Monday, October 11, 2010

Otello at Théâtre des Champs Elysées: Queen Anja

Otello, Théâtre des Champs Élysées, October 9 2010

Daniel Harding ..... Conductor

Ben Heppner Franco Farina ..... Otello
Anja Harteros ..... Desdemona
Franco Vassallo ..... Jago
Alexey Dolgov ..... Cassio
Christina Dalestska ..... Emilia
Emanuele Giannino ..... Rodrigo
Stanislav Shevts ..... Lodovico
Giovanni Guagliardo ..... Montano / Herold

Mahler Chamber Orchestra
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
Les Petits Chanteurs de Strasbourg - Maîtrise de l'Opéra national du Rhin

First good news came actually right before the concert started when the announcer told us that Ben Heppner was not going to sing the title role, and that Franco Farina kindly accepted to step in. Of course I wish all the best to Ben Heppner but last three times I listened to his live singing it went from bad (Siegrfried/Götterdämmerung in Aix) to worse (Tristan at Covent Garden, and Lohengrin in Berlin), so I hesitated a lot before finally decided to go and see/listen to this Otello. One thing I knew was going to be great -- Anja Harteros.

And so Ben was replaced by Franco Farina, a fine tenor who has this role in his fingers, and... and the boorish (essentially geriatric) fraction of the TCE crowd booed him at the end of the show. I was speechless/shocked and felt almost ashamed for all those 100-200 out of about 1700 of us present in auditorium. How big an a-hole you've got to be to boo someone who stepped in on extremely short notice, and who actually rescued the concert you just saw? Franco accepted the boos like a man and decided to take the "bravos" that were launched in reaction to those inexcusable boos.

The concert organizers in Paris hopefully learned their lesson by now: do not organize belcanto or Verdi concerts. The boors will boo and you will be embarrassed in front of the artists who give their best.

Anyways, Farina sang honestly. His intonation was problematic in the first two acts but it improved in the last two. His performance in the last two acts was good although he was not in the same league with Franco Vassallo and Anja Harteros. The boos were totally uncalled for.

Alexey Dolgov, Franco Farina, Anja Harteros, Franco Vassallo, Christina Dalestska

Franco Vassallo, who I don't remember to have listened to in a live performance of any major role, was more than impressive. The beauty of his voice impeccably commanded is not the only thing that strikes you. He knows how to support it by a remarkable scenic presence and a fantastic incarnation of the villain character. Brilliant!

Franco Vassallo

You remember that I was gushing after la prima of the Kriegenburgen's production of Otello at Deutsche Oper in Berlin last Spring?!  I feel blessed to have been given opportunity to enjoy again listening to Anja Harteros singing Desdemona live again. I know I am repeating myself but when it comes to Anja Harteros you have to go and listen to her singing live and  her CD/DVD recordings --while being excellent-- do not reflect the harmonic richness of her voice.  Plus she's at her best right now and every role she sings she kills it: Amalia, Desdemona, Violetta, Mimi, Elsa... you name it. This woman is simply unbelievable. After her long aria in Otello, there was no applause -- the public simply didn't want to break the magic that has just happened, as if hoping it would last longer. Instead when the show was over the crowd went nuts... Anja Harteros is undoubtedly the best female singer right now.
Anja Harteros

Part One of this Otello --first two acts-- was maybe marked by a very good chorus and quite a bad orchestra, including Daniel Harding. There was no boiling effect you usually get from Daniel and MCO and to the music. Everything seemed flat and immersed in a large wave of boredom. When returning to the pit after intermission Daniel Harding got booed. Was that a reason or he simply better felt the score in the last two acts but the orchestra sounded qualitatively different after intermission and no boo was heard after the show. Personally I do not understand why Harding had accepted to embark on Verdi only one year after his brilliant chamber-sounding Tristan at the same venue. I thought he would start exploring the Wagner zone more, and occasionally gratify us with MCO's superb Mozart performances. Why Verdi all of a sudden?  I felt sorry to see him getting booed before Act-3 as he's one of my fave conductors, but even though I dislike boos in general a part of me felt he deserved them.
Daniel Harding and Anja Harteros

Props are due to Cassio by Alexey Dolgov for his wonderful performance too. Here is one tenor to keep an eye on. He may be a big name in a few years from now.

Anja Harteros and Franco Vassallo

I just saw on  YT that someone audio-recorded Desdemona from Berlin sung by Anja Harteros. It's split in two parts -- Enjoy! :)

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  1. I totally agree with you, if one dosen't like someone's performance, simply do not applaud. These yahoos obviously had not seen "Norma" at the Châtelet last winter. There was real reason to either leave at intermission or boo the whole thing!!!The French should take care not to end up like La Scala where big opera names won't go, it's not worth it, especially since Paris is not
    London or Vienna or The Met, it's no big deal on one's CV whether or not one appears there.

  2. Dear Ano,

    I agree with your boo principle. But there is no need to insult Paris or the opera house.


  3. I can understand not liking booing, but from what I heard on radio Farina sounded bad - big slow vibrato. Not pretty or expressive.

  4. I agree with everthing you've written. I've been in the show as well and of course Anja Harteros is incredible. I have never heard a soprano like her for many years. Her Desdemona convinces by her innocence in voice, appearance and charisma.
    I felt ashamed like you,and I couldn't understand why part of the audiance booed Franco Farina. Maybe they expected an equal partner to Anja.But if they would have listened to Ben Heppner in Baden-Baden, they would have been happy to listen to Farina. And of course, Franco Vassallo was superb.
    Daniel Harding is a conductor with passion and intelligence- maybe he needs some more experience.

  5. I don't think Farina's vibrato was a problem at all. His intonation instead was for the entire first part of the concert. Later on (in the second part) he was good. In any case the boos to someone who replaced the title role on extremely short notice were uncalled for.

    Cura in Otello at Deutsche was a brilliant partner to Anja, but Lucic was not as good Iago as Vassallo. That man is a fantastic singer!

  6. I'm French, and I'm not 110 years old! A-hole! I was there. I saw the Norma at the Châtelet. I booed because it was absolutely horrible. The reason why I booed Farina was that he had this horrible portamento to reach high notes and an ugly vibrato, no interpretation in the first part, and a little more in the second. I was pleased to discover some scenes without him, because all the others were so so much better- vocal and interpretation. An Miss Harteros is the next Queen of Bel Canto. I hope I will see her in Traviata, Anna Bolena ...

  7. I believe booing someone who stepped in on short notice to rescue a concert for you to see is EXTREMELY boorish -- even if he was as bad as you claim (which I think he wasn't).