Sunday, March 1, 2015
Imagine two tenors releasing French opera aria collections at the same time without duplicating a single track! And wasn’t I relieved that I wasn’t going to have to sit through an ad hoc francophile singing competition: anything you can sing I can sing sweeter or higher or louder. These two discs actually serve as almost perfect complements to each other since they show their performers in a flattering light, with both tenors offering skillful and distinctive interpretations of the arias included. Piotr Beczala (The French Collection on Deutsche Grammophon ) and Bryan Hymel (Héroique on Warner Classics ) rose to prominence within just a few years of each other even though Mr. Hymel is 15 years younger than his more veteran colleague. Beczala, a student of none other than the great Sena Jurinac. served his galley years in Linz beginning in 1992 but didn’t leap to a truly international career until 2004. He’s racked up an impressive number of performances at the Met starting from 2008 where his full lyric tenor has been enjoyed in many of the standard repertory showpieces like Lucia, Boheme, Rigoletto, a very lyric Prince in Dvorak’s Rusalka and a particularly heartfelt Lenski in Eugene Onegin. Hymel, who’s matriculated through the better schools and young artists programs, has been showered with awards, began singing small roles with his hometown New Orleans Opera in 1998 and started the career international in 2007 making his Covent Garden debut as Don José in 2010. In 2012 he came to the rescue of, not one but, two major productions of Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens, first replacing Jonas Kaufmann at Covent Garden, who had been felled by infection, and then taking over at the Met after Marcello Giordani decided that the role of Eneé was no longer in his command. Covent Garden has continued to woo Mr. Hymel by mounting productions of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable and Verdi’s original Les Vêpres Siciliennes to showcase his formidable gifts. Héroique is aptly titled, with concise liner notes invoking the names of every great tenor to ascend the French lyric stage starting with Adolphe Nourrit through Gilbert Duprez, Jean de Reszke, George Thill and finally Nicolai Gedda in the modern era. Hymel doesn’t suffer at all by the comparison, for his is surely the type of instrument great French 19th century composers would have appreciated. His youthful, lightly burnished tone and clarion top, wedded to old-school expansive phrasing, make every track on his recording a delight. If you enjoy your tenors with extra high-notes, you’ve come to the right place, my friends. Hymel starts his recital off with a literal bang by capping his very fine interpretation of Rossini’s lung busting “Asile héréditaire” from Guillaume Tell with a C above the staff that clocks in at exactly 10 seconds long. So spectacular is this note that it might have seemed mere vulgar display dad it not been preceded by his eloquent interpretation of the aria proper. All is justly heroic in the context of the aria and certainly in the character of the vengeful Arnold. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41NTaw4sMFE He goes from strength to strength on the remaining tracks. An elegiac “Nature immense” from the Berlioz Damnation de Faust is followed by arias from Verdi’s Jérusalem and Vêpres— both a la francaise—revealing Mr. Hymel’s skills in the come-hither melismas of the first and the arching phrases of the second, both garnished with high C’s, naturally. Gounod’s Le Reine de Saba and Massenet’s Herodiade also get a welcome dust off here with generous interpretations that once again found me, on the high notes, reaching for the stopwatch. Along about “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine (given with a cabaletta you may not have known existed) Mr. Hymel actually eases off the accelerator a bit at the start of each new phrase and gives us a soupcon of tenderness that might perhaps have been lacking from the aforementioned selections. The centerpiece of the recording is, of course, his performance of Enée’s great Act V scene from Les Troyens. If it doesn’t quite capture the frisson of either of his extraordinary live performances, he is certainly not to be faulted for that. In the recording studio he’s much more meticulous about dynamics and rhythmic whereas in the videos from Covent Garden and the Met, his voice takes a well-deserved victory lap. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSFHLjwG2PQ Arias from Reyer’s Sigurd, Bruneau’s L’Attaque de moulin, and Rabaud’s Roland et le mauvais garcon complete the program. All three, surprisingly lovely, were obviously lying dormant awaiting the proper interpreter. The impassioned performances they receive here more than warrant their exhumation. Emmanuel Villaume guides with a sure hand and sustains the excellent support of the PKF-Prague Philharmonia, whose playing is truly exciting at times. Thankfully, Warner Classics realized that performances of this caliber deserved to be placed in proper musical context and therefore employed the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno to provide stirring backup. If Beczala’s playlist errs on the side of traditional choices he more than makes up for them with the sensitivity and beauty of his performances. Liner notes once again invoking Jean de Reszke (Mr. Beczala’s Polish compatriot) and Bjorling and Gedda as modern stylistic examples. They also talk frankly about the trouble he has had with the top of his voice, a hint of may be heard here. You can tell that he’s had to work for what he has more so than some whose gifts come easier to them. That said, there’s a wide range of technical skill evidenced in these performances. In fact we find a very welcome bit of voix mixte on display here, first in his Berlioz Damnation selection and then at the exquisitely unrushed climax to his Carmen Flower Song. True, the bellows the top C in the Faust aria, but you can’t have everything. Two Massenet selections launch the disc,Werther’s “Pourquoi me réveiller” and an ‘Ô Souverain’ from Le Cid of such imposing quality it left me farklempt. A second Berlioz selection, from Béatrice et Bénédict, finds him both conversational and playful. The long lines of the Fontainbleau scene from Don Carlos seemingly test Beczala’s lyric limits but he does offer a very lovely trill in its closing cadenza. An extended scene from Boieldieu’s Le Dame blanche boasts some lovely downward cascades followed by graceful leaps above the staff. The exquisite piano reprise at the final coda tempt you to press the rewind button more than once. Donizetti’s French work is represented by an unhurried, ardent “Ange si pur” from La Favorite and the “Ange céleste” from Dom Sébastien which finds him in the most robust voice of the entire recital. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3pPbs_bxRs The selections lack choral support, though there’s a star cameo appearance in the final track from Diana Damrau. They tear into the Manon “Toi! Vous!” to sensual and amorous effect. Alain Altinoglu and the Ochestre de L’Opera National de Lyon who certainly know their way about these pieces and boast very supple playing with excellent transparency in the string sections. The study of contrasts here is fascinating. I have to give Beczala the edge for his clean French diction—especially his é and â vowels, which find Mr. Hymel only “correct.” It’s also interesting to hear Hymel striving for a masculine, mature sound throughout while Bezcala endeavors to preserve the youthful beauty in his tone. The cover art too is, frankly, an amusing study in contrasts: Beczala beaming with charm before the tricouleur while Hymel glowers in sepia gloom. No fan of either of these great singers would possibly be disappointed with these performances and since they offer absolutely no overlap in their tracks you shouldn’t hesitate to add both to your collection.
After the years of appalling mediocrity and catastrophic productions presented at the Paris Opera, the new artistic direction --lead by the formidable Stéphane Lissner-- is proposing a fantastic program for their first season (2015-2016) which is likely to revive our passion for opera in Paris that was sadly reduced to a few OKish productions presented at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées during the past several years. What new productions? Moses und Aron, directed by Romeo Castellucci, the same Romeo who produced several theater productions in Paris in the past several years --including a festival dedicated to his vision of theater-- all of which were met with a rare intellectual enthusiasm, a phenomenal artistic success, many opposed critics that spurred discussions, created a dialogue of opposing views that in our time evolve separately (with that terribly degrading maxime "All opinions are equally valid!"). If we were a little more audacious, we could defend a statement that his shows marked a revival of theater. Moses und Aron will be premiered on October 20 2015 at Opéra Bastille. Philippe Jordan will conduct and Thomas Johannes Mayer (superb!) and John Graham-Hall will be in the roles of Moses and Aron respectively. We also note Christopher Purves among the cast members. Show not to be missed! Bluebeard Castle/La Voix Humaine directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski (and his formidable team: Malgorzata Szczesniak, Felice Ross and Denis Guéguin). How to express all the praise for Warli and his theater, for his amazing productions, for his ability to create controversies without ever being trivial, vulgar or rude... without being carried to excess by sheer admiration and enthusiasm!? It will be visually enchanting, conceptually inspiring... and that Warli impact will work on us -- images that keep running in our heads for days after the show, the concept that haunts us for weeks... To make it bigger, Esa-Pekka Salonen will be conducting and the cast is unbeatable: Johannes Martin Kränzle and Ekaterina Gubanova in the first part and Barbara Hannigan in the second. La prima is scheduled for November 23 2015 and the series of 9 shows will run until December 10. Iolantha/Casse-Noisette, directed by Dima Tcherniakov -- the most courageous and the most fascinating story-teller in opera today. A hard core humanist who recounts the stories of little people and their interaction with the violent social environment of their/our time. The cast of Iolantha includes Sonya Yoncheva, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Vito Priante, Gennady Bazzubenkov... Production will be premiered on March 9 2016 at Opéra Garnier - 12 shows are scheduled. Impossible to miss! Lear by Aribert Reimann will be finally produced in Paris too. To me this is one of the best 3 operas composed after the WW2 and knowing that it will be directed by Calixto Bieito (and staged by Rebecca Ringst) I already feel elated with expectations. It will be gory, it will be tough, but it will be passionate, audacious and delightful! [Did I say, Calixto rules?!] Fabio Luisi will conduct (a curious choice!?) and among the cast members we note Erika Sunnegardh, Ricarda Merbeth, Annette Dasch, Gidon Saks, Andreas Conrad, Eda Moser (sic!)... Premiere - May 23 2016. Rigoletto is one of the most famous Verdi operas because of its sparkling arias, so appreciated by the belcanto fans -- and our guilty pleasures too. Rigoletto unfortunately inherited from belcanto a poor quality of libretto, which is why this opera is very very difficult to produce. It is naive, borderline incoherent and stupid, and asking Klaus Guth to produce it was an excellent choice. He is one of the rare directors capable to patch up the deficiencies of the Rigoletto libretto and make it exciting and fascinating... Cast: Olga Peretyatko/Irina Lungu, Vesselina Kasarova, Quinn Kelsey/Franco Vassallo, Rafal Siwek/Andrea Mastroni... The run of 17 shows will start on April 11 2016. One production that I am much more reserved in my expectations is La Damnation de Faust, because it was confided to Alvis Hermanis whose merits in opera directing I never really understood -- and I tried, I saw 4 of his productions which I found OKish at best (Die Soldaten and Così fan tutte were, honestly, bad). This Damnation is likely to be a success thanks to the palette of singers involved -- Sophie Koch, Jonas Kaufmann/Bryan Hymel, Bryn Terfel, Edwin Crossley-Mercer... Premiere, December 8 2015. Another production that I am not really interested in is Il Trovatore. That opera is racist and as such not my cup of tea. Although Dima Tcherniakov showed how this opera could be produced --by stripping away its racist thread-- to be modern and delightful, I doubt Alex Olle will be able to shake and spin the libretto in a similar, humanistic, way. I can only hope he [Alex] will prove me wrong because the cast is definitely a delicatesse: Anna Netrebko/Hui He, Marcelo Alvarez/Fabio Sartori, Ekaterina Semenchuk/Ekaterina Gubanova, Ludovic Tezier/Vitaliy Bilyy, Roberto Tagliavono/Liang Li... 13 shows are scheduled between January 31 and March 6 2016. Among the revivals we are happy to see Der Rosenkavalier back, with Anja Harteros, Peter Rose, Daniela Sindram..., or the Haneke view of Don Giovanni with Artur Rucinski, Maria Bengtsson, Matthew Polenzani, Gaële Arquez... To that add Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (dir- Stefan Herheim) that we saw in Salzburg 2 years ago -- its Paris premiere is scheduled for March 2016. Lissner was unfortunately constrained to include two productions of Verdi operas, created during the dreaded Nicolas Joël era: La Traviata directed by Benoît Jacquot -- a truly appalling show that will otherwise be attractive thanks to the cast members (Sonya Yoncheva, Bryan Hymel, Zeljko Lucic and even Placido Domingo), or a flat Aida, staged by Olivier Py, with Anita Rachelishvili/Daniela Barcellona, Sandra Radvanovsky/Liudmila Monastyrska, Aleksanders Antonenko/Fabio Sartori, Kwangchul Youn... A pretty Damiano Micheletto production of Il Barbiere will be back on stage with Pretty Yende, Lawrence Brownlee, Nicola Alaimo, Ildar Abdrazakov, Alessio Arduini, as well as one of the best Robert Carsen productions -- Capriccio, with Adrianne Pieczonka, Benjamin Bernheim, Wolfgang Koch, Daniela Sindram and conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Note also the revival of of Jacquot's Werther in January 2016 with Elina Garanca and Piotr Beczala, together with Stéphane Degout, Elina Tsallagova, Paul Gay... For more details about the productions and subscription details see the Paris Opera website.
On Friday evening I was at the RAM again - this time for the graduate students not yet in the Royal Academy Opera, but doing some operatic exercises nevertheless. And rightly the emphasis was put on Mozart - no less than four scenes, one each from from Così, Idomeneo, Zauberflöte, and Entführung. All very important and challenging stuff! This is fundamental to the education and training of singers of course.......... As one would expect there were some striking young talents on display - and invidious though it may be to mention them in particular, there were three that stood out for me. They included the Ilia - Verity Wingate who somehow seemed to emerge from the pack, as it were. Interesting. A vocally beautifully endowed baritone Robert Garland was an impressive Demetrius in the excerpt from Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, and Lorena Paz, also in the Britten, once again showed special promise as Helena. It was very good news that included in the programme was an excerpt from Jonathan Dove's Flight. This was an entertaining end to an ambitious evening - with special mention due to Dutch mezzo Liza van der Peijl - a big personality, natural performer, and of vocal distinction. Last night the Andrea Chenier from the Royal Opera was relayed live on BBC Radio 3. It was a thrilling performance in every way, with Jonas Kaufmann extraordinary in the title role. Having seen Bergonzi, Carreras and Domingo in this opera over the years I can say confidently that this is as good as it gets. I will try to get to the performance on Tuesday - sold out so I will have to go on bended knee - probably without success!
Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chénier in Andrea Chénier © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015 #ROHChenier even better 2nd time around. Act 3 and 4 really splendid with all 3 principals on top form — SEBASTIAN PETIT (@CURZONPRODUCT) January 29, 2015 Kaufmann, Westbroek and Lucic headlined a tremendous cast in tonight's #ROHChenier Great work everyone. — Nigel Smith (@Nigel_P_Smith) January 29, 2015 Emotional Acts 3&4 to #ROHChénier , all three singers rising to the occasion. Željko Lučić's "Nemico della patria" again a highlight. — Mark Pullinger (@larkingrumple) January 29, 2015 Željko Lučić as Carlo Gérard in Andrea Chénier © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015 #ROHChenier I got actual goosebumps when @TenorKaufmann & @EvaMariawb sang the final duet! Isn’t that what opera is about? Bravi tutti! — Ivis Bohlen (@ivisbohlen) January 29, 2015 The ending of #ROHchenier was an aural sugar rush. Wonderful. Production almost too slickly lavish, though. Peasants very well dressed etc — Douglas Martin (@doogyjim) January 29, 2015 Thoroughly enjoyed #ROHChénier : leads superb but standouts for me were Zeljko Lucic - utterly commanding - and Orchestra @RoyalOperaHouse . — Adrian (@Adrian_Specs) January 29, 2015 Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chénier and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Maddalena Di Coigny in Andrea Chénier © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015 Loved #ROHchénier cinema relay and Richard E Grant did a great job hosting, but nothing beats the experience and sound live in the theatre. — Karen McLernon (@BBB_Mrs) January 29, 2015 Extraordinary Pappano and the orchestra ot the #ROHchenier . Congratualtions from Barcelona! — Berta Noy Falcó (@BnoyFa) January 29, 2015 Loved it in house. Fab to see again tonight at the cinema. DVD would be nice... Pretty please! @RoyalOperaHouse #ROHChenier — Annette (@buglet2) January 29, 2015 What did you think of Andrea Chénier in cinemas? The next live relay of the 2014/15 Live Cinema Season will be The Royal Opera's Der fliegende Holländer on 24 February 2015. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list .
Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chénier and Željko Lučić as Carlo Gérard in Andrea Chénier © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015 David McVicar 's Royal Opera production of Umberto Giordano 's Andrea Chénier was relayed live to cinemas around the world on 29 January 2015. The relay featured a series of backstage films, including rehearsal footage and interviews with members of the cast and creative team. If you missed the screening on the night, or just want to find out more about the production, here's another chance to see the films: An Introduction to Andrea Chénier 'It's a story about real people, real locations in late 18th-century France,' says set designer Robert Jones . 'We begin in a chateaux of a very wealthy aristocratic family cocooned from the outside world. They're surrounded by the finest silver, chandeliers, the finest food and furniture - they're not really aware of what's going on outside; they live in an ivory tower and we're about to see this family fall at the hands of the French Revolution.' Watch the cast and creative team introduce the opera, and explain why it's a work that they love: Andrea Chénier Vocal Masterclass with Antonio Pappano 'The qualities of the singer as an actor are exposed [in Andrea Chénier], so I'm constantly working in the rehearsal room to get the singers to fill the silences with their own intensity,' says Antonio Pappano. 'We've been working hard not just to do the music and the melodies, but to make it alive,' says soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek , who sings the role of Maddalena di Coigny. Watch Pappano work with star singers Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek on the musical elements of Giordano's opera: Designing Andrea Chénier - Bringing the French Revolution to life 'My brief was really simple - not to produce a concept to design but to make it real,' says production designer Jenny Tiramani . 'People have the right layers of dress and the right articles of clothing. These are not fake theatrical versions of historical dress.' 'We're not allowed to cheat, so that means no automatic poppers to make a quick change easier. All the ribbons and buckles are real. If you have the right costume, you act and interact in the style of the period - it helps enormously when you're slipping into another century,' says tenor Jonas Kaufmann who sings the title role. Watch the cast and creative team offer an insight into what it takes to design costumes for an authentic period production: To see more films like these, subscribe to the Royal Opera House YouTube channel: The Royal Opera House Cinema Season broadcasts performances to more than 1,600 cinemas in 60 countries around the world. Check the website to see if there's an encore of Andrea Chénier near you . The next live relay of 2014/15 will be The Royal Opera's Der fliegende Holländer on 24 February 2015. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our Cinema mailing list .
Richard E. Grant © ACE, 2015 Actor, screenwriter and director Richard E. Grant will present the live cinema relay of Andrea Chénier on 29 January 2015. David McVicar ’s new production of Umberto Giordano ’s passionate opera stars Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek . Grant has starred in beloved films including Withnail & I , Gosford Park and The Iron Lady . He recently appeared in an episode of hit TV series 'Downton Abbey' . As well as being a star of the silver screen, Grant is also an accomplished theatre actor, appearing in the West End in The Importance of Being Earnest as well as performing various Shakespeare roles at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre . Away from acting, Grant has also written a novel and has directing credits to his name. His musical passions have led him to champion history’s great composers to a general audience – discussing the world’s most iconic pieces in the Sky Arts series ‘Richard E Grant’s Essential Classics’. Andrea Chénier will be relayed live around the world on 29 January 2015. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our cinema mailing list . Download your Digital Programme containing specially selected films, articles, photos, updates and exclusives to bring you closer to the production.
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