Monday, August 30, 2010

Opera Festivals 2010: Aix does it better

And so the Summer of Opera Festivals 2010 is over. It's been good even if somewhat surprising that the most interesting things happened in July (and not in August).

General impression: There are far too many festivals. Many city mayors across Europe support the Opera Festivals financially because they are good for their (cities') image, it's a bonus for tourism, it helps creating some jobs...
I want to believe that quantity implies a few quality productions every year, although this year wasn't particularly good example (except perhaps in Aix).

I believe the (main) purpose of Opera Festivals should be to propose new stuff, to define new directions in performing and staging the well known operas, and to bring to our attention good contemporary operas as well. It's hard to counter-punch that argument without questioning the artistic purpose of Opera Festivals altogether: one may as well extend the standard operatic season and include a couple of more operas in your usual Opera Houses and pretend they were success!

I am perfectly aware that matching the artistic intentions with your financial capacities is very hard, but that's what distinguishes good from mediocre Festival directors, i.e. good from mediocre festivals.

With that in mind,  The Best Festival 2010 was undoubtedly the one in Aix-en-Province:
5 operas = 5 new productions, of which Pygmalion [that married Trisha Brown's ballet with supreme musical performance in what was one of the most refined musical events in 2010], Tcherniakov's Don Giovanni pushed the boundaries of lame-acting in opera and to me that was one of the most thrilling and most innovating, fascinating operatic experiences ever (even if I only saw it on TV), El Regresso - interesting music with an astonishingly well constructed libretto - so much in phase with a man in the 21st century, Alceste in an exciting production of Christof Loy, and finally The Nightingale with a spectacular voices and staging by Robert Lepage. All these productions offered different thetrical view on operatic expression; they were all innovative, and via Arte Live Web the Festival's outreach worldwide was unprecedented. For all these reasons, the Festival in Aix-en-Province was by far the best this year. Kudos to Bernard Foccroulle and his team!

Second best should be the Festival in Bregenz. To revive the work by Mieczyslaw Weinberg by organizing a series of concerts, recitals, and a whole symposium dedicated to life and work of Weinberg is huge. His opera The Passenger was beyond impressive: its content, its narrative, a superb staging, and fantastic musical performance. To that add one chamber opera by Weinberg, The Portrait: Respect to David Pountney!

To stage Lulu at the Salzburg Festival and engage Daniel Richter & Vera Nemirova in the process was a good idea and we appreciate the risk. The result was, hélas, unimpressive. In retrospect the event of this year's Festival was Wolfgang Rihm's Dionysos, because of its innovative character, its music, because of Jonathan Meese and the brilliant performers. As for the rest, I'll definitely remember Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala for their excellent singing in an otherwise irrelevant production of Roméo et Juliette. I don't know how much is due to Jürgen Flimm or to his advisors, but the World's richest and the most famous Festival was at least 3 notches below the level of artistic creation presented in Aix. Is this a downfall of the Salzburg Festival or just a few less good years?!

The festivals in Bayreuth and in Munich proposed one new production each and even though the intentions and structure of these two festivals are very different, I believe they both were slightly less good than the above three (and by a large margin less good than Aix). In Bayreuth, the rats shocked the world but no one who I met and who actually saw the show was shocked. The poignant message of Neuenfel's Lohengrin was more important than the fact that the images made the upsetting  impression on the loud traditionalists worldwide. To me, the third run of Herheim's Parsifal in Bayreuth was definitely worth going to Bayreuth.
The festival in Munich presented one of the best shows I have seen this year: Barrie Kosky's The Silent Woman, with phenomenal Diana Damrau, Toby Spence and Franz Hawlata, and always impressive Kent Nagano. Only one new production is not much but what a production!

Zeffirelli worshiping festival in Verona is obviously not my cup of tea; nor the uninspiring productions in Orange; a traditionalists pleasing Don Giovanni in Glyndebourne... Rossini Opera Festival might be interesting, although the belcanto librettos are so bad that it would be extremely hard for me to imagine 5 days in Pesaro focusing on singing only. Ruhr wasn't opera-friendly this year...

1 comment:

  1. There's also something that I've noticed the festivals are willing to try out, and the opera houses are still not willing to wade into:

    - live audio webcasts
    - putting online complete video recordings of the performances and making them available to local and international ISPs for a period of time.

    Thanks for the overview, I was stuck in North America this summer.