Wrong rep sinks opera evening at the Concertgebouw

Devos, Blondelle, Oliemans/NOB/Marković: Mozart, Bellini, Verdi et al.

Concertgebouw, 12th July 2017


The people deserve good opera. Even at popular “greatest hits” concerts, the quality should be as high as budget and availability allow. At this “Robeco SummerNight at the Opera” the audience had to make do with a couple of nuggets and a series of mismatches between repertoire and performers.

Full review on Bachtrack.


Bloodless Manon Lescaut at Dutch National Opera

Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 10th October 2016


Casanova (1976), directed by Federico Fellini

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

Full review on Opera Today.

In the best tradition: Hungarian State Opera’s glossy Turandot

Puccini: Turandot

Erkel Theatre, Budapest, 30th January 2016

Traditional does not have to mean tired. This production of Puccini’s Turandot is a happy medium between drastic re-imaginings of opera plots and literal stagings that follow every comma in the libretto. Although none of the individual performances touched greatness, conductor János Kovács kneaded them all together into fast-paced theatre with grand flourishes.


Turandot at Hungarian State Opera © Attila Nagy

Full review on Bachtrack.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly

Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Concertgebouw, 16th January 2016

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.


Long and loud ovation for Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw, 16th January 2016

Full review on Opera Today.

Not your baguette-and-butter Bohème

La Bohème (1926)

Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in La Bohème (1926), directed by King Visor

That Very Good Idea by the European professional opera association, the Opera Platform, is now offering Stefan Herheim’s La Bohème for the Norwegian National Opera. I would argue that this extraordinary production is equally suitable for viewers new to opera as for those who can’t be bear to see yet another set of shivering, partying Bohemians.

Herheim stages the opera as Rodolfo’s fantasy retelling of his love story with Mimì, as she lies dying of cancer in a contemporary hospital. Rodolfo is, after all, a poet, and it is totally plausible that he resorts to his art to deal with his tragedy. The action moves back and forth from the hospital ward to Paris in the 1830s, but not just in simple fantasy-filtered flashbacks. By cross-pollinating the two settings, Herheim encourages veteran audiences to look with fresh eyes at the work. Updating Mimì’s death from tuberculosis to a sadly more familiar situation increases the immediacy of the drama for viewers with all levels of operatic experience.

Many of us still think of TB as a disease that disappeared with the nineteenth century. Its widespread contagion was not successfully curbed until the start of the twentieth century, when it was still claiming victims. In fact, the actress Renée Adorée (1898-1933), who played Musette in King Vidor’s 1926 silent film based on the opera, died in her thirties of the disease.


Renée Adorée as Musette

Renée Adorée as Musette

Although drug-resistant tuberculosis is still a reality, its mention does not strike immediate fear in our hearts, as with Puccini’s Bohemians. Sadly, we have all known or heard of a Mimì with incurable cancer. The fact that Mimì dies in the pungent warmth of a hospital, instead of the romantic cold of a studio-attic, intensifies her hopeless tragedy. This production also features some beautiful singing, especially by Marita Sølberg as Mimì. Happy/sad armchair viewing.

Butterfly with Wings of Steel


© Cricket Forge, who sell this Steel Butterfly Bench

Every country large enough to have provinces should have a touring opera company, even if only to prove that opera is not just for big city dwellers under scrutiny for elitism. This year De Nederlandse Reisopera is celebrating 60 years of presenting exciting new musical talent and intriguing productions in various Dutch cities. Currently, they are touring with that beloved perennial, Madama Butterfly, featuring Annemarie Kremer’s steel-resolved geisha. Some of the venues are already sold out, but are keeping a waiting list. You can never go to enough Butterfly productions, and this one gives you several excuses to die with Cio-Cio-San one more time, as I report for Bachtrack.

An honest-to-goodness La Bohème from Hannover

Bohème by Sebastien Dulac

Bohème by Sebastien Dulac, 1831

20,000 picnickers can’t be wrong. Here are some reasons why you should watch yesterday’s open-air Bohème from the Marschpark in Hannover. It’s available for long-term catch-up on the NDR website.

  • In this semi-staged performance all the props were literal, except perhaps Mimì’s pink bonnet, which was reduced to a girly headband. Costumes seemed to be improvised from the singers’ own wardrobes, making the characters endearingly individual. Where else would you see a Mimì dressed in floaty boho vintage alongside a Musetta in sequinned slinkiness? Cast and audience alike seemed to be having a great time and their enthusiasm spilled over onto the small screen. I was more than happy to accept some stock operatic gestures from the lesser thespians in exchange for performances wrenched straight from the heart.
  • Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson kept everyone beautifully on course and the NDR Radio Philharmonic played with concentration and sass. The girls of the Mädchenchor Hannover sounded tween-angelic as the children. It was a treat to see them in action in the aisle, within arm’s length of the audience, as at the best sold-out church hall shows. Ditto the band and supers.
  • Michael Fabiano and Carmen Giannattasio are not your usual sunny-voiced Mimì and Rodolfo. Both have spinto-ish, dark-tinted voices and, as such, were vocally well-matched. Mr Fabiano regaled us with his gale-force top notes and Ms Giannattasio with her lovely Italianate phrasing. As Mimì grew weaker, both their performances intensified. Mr Fabiano cried REAL TEARS during the death scene. What does it matter that she still had her healthy lass make-up on? Watch and weep.
  • The second couple were equally gratifying. Angel Joy Blue’s naughty-eyed Musetta moved in a cloud of glamour, vocally and in every other way. Not only were her frocks supersparkly, but sparks flew between her and Mariusz Kwiecień’s Marcello. And if you wonder how she’d sound as the seamstress, you can hear her as Mimì and more in NDR’s recent opera gala with Joseph Calleja.
  • One more reason to watch: Yngve Soeberg lending his buttery baritone to Shaunard. A gorgeous voice.

NDR Klassik Open Air: Thank you, and until next year!