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Jonas Kaufmann

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

parterre box

September 3

Rich man’s frug

parterre box A good performance of a Rossini opera buffa usually bubbles along merrily—from the opening chords of the usually jaunty overture to the thrilling ensemble finales, the audience expects to have a good time and to listen to some impressive vocal fireworks. For years these opera buffas were the victims of disfiguring cuts, transpositions, and “performance traditions” but in the last 30 years or so there’s been a strong and steady push to present the works as written, with all the original arias back in place in their original keys, and to find singers who can do the fiendishly difficult music justice. The annual Rossini Festival in Pesaro has maintained its reputation as a place where Rossini’s works are presented with scrupulous musical scholarship, high production values, and top-tier Rossini singers. It’s depressing, then, to view this video of L’Italiana in Algeri, filmed at last year’s Rossini festival. The performance has so much going for it on paper that the flat, dull, unfunny results leave one’s head scratching. The production by Davide Livermore has a nice concept and visual appeal. The opera’s events are refashioned into some kind of James Bond parody, a la Austin Powers. Bey Mustafa is a sleazy Moroccan oil baron. Isabella first happens upon his fiefdom as he accidentally shoots a gun into the air and her plane crashes. The sets and costumes are a cartoonish send-up of 1970’s fashion. Lots of blond flip dos and polyester minidresses, as well as 60’s style TV’s, vacuum cleaners and helicopters keep the stage colorful and busy at all times. Livermore’s direction certainly focuses on “colorful and busy” but not so much on funny. There’s always a lot of busy stuff happening onstage, but it’s not funny. He relies too much on visual sight gags: Lindoro and Isabella make their escape as Mustafa is pigging out on a huge cake. and during the “Pappataci” ensemble, Mustafa’s harem girls are wearing pig masks. Some 1960’s and 1970’s dances are incorporated into the opera. But comedy isn’t just about frantic stage business and colorful costumes and sets. It’s about timing. The singers themselves aren’t the types to ad-lib comedy or really cross the line from “amusing’ to “funny.” The Pesaro festival has a history of inviting top-tier talent for their festivals, and also for being the launching pad of many prominent careers (Juan Diego Florez first made a splash in 1996 singing in Mathilde di Shabran at the festival). The cast assembled for this performance are all “nice” without being much more than that. Anna Goryachova (Isabella) is a striking looking woman with an intriguingly dusky timbre. “Cruda sorte” and “Per lui che adoro” both have lovely moments. Her lower register sounds completely mushy and unfocused though, and the rapid-fire patter dialogue is completely garbled. She also has a heavy, prominent Slavic vibrato that sounds rather weird in Rossini. She does look fantastic in the often revealing costumes. Yijie Shi (Lindoro) is a complete disappointment. Even on video/recording the voice sounds microscopic, and the upper register tight and constricted. He doesn’t do anything really wrong, but the bar for Rossini tenors has been set so high in recent years that his small, modest voice and unassuming vocalism are a let-down. Also, of the not-funny leads, he’s perhaps the most not-funny. He’s sort of like Jonas Kaufmann in that he has Resting Glumface but unlike JK, his voice type kind of restricts him to many comic tenorino roles. Alex Esposito (Mustafa) is nothing distinguished vocally, but is the most in tune with the comedy of the piece. He does all the comic gags of the production with relish, like his constant cigar-chomping and the fact that he kills someone with his gun each time he wakes up. Mario Cassi (Taddeo) also adds some much-needed levity to Livermore’s imperfectly conceived production. Conductor Juan Ramon Encina somehow completely misses the charm of Rossini’s score which adds to the unexpectedly leaden, lifeless performance. I do think Livermore’s production has promise, but it needs a more dynamic, engaged cast that’s more comfortable with comedy. It’s unfortunate that the performance recorded for posterity was so mediocre.

My Classical Notes

September 1

DVD of the Month for September, 2014.

Bizet’s Opera: Carmen. The Zurich Opera staged this magnificent production starring virtuoso tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Don José and the Bulgarian Vesselina Kasarova as the flirtatious prima-donna in the title role. Mezzo-soprano Kasarova is dazzling as the tough-as-nails, beautifully unsentimental heroine. Kaufmann, in the guise of a Spanish police officer, brilliantly portrays the blustering but naive Don José as a modern contrast of hard-edged machismo and out-of-his-depths vulnerability. Performed by Vesselina Kasarova (Carmen), Jonas Kaufmann (Don José), Isabel Rey (Micaela), Michele Pertusi (Escamillo), with the Chor der Oper Zürich, and the Philharmonia Zurich, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst . Director Matthias Hartmann refreshed one of the greatest and most popular operas of all time with touches of a contemporary setting and costume designs that emphasize the timeless aspects of the characters. This production of Carmen thrilled audiences with the quality of the performances, enhanced by a single panoramic set for all four acts that is stripped of the traditional Spanish styling. Kaufmann superbly presents Don José as awkward, socially inept and doomed for disillusionment. Kasarova’s Carmen commands attention with a soft and sensual exterior that hides her ruthless and sinister heart in plain view. Here are Jonas Kaufmann and Vesselina Kasarova in “Carmen”, Act II Part 2 the ‘Flower Song’: And next, here’s a video of the entire opera, Carmen, as recorded in Switzerland: Tags: Carmen, Bizet, Jonas Kaufmann, Vesselina Kasarova, Philharmonia Zurich, Franz Welser-Möst Related articles across the web AP Interview: Mezzo says opera tough business

Royal Opera House

August 1

Written on Skin and Les Troyens shortlisted for Classical Gramophone Awards 2014

Bryan Hymel as Aeneas in David McVicar's production of Les Troyens. Photo by Bill Cooper © Bill Cooper/ROH 2012 A number of Royal Opera artists and Royal Opera recordings have been shortlisted for the Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2014. The awards, which have been running for 37 years, celebrate the best in recorded classical music. The DVD release of Katie Mitchell's production of George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s award-winning Written on Skin , which had its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in March 2013, has been shortlisted in the Contemporary category. Minotaur composer Harrison Birtwistle 's Moth Requiem is nominated in the same category. David McVicar ’s epic production of Les Troyens , conducted by Antonio Pappano and starring Bryan Hymel , Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anna Caterina Antonacci , has been nominated in the Opera category. In the Recital category, counter-tenor Bejun Mehta, who performed the role of The Boy in Written on Skin , has been shortlisted for his recording of The Rise of the Classical Opera . In the Solo Vocal category, Jonas Kaufmann ’s recording of Wintereisse has been shortlisted. The German tenor performed the work in recital at the Royal Opera House earlier this Season. Gerald Finley ’s recording of the song cycle has been shortlisted in the same category. Other shortlisted recordings include Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach , filmed at the Aldeburgh Festival in June 2013, nominated in the Opera category; and Bruckner’s Sympony No 9 performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by former Music Director of The Royal Opera Bernard Haitink, in the Orchestral category. The winners for each of the eight categories, decided by a panel of Gramophone critics, will be announced online on 27 August. The awards will then be presented at a ceremony on 17 September, when the Recording of the Year will also be announced. In the 2014/15 Season, Jonas Kaufmann will perform in David McVicar's new production of Andrea Chénier . Gerald Finley will sing the title role in Guillaume Tell . The Royal Opera House Online Shop stocks an extensive range of DVD, Blu-Ray and CD recordings.

Royal Opera House

July 31

How to Stage an Opera – the 2013/14 Season

Jonas Kaufmann as Chevalier des Grieux and Kristīne Opolais as Manon Lescaut in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 In its first Season, our new 'How to Stage an Opera' series has offered different perspectives on the choices facing a director and the different stages in the process, from the initial research through to the final performance. In 'Freud and Die Frau ohne Schatten' we look at how the theories of Freud and their influence on Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal guided director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt in their new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten . Actors in Die Frau ohne Schatten, La Scala, Milan, 2013 © Monika Rittershaus/Teatro alla Scala In 'Faust and the 19th century' we turn to Gounod 's Faust , and see how director David McVicar has dusted off the traditional view of the opera as clichéd, to return to its dark and troubling heart. Renata Pokupić as Siébel and Simon Keenlyside as Valentin in Faust, The Royal Opera, © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 In 'Tradition and transformation in La traviata' we look at how director Richard Eyre in his classic production of La traviata uses a deceptively traditional approach to intensify the drama, in a direct reflection of Verdi 's score. La traviata © Catherine Ashmore/ROH 2011 In 'Tosca and one day in Rome' we see how director Jonathan Kent and designer Paul Brown made use of Puccini 's very specific setting in Tosca to introduce an extraordinary level of period detail to great theatrical effect. Aleksandrs Antonenko in Tosca, The Royal Opera © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013 In 'Community in Dialogues des Carmélites' we look at how director Robert Carsen has placed people and community at the heart of his production of Poulenc 's compassionate score, inspired by real events. Sophie Koch as Mother Marie in Dialogues des Carmélites © ROH/Stephen Cummiskey, 2014 In 'The ugliness of Manon Lescaut' we see how Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown unflinchingly present the sordid story Puccini tells in his Manon Lescaut . Kristīne Opolais as Manon Lescaut in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 And finally, in 'Exploring the complex naturalism of La bohème' we see how John Copley 's revered production of La bohème , with immersive designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman , creates a captivating onstage world. Follow the series next Season, as we look at the first revival of Richard Jones 's production of Anna Nicole , Martin Kušej 's new production of Idomeneo and many more.

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