Stefan Adam


DIE VERTRAUTE Graziella Alessi
EIN JUNGER DIENER Mariano Brischetto
EIN ALTER DIENER Giuseppe Esposito
I MAGD Marlene Lichtenberg
II MAGD Monica Minarelli
III MAGD Antonella Fioretti
IV MAGD Vitalija Blinstrubyte
V MAGD Manuela Cucuccio

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Last-minute stand-in saves COC’s Carmen

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I didn’t fall in love with the gypsy devil. As one of the most seductive operas of all time, the latest production of Bizet’s sizzling Carmen on stage at the Canadian Opera Company falls short of some much-needed charisma.

Directed by Justin Way with set design from Michael Yeargan, the Jan. 30 performance was interesting and lovely in parts (for example, the gypsy tavern in Act 2 and bullfight arena in Act 4), but struggles with movement and continuity throughout.

The COC chorus and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company chorus gave some magnificent and charming singing. However, it was unfortunate that they were given some awkward and un-gypsy-like routines to work with from choreographer Jane Johanson. This was especially painful to watch in the opening scene of the final act, when the choruses lined the front of the stage, stationary and pointing fingers.

The brief and sporadic standing ovation at curtain call owed its thanks to the last-minute-stand-in Carmen, sung brilliantly by Israeli-born mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, who makes her COC debut in this production after American mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton pulled out due to health reasons.

Shaham, blogging that she was “picking my nose in New York and complaining about my life” before she was called in last week, gave us a fiery, multidimensional Carmen, whose tobacco-laden gypsy pride torments the relatively simple and weak Don José. She wants her freedom above all things, and so she rejects the army officer for a matador in pink socks despite her hibernated love for the former. Shaham portrayed this subtle nuance beautifully.

In contrast, Don José didn’t know what he had until he lost it - albeit no one can hold on to a woman like Carmen for too long. New Orleans tenor Bryan Hymel, who made his COC debut as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, gave a guarded and measured performance of the hopeless lover. His singing was thin at times when coupled with Shaham’s deep and sultry tones, but he soared in the final act, revealing a vulnerable and impassionate Don José at his wits’ end.

Homegrown soprano Jessica Muirhead of Aurora, Ont. was a darling as the innocent and faithful Micaëla while French bass-baritone Paul Gay offered up a slightly rigid Escamillo, the matador. The COC orchestra, under the baton of 29-year-old Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald, shined from the pit.

Carmen continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts with Shaham on Feb. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 14. Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili will make her COC debut as Carmen on Feb. 17, 20, 23 and 27.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

A World Premiere in Rome: Pappano Conducts Henze's Latest "Konzertoper"

By Giuseppe Pennisi

Much awaited in the international music world, Hans Werner Henze’s Opfergang had its debut on January 10th at the main 2832-seat Santa Cecilia auditorium of the Parco della Musica in Roma. There were about 80 music critics from ten countries at this world premiere.

Maestro Henze is the most frequently performed living contemporary musician. He has lived in Italy since the early 1950s, more specifically since the beginning of the 1960s in a magnificent villa near Rome. Yet Opfergang is the first musical composition commissioned by an Italian institution (the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia). Maestro Henze is 83 years old. His fans and the musical world in general thought that his last major work would have been “Upupa,” premiered at the 2003 Summer Salzburg Festival and, since them, performed in many countries (but not yet in Italy) as well as considered the first major opera of the 21st Century. Thereafter, for a long period, Maestro Henze was seriously ill. He was in a coma for five months and seemed to be about to die. After his recovery, he had to cope with the death of his life-long partner. Surprisingly, in the last few years a new Spring appears to have begun for him. A flow of new major compositions: Sebastiam in Traum in 2005, Gogo no eiko (from a text by Japanese writer Mishima) in 2006, Pheadra in 2007, Elegium Musicum Amatissimi Amici Nunc Remoti in 2008 and now Opfergang (Immolazione, or Holocaust in the Italian translation in the program, but more accurately Sacrificium, Sacrifice).

Opfergang is classified a Konzertopera by Maestro Henze himself. Like many other works of his (e.g. El Cimarron, Pheadra, Das Floss of Medusa) the composition maintains Maestro Henze’s very strong flair for dramatic action; most of his works are for the operatic stage or for movies. But it is conceived for a concert hall: a few solo singers and a chamber orchestra with no need for elaborate stage sets or costumes. Opfergang requires an oversized chamber orchestra with quite a few peculiar instruments, two main soloists (a Wagnerian baritone and a Schubertian tenor), a second baritone in a minor role and a chorus-like quarter of baritones and tenors. There is limited acting, but in this production, lighting is critical in providing the dramatic context and pulse.

The text is a dramatic poem of Franz Werfel, an expressionist writer and poet from Prague. He was a very close friend of Franz Kafka and the last of Alma Mahler’s three husbands. The plot is simple but disquieting. In the suburbs of a large European town, a man is on the run; in a monologue he tells us about his life and problems but never reveals the specifics of what he is escaping from. He is befriended by a small white and well-tendered dog, who has left the upper class villa where he was the pet-toy of a young girl. The man is violent, brutal. The dog is kind, gentle. They attempt to communicate, but when the police is getting at the man, in a moment of insane rage, he kills the dog. The man runs away but is left in abysmal desperation while the soul of the dog sings his affection for him. There is, of course, quite a bit of symbolism – a movement contemporary to expressionism. The man is Violence; the dog Innocence. With the Violence-Innocence contrast and an all-male cast, there is an immediate reference to Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd - of which Britten himself adapted the grand opéra version to a chamber music edition (with two pianos in lieu of the large orchestra). However, the man on-the-run is not the sadistic Glaggart of Billy Budd; rather he seems to be like the protagonist of Albert Camus’s L’Etranger; in the German text, he is a Fremd, a stranger. We feel almost empathy for him in spite of his troubled soul, for his escaping from something we do not know, and even of his gratuitous killing of the sweet little white dog. In short, the text leaves the audience with many questions about the meaning of life and of existence in an absurd world – another reference to Camus’s novel.

Musically, the overall framework is dodecaphonic. The 12-tone scale is utilized both horizontally and vertically to build an eclectic score with melodies and melismas. In this manner, once more Maestro Hence brings the 12-tone scale to a large audience, as he did nearly 55 years ago with his first operatic masterpiece Boulevard Solitude. After an agitato introduction (a man is on the run), the score is dominated by ethereal string measures, a large melody of the Heckelphon (a baritone oboe), the “a solo” of the piano to accompany the recitatives, a vague dance movement of the accordion and a Wagnerian leitmotiv in F sharp major and C major. The vocal score is a declamation sliding into ariosos and even includes two tender duets, with the counterpoint of the quartet. Ian Bostridge is a lied singer at this best, Sir John Tomlinson is a powerful, yet suffering Fremd; he reminds the audience of the many Wotan he sang in Bayreuth. Maestro Antonio Pappano conducts the Santa Cecilia orchestra and plays the piano in an exquisite manner.

The audience erupted in real accolades at the end of the performance, even if the 2,832-seat auditorium was perhaps too vast for such an intimate Konzertopera.

The Playbill
Antonio Pappano, Conductor and pianist

Ian Bostridge The white dog
Sir John Tomlinson The man-on-the-run
Roberto Valentini, The police inspector
Gian Paolo Fiocchi ,Maurizio Trementini, Anselmo Fabiani
Antonio MameliThe Chorus, The Policemen

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Zeffirelli's Traviata in Rome

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Although Maestro Franco Zeffirelli is approaching the age of 90 (more specifically he will be 87 in a few months), he is still at centre stage of Opera and theatre in Italy and abroad. Next summer, all the Arena di Verona productions will be signed by him. Last September, the comparatively new management of the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to start the 2009-2010 season with a new production of Tosca with the stage direction of Luc Bondy caused an uproar because the audience still wanted Zeffirelli’s 25 year-old staging.

In Rome, the Teatro dell’Opera has serious financial difficulties, and for the last seven months, it has been managed by the Mayor of the City. A new Board was appointed on December 14th – the first meeting is scheduled on December 22nd. Again, in the midst of these troubles, Maestro Zeffirelli is right at the top of Roman and Italian opera goers’ attention. He is the Teatro dell’Opera’s pick for productions to reinvigorate finances; the last production of the 2009 Roman season is his Traviata. The first production of the 2010 Roman season will be his Falstaff, starting January 23rd.

This Traviata was served on a golden plate with, as an appetizer, a major upheaval in the Italian musical world and a likely appendix from the Roman Court of Law. As discussed later in this article, the staging is not new – a very similar Zeffirelli’s Traviata was performed in Rome in 2007. The main attraction was the debut in the title role of Ms. Daniela Dessì, with her life companion Mr. Fabio Armilliato as Alfredo; they were expected to sing at two gala performances on Dec 27th and New Year’s Eve. But Zeffirelli objected to her taking up Violetta on the grounds that she was getting along in age and weight. There was no Artistic Director to counteract him. Things got really heated at the press conference when strong words were exchanged. Ms Dessì cancelled all her contracts with the Rome Opera, including her much awaited performance as Alice Ford in Falstaff. Mr. Armilliato followed suit. Now, the matter is in the hands of lawyers and judges. Finally, during the press conference, Maestro Zeffirelli delivered a strong speech against the new way of staging Traviata (and other operas) in brothels (Irina Brook, Graham Vick), cemeteries (Laurent Pelly) as well as against updating opera plots to our time and age. This stirred up a lively controversy also on the regular (e.g. not specialized) information press. In short, on Dec 18th, at the opening of this Traviata, the air in the Rome Opera House was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Before the performance started, Zefferilli’s fans and foes were looking in anger at one another in the grand foyer.

As for the performance, this review deals mostly with the staging because I will treat the more specific musical aspects in the British Music and Vision, available also on the web at

First, Maestro Zeffirelli has several Traviata in his bag. This is either his eight or his ninth. I would call it his “8 and ½” as a nod to Fellini’s 1963 movie. His eighth Traviata was shown in Rome in 2007. In turn, this eighth Traviata was based on a production that the Met has shown for nearly a quarter of a century – changing, of course, the singers as the years went by. There are two significant modifications between Rome’s 2007 Traviata and the long standing Met production: a) in Rome, the plot unfolds as a long flashback (with Violetta dying during the overture to Act I) whereas the Met follows the 1853 libretto scrupulously; b) technology is skillfully used, with painted scenes replaced by computerized projection, this all fully mastered by Maestro Zeffirelli himself (in spite of his age). As compared with the 2007 showing, this “8 and ½” has a different choreography in the ballet of Act II.

Second, Maestro Zeffirelli’s productions are always bigger than life. They mean to bring the audience to the wide wild world of Opera, as the Lyric Opera of Baltimore called itself way back in the Seventies with a view of attracting a newer audience. In this Traviata, the stage has three levels and lights change with the mood of the scene and with the music – e.g. in Act II, lighting is lushly green in Violetta’s villa, terrific and sinful red at Flora’s party, and ghostly grey in the final concertato. Through computerized mirrors, the boxes and the orchestra seats appear on the stage, with the audience becoming part of the performance. 

Third, acting is quite well cared for. Singers do act as actors in a Broadway Playhouse. The huge mass of extras, mines and dancers do not crowd one another. Fourth and finally, the conductor is in line with the stage director not vice versa.

For Maestro Zeffirelli Traviata is based on youth and sensual passion, not on any socialist and related class-struggle view of the world like in some recent European productions. Thus, Maestro Gianluigi Zelmetti conducts with the slower tempos required to emphasize love and passion. There are three different casts in main roles: Cinzia Forte, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Mina Yamazaki as Violetta, and Roberto De Biasio, Antonio Gandìa, Stefano Pop as Alfredo.

This is Maestro Zeffirelli; either you like him or you hate him. There is no halfway. Normally, we know quality of a pudding when we eat it. In spite of the controversies referred to above, the nine performances were sold out already in September and two special previews were organized by charities because of the great demand for tickets. Box office sales are a good indicator of what operagoers like or do not like. On December 18th,, at curtain call, Zeffirelli’s fans overturned his foes.

The Playbill

            Musical Director                         Gianluigi                Gelmetti
Chorus Master
Stage sets and Direction

Violetta Valery

Myrtò Papatanasiu (18, 20, 22, 31) /

Cinzia Forte (19, 23, 29) /

Mina Yamazaki (27, 30)

Flora Bervoix
Katarina Nikolic (18, 20, 22, 27, 30) /

Anastasia Boldyreva (19, 23, 29, 31)

Antonella Rondinone (18, 20, 29, 31) /

Mariella Guarnera (19, 22, 23, 27, 30)

Antonio Gandìa (18, 20, 22, 29) /

Roberto De Biasio (19, 23, 30) /

Stefan Pop (27, 31)

Carlo Guelfi (18, 20, 22, 27, 30) /

Dario Solari (19, 23, 29, 31)

Gianluca Floris (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Cristiano Cremonini

Baron Douphol
Angelo Nardinocchi (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Gianpiero Ruggeri (19, 23, 27, 30)

Marquis d’Obigny
Andrea Snarski (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Matteo Ferrara (19, 23, 27, 30)

Doctor Grenvil
Carlo Di Cristoforo (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Luca Dell’Amico (19, 23, 27, 30)

Giuseppe Auletta /

Luigi Petroni /

Maurizio Rossi

Flora ‘s house  help
Riccardo Coltellacci /

Fabio Tinalli

Andrea Buratti /

Francesco Luccioni /

Antonio Taschini

production of the  Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

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Monday, December 7, 2009

La Scala Opens with the Rape of Carmen

By Giuseppe Pennisi

La Scala traditionally inaugurates its season on December 7th, St. Ambrose’s Day (Patron of Milan, where he was Bishop in the Third Century C.E). It is a national affairs attended by the Head of State, several Cabinet Ministers, many industrialists and financiers in black ties and ladies showing their best evening dress and jewels. This year, tickets are set at € 2,400 in the orchestra section or in the central part of the tiers of boxes. They are often paid by companies sponsoring the event as well as by a few tourists (Americans and Germans) flown to Milan by opera travel companies. The performance starts at 6 p.m. (not the usual 8 p.m.) to allow for lavish after-theatre dinners. The most important takes place in Palazzo Marino (Milan City Hall, just across the street from La Scala) where only 600 fortunate people can be invited for an elegant sit-down affair. To make the performance accessible to a larger audience, there was a preview for young people “under 30” on December 4th; some 180 journalists were invited. Also, the December 7th première is shown live on an international pay-tv channel and in 100 movie theatres all over Europe (and some other continents).

Whilst many Italian opera houses open their seasons with either a new or rarely performed opera, La Scala’s St. Ambrose tradition is to offer a new production of a well-known opera. The expectation is that the production would be “extraordinary” and “exemplary.” In short, the intention is that this should not be an “ordinary” production as can be seen and listened to in other theatres, but that it should set a standard.

This year, Bizet’s Carmen, one of the most frequently performed operas all over the world, was chosen for the event. It was offered in the Robert Didion’s critical edition –viz., with spoken parts not rearranged and set to music by Ernest Guiraut (as it has been the tradition for nearly a century). In short, the production was etymologically “extraordinary”, but not “exemplary” (as discussed below).

Stage direction was entrusted to Emma Dante, a whiz kid of Italian experimental theatre. The stage sets were the responsibility of the more seasoned Richard Peduzzi (the author of the 1976 fabulous Bayreuth Chéreau-Boulez Ring). The action is set in a town resembling today’s distressed districts of Palermo rather than 19th Century Seville: for instance, in the Second Act, Lilla Pastia’s tavern looks like Palermo’s remains of the Chiesa della Madonna dello Spasimo. There is a large number of extras (mimes, dancers). The stage is also crowed by religious symbols (priests, nuns, choir boys and crosses are nearly always in the midst of the action). Emma Dante sees Carmen not as a tragedy of passion, sex and dissolution, but as a tale of violence against women. In Act I, even pregnant women workers of the cigar factory are brutally beaten up by the police. In Act IV, Carmen is raped on stage by Don José whilst the always present crowd of choir boys, priests, nuns and simple city people stand still watching the action and waiting for the corrida to end. Rape seems to be the trademark of this La Scala season. Including Carmen, nine of the 12 operas in the program will involve rape. The outcome of this violent Carmen is a passionless and sexless production.

Musically, the performance is much better, thanks mostly to Maestro Daniel Barenboim and to La Scala’s magnificent orchestra. Maestro Barenboim stretches the tempos (the performance lasts four hours with two intermissions) making for a round sound from the orchestra and leaves room to the single instrumentalists – memorable the flute in the introduction to the Third Act. Maestro Barenboim’s Carmen has the right musical tinta of a mythical Spain as perceived by a foreign musician. Also, the singers are kept under tight check. Erwin Schrott and Jonas Kaufmann are both experienced Escamillo and Don José. Before the opening night, in an interview Kaufmann expressed his reservations about the production and called sick in the December 4th preview; his 2006 DVD with Caterina Antonacci, under the baton of Maestro Antonio Pappano and with the stage direction of Francesca Zambello, shows what he is able to do within an appropriate production. In Milan his Carmen is Anita Rachvelishvili, just graduated from the Accademia della Scala (the opera house’s music school). She is attractive and has great acting abilities, but needs more vocal maturity; in the “Habanera”, the alternation between D minor and D major were colorless. However, she improved as the performance went on.

Adriana Damata (Micaela) is a recent graduate too; she is a lyric soprano with a clear timbre but a small voice. She struggles in her Act III aria with La Scala’s huge auditorium and poor acoustics. The rest of the cast is good (especially Michèle Losier and Adriana Kučerová). The French pronunciation of most of the singers is acceptable.

A final comment, Kaufmann is covered by Riccardo Massi, another young graduate from Accademia della Scala and engaged to marry Rachvelishvili. He sang the Don José role on December 4th. Couldn’t La Scala find a more experienced “cover” for a repertory opera like Carmen? Mr. Massi was burned-out by such an early exposure to the audience; he has a poor timbre and had difficulties in nearly all his arias. He might have a good career with more study and experience in easier roles; let’s forget and forgive this poor start.

Performances are scheduled until December 23th and from October 29 to November 18, 2010. Most likely, the same production will be seen in Berlin, at the Staatsoper unter den Linden.


4*, 7, 10, 13, 15, 18, 20, 23 dicembre 2009


Opéra-comique in quattro atti


su libretto di Henri Meilhac e Ludovic Halévy
dalla novella di Prosper Mérimée

Prima rappresentazione: Parigi, Opéra-Comique, 3 marzo 1875

(Edizione critica di Robert Didion - Copyright e edizione Schott Musik, Mainz;
Sub-Editore per l’Italia Casa Musicale Sonzogno di Piero Ostali, Milano)

Nuova produzione Teatro alla Scala

Regia e costumi EMMA DANTE



Personaggi e interpreti principali

Don José Jonas Kaufmann (Riccardo Massi on Dec 4th)

Escamillo Erwin Schrott

Le Dancaïre Francis Dudziac

Le Remendado Rodolphe Briand

Moralès Mathias Hausmann

Zuniga Gabor Bretz

Carmen Anita Rachvelishvili

Micaëla Adriana Damato

Frasquita Michèle Losier

Mercédès Adriana Kučerová

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala

Maestro del Coro BRUNO CASONI

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14th Le Gala Delivers Vocal Delights

by Wah Keung Chan

It’s a credit to the depth of Canada’s vocal talent that Montreal Opera’s 14th annual Le Gala succeeded yesterday afternoon with an all-Canadian cast. Twenty-eight singers and full opera chorus treated the capacity crowd of 2800 to 35 operatic solos, ensembles and chorus lasting over four pleasure-filled hours (including a 35-minute intermission). With a predominantly local cast, there were no cancellations and only Lyne Fortin was announced as indisposed, but she still agreed to perform.

There were many high points starting with Gregory Dahl’s impressive and moving Rigoletto Act II aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata.” Dahl’s baritone had previously impressed in Montreal Opera’s season opener where his double performance as Tonio in Pagliacci and Schicchi in Gianni Schicchi revealed in him Canada’s next great Verdian baritone. Ample tone and impeccable legato are the order for a great Verdian baritone, and Dahl’s performance of the Rigoletto aria and the famous “Te Deum” from Tosca did not disappoint. Soprano Marianne Fiset brought beautiful legato and heart felt feeling to Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi. Montreal native mezzo-soprano Nora Sourouzian’s Act I aria from Carmen was sung with beautifully projected voice and professional presence; my only complaint is that she was only asked to sing this short aria. Let’s hope Sourouzian, who has been away from Montreal for ten years and now makes Switzerland home, would be brought back soon. The revelation of the evening was Layla Claire’s touching and vulnerable performance of “Adieu notre petite table” from Massenet’s Manon; her perfect technique allowed her voice to swell and bloom. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson’s engaging voice and presence (including a cell phone and juggling schtick) in the Barber of Seville aria “Largo al factotum” brought the house down. Soprano Aline Kutan’s performance of solo and duet from Lakmé proved again that she’s Canada’s top coloratura. Coloratura soprano Raphaëlle Paquette also acquitted herself well in an aria from Thomas’s Mignon.

The Gala also revealed that recent graduates of the Montreal Opera’s Apprenticeship program have matured and are ready to join the solo ranks. Baritone Etienne Dupuis showed a solid clear voice in his noble performance of Valentine’s aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Gounod’s Faust. Bass-baritone Alexandre Sylvestre’s rendition of “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser had a fine legato and evenness of tone. Baritone Phillip Addis demonstrated a well-projected voice in a boring aria from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. Top marks also for soprano Marianne Lambert, tenor Antoine Bélanger, who is showing an Italianated tenor voice, and current Atelier Lyrique member Caroline Bleau who exceeded expectations in her Traviata duet with veteran baritone Gaétan Laperrière. Other noteworthy veterans included Annamaria Popescu, Lyne Fortin and Marc Hervieux, who gave a preview of “Le vaisseau d’or” from the upcoming Spring performance of Nelligan. Conductor Alain Trudel and the Orchestre Métropolitain provided fine support throughout, and the chorus was excellent in their three pieces.

In the first half, Le Gala showcased the three winners of the Montreal Opera’s amateur competition Apéro à l’Opéra: mezzo Lise Brunelle, and sopranos Sophie Lemaire and Annie Sanschagrin. Based on the performances heard yesterday, there was no clear cut winner; after intermission, Montreal Opera artistic director Michel Beaulac announced Sanschagrin as the grand winner, with her prize, the performance of a duet (with tenor David Pomeroy) and Vissi d’arte at the end of the February 13 performance of Tosca.

The Gala began with a touching tribute to the late Father Lindsay who was inducted into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame. The homage would have been perfect had the organizers prepared a video presentation, an element sadly missing every year.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Disappointments include not hearing in solo mezzo Stephanie Marshall, another Canadian who has been making a name for herself in Europe, and why were Fiset and Addis not given arias different from the roles they just performed with the Montreal Opera. Also, missing this year were large female voices, as Canada seems to be following the world shortage in Verdian spinto sopranos. Otherwise, kudos to Beaulac for the fine programming.

Addendum: Le Gala was recorded by Espace musique and will be broadcast on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m. on the program l'Opéra du samedi hosted by Sylvia L'Écuyer, and will be issued on CD by ATMA Classique on January 30, 2010.

See also
> Earlier comments on the La SCENA Twitter Page
> Review in Montreal Gazette
> Review in La Presse (in French)
> Review in Resmusica (in French)

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