Chance to See Underrated Meyerbeer Opera

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October 5, 2014
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Bettina Stoess

GermanyGermany Meyerbeer: Dinorah, Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra and Chorus, Enrique Mazzola (conductor), Berliner Philharmonie, 1.10.2014 (JMI)


It is quite curious what has happened over the past hundred years with Giacomo Meyerbeer. From being one of the most important opera composers of the first half of 19th century, and certainly the undisputed representative par excellence of French Grand Opera, he has become almost forgotten and even despised. Today, Les Huguenots and Robert le diable can be seen on stage on very rare occasions. In this sense it seems a laudable initiative by Berlin’s Deutsche Oper to offer Dinorah, since few opera lovers have had the chance to see it performed.
One of Meyerbeer’s last operas, Dinorah was premiered in 1859 at the Opéra Comique in Paris under the title of Le Pardon de Ploërmel, the Breton village where the action unfolds. It’s a pastoral comedy (with a weak libretto) that has historically served to showcase a coloratura soprano in the title character. The score is the work of a very sound musician and has a remarkable orchestration, but it is short of inspiration. Apart from a long and not outstanding overture, I must mention Dinorah’s famous aria, “Ombre legère,” and also Hoel’s aria, “Reviens à toi.“
The opera was done in concert form under the baton of Enrique Mazzola,whose reading was fully convincing and much better than I had expected. I think it’s the best performance I remember from him: he showed great knowledge and mastery of the score and took care of the details. The truth is that this opera lacks dramatic interest and can be boring, but he managed to avoid that. There was an excellent performance from the orchestra of the Deusche Oper Berlin, and also from the chorus,one of the very best in the world. Their prayers to St. Mary were extraordinary.
Dinorah was performed by Patrizia Ciofi, and we could debate at length whether she is the coloratura soprano that the part requires. In fact, one can always discuss this Italian soprano: her vocal quality has never been exceptional and that has not changed. To be able to have an important career with her instrument means that Patrizia Ciofi has always been and remains a great artist. Her ability to communicate with the audience is praiseworthy, and she had the triumph of the evening, though in purely vocal terms I can think of better alternatives for the role.
Baritone Etienne Dupuis left a very favorable impression in the character of Hoël, Dinorah’s fiancé and the cause of her misfortune. He is a lyric baritone who sings with taste and expression, and he would be a good choice for many roles in the dramatic repertoire.
Tenor Philippe Talbot interpreted the simple bagpiper, Corentin. His light tenor is not too attractive, but he was well suited to the role.
In the secondary characters Seth Carico was a sonorous Hunter while Gideon Poppe sang his aria with gusto. Finally, Elbenita Kajtazi and Christina Sidak were a good complement.
The auditorium of Berliner Philarmonie was at about 80% of capacity. The audience was very pleased with the concert, offering ovations and cheers to the artists, and especially to Patrizia Ciofi, Enrique Mazzola, the orchestra and the choir.

Dinorah: Patrizia Ciofi
Hoël: Etienne Dupuis
Corentin: Philippe Talbot
Hunter: Seth Carico
The Reaper: Gideon Poppe
Shepherds: Elbenita Kajtazi and Christina Sidak

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La Forza del Destino: An Emotional Production, in Many Ways

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From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun; Photo credit: Palau Arts – Tato Baeza

SpainSpain Verdi: La Forza del Destino, Chorus Generalitat Valenciana, Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 10.6.2014 (JMI)


Valencia’s Festival del Mediterráneo is presenting two operas, La Forza del Destino and Turandot, both conducted by Zubin Mehta. Because of the uncertainties in recent days about the future of Palau de Les Arts, these performances have been quite emotional: they could be the last appearances by the great conductor at Valencia. Just a few days ago Mr. Mehta declined an offer to take over the musical direction of the orchestra, which is a big blow for Palau de Les Arts. His decision follows the departure of Lorin Maazel a few years ago, and I wonder if any renowned conductor will be willing to accept the post, taking into account the problems that Palau is facing. One has to wonder what will be the future of this theater, where so so many nights of great opera have been enjoyed.
The performance of La Forza del Destino was superb: an imaginative stage production, a brilliant ? as well as emotional ? musical direction and a superb cast for the two main protagonists.
There is no doubt that the audience at La Forza del Destino wants Zubin Mehta to continue to appear in the pit here: the repeated and very warm ovations he received throughout the evening prove it. Clearly, a special communion exists between conductor and orchestra which always improves the results. Mr. Mehta exhibited the brilliance that we have seen time and again and there were breathtaking moments, especially at the end of the opera, but to my thinking he didn’t reach the exceptional depth he achieved in his last Walküre. This orchestra has been the best in Spain, and the problems affecting the Palau de Les Arts are also having consequences for musicians. Their performance was very good, although the sound did not seem as spectacular as at other times in the past. The choir also gave an excellent performance.
Gregory Kunde made his debut in the character of Don Alvaro, and he was truly outstanding. I cannot think of another tenor today ? except for Jonas Kaufmann ? who can compete with him in this role. The case of this great tenor is a curious one: his true success has come well past the age of 50, and he is now one of the artists most in demand at top opera houses for the main repertoire. Mr. Kunde’s voice is fresh, he has no problem with the high notes and he is always a great singer, never pushing but always singing in a most natural way. Who would have thought that the light tenor of some 25 years ago would develop into a true Verdi tenor, one of the few in the world!
Liudmyla Monastyrska was also making her debut in the part of Leonora, and she was very successful. She is a powerful soprano but is capable of singing piano when required. Her voice is comparable in size with those of Ghena Dimitrova or Maria Guleghina, but I find her to be the better singer. Her interpretarion was faultless, and she was at her very best in Pace, pace.
Simone Piazzola has a voice more or less appropriate to the character of Don Carlo di Vargas. I say more or less because at times I got the impression that he forced his voice to give more drama to his evil character. He seemed to me a little monotonous in his singing.
Bass Stephen Milling was also making his debut as Padre Guardiano. His singing seems to me better suited to Wagner than to Verdi, but overall his performance was fine.
Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk was a kind of luxury in the part of Preziosilla, although I find this character rather boring.Somebody must have said to Valeriano Lanchas that the acoustics were not good because he decided to offer just decibels as Fra Melitone. In-Sung Sim left a positive impression as Marquis of Calatrava.
The production is a new one by Davide Livermore, who created an ingenious work, bringing the action into the 1940s and using projections allusive to the plot. Some of them were like a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock ? scenes from his movie The Birds. The sets are minimal with well-suited costumes and excellent lighting.
Palau de Les Arts was at about 85% of capacity. The audience was very warm during and at the close of the performance. At the final bows there were sound cheers for Gregory Kunde and Liudmylla Monastyrska and especially for Zubin Mehta.

Don Alvaro: Gregory Kunde
Leonora: Liudmylla Monastyrska
Don Carlo: Simone Piazzola
Padre Guardiana: Stephen Milling
Preziosilla: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Fra Melitone: Valeriano Lanchas
Marquis Calatrava: In-Sung Sim
Curra: Cristina Alunno
Major: Ventseslav Anastasov
Trabuco: Mario Cerdá
Surgeon: Aldo Heo

New production
Direction and sets: Davide Livermore
Costumes: Mariana Fracasso
Lighting: Antonio Castro

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ARS Vocalis Festival in Mexico – Carlos Zapién, Artistic Director

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Ars Vocalis Mexico is a festival devoted to the vocal arts with an important teaching component. Founded in 2011 in Zamora by Carlos Zapién, the festival presents operas and recitals given by international artist and students. The faculty includes such personalities as world-class tenor, Francisco Araiza (MET), countertenor Michael Chance OBE (Glyndebourne) and sensational tenor, Javier Camarena (MET).

Besides opera, Ars Vocalis provides opportunities to students in the diverse forms of vocal art such as: Liedklasse, Zarzuela, Baroque and Arias. Thanks to the academic program, AVM has placed Mexican students into institutes of higher education in the US and Europe and also has opened doors for the singers to perform at opera houses in Europe.

Tenor, Carlos Zapién, obtained his Masters in Music from the University of Oregon and holds the title of Soloist from the Musikhochschule Stuttgart. While in Germany, Zapién was a member of the Opera Studio of the Staatsoper Stuttgart. In 2013, he was appointed Director of Music of St.Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, Arizona. Currently, he is pursing a Doctor of Music Arts at the University of Arizona where he studies with Prof. Grayson Hirst.

Tenor Ks. Francisco Araiza giving a Liederabend, with works from Schumann, Beethoven, Strauss and mexican songs.

Noted countertenor Michael Chance, O.B.E. performing arias at a recital given in 2012 at the festival

Photo of the performance of Bastien und Bastienne, staged in 2012 and 2013, with language coach Robert Hiller (Germany) and with the support of the Michoacan University Chamber Orchestra

Scene from L’elisir d’amore, produced in 2012 with the direction of Rosalba Trevisan (La Fenice) and conductor Silvano Zabeo (assistant of Claudio Abbado)

Early music specialists, tenor Eric Mentzel (Sequentia) and lutenist August Denhard performing at the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Zamora.

Mezzosoprano Cassandra Zoe Velasco (Mexico), a member of the Young Artist Program of the Los Angeles Opera, performing a recital with works of Rossini, Mozart, Verdi.

Scene from La Cenerentola, in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in 2012

Mexican-american baritone Gerardo Garcíacano singing a Liederabend in 2011, a Beethoven and Mahler program

Opera Gala with singers selected to participate in the pedagogical component of the program. Tenor Humberto Borboa (Mexico) participated in the program and thanks to the contacts made with noted tenor/professor Grayson Hirst (USA) he was offered a scholarship to study at the University of Arizona. Photo with conductor

Tenor Javier Camarena (MEX) performing arias from Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and mexican songs. 2012

Mezzosoprano Ks. Dunja Vejzovic (Croacia) working with a mexican student. 2011

Soprano Shirley Close (Florida State University) and pianist Valerie Trujillo giving a recitals with arias and songs. 2011

Soprano Shirley Close (Florida State University) and pianist Valerie Trujillo giving a recitals with arias and songs. 2011

Concert version of Rinaldo, with director Claudio Rizzi (Italia)

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