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.

Rigoletto is mad but the singing is fine at Dutch National Opera

Verdi: Rigoletto

Dutch National Opera, 9th May 2017


Le roi s’amuse (1932) by Victor Hugo

What happened to Rigoletto after the hitman he hired to kill his daughter Gilda’s abductor murdered her instead? He went mad and was committed to a mental institution. This is Damiano Michieletto’s twist on Verdi’s compact but tremendous tragedy Rigoletto for Dutch National Opera. Although intriguing, the production is overanalytical and is ultimately sabotaged by its own cleverness. The cast compensates with a good old Verdi singfest.

Full review on Backtrack.


The Rigoletto Ticket Price Comparison

Much debate goes on about the cost of going to the opera, but ticket prices vary widely by theatre and price band. Here’s a quick comparison between eleven opera houses that are staging Rigoletto between now and the end of June, 2017. Verdi’s violent drama is a popular staple, of average length, and accessible to a wide audience, and I think it’s a good candidate for comparing admission prices.

First, the performances in ascending order by the Cheapest Ticket price:


In ascending order by the price of a Mid-Price Ticket:RigMidPriceTicketAscedning.png

And in ascending order by the price of the Most Expensive Ticket:RigTopPriceTicketAscending.png

When possible, I’ve chosen a weekend performance (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) that is not a premiere, and I’ve left out (student) discounts and festival prices. A “mid-price” ticket is difficult to define in houses where price bands are determined by seating sections with widely divergent prices. In such cases, I picked the cheapest price in the mid-range section.

A couple of observations:

  • It will surprise no-one that Eastern European prices are the cheapest and American houses the most expensive.
  • Some A-list theatres, such as the Vienna State Opera and the Bastille, sell some of the most expensive Rigoletto tickets in Europe, but also cater for tight budgets with 15-euro tickets. Whereas Dutch National Opera and Dresden choose to rob less from the rich to give to the poor. The gap between their bottom and top prices is much smaller. Which is the more democratic price structure?
  • It can cost you as little as 5 euros (Paris) and as much as 417 euros (New York) to hear Željko Lučić as Rigoletto.

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

Verdi: I due Foscari

Concertgebouw, 17th September 2016


Bust of Doge Francesco Foscari by Bartolomeo Bon © Sailko via Wikimedia Commons


There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

Full review on Opera Today.

Daniele Gatti and the RCO make it official during showcase concert

Beethoven/Schubert/Mahler/Mozart/Respighi/Verdi: RCO/Gatti

Concertgebouw, 9th September 2016

“Love at first sight” is how Dutch culture minister Jet Bussemaker described the first encounter between Milanese conductor Daniele Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. As if officiating at a wedding, she sealed the union between the orchestra and its seventh chief conductor by presenting the maestro with a golden baton, previously owned by his predecessor Eduard van Beinum.


Decapitation of Lamoral, Count of Egmont in 1568

Full review on Bachtrack.

Joan hears voices


Jeanne d’Arc at Domrémy by Henri Chapu (1870-72)

Last Monday La Scala opened its new season with Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco (1845). A webcast is available until the 6th of January, 2016 on www.arte.tv. If the link gives you a sad face and a “not available in your country” message, do not despair. The performance was broadcast on at least two TV channels and a recording is bound to turn up in the usual places. Three reasons to watch this if you missed it:

  1. Verdi. A lot of people are unhappy with principal conductor (and future direttore musicale) Riccardo Chailly’s choice of season opener. Saddled with a weak libretto, Giovanna d’Arco is an early Verdi opus containing swathes of formulaic and undistinguished  music, particularly in the ensembles. However, in this lesser Verdi we can hear elements that later morphed into masterpieces such as Macbeth, and some of the writing for the soloists is of much better quality that the opera as a whole. Lesser or not, nobody can muster an army or score a royal procession like Verdi. Chailly makes no apologies for the early Verdian idiom and wills a rousing performance from the La Scala orchestra. This is not an opera for people who say things like “I love Don Carlo because it is quasi-Wagnerian”, but for unconditional lovers of Verdi and the refined art of singing of the first half of the nineteenth century popularly known as bel canto. Which brings us to …
  2. The Singing, signed Anna Netrebko and Francesco Meli. There is no point in putting on Giovanna D’Arco without a soprano who can tackle the technical and artistic demands of the part. Lesser Verdi operas often demand major voices, and only few opera houses can afford a star of Anna Netrebko’s magnitude in the title role. Which is why it is so thrilling that La Scala chose to stage this opera for her. Netrebko has the volume and security to soar over the large ensembles, but sings most gorgeously in the quieter, melodious moments. Similarly, Francesco Meli as Charles VII is technically always in control and gives us reams of beautiful sound.
  3. The Staging. Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier have found an excellent solution to Temistocle Solera’s libretto, which really belongs in the shredder. Very tenuously based on Schiller’s play The Maid of Orleans, it is nothing more than cardboard characters singing unoriginal text while moving through a plot made up of a handful of stunted ideas, the most interesting of which is that Joan of Arc’s father, believing she follows Satan, betrays her, and France, to the English. In this staging, Joan is a schizophrenic young woman from a nineteenth century bourgeois home suffering from hallucinations and religious megalomania. Most of the libretto makes sense within this concept. The choruses of angels and devils become the voices in Joan’s head. Charles VII, who is in love with Joan and wants to make her his queen, and her disloyal father illustrate facets of her tortured psyche. The set is sober at first, but becomes visually elaborate, with hoards of medieval peasants, tinselly soldiers and chiaroscuro video projections. The religious and erotic imagery is kitschy on purpose, reminding us that this is a hyperreality constructed by a confused mind. The King is sprayed in gold and a cheap plaster Madonna deludes Joan that she is receiving heavenly missives. There is even a walk-on crucified Christ who spends many hours at the gym. The coronation and battle scenes, which must look spectacular in the house, are too large-scale to be captured effectively on a small screen. But there is enough in this performance that does come across, not least the exciting singing and conducting.


Review Round-Up: Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera


pigsWhat is the collective noun for opera critics? A swarm of critics? A plague, maybe? The word “asinine” and “critic” often cross paths, but saying “a stable of critics” invokes Arabian thoroughbreds, which is surely too much honour. A pen of critics might be closer to the mark.

So can a pen of critics ever approach consensus about a performance? Probably not before the residents of the pen learn to fly. Here’s a round-up of what an number of reviewers, professional and amateur, made of Dutch National Opera’s Il Trovatore, which runs until the 1st of November. The main soloists are Francesco Meli (Manrico), Carmen Giannattasio (Leonora), Violeta Urmana (Azucena), Simone Piazzola (Count di Luna), Roberto Tagliavini (Ferrando) and Florieke Beelen (Ines). In particular, the new production by Àlex Ollé, of the highly-regarded theatre collective La Fura dels Baus, provoked diverse reactions, but soloists and conductor also got a variety of grades, from passes to flying colours.

In Dutch:

NRCStaging: Harmless, Singing: Somewhat cool to excellently passionate, Conducting: Lively, sometimes too hurried

De Volkskrant: Staging: Visually arresting, outdated acting, Singing: Ranging from modest to highly attractive, Conducting: Rhythmically tight and catchy

TrouwStaging: Spectacular set with cheesy acting, Singing: Weak to wonderful, Conducting: Sloppy and lacking in momentum

De TelegraafStaging: Suggestive set, weak singers’ direction, Singing: Monotonous to devastatingly good, Conducting: Idiomatic and nuanced

Het ParoolStaging: Distracting and absurd, Singing: Marvellous, Conducting: Very good with minor snafus

TheaterkrantStaging: Spectacular, Singing: Mostly mediocre, Conducting: Breathtaking

CultuurpersStaging: Dismal and emotionally chilly, Singing: Runs the gamut, only Violeta Urmana’s Azucena was moving, Conducting: Messy

Place de l’Opéra: Staging: Incomprehensible, Singing: Mostly very good to terrific, Conducting: Tempi all over the place

In English:

Bachtrack: Staging: Visually arresting, but often static, Singing: Soloists deliver the goods, Francesco Meli’s Manrico a triumph, Conducting: Run-of-the-mill

Opera Today (by Yours Truly): Staging: Clever but problematic, Singing: Excellent, Conducting: Disappointing

In Italian:

OperaClick: Staging: Original and impressive, Singing: Outstanding, Conducting: A let-down

We read reviews for entertainment, and possibly enlightenment, but ultimately everyone’s response to a performance is unique and no two live performances are exactly the same. A Trovatore cast that is worth hearing is not easy to come by. If you can get to Amsterdam and believe the reviewers who think DNO has assembled such a cast, go see and hear for yourself.