Tag Archives: Daniel Oren

Glorious mess / Carmen / Royal Opera House – 6 January 2014

8 Jan

ROH CarmenLet’s get out of the way that I fervently dislike Francesca Zambello’s Carmen for the Royal Opera, it is the usual large opera house production, all baked terracotta walls, running water and pointless appearances by animals. It has not aged very well and the obvious lack of dramatic heft in the production is either made up by excellent casts that add their own personality to it or it just ponders on as a bunch of badly reproduced postcards of Goya portraits and tonnes of oversized Seville oranges (complete with orange tree, of course). The brusqueness of her use of the chorus and the unnecessary amount of stage noise touches on the vulgar. Particularly in the prelude before the opening of Act Two, the heavy stomping (as we know, clumsy stomping translates as passion) drowned out any delicacy left of Bizet’s luminous composition.

The leading couple of Anna Caterina Antonacci and Roberto Alagna must have so many hundreds of performances under their belts making one suspicious to get a prescriptive and superficial interpretation . But on the night the chemistry between the two of them was undeniable, Antonacci looked at him, charmed, arrogant, full of pity and fearless. He looked back with devotion and charm, with a certain vulnerability and intensity that was the perfect answer to Antonacci’s deeply felt and committed performance. Every one of her recitatives had meaning, every word was enunciated with exemplary clarity and style. The most telling was her warm delivery of the habanera, an all too frequently chance for singers to hoot like cheap prostitutes, she made it a beguiling study in characterisation with just enough suggestion and sex appeal. And of course warmly inflected vocalism that was parlando enough to make every one shut up and listen. A Carmen that did not dominated the stage with crudity and noise, but with suggestion, humour and charisma. All the men on stage are meant to fall instantly in love with her but also did the audience.

Alagna may have sounded sharp at the start but he eased himself into a very generous and well acted partner to the astounding prowess of our leading lady. The finale (despite the ham-fisted direction) was incredibly tense and well acted. Not in the league of Bieito’s incredibly vivid production but a good example of two great performers that can create magic out of directorial crumbs.

Special mention has to go to the supporting cast with Ashley Riches being a playful Moralès and Veronica Cagemi who despite being miscast she made all she could of Micaëla’s challenging aria in Act Three but unfortunately almost run out of steam during her short duet with Don José soon after. Unfortunately the Escamillo of Vito Priante had a total personality bypass, giving a terribly pallid stage impression regardless of the honestly ridiculous entrance on a horse. Judging by the reactions around me everyone paid attention to the horse but not to the singer.

The conducting of Daniel Oren  was so dreadful to make one wonder why is he being repeatedly booked by Covent Garden, if he is not generic he is outright bad. The tempi in the first half were wayward and sluggish, the transitions laboured and all the spark was made into a dull semblance of Iberica.

That Antonacci manages to pull off her arias without any major incidents was down to her trying to speed up proceedings with her singing…surely a dreadful day in the office for any singer if they have to modulate the performance by dragging the conductor to follow them. Her intense gesturing during Les tringles des sistres tintaient looked almost as a desperate attempt for Oren to notice that he had singers on the stage.

The orchestra overall sounded bored and any apparent gleam from the strings had turned into a muddle. To give him a modicum of credit after the interval things sped up a notch and felt less embarrassing to be hearing their output. But one has to wonder why the management of the ROH will go and book two well known singers only to give them a hard time with such uninspired and provincial conducting, surely there are many others that could conduct a reliable and fluid version of the score out there.ROH Carmen List

Some tweets from the night

Robert le terrible / Robert Le Diable / Royal Opera House – 9 December 2012

15 Dec

ROH Robert Le DiableWhen asked about redeeming features by my partner I was very short on examples. Meyerbeer’s score is eventful put inarticulate and at times inappropriate. But the major culprit of making this a dour night out is Laurent Pelly, a director very close to my heart. But this time he has seriously misjudged the mood and setting. Betraying both the source material and making it a slog for audience and singers.

The reputation of Meyerbeer’s music is for bombastic nonsense and a few well crafted arias. What I did not expect was the lack of any dramatic quality or theatrical value in this score, not helped by a meandering plot and a libretto that is a mess. Even the translation caused the odd unintended giggle. Robert’s question to Bertram (referring to the just departed Alice) ‘What has come all over her’ was one such cringeworthy moment. An indicator how far down the pantomime route this staging has taken the work.
Meyerbeer did compose Robert as a three act comic opera and had to modify it into a five act spectacular with ballet to fulfil the requirements of the Paris Opéra. And listening to the music the constant change of mood and tone creates the impression that this was a work written by committee, such is the disparity of the  constituent parts that any semblance of integration is woefully absent. One moment we have a seriously bombastic trombone laden intro to the scene between Bertram and Robert with a few sharp exchanges taking place and out of a sudden a break appears in the form of a harp solo, stopping the action on its tracks and just making for a rude interruption. That was one such strange jolt in the plot that takes many more forms throughout the 4 1/2 hours of its duration.
A more sensitive director would have created a more integrated spectacle to counter-balance the plot and patchy music. But Pelly in his near pantomime parody of the opera accentuates all the worst aspects of the composition, from the chorus swaying in tune to the music to the excessive placement of singers on the proscenium and making them sing straight to the audience.

Another aggravating factor of the production was the low quality of the stagecraft, sets being used badly and disappear clumsily. The stage hands being noisy and actually heard very clearly shouting at each other, behind the curtain, during the overture. Seeing hands moving the silly castle in Act Two was a particular low, alongside Alice being wheeled from side stage left on engraved clouds on wheels in Act Five. Allowing a large quantity of confetti from the end of Act Four to occupy the foreground of Act Five was both unsightly and an indication of negligent clean up during set changes. May seem minor but it was an indication of sloppy staging.

The two sets that really worked beautifully were the beguiling mountainous construction in Act Three taking the engraved look to an apogee and using the height of the stage to its advantage. But shamefully let down by the silly pantomime acting which robbed any sense of gravitas. And the set for the notorious nun ballet at the second half of Act Three was the most beautiful gothick construction, the incline adding a great perspective. The rust colour of the rails and the dark stone and greys throughout were a moody addition. Now if only the ballet and the acting overall was more convincing this could have been a heart stopping scene. Obviously the music does not help, when it turns into the most generic music to hop to since Adolphe Adam’s near contemporary La Fille du Danube. But again this lack of cohesion and episodic nature of this scene betrays the revisions made when it was reworked in collaboration with Filippo Taglioni for his super star ballerina daughter Marie. Mayerbeer extended the ballet for the first staging in Berlin and I wonder if the rather conventional and unimaginative middle part of it came from that time.

In Act Four, once more the white lego castle appeared, with quite a few stage hands visible…not inspiring confidence and we got confetti to tie together the wedding theme. Thank heavens for Ciofi’s beautiful rendition of Robert, toi que j’aime which was technically near flawless but somehow lacking in emotion, not helped by the cartoony throne and ridiculous surroundings. But at least the Act was topped by the hilariously hammy breaking of the branch by Robert (the one  he stole from the cloister of St Rosalia). At this point I had lost the will to laugh and all I could muster was just a slow head shake.

Act Five was the time for the build your own church template set. If that was meant to be a stand in for Palermo Cathedral it was both a poor idea and rather cheap looking. The Palace of Palermo as seen previously and it’s distinct papery texture was the lap of luxury in comparison. So a lot of people walked in and out of this church structure made out of white icing (ok almost). Nothing of much consequence happened, despite the fact Robert at last learns that Bertram is the devil and we got some pantomime green lighting showing evident fury…as Hymel’s face had a fixed mad look. But then we have the main (very thin) plot mechanism unfold at last…Robert gets given his mother’s will from Alice (and with Poplavskaya sounding quite hoarse by that point) it was a panto scene too far. The way Bertram gets swallowed by a monstrous face at stage right is so ridiculous to be risible but then Pelly adds the final touch with him before curtain fall walking across the stage with his suitcases.

Overall the performance of the orchestra under Daniel Oren was disappointing. The fervour was missing and his cautious reading failed to ignite the more bright parts of the score.
Brian Hymel as Robert sounded stretched to the absolute max while navigating a maze of high Cs and the odd D. The part alongside  the one of Isabelle is written in a very idiosyncratic way with very little relation to the rest of the vocal scoring. As Meyerbeer did customise the parts to the famous singers that were asked to sing those parts at the Paris Opéra. Hymel’s voice seemed at odds with the highly lyrical melodic material and despite his heroic struggle the voice took an ugly cast from all the extra effort involved.

Patrizia Ciofi was a good vocal match and delivered her arias with stellar results but remained definitely forgettable after the curtain fell. Her stage presence seems to me to lack any memorable features. She shows up, sings beautifully and not much else. The dramatic investment was just not there. My highlight was her tender rendition of En vain j’espère in Act Two which was unfortunately undermined by being acted for laughs. Maybe replacing Jennifer Rowley four days before the première was not such a great idea.

John Relyea was vocally strong and consistent if not terribly sophisticated. His greatest achievement being his aria and resulting duet with Alice in Act Three where he was allowed to show his dark side by the direction. But somehow his singing through the rest of the show seemed more coaxed out than released with relish and menace.

Marina Poplavskaya on the other hand was a really good fit for the part of Alice. Her at time astringent tone fits well with the material and she sang very well despite having obvious vocal problems caused by a reported cold. In Act Three her Quand je quittai la Normandie had the seed of a great performance but unfortunately her cold led to considerable scoops to the note and a major crack in a fully throated C. In full health I can imagine she would be immensely enjoyable.

The smaller parts were very well performed with a particular highlight the debut of Jean-Francois Borras who had huge amounts of fun being Raimbaut and had the unforced native sound that Hymel or Relyea ultimately lacked. Lets hope we get to see him again at the ROH soon.

As you can tell everyone, this evening at the Royal Opera House was arduous and with very little returns. I had to get rid of my Orchestra Stalls tickets and saved myself a serious amount of money and the aggravation of seeing this seriously off putting production. Maybe a less tongue in cheek production would accentuate the positive aspects of the work but I am afraid Pelly’s dead comic hand gave us an evening verging on the tragicomical. 

It was utterly disappointing and possibly the last time any of Meyerbeer’s music will see that particular stage for years to come. Robert Le Diable’s position as a historic curio remains. It is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and also will be released as a DVD/Bluray in 2013, so hopefully you will have the chance to examine closely this production.

ROH Robert Le Diable list

[youtube http://youtu.be/NbdVJilEKvM]

Get on the Robert Le Diable casting travelator…

3 Dec

DiableIt doesn’t happen too frequently but Robert Le Diable at the Royal Opera is one of the most unstable productions this side of the famous spat between Cecilia Bartoli and Jonathan Miller .

The original cast boasted Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau. JDF abandoned ship early on and then the delightful Diana decided motherhood was above any aspiration to sing a rare French opera.

Then Bryan Hymmel was booked to be Robert, judging on the back of his summer Énée he will delight.

Things got promising again by announcing the replacement of Diana Damrau by Jennifer Rowley, a promising young singer who had a breakthrough triumph in New York City Opera’s Orfeo early this year. She was auditioned for the part and the powers that be clearly thought she was up to the standard. It was one of those exciting occurrences that can make a young singer’s career. But it seems it was not meant to be.

Earlier today the ROH announced that J Rowley would be replaced by Patrizia Ciofi and Sofia Fomina dashing the hopes of all of us that looked forward to the debut performances by Rowley. Their release does go to lengths to point out that the management of the Royal Opera are behind the singer and indirectly pointing the finger to external forces (director and/or conductor). It seems internal politics won over and the audiences who looked forward to the production have another reason to be uneasy at curtain up on Thursday. After all we’ve already had the near farcical walkout by Marina Poplavskaya who actually returned a week later!

Despite the Royal Opera claiming to be a world opera house and Kasper Holten making too frequent references to it, still seems to be behaving in the most unprofessional manner to singers it engages and causes huge embarrassment to artists that evidently have done nothing wrong. But find themselves being replaced four days before the premiere. We can all imagine how devastating it must be to have gone through the whole rehearsal period and then to be asked not to perform. It seems ridiculous that the RO will allow external forces to alter the casting so close to the opening night and more akin to the way a village hall is run. The management for all their support they have shown to the cast, they were proven spineless against the whims of the production team. Still looking forward to seeing it, but with a much heavier heart.

Lets hope the rumoured involvement of Rowley with next season’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes alongside Erwin Schrott and Directed by Stefan Herheim, will come to fruition.

Update————————

It seems the press office of the ROH has been active disseminating vox pops by Laurent Pelly to various media outlets, exclaiming how perfect Patrizia Ciofi is as Isabelle making this sad story even worse. Arts correspondents being the usual obedient types, of course did not ask for any statement by Daniel Oren…he’s only the conductor, why should he be consulted on musical matters? Are we to believe this was a decision taken by Pelly? It is ludicrous as it is unprofessional and downright shabby the way the Royal Opera has behaved trying to calm down the furore over this affair.  

Of course I make the presumption that the casting director, music director and Jennifer Rowley’s agent did their job in the first place.  But I’ll go out on limp and say that I’d rather see a whole lot less of Daniel Oren at Covent Garden. Maybe it’s time he was told that he’s not irreplaceable either.

The exquisite Eglise and a sleeping duck of a Sonnambula / La Sonnambula / Royal Opera House – 7 November 2011

10 Nov

Three days later and I’m still conflicted over this production of La Sonnambula. Bel Canto is my biggest operatic passion and this production seriously let down both the cast and the composer.

This rewarmed up production from 2002 may look sleek and appropriately art deco, but it really does not serve the story of the opera or the singers well. The action is stolid and some of the silly antics (cake trolley comes to mind and smoking by Lisa) have no connection to the narrative line of the piece and just create distraction. Removing the story from a simple village setting to a mountain top sanatorium (which looks like the foyer of an art deco cinema) was a pretty stupid idea even back in 2002. It deprives the work of it’s naivete and is trying to shoehorn the action into an one set affair, disregarding the needs of the action. Elvino doesn’t have a bedroom and Amina has to slalom down a snowed on table like a show dog at Crufts. My heart went out to the singers that had to push through all this unnecessary baggage and shine through.

I went not expecting very much of Albelo, after reading complaints from other bloggers of the first two performances. On the third he seemed to be a good match for Gutiérrez, they both possess dark timbred instruments with a warm tone. Unfortunately for him though, he seemed to be pushing quite hard to hit his higher notes. The obvious comparison would be with Florez, who in contrast may have all the high notes and secure technique but he is lacking on the human warmth that brings Elvino to life.  In many levels he was satisfactory, especially in the duets with Amina but most of his arias were marred by his discomfort with the material, at times making us think he was auditioning for a Puccini opera. We needed a romantic hero with seamless legato and effortless production, we surely got shortchanged.

The role of Lisa is not so central to the action and this dreadful production has made it more slapstick than ever. Xanthoudakis sang with brio and charisma but somehow had a rather sharp delivery that was slightly out of sorts with bel canto.

Elizabeth Sikora, was a beautifully acted Teresa full of empathy but also unshaken trust for her daughter. She sang with security and open tone, one of the joys of the evening.

Michele Pertusi’s Count Rodolfo was seen by many reviewers as excellent, on the night he seemed over reliant on his cheeky part and not too married to the vocal requirements. His singing was smooth and well projected but somehow did not hit the mark as a complete character. But again I’d blame more the dreadful production than the singer.

Amina is a huge challenge for any coloratura soprano and there are very few that fulfill the requirements and can answer Bellini’s demands with aplomb. Eglise Gutiérrez is an extraordinary singer, she posses frightful coloratura technique and yet has a lower placed voice with powerful chest notes. It’s quite removed from the traditional nightingale sound with it’s airy delivery and stratospheric agility. The director did not make it easy for her, with fussy detailing and some very strange choices, he made her stagework much more difficult. Her opening Care Compagne was full of sweetness and affection. She continued with a definite cheekiness that was trying to imbue this lifeless production with some spunk. The rest of her first Act was beautifully sang and well ornamented. I cannot think of a single note she had to overtly aspirate or smudge her way to a D or an E. My only criticism would be that in that act she seemed to have gone for a more cautious approach. Her volume was quite low and seemed as if she was preserving her powers for the more difficult second act.

The clincher with any Sonnambula performance is her Ah! Non credea mirarti in the final scene of the second act. She delivered in spades. It was beautiful but also meaningful, that was as close as I have come to crying during an opera this year. Her flowing legato and solid vocal line was a marvel, alongside the placement of her high register. When it’s broadcast on Radio 3 listen in and see if you don’t feel a lump at the back of your throat. It was sensational! Bizarrely after this famously challenging aria and a tough cabaletta to follow the director asked for a dress change in a red velvet number beloved of Violettas the world over. The curtain came down and Amina walked on the proscenium to sing her Ah! Non Giunge uman pensiero and then the curtains opened and she walked on the table to conclude the evening with some truly extraordinary ornaments and topping it with a ceiling scrapping high F! I can’t imagine a single singer right now being able to pull it off in such fashion.

A special mention has to be made to the performance of the orchestra which was ropey at best, verging on to disastrous at times. Were they under rehearsed or was it all the fault of Daniel Oren and his singer unfriendly conducting? He seemed to spare little thought for Bellini’s actual tempi and to how the singers had to breathe to deliver their demanding coloratura. He lacked the finesse and the attention to detail a bel canto score demands. The first act felt like it was dragging on for at least two hours. At least in the second act things got slightly more brisk and the singers were better supported. It does not make sense inviting a hot rising star like Gutiérrez to front this singer’s opera only to let them down by shoddy direction, irrelevant sets and terrible conducting.

I will agree with Joyce DiDonato that ‘the world is lucky she is here’* and hope in the future the Royal Opera will offer Gutiérrez more roles that fit her extraordinary capabilities with new fresh productions that serve the music, singers and make Covent Garden look like a professional institution that takes its mission seriously. Bel canto needs dedication and the highest artistry, this production deserves to be binned soon after the last performance of the current run. How about a Semiramide Kasper?

The broadcast on Radio 3 is on 19 November at 6pm, tune in!

Tweets from the evening:

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133626766177746945

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133651276985671681

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133653441493999617

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http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133676092660785152

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133676108460732416

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133679552252739584

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133680351053742082

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133684098509180928

http://twitter.com/#!/OperaCreep/status/133686783723573250

http://twitter.com/#!/JoyceDiDonato/status/133902737757831168

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