May - September 2000
Late spring and summer roundup, with an introduction to the new
- Since the last diary
instalment, I have been to only a few performances, notably the
continuation of Geneva's Ring Cycle with a Walküre
(18 May) that featured a soprano new to me, Janice Baird, who has
been singing Brünnhilde throughout Germany and Austria. Ms.
Baird possesses the goods, the voice even throughout its compass,
warm in the middle, strong at the top, and she can act. Albert
Dohmen's Wotan seemed more comfortable than last year in Rheingold,
but he is perhaps one vocal size too small for the role. Tina Kiberg
and Poul Elming as the Walsung twins were physically well matched,
but the end of Act 1 was sadly lacking in ecstasy.
following evening found me in Toulouse for a revival of
Charpentier's Louise that should have featured Renée
Fleming, who was replaced by the young Chinese soprano Jalin Zhang,
giving a performance that in no way had the audience regretting Ms.
Fleming's cancellation. The voice is solid, easily encompassing the
punishing demands of Act 3 but with a wide dynamic range as well.
Marcus Haddock's Julien suffers from a certain diffidence that does
not enhance his credibility. Martine Dupuy's well-acted Mother finds
her short of voice, while once again Alain Vernhes's Father is a
touching portrayal. Michel Plasson's way with the music once again
carries us along.
The world premiere of Charles Chaynes's
Cecilia during Monte Carlo's Printemps des Arts (23 May), based
on a Cuban novel of the 19th century, suffered from the composer's
lack of faith, which manifested itself in the presence of a Narrator
(Marthe Keller) who only succeeded in interrupting the musical flow.
Conductor Patrick Davin's commitment to contemporary opera was
further confirmed, while we were introduced to such new talents as
Marisol Montalvo's touching portrayal of the title role was matched
by Jean-Marc Salzmann's loverboy Leonardo, with David Lee Brewer
finding echoes of Sportin' Life in his role. Jorge Lavelli's
production showed that he is capable of respecting an opera.
Agrippina the next evening at the Théâtre des
Champs-Elysées in Paris was turned over to the ham-fisted
David McVicar who succeeded in trivialising in the modern manner, so
that we were treated to Poppea's drowning her sorrow in drink, Nero
as a punk, etc., etc. René Jacobs led a model performance
musically, not once let down by his singers who included Anna
Caterina Antonacci in the title role, Rosemary Joshua as Poppea,
Malena Ernman as Nero, countertenors Lawrence Zazzo as Ottone and
the irrepressible Dominique Visse as Narciso. Lorenzo Regazzo's bass
may not be quite as profound as required by the music of Claudio,
but he nonetheless convinces us.
A whirlwind visit to the
Spoleto Festival allowed me to encounter the work of another of
today's hotshot directors, Keith Warner, who demonstrated a total
lack of understanding in his production of Der Rosenkavalier
(30 June), not helped by the visibly pregnant Octavian of Pamela
Helen Stephen and a time travelling approach to scenery and
costumes. Richard Hickox galvanised the young orchestra into
sounding as if they had been playing the opera for years, but a
Marschallin who should have been singing Octavian (Anne Bolstad) and
a very young Ochs (Kurt Link) did not provide sufficient
counterweight. Laura Claycomb's adorable Sophie was given a fishwife
duenna in the person of Janice Cairns's Marianne.
National de Lyon closed its season with Faust (4 July) in
which Emmanuel Krivine showed that conviction and commitment are
indispensable for this opera, while Jean-Claude Berutti's production
seemed to borrow from most of the others seen in the last 20 or so
years. Mary Mills was far better as Marguerite than she had been as
Massenet's Manon earlier in the season at Monte Carlo, ably
supported by William Joyner's Faust. Barseg Tumanyan's Mephisto was
of the old school by way of Chaliapin and Christoff, not nearly as
elegant as required.
The Festival of Baroque Music at
Beaune enticed me to venture from home on a summer weekend heavy
with traffic to hear Handel's Tamerlano (8 July),
particularly with the prospect of a countertenor duel between Brian
Asawa and Bejun Mehta. Unfortunately, neither showed up so the young
Delphine Haidan was promoted to the role of Andronico opposite
Patricia Bardon in the less important title role, so that the
temperature was nowhere near as warm as it should have been. Karina
Gauvin's Asteria intrigued, while Kobie von Rensburg's Bajazet
indicated another talent to watch. Christophe Rousset and his Talens
Lyriques offered solid support, but it was unfortunate that some of
the music had to be cut so that the performance would not terminate
at 2 a.m.
A return to the Chorégies d'Orange for the
first performance in situ of Contes d'Hoffmann (12 July)
once again indicated that performances of artistic value are
virtually impossible in such locations, a problem aggravated by the
choice of Jérôme Savary as director, once again showing
that the only taste he possesses is bad taste. Michel Plasson and
the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse once again showed that in this
sort of music they have few equals. Marcus Haddock's languor in the
title role was not always appropriate despite excellent French.
Natalie Dessay's final performance as Olympia (she is retiring the
role from her repertoire) was more spoiled brat than brainless doll,
but she gave her all to the great delight of the audience who
applauded every two seconds during her aria. Leontina Vaduva's
Antonia touched, while Enkelejda Shkosa's Giulietta made the most of
the few opportunities falling to her in the traditional version.
Angelika Kirschschlager's Nicklausse gained one aria and she was far
more at home than in Paris earlier this season. It fell to José
van Dam as the four villains to give a stylistic lesson, though the
cold winds of the mistral sometimes covered his voice. The
audience disgraced itself a few weeks later at Tosca, booing
Nelly Miricioiu's performance of the title role that may perhaps
have been too subtle for the surroundings. They did appreciate the
off-pitch loudness of Alain Fondary's Scarpia, while Vladimir
Galouzine's Mario seemed to satisfy all segments of the audience.
Gary Bertini's conducting was lacklustre and the Orchestre
Philharmonique de Radio France was not having one of its best days.
An ugly set by Jean-Paul Chambas did not simplify the task of
director Jean-Claude Auvray.
The summer's high point was a
visit to the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier for the first
performance in almost 50 years of Vittorio Gnecchi's Cassandra,
an opera created in 1905 with Toscanini conducting. A mini-scandal
took place a few years later after the premiere of Richard Strauss's
Elektra when an Italian musicologist "discovered"
many "plagiarisms", particularly striking as Gnecchi had
sent a copy of his score to Strauss. This is a full-blooded work
with the leading role falling not to the title character but to
Klitennestra, a role for the likes of Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni, as
was also the case with Mascagni's Parisina.
Once again, she demonstrates that sensitivity and subtlety are
even more important than mere decibels. Tea Demurishvili in the
title role is more in the Cossotto mould, while Alberto Cupido's
tenorizing as Agamennone only set off the work of Sra. Mazzola.
Enrique Diemecke conducted as if possessed. As far as the "borrowings
are concerned, I would suggest that Gnecchi was possibly influenced
by the tone poems of the young Strauss, not to mention the general
tone of the era. I have noticed that there is already a recording of
the concert on the market.
5 September - Lausanne
- Gabriel Fauré's
sole venture into the operatic world has not been well received,
while singers eager to defend the cause of the noble Pénélope
are rare indeed, only Régine Crespin being consistently
courageous in the last 50 years. The production that opened the
renovated Opéra de Rennes last year came to Lausanne, with
most of the same principal singers. Manon Feubel in the title role
is clearly a singer to watch, with her gleaming high notes and solid
middle register so important in this opera, however director Alain
Garichot left her standing high and dry too often. In fact, he opted
to ignore the drama, or as he put it in the program, "I believe
that the work's strength lies in its poetic concentration."
This translated as dramatic inertia. John Uhlenhopp's Ulysses lacked
the heroic tone, while Vincent le Texier's Eumée seemed
unable to sing other than loud. Claude Schnitzler and the Orchestre
de Chambre de Lausanne kept the score moving, but why was the number
of servants reduced from five to two, or the number of suitors from
five to three, further resulting in a number of cuts in the score. A
simple set by Denis Fruchaud and simply appropriate costumes by
Claude Masson would have functioned more effectively with a more
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