Tag Archives: Eglise Gutiérrez

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:












That was an incredible performance! One of those perfect, once in a lifetime perfect. Thank you!* / Cendrillon / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – 11 July 2011

12 Jul

What a night it was!

Writing my impressions on the fourth performance may seem late to many but ask any opera singer and they will confess that three shows in they feel much more relaxed in the character and the first night nerves are a thing of the past. I want to see a production at its best and not just to be there on opening to do it first, that is frankly the job of so many much more experienced professional reviewers. In this instance it seems that Joyce DiDonato was not in her best singing voice in a couple of performances owing to a cold. So glad to have missed those earlier manifestations of this glorious romp.

Arriving in the auditorium and you’re faced with a row of closed doors, walls papered with Charles Perrault’s book. The set itself (designed by Barbara De Limburg) and its interior world of the book itself is such a clever and expandable device that Laurent Pelly used to a great effect. The whole set is a big concertina construction that opens and closes to create from the intimate bedroom of Lucette (Cendrillon’s real name) to the grand salon of the palace. Extra mobile constructions are adding a balcony, a smoky rooftop and a pile of appropriately red books is the outcrop that the fairy godmother makes her final triumphant appearance on.

Who said that productions can’t be fun and effective without moving the action into a Parisian brothel or any other unrelated location so beloved of a number of European directors? Laurent Pelly directed the action with aplomb and with great comic timing.

The fact he also designed the costumes added another layer of fun (his odd and silly costumes for the various princesses are just hilarious) and they were used to give it a total look that helps the work all the way. For instance Ewa Podleś Madame de la Haltiere was defined by her comic timing but also by the absurd padding and restrictive nature of her costuming. Though he couldn’t resist an early bit of furniture abuse by Cendrillon’s father Pandolfe, which was not necessary.   But it was little thoughtful, intelligent touches that made it so much fun to watch, such as:  the army of look-a-likes, women dressed like Cendrillon (being the helpers of the fairy godmother) and men looking like prince charming in the forest/roof top sequence. Added extra visual interest and quirkiness. The grand palace gates turn into a clock counting down the minutes for Cendrillon’s departure at the end of Act Two…you get the idea!

Our Cendrillon, Joyce DiDonato was in incredible vocal form. She glided through the trickiest passages with smoothness and character. And there was none of the obvious tightness on the radio broadcast from last Saturday. Whatever she did on Sunday, we’re thankful for, as she was amazing. Her first aria was warm and heartfelt and right on the money. And there was an interesting trajectory through her performance. She started at a lowish piano sound and escalated the volume of the voice towards the last two acts. In effect giving extra depth to her interpretation from a young resigned but good-hearted girl to the belle of the ball. Her Third Act aria (Seule, je partirai, mon pere) was incredible with such warmth and humanity, we had no second thoughts Cendrillon was thinking of her mother. Of course the obvious highlights of the night were the duets with Prince Charmant, Coote and DiDonato were a beautiful all round couple, rising the emotional temperature to the maximum.

Alice Coote as the Prince Charmant was exemplary, with powerful projection and impressive male mannerisms convinced straight away as the prince of the tale. She acted the part top to toe and her intensity was an absolute joy. Hope the Royal Opera will entrust her big roles in the future as she was an awesome sight.

Ewa Podleś as Madame de Haltiere was the comedic core of the evening, whatever she did on stage everyone laughed out loud! Her beautiful contralto echoed to the roof of the auditorium. In my mind she was almost channelling Hyacinth Bucket which made her adorably silly. She was one of the main reasons I booked to see it and she surely delivered! Such elegance and flair alongside her crazily dressed daughters. Pure genius!

Jean-Philippe Lafont was again as funny as Podleś  but he was having obvious problems in the upper register of his voice, but given the role, it all added to a very sympathetic portrayal of the character. A great contribution to the overall team work.

Eglise Gutiérrez as the Fairy Godmother was a treat, a sugar-coated treat! She ornamented and relished her trills and staccati. She gave us a rather louche Godmother that lightened up proceedings further and added the frosting on this french fancy of an opera. Surely looking forward to her Amina next season!

The orchestra under the direction of Bertrand De Billy sounded fresh and bouncy. A total equal to the world-class singing on stage.

A lot of opera goers would still associate the title role with Frederica von Stade. She performed it for decades and also made the famous recording of the role in 1979 under Julius Rudel. But judging on the recording it’s time we forgot about her and realised that the Cendrillon of our time is Joyce DiDonato, who sounded not only an equal to Flicka but surely surpassed her last night.

Steal, beg or borrow and get some tickets to see the final two performances or rush to one of the open air venues that host the live telecast this Wednesday. If the weather permits I’ll surely be doing the latter. Possibly the most enjoyable night at Covent Garden for me since 2003. Cross your fingers for a very possible DVD release of the telecast. A total joy, an operatic fairytale, what more can anyone ask for?

*My Tweet after being awestruck by such a brilliant performance by Joyce DiDonato and the rest of the excellent cast.

Details of the outdoor screenings can be found here

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