Yannick Nézet-Séguin says au revoir to Rotterdam

Handel/Mozart/Respighi et al.: RPhO/Nézet-Séguin/DiDonato

De Doelen, Rotterdam, 9 June 2018

100-rpho-vignet.pngIn September, Yannick Nézet-Séguin becomes music director at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Taking on North America’s foremost opera house means that, while remaining with the Orchestre Métropolitain in his birthplace Montreal and the Philadelphia Orchestra, his tenure at the Rotterdam Philharmonic has come to its natural end.

Full review on Bachtrack.

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Starkly powerful Jephtha at Dutch National Opera

Handel: Jephtha

Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 9th November 2016

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Jephthah’s Daughter (1876) by Édouard Debat-Ponsan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes the price of peace is war, but the price of war is always ruinous. Claus Guth’s pessimistic new staging of Handel’s last oratorio, Jephtha, illustrates this with scenes of military carnage clad in smoky darkness. However, Guth is probably less interested in such overarching conclusions than in the destructive collision of public ambition and private life.

Full review on Bachtrack.

Anna Prohaska: pure and precise in Baroque arias at the Concertgebouw

Anna Prohaska/Il Giardino Armonico: Purcell/Handel/Hasse et al.

Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 27th September 2016

Anna Prohaska’s lissom and bright soprano is not a voice one immediately associates with mythical queens Dido and Cleopatra, as immortalised by Purcell and Handel. In terms of size and colour, it is a great fit for the handmaiden’s aria “Oft she visits this lov’d mountain” from Dido and Aeneas. However, Prohaska is one of those singers who convincingly offset vocal limitations with extraordinary musical and interpretative qualities.

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Dido’s Death as depicted in the Vergilius Vaticanus

Full review on Bachtrack.

Entrancing Orlando at the Concertgebouw

Handel: Orlando

Concertgebouw, 7th March 2016

The English Concert’s travelling Orlando has been collecting rave reviews. Here’s another one from Amsterdam, the last stop on their tour before Carnegie Hall.

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Full review on Opera Today.

Amsterdam Ariodante convinces as village psychodrama

Handel: Ariodante

Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 17th January 2016

Richard Jones’ production of Handel’s Ariodante, set in a Scottish fishing village circa 1970, teaches us two things. Firstly, small-minded islanders can be ingeniously creative at puppetry using household items. Secondly, their creativity knows no bounds when shaming those who break their rigorous moral code.

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Ariodante at Dutch National Opera © Clärchen & Matthias Baus

Full review on Bachtrack.

Armchair Opera from Aix and Orange

Alina from Aix

Alcina from Aix-en-Provence © Patrick Berger

Saturday was bonus night for armchair opera viewers. In the webcast from Munich Anja Harteros proved that she is the Arabella of our times. Conductor Philippe Jordan, turning the Strauss score into silver gauze, slightly prolonged her big moments so that we could savour her glorious arches of sound. Theatrically, her Arabella was beautiful, spirited and commitment-shy. The cast and production got positive reviews, but the microphones were not kind to all the singers. The screen exaggerated the busy gestures and frantic running of some of the characters. Neither did it love the stretch-material costumes for Ms Harteros and Doris Soffel, formidable as Arabella’s mother. Costume designers should remember that jersey is for nymphettes, not grown women. The most interesting aspect of Andreas Dresen’s direction was Arabella’s anti-chemistry with Mandryka. Once the man of Arabella’s dreams turns up in the flesh he just seems to provoke her irritation more than anything else. The ending is a highly equivocal engagement.

The Munich State Opera does not make its webcasts available for catch-up, but another live webcast from Saturday, Carmen from the Chorégies d’Orange festival, will be available for free for a limited time on medici.tv. This musically sedate performance stars Kate Aldrich, surely one of the prettiest Carmens ever, and the umpteenth incarnation of Jonas Kaufmann’s Don José, which is still top-tier and overcomes both the relaxed conducting and the aimless staging. The cigarette girls are dressed as if they have to sing in Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites as soon as Carmen bites the dust. Later on, Carmen and friends put on some very elegant weekend outfits, and the bullfighters wear really good imitations of the blinding trajes de luz, but the acting fails to shape up. The set consists of giant playing cards because, as we know, it’s all in the cards. I rather liked this fatalistic set, just as I liked the giant criss-cross staircase representing Arabella’s crossroads decision in Munich. The problem was what the characters did on those playing cards. They tried a bit of stylised flamenco and took part in funeral-paced processions. Mostly, the soldiers kept creeping up behind Carmen and eyeing her with drool dripping down their beards. Maybe the mistral blowing in everyone’s hair made all this more convincing live than it was on screen.

No such misgivings about the Alcina from another French festival, this time Aix-en-Provence. Handel’s masterpiece is available for five more months on the The Opera Platform, but unfortunately only in European countries. Director Katie Mitchell is not embarrassed by the magic in the plot and her update is witty, sexy and gorgeous. Alcina’s magic kingdom is a sumptuous mansion where a coven of age-old witches live with numerous skeletons, or rather stuffed animals, in the attic. Propped up by a youth elixir, their sole aim in life is to ensnare young male sexual victims. Patricia Petibon’s, ahem, idiosyncratically sung Alcina is happy with vanilla sex, but her sister Morgana, the copiously talented Anna Prohaska, likes to be tied up. The arias are carefully staged, movingly so towards the end, and every second of this production makes sense. Phillippe Jaroussky is a vocally ravishing Ruggiero, the knight who makes Alcina fall in love with him and zaps her magic. Baroque expert Andrea Marcon wields an enchanted wand in the pit.