Mélodies Passagères is a new CD from Montreal based duo soprano Marianne Lambert and pianist Julien LeBlanc. Toronto folks may remember the latter as the music director/pianist for Against the Grain’s Pelléas et Mélisande a few years ago. The selection of songs; by Barber, Bizet, Delage, Delibes, Granados, Lavallée, Massenet and Paladihle, is intended to evoke escaping, journeying, dreaming and sensuality and it does that pretty well. Most of the pieces are not particularly well known though there are a few chestnuts like Bizet’s Les adieux de l’hôtesse Arabe and Délibes’ Les filles de Cadix.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is an interesting take on the Cinderella story. There are a lot of references in the libretto, especially in acts 3 and 4, to suggest that it’s all really a dream. So maybe it’s not unreasonable for Barbara Mundel and Olga Motta in their 2017 Freiburg production to riff of that and give us elements that don’t, at first blush, make sense. Dreams are like that. It would also explain why, in many scenes, Lucette seems to be more of a spectator than a participant.
The Art Song Foundation of Canada has launched a new free on-line magazine called, somewhat unsurprisingly, Art Song Canada. The first issue has three articles including a very interesting one by Gerald Finley. You can sign up for it and see the first issue here.
A listing I missed on the weekend… On November 25th at 2.30pm in the Jane Mallet Theatre, VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert are presenting Massenet’s Werther with Matt Chittick in the title role, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Charlotte and Brett Polegato as Albert. Narmina Afandiyeva directs from the piano.
VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert announced their 2018/19 season last night. There are three main stage shows. Two of them, alas, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for; Massenet’s Werther (November 25th 2018) and Schubert’s Fierabras (February 3rd 2019). The first features Goethe’s version of Fotherington-Thomas and the latter is one of the most confused and implausible messes ever to “grace” an opera stage. I’m much more up for the third show; Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (March 30th/31st 2019). No details on casting or anything else but I assume the first two will be piano score and the last a chamber ensemble. There are also two shows at Gallery 345; Little Mahagonny: a Tribute to Weill (September 25th 2018) and Viva Verdi (April 3rd 2019).
Thackeray thought Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther was so boring and idiotic that he wrote a satirical poem about it (you can find it at the bottom of the page). Massenet’s reaction, alas, was to write a three hour opera based on it. Add to the implausible and dull plot (altered but slightly from Goethe’s original) Massenet’s overblown romantic music and penchant for any sentimentality he can find (at the end, a children’s chorus sings a Christmas song while Werther is bleeding to death in Charlotte’s arms) and it’s well nigh unbearable.
Sometimes one comes across a DVD that is perfectly adequate but one really wonders why that particular production/performance was picked for a DVD release. Such is the 2014 recording of Massenet’s Manon from L’Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Daniel Barenboim once said that the only reason to do this piece was a s a vehicle for star singers. I’m not sure I entirely agree but having them helps enormously and when the catalogue already has recordings of Netrebko and Dessay, both with Villazon one wonders how Annick Massis and Alessandro Liberatore can compete. Bottom line, they can’t really.
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
I’ve just been listening to Revive; a new recital disk from Elina Garanča. It marks her move into more dramatic territory as she enters her fifth decade. It also says quite a lot about how she wants to develop her career. There’s a very personal introductory essay titled Strong Women in Moments of Weakness and it seems to me that she’s looking to find her place in the 19th century French/Italian romantic/verismo repertoire as opposed to, say, Strauss or Wagner. Certainly the pieces on the disk represent roles like Eboli, Didon, Delila and Hérodiade, as well as some more obscure stuff like Musette from the Leoncavallo La Bohème and Anne from Saint-Saëns Henry VIII.
First a disclaimer, I’m not a huge Massenet fan and even among his works Don Quichotte would rate pretty low with its cheesy melodies and faux Spanoiserie. However, a good production has the potential to liven it up and a stellar cast is always a plus. The run that opened at the Canadian Opera Company last night certainly had the latter in Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili. Unfortunately Linda Brovsky’s production looked and felt like one of Mr. Peter Gelb’s attempts to get the Broadway audience into the Met. It was cluttered, unfocussed, pretty much devoid of ideas and didn’t even really make best use of the acting talents of the principals though Rashvelishvili did her best to inject some life into it. It’s exactly what I feared when I heard they were going to use a real horse and donkey (later replaced by a mule in one of the more recent of the season’s casting problems at COC). For me, one of those productions almost best listened to with eyes closed.
John Cox’s production of Massenet’s Thaïs at the Metropolitan Opera is probably most remembered for the rather extraordinary collection of Christian Lacroix frocks that Met perennial Renée Fleming gets to wear. It’s rather more than that. In fact it’s a pretty good example of what the Met does best. It’s sumptuous and spectacular and has a pretty much ideal cast which, together, go a long way toward making this curious piece rather enjoyable.