The Royal Conservatory announced the concert line up for the 2016/17 season last night. As usual it’s a very eclectic mix with over 100 concerts in a rather staggering variety of genres. The one loose them is the Canada Sesquicentennial with 70% or so of the line up having some CanCon. Here are the highlights for the classical vocal music fan.
Koerner Hall will feature recitals by Deb Voigt (November 11th) and Natalie Dessay (May 2nd) plus Phillippe Jaroussky with Les Violins du Roy (April 13th).
The GGS fall opera is Viardot’s Cendrillon with Peter Tiefenbach as music director in Mazzoleni Hall (November 18th and 19th). The big spring production, at Koerner, will be Piccini’s La Cecchina with Les Dala conducting (March 15th and 17th). No word on directors yet. There’s also the GGS Vocal Showcase in Mazzoleni Hall on February 4th.
The Royal Conservatory is the latest to announce its 2016/17 season, or at least the Koerner Hall component. There’s the usual eclectic mix of orchestral, instrumental, chamber, vocal, jazz and world music. The vocal highlights are recitals by Deb Voigt and Nathalie Dessay and the annual Christmas visit by the King’s Singers.
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003. It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once. There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos. Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production. The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly. In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun. In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site. They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective. The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Phillippe Béziat’s documentary traviata et nous, about the making of the 2011 Aix festival La traviata. I’ve now had a chance to watch the DVD of the finished product and it’s superb. Forget those Traviatas in which a star soprano simpers vacuously across an overstuffed set, this is compelling drama. François Sivadier’s production is dark, dangerous and incredibly moving. Natalie Dessay’s Violetta is a terrifyingly intense portrait of a woman who knows from the beginning she is dying in “this desert which is known to men as Paris”. There is no further need for heavy symbolism to remind us of the centrality of death to the piece which makes an interesting contrast with Willy Decker’s famous production.
Christian Chaudet’s film of Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol started life as a 1999 studio sound recording of the piece conducted by James Conlon. Chaudet became somewhat obsessed with the recording and decided to turn it into a film, recruiting the original singers as part of the project. It’s an ambitious film which mixes live action, animation and a series of special effects to create something really rather weird and wonderful. It frames the Hans Christian Anderson tale in a modern setting involving a mobile phone, a weird internet cafe and a reality talent show. He throws in some Gilliamesque animation and a live nightingale for good measure.
A recording featuring Deb Voigt and Natalie Dessay, both high on my list of singers I’d like to party with, obviously has to be seen. They feature in a 2003 recording of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Met. It’s a Moshinsky production, directed for this run by Laurie Feldman. It’s pretty traditional in most respects though there are some interesting touches in the second act. We are squarely in the house of the richest man in Vienna c. 1750. No Konzept here. In fact, the first act is traditional too in that the acting is broad, going on coarse grained. Dessay brings a touch of distinction, managing to effectively portray the more vulnerable side of Zerbinetta. Voigt too is very fine, and very much with the overall mood, as a completely over the top stroppy diva. She’s definitely playing for laughs. Susanne Mentzner’s Composer and Wolgang Brendel’s Music Master are both quite competent but suffer a bit from the pantomime acting the director appears to want.
traviata et nous is a documentary by Philippe Béziat about the creation of the 2011 Aix Festival production of Verdi’s La Traviata. The stars are stage director Jean-François Sivadier and his leading lady, Natalie Dessay. It’s two hours long and is much more insightful than the average “making of” bonus feature. This really gets inside the heads of the director and the performers (we see a fair bit of Charles Castronovo and Ludovic Tézier as well as Dessay) as they begin to understand and then elaborate on the director’s ideas. Dessay comes across, as one would expect from her performances, as an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful and hard working person. Sivadier too is très sympa; worlds removed from the caricature of a German Regie director ruthlessly imposing his ideas on libretto and performers alike. I found it interesting that when Sivadier is working with Dessay or Tézier French is spoken but at pretty much all other times the working language, even in a French house like Aix, is English.
After the hours of discussion about what Lee Blakeney really meant in his COC Les Contes d’Hoffmann a little light relief seemed called for. Fortuitously I had just got my hands on the 1997 Opéra National de Lyon recording of Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers so I thought that might do the trick. I was dead right. The production by Laurent Pelly is an absolute hoot (or, to quote young British mezzo, Emilie Renard “FILTHY!”). The high speed, somewhat surreal production is brilliantly executed by a predominantly French cast including Natalie Dessay as Eurydice and Laurent Naouri as Jupiter. There’s so much going on that it would be tedious to provide a full description. Continue reading →