Archive for September, 2009

Critic loves opera, trashes public!

Posted in Reviews on September 24, 2009 by figarosi

(This is a quick translation of the Le Monde critic who wrote about the New York Met “Tosca” in today’s edition. Any mistakes are my own.)

Finally, for Peter Gelb, director of the Metropolitan Opera of New York since 2006, it is the first season where he will have programmed the entire season; a season of novelty (nine new productions, a figure not seen since 1966) and audacity since it brings to New York European opera directors who have never staged an opera there, notably Patrice Chéreau and Luc Bondy.

Tosca (1900), of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), staged by Luc Bondy, and presented Monday September 21, in gala evening in front of an upper-crust parterre (where fur coats, haute couture and nose remakes abound), took a terrible turn: a vindictive boo screamed from the bottom of the stomach by a furious public that has been deprived of “their” Tosca. The one that it see since 1985 on stage at the Met, concocted by the French Italian Zeffirelli. The public of the Met, at least the thundering majority, wants a Tosca in CinémaScope, with their baroque church to the first act, their Farnèse Palace to the second one and, in the third one, their Castle San Angelo, with an unrestricted view on Saint Peter’s and the Vatican.

It is to be feared that many among the spectators present never visited Rome, read the book of Luigi Illica and the piece of Victorian Sardou (available on Those offended want a Tosca in accordance with their fantasy, and some want it for their money.

It is true that the production of Zeffirelli (1 DVD Deutsche Grammophon) is the exact opposite of Bondy and of his inspired decorator, Richard Peduzzi. Contrasting with the visual debauchery of the Italian and his orange sunrise in Act III in particular, Bondy preferred a simple tower and a sky of an opaque blue gray, the complexion of the soul and despair of the condemned. It especially transcribed the exact color, sad and sinister, as does the orchestra of Puccini at the death bells that announces the execution of Cavaradossi, this color that the libretto describes as “an uncertain and gray light.”

The problem is here: too often the opera public takes false traditions for first truths and confuses abusive readings (they abound, it is true, on the lyric scenes) with respect for the original words. You could see spectators offended that Tosca, in Act II, sings her famous aria “Vissi d’arte” on a sofa. But the libretto says “Tosca falls overwhelmed on the couch.”

One could feel a wave of indignant surprise when, in Act II of this production, the 19th Century clothes and Art Deco furnishings suggested, with elegance and discretion, that Scarpia, the police boss, had some common traits with a certain Il Duce… Is it unfounded to show him with three prostitutes when he says, literally, that he wants to intoxicate himself with wine and of women and also that Sardou denounces, in his work, the morals of this “repugnant satyr”, bloody even in his orgies?

The public found timely supporters for Zeffirelli who, without having seen the spectacle, expressed themselves that afternoon on the Internet site of the New York Times (“Arts Beat”), ridiculing this “new idiotic manner to approach” Puccini and qualifying Luc Bondy as a “director, not of the second, but of the third order.” Even worse, certain in the board of directors found it offensive when Scarpia kisses the Virgin Mary at the end of Act I… Atmosphere, atmosphere.

Nevertheless, this spectacle is the one of the (rare) incarnations of what can be an evening of perfect opera: the direction of fine actors that imposes nothing on the singers but organizes their liberty differently; a setting of an austere beauty which breathes, where the monumentality does not block the qualities of acoustic reverberation; a conductor, James Levine, that does not confuse experience and routine (he directed his first Tosca at the Met in 1971), calm and boredom, voluptuousness and debauchery; an orchestra of which there is not an equivalent in the world in precision and in subtlety, and a dream cast: a Tosca more atypical but young, ardent, incarnated by Karita Mattila that reaches even to its vocal limits (in the aigu) for dramatic qualities, a tenor, Marcelo Alvarez, that maybe is the most beautiful in this type of work (he will be André Chénier at the Opera of Paris in December), and a baritone, George Gagnidze, a Scarpia dark and glacial, again unknown but who promises to be an immense singer.

Is it the turn of Patrice Chéreau and his “From the House of the Dead,” of Leos Janacek in November at the Met to fall in the stew? If so, it would be time to give up hope for the New York public.

Renaud Machart

Royal Opera Strikes Gold

Posted in Reviews with tags on September 23, 2009 by figarosi

Above is a link to my writing about the opening opera of the new season at Covent Garden: Verdi’s “Don Carlo.” There are many terrific photos.

New Face of the Paris Opera

Posted in Reviews on September 16, 2009 by figarosi

From the review by Renaud Machart in Le Monde: “It’s a little like the world turned inside out: when the Metropolitan Opera of New York. long accused of conservatism, opens its season, September 21 with a “Tosca” of Puccini staged by Luc Bondy, the Paris Opera presents, September 14, “Mireille” of Charles Gounod in a staging by Nicolas Joel, new director of the establishment, which has the sepia scent of “your father’s opera.”
The review continues by calling the staging “maladroit retro realism, with grotesque dances…” and scenes looking like a “post card in relief.” Soprano Inva Mula acts and sings Mireille in a manner “totally artificial” like a “kid from ‘Little House on the Prairie'” and with a diction “generally incomprehensible.” Charles Castronovo came off better, receiving praise for his “modest caliber” tenor.
Since the opening was televised in France, much is on YouTube now.

José to the rescue!

Posted in News on September 12, 2009 by figarosi

When the Monte Carlo Opera went looking for a replacement for René Pape, who was to be singing the four baritone roles in Tales of Hoffmann in January 2010, they are taking a chance on youth.. José Van Dam.

Opening night in Paris

Posted in News on September 1, 2009 by figarosi

Palais_Garnier_bordercroppedIn another departure from the Paris Opera’s Mortier years, new director Nicolas Joel has arranged to televise the opening night performance of Gounod’s “Mireille.”  Featuring conductor Marc Minkowski and soprano Inva Mula in the title role, it is live on France 3 at 7:30pm on September 14 from the historic Palais Garnier.