Monday, December 21, 2009

Best & Worst Opera Shows in 2009

Out of incredibly many shows I've seen this year, only a few were memorable failures. The list of very good shows is huge and it will take me a couple of days to figure out "da best" ones. To list the bad productions is much easier - which is why I decided to talk about them first.

MY Top-5 list of bad productions seen in 2009:

- CENDRILLON (Opéra de Massy) Nadine Duffaut  & Xavier Saumon
- MIREILLE (Opéra National de Paris) Nicolas Joel  & Marc Minkowski
- MOISE et PHARAON (Salzburger Festspiele) Jürgen Flimm & Riccardo Muti
- SALOME (Opéra National de Paris) Lev Dodin  & Alain Altinoglu
- UN BAL MASQUE (Opéra National de Paris) Gilbert Deflo &  Renato Palumbo

Unhonorable mention
- FRA DIAVOLO (Opéra Comique Paris) Jérôme Deschamps & Jérémie Rhorer
- ANDREA CHENIER (Opéra National de Paris) Giancarlo Del Monaco & Daniel Oren
- DIE ZAUBERFLOTE (Châtelet Paris) Jean-Paul Scarpitta & Lawrence Foster
- TANNHAUSER (Deutsche Oper Berlin) Kirsten Harms & Donald Runnicles

1. "Cendrillon" is a very-very sugar-sweet opera by Massenet which is rightfully (?) left out from the standard operatic repertoire in France and elsewhere. Opera Massy is an opera house in one of the south suburbs of Paris in which a social action to include as many young kids growing up in tough neighborhoods as possible is desperately needed. So instead of  developing some kind of "El Sistema" à la française, the "clever" Massy-ian authorities decided to invest in a very-expensive-to-run Opera house. Very weird and a sign how sometimes the french authorities seem to be disconnected from the districts they are expected to rule! (OK, that happens everywhere but maybe not with Opera Houses included) So, the infamous "Cendrillon" started before the show itself: at the very last moment the soprano fell ill and since there was nobody under study, a chorus girl "sang" the role by failing every single high note she attempted, and by humming through the whole patches of text despite the score standing right in front of her eyes (an another girl was "acting" the role). The rest of the crew was the division C  too and the staging was shabby and really high-school-like (N.B. you pay for your seat in that heavily subsidized institution more than what you normally pay in DeutscheOper in Berlin!!!)
Nothing the conductor could do to salvage the sinking boat. He actually pushed the boat to sink faster. Unforgettable indeed!

2. "Mireille" was not only an awful production of a third grade opera by Gounod, but it was also a statement by which the new intendant Nicolas Joel wanted to turn  the wheel 30 years back in time, and restore the old, sleazy way of producing operas, completely disconnected from the time we live in, and erase all the post-zeffirellian evolution of theatrical language in operas. Don't get me wrong: the production was far worst than any Zeffirelli and the hard proof of it are numerous videos on YouTube [this horrid show was given live on the franch national television (sic!)]. The slow agony of the Paris Opera was announced; "Mireille" was indeed a precursor of the new/poor quality of all productions we've had in Bastille ever since. As for the show itself, it was swinging between ludicrous and unbelievable, between disoriented singers waving confusingly their arms and mediocre singing.  Inva Mula was announced as a muse of the new intendant: well her singing and her acting were compatible with this pitiful production... To me the only acceptable ingredient in this show was Charles Castronovo [although I felt sorry that he landed in this production for his debut in Paris.]

3. "Moise et Pharaon" was a revival of the grand opera by Rossini, directed by Riccardo Muti, which then means that it was going to be a very chic event with vans of rich folks coming to Salzburg to score a few posh-points by actually showing up at the premiere. Eric Cutler sang beautifully as usual, I discovered Marina Rebeka - a glorious voice who is  born to sing in La Traviata, the rest of singing was good or very good. BUT the staging was atrocious. There was no drama, no live scenic storytelling. Since pretty much everyone knew the biblical story, there was  a whole open space for a good director to run the show. Well, not for  Jurgen Flimm  who was most of the time overrun by the score; to get closer to the libretto, several time during the evening, he'd set up a big black screen across the stage and run 2 pages of text from the Old Testament. Worst of all is the end of this otherwise horrible opera: In the last scene, Aménophis leads the Egyptians to persecute the Jews and shouts "Exterminons une coupable race!" As we know, God does the rest of the job and the Egyptians drown in the Red Sea. In short, Flimm decided to cut that last "detail" out. The scenic part ended with the Aménophis'  shouting that terrible sentence, and then the screen came in again with 2 pages of text to tell us what happened after that: in the Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg!!!  I was nearly sick and for the first time was sincerely happy that the crowd LOUDLY booed the director off the stage.

4. "Salome" was a very recent revival of a horrendous production Made in Paris Opera in 2003. I already wrote about this miserable staging  in which none of the oriental warmth nor any interesting idea from the director came across. The whole production was expected to rely on Salome  to act out of her mind. While in the previous incarnation of this crappy show Salome was sung and acted by Karita Mattila and Catherine Naglestad those two exceptional Salome's of our time drew the focus onto them and made the show watchable. This time Salome was miscast and everything fell apart from there. Besides the anemic directing, the singers (who are normally good!) were attributed the roles which are either too big or too small for them. Makes you think as if they were randomly chosen... On the top of it all, the conductor -who is a (very good) specialist in French repertoire- misguided the excellent orchestra and the whole score sounded sweet and monotonous. I went to see the show twice as I couldn't believe it could be that bad for such a prestigious opera-house such as ONP. Hélas, hélas, my second try was even harder to stomach. Poor Strauss...

5. "Un ballo in maschera" produced by Gilbert Deflo was another major setback. To be fair, this  production was premiered and rerun before September 2009 and the new order in artistic policy of Opera National de Paris. It is hard to believe that Gerard Mortier --after everything he's been credited for in the world of Opera-- allowed this production to be staged and rerun during his  era. My guess is: (A) he wanted to offer something to the audience who like the old-fashioned stagings and thereby balance the program containing other more modern productions,  or (B) he owed a few personal favors to his fellow-Belgian Deflo. In any case this appalling production  of Ballo made his way to Opera Bastille: Not only nothing ever happens during this interminable replacements of decors, but it emphasized the old and --dare I say-- vulgar park-and-bark singing, which is the last thing you wish to see on one of the World's major Opera stages. But even if you bought into that, Ramon Vargas couldn't bark loud enough making the whole concept borderline ridiculous.  Debbie Voigt, on the other hand, was screaming her lungs out...  Mortier was clumsy in almost all the Verdi productions, but this was definitely the most striking faux pas during his reign at the Paris Opera!

1 comment:

  1. I love the objective way you have described everything here. Keep on the good work!