By Alexander Neef, General Director
In case you missed it, read Alexander's European Summer Festivals: Part I.
As in Bayreuth, seeing colleagues from the cultural world mixed nicely with wonderful opera at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. When you travel alone, it’s really nice to meet people you know at the theatre in the evenings, so I was very grateful to the people in the festival’s protocol office. They kindly sat three lonely travelers together for three nights: me, Jonathan Friend, the Metropolitan Opera’s artistic administrator, and Catherine Pégard, the President of Versailles (who I knew during my time at the Paris Opera when she was the cultural advisor for the Président de la Republique.)
I was pleased to see Robert Carsen’s new Rigoletto in the Festival’s outdoor Théâtre d’Archevêché, which has been set up in the courtyard of the old archbishop’s palace. Robert has set his new production in a circus, which suited the outdoor setting extremely well.
Evening in Aix-en-Provence
Over at the indoor Grand Théâtre de Provence, Patrice Chéreau’s Elektra was the Festival’s event of the season. Chéreau’s attention to detail and intensity of his direction create one breathtaking moment after another. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Orchestre de Paris was Chéreau’s equal in every way. One member of the fantastic cast was our own Adrianne Pieczonka, memorable in her role debut as Chrysothemis. If you are interested, I believe the Festival has made the production available online for a period of time. Try to watch it if you can.
I especially wanted to go to Aix this year as it’s my last chance to see our co-production of Don Giovanni before it comes to Toronto. I have now seen it three times – at its premiere in Aix in 2010, and in Madrid this past March with Russell Braun in the lead role. Each time I see it, I appreciate its qualities and intelligence more. Tcherniakov’s vision is so specific and so consuming that it demands total commitment from the cast. It requires an equal commitment from its audience, but it’s a truly mesmerizing production, one that, I am happy to report, was very successful with the Aix public.
From Aix, I flew to London for two nights at Glyndebourne and two nights at the Proms. Going to Glyndebourne is a whole ritual. You board a train mid-afternoon in downtown London, with people wearing long gowns and tuxes, carrying their picnic baskets. Dinner is eaten on the lawn both before the show and during the 90-minute intermissions.
Pre-show at Glyndebourne, and, no rain!
Although I admit that my fondness for French baroque opera is limited, I did make a point of seeing Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie. William Christie and his Arts Florissants were frequent collaborators with Paris Opera when I was there, and it was lovely to see them again. They are simply the best at this repertoire. In addition, I was happy to see an old acquaintance of mine from the Rurh Festival, Stéphane Degout, as a wonderful Thésée.
I returned two nights later for a delightful production of Don Pasquale, and loved getting a chance to see Alessandro Corbelli in the title role. Not only is he a born comic actor, he also perfectly inhabits every nuance of the Italian text. It was really a masterclass in how an opera buffa should be performed.
When I put this trip together, my plan was to create my own personal Ring Cycle by seeing the first two, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Bayreuth, and the final two, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. I’ve never been there before, and it was an amazing experience! The tight attention of 6000 people listening to Wagner’s work in the vast space – with no amplification! – created some palpable excitement which inspired the amazing casts.
Conductor Daniel Barenboim has been working with the Berlin Staatsoper for so long that the communication with his musicians is almost intuitive. It’s unbelievably impressive, and they play like gods! His total command of every detail and the overall architecture of the piece is absolutely astonishing, and the dramatic urgency he created was masterful. Not a single bar of the piece felt without purpose and, above all, his reading was infused with a visible, deep love for Wagner’s music. It was as good as anything I have heard live or on record. In fact, the Siegfried was probably the best performance of a Wagner opera that I’ve ever heard.
Here’s the curtain call after Götterdämmerung.
Photos: (top) Alexander Neef; (middle)Aix-en-Provence; (middle) Glyndebourne; (bottom) Curtain call at the BBC Proms production of Götterdämmerung, 2013. Photo credits: (top) bohuang.ca; (middle, bottom) Alexander Neef.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001