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Posts Tagged ‘Juan Diego Flórez’

Lost in translation

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Review – Orphée et Eurydice (Royal Opera House, Saturday 3 October 2015)

Orphée – Juan Diego Flórez
Eurydice – Lucy Crowe
Amour – Amanda Forsythe

Directors – Hofesh Shechter & John Fulljames
Designer – Conor Murphy
Lighting Designer – Lee Curran
Choreographer – Hofesh Shechter

Hofesh Shechter Company
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (Conductor)

It’s a shame that Gluck is not performed more often in London. Rameau, thanks to be English National Opera and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, doesn’t do too badly, but Gluck does miserably. So I was excited to see this production and was fortunate – in some ways – to be able to see the final performance following an unexpected change in my diary.

So it was a tad disappointing that, despite a clear intention, that the Royal Opera House production of Orphée et Eurydice is a hit and miss affair. And that the misses could so easily have been avoided, as they were very few.

But first, simply how magnificent were the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner? There was a vibrancy, energy and sheer simplicity to both playing and singing that cut straight to the original intentions of Gluck. No frills. No affectations. Just simple, beautifully articulate performances of music they clearly love and cherish.

If one single moment in the opera stands out, it was the opening of the second act as the chorus confronted Orphée’s attempts to enter Hades. Their physicality perfectly matched the music, as did their subsequent yet gradual change of heart.

From the orchestra itself, Gardiner coaxed wonderfully pliant and magical playing from the flute and oboe soloists as well as unearthing the right timbre for the brass throughout.

Playing and singing of that calibre is all to often missing from the opera houses in London at the moment. Let’s hope that Covent Garden ask the ensemble to return again, although hopefully within a more inspiring production.

Of the singers, while there was great anticipation for Signor Flórez, the laurels – despite the all-too-expected adoration of the Covent Garden audience who more often than not cheer a well-known name rather than talent – rightfully belong to Lucy Crowe. What an eloquent, impassioned performance she gave. Vocally Ms Crowe was simply splendid. The simplicity of Cet asile amiable et tranquille was more than off-set by the emotion with which she infused her subsequent duet and air with her lacklustre spouse.

Similarly, Amanda Forsythe made an excellent and brightly voiced Amour – elegantly dispatching Si le doux accords de ta lyre and Soumis au silence. Sadly, in the final scene she was only slightly let down by the direction at the close of the opera, playing her syncopated vocal line for laughs rather than the sincerity that Gluck originally intended.

I admit that I am not a fan of Juan Diego Flórez. I had originally intended to see Michele Angelini but a change of plans meant I had to swap my ticket. Personally I think that Flórez more often than not sounds too forced vocally and as a result his singing is rather bland and one dimensional. There’s no doubting that he negotiated the role of Orphée but it was ‘Flórez’ not Orphée on stage. It was only when he shared the stage and the singing with Lucy Crowe that his performance lifted above a more usual stand-and-deliver norm. Clearly Covent Garden felt they needed a name rather than the right performer to sell the tickets.

If Flórez was one part of the equation to get the tills ringing, I have to wonder if Hofesh Shechter was the other.

The production – the brainchild of Shechter and Fulljames – was visually interesting and perhaps they should consider putting the orchestra on stage for ‘period’ operas more often. But a desire to fill every single moment with movement obscured the simplicity of Gluck’s drama.

I have absolutely no problem with dancing being integral to a production – you only have to look at the success of the Rameau project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – but when it adds little to the drama, and indeed seems superfluous to it and even distracting, then I have to question what purpose it serves. In the Eighteenth Century, ballet was an integral part of opera, playing an essential narrative role. In the programme, Shechter talked about bringing out the simplicity of the opera. It started well but then the choreography just began to resemble the mania of Trainspotting. I remember being absolutely mesmerized and moved by Pina Bausch’s Iphigenie auf Tauris – the elegance, the commitment to not only reflecting, but also amplifying the drama seemed to come naturally. Shechter is no Bausch. What he gave us was messy, uninvolved and ultimately undermined what Gluck had intended – dance fused with the music and the drama to tell the story.

At the end of the opera, the suite of dances should feel like a natural extension of what has gone before. I would have been happier to have just sat back and listening to the glorious playing of the English Baroque Soloists rather than be subjected to the maniacal thrashing about presented at the front and back of the stage.

Indeed, had they dispensed with Shechter’s choreography, overall the simplicity of production would have won out.

Glücklich? Not really.

Scotch Missed – Tartan With Everything.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on May 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Review – La Donna del Lago (Covent Garden, Monday 27 May 2013)

Elena – Joyce DiDonato
Uberto – Juan Diego Flórez
Malcolm – Daniela Barcellona
Rodrigo – Colin Lee
Douglas – Simon Orfila
Albina – Justina Gringyte
Serano – Robin Leggate

Director – John Fulljames
Set Designs – Dick Bird
Costume Designs – Yannis Thavoris
Lighting Design – Bruno Poet
Choreographer – Arthur Pita

Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Conductor – Michele Mariotti

There is no doubt that the Royal Opera House has a hit on its hands. But I do think it would have been just as much of a success if it had been performed in concert and the production itself had been shelved.

I read somewhere that this was a brand new production as the original production was not considered strong enough. Did it have fried mars bars being dispensed before battle or something? Or something else suitably stereotypical of an Englishman’s interpretation of what Scotland is like north of the Border?

But first, the singing.

It was first rate. Mostly. It was definitely built around its two main singers – Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez.

Fan warning.

Without a doubt Ms DiDonato is the leading mezzo soprano performing today. She invests so much energy, enthusiasm, musicianship and credibility into every appearance that at times the intensity can almost be too much but not quite. She wraps herself into character completely.

Her Elena was everything it should be – passionate, devoted, defiant. The music itself held no terrors for her as she sailed through the coloratura and spun out perfectly even legato lines. It was interesting to hear a snippet of her recent masterclass at the Linbury. In a short five-minute excerpt she all but defined the basis of her own performance ethos when coaching a young singer – how an entire role informs her approach to the music as the narrative of the opera develops.

She really needs to write a book.

But it wasn’t only in her arias that she excelled but in the ensembles she demonstrated an innate sensitivity with the other singers. The trio and quartet that close the First Act for example and her duet with Daniele Barcellona were simply brilliant.

But it has to be said Oh mattutini arbori and Fra il padre, e fra l’amante were worth the price of the tickets alone. DiDonato really can switch from the smoothest legato singing – always beautifully and tastefully embellished – and the most ferocious coloratura with pinpoint accuracy. And it seems with incredible ease.

Outstanding.

As Malcolm, Daniele Barcellona was superb as well. Her dark, dusky voice was a perfect foil for DiDonato. She literally spat out her coloratura in her solo numbers in both acts but when required, melded her voice with her onstage partners.

Colin Lee was an unexpected pleasure. It’s a shame that Fulljames wrapped him in a character of such ungainly barbarity as his was an elegant, flexible and bright tenor voice, full of character and depth. And he was able to shade his voice most elegantly, with an acute sense of dynamic control. I understand in the past he has covered for Florez. I can understand why.

And on Juan Diego Flórez this may be unpopular but he was a disappointment. For the overwhelming majority of the time, he seemed to have one volume no matter what he was singing – loud. There is no doubt that he still has the technique and can hit all the notes but it seems to be at the price of finesse. Indeed, in the trio just after the start of the Second Act he seemed involved in a singing competition not only with Colin Lee but also with himself. And compared to DiDonato and Lee, his stand-and-deliver method of acting was decidedly wooden. A shame as I have heard him sing before and always been impressed by his performances which have been more nuanced and – well – musical.

But the audience was having none of it. Technique won out over a truly ensemble performance.

Simon Orfila’s Malcolm was suitably solid and special mention must go to the Scott of Robin Leggate. Justina Gringyte’s Albina was a little too harsh for me.

Michele Mariotti conducted a brisk but meticulous performance. The chorus has rarely sounded better and Mariotti pulled out the delicacy of Rossini’s orchestral writing from the orchestra who are on top form at the moment. And with all the tempos well judged, the music was given real space and opportunity to breathe.

Having seen John Fulljames’ La Clemenza di Tito I was interested to see what he would do with Rossini. His approach was an interesting one and on paper, and no doubt when the model was first presented for approval, showed promise.

However his Scottish Highlands lacked the finesse of his interpretation of Ancient Rome as corporate boardroom.

There are times when a traditional approach definitely works better. And this should have been one of those times.

The sets themselves not so subtly hinted at Scotland with their granite overtones and – in the second act – a hint of Highland trees. The stairwell cleverly suggested the sweeping staircase of a Scottish castle and the use of a painted screen to separate one world from another was a smart device.

The conceit however of bringing together the world of Rossini and Scott with a ‘real-time’ setting showed a director trying too hard. Reminiscent of A Night In the Museum without the slapstick, it led to a congested stage at times. For example the English soldiers’ chorus at the start had something of the Gilbert & Sullivan about it. Unintended I am sure.

However it was Fulljames’ general characterization that let the production down. Portraying the Highlanders as savages – complete with sexual assault and a general disdain of women – was simply ugly. It was clumsy and jarred dramatically. And it seems the idea of a hanging dead animal has migrated from the Coliseum to Covent Garden with the inevitable entrails and blood smearing oath sworn at the end of Act One.

And the ending – the stage sprayed in tartan with the onstage musicians clothed in what looked like dressing gowns – was similarly gauche.

Less Braveheart and more Bland-heart.

However the production couldn’t undermine the overall quality of the singing on stage.

I have another ticket. If Covent Garden can be persuaded to dispense with the staging and if Juan Diego Flórez can find his volume button then it will be a perfect evening.

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