Some optimism about the TSO 2018/19 season

Han-Na Chang. Photo: Harrison Parrott

I’m really liking the number of the TSO conducting debuts in the new concert season announced yesterday. Han-Na Chang,  Trondheim Symfoniorkester’s Chief Conductor is coming to Toronto next season, and so is Hamilton Philharmonic’s Gemma New. Barbara Hannigan and Tania Miller return. Melanie Leonard, the Sudbury SO’s MD, debuts with an, alas, Fred Penner program, mais bon.

Among the notable non-returns this season, Keri-Lyn Wilson. I was hoping she was on the list of potential MDs, but maybe she is indeed but the scheduling just couldn’t be worked out this season.

Among notable returns, the TSO regulars Juanjo Mena, Andrey Boreyko, Thomas Dausgaard, Donald Runnicles. TSO regulars who are otherwise engaged this season: Stephane Deneve, Hannu Lintu and Gianandrea Noseda, and that is just fine. It’s good to mix it up.

Because the conductors we don’t usually see on the TSO roster who will be there next season: Louis Langree, the French-born, Cincinnati SO MD, Karl-Heinz Steffens, German-born MD director of the Oslo Opera, Aurora Orchestra’s Nicholas Collon and Kirill Karabits, Bournemouth SO’s and Staatskapelle Weimar’s MD. Interestingly, Aziz Shokhakimov, known to the readers of this blog the very young, underdog candidate from the documentary Dirigenten! that I recently reviewed, will also have his TSO debut.

Not a whole lot of new in the soloists department – a lot of names we see just about every year (Zukerman, Lisiecki, Goodyear, Josefowicz). Repertoire-wise, the interim era in an orchestra’s life is not usually time to experiment and try out new programming visions, so the war horses it’ll be. An extremely modest sprinkling of Debussy and Ravel, exactly one Stravinsky and one Berlioz, zero R Strauss and Scriabin, and not much past early 20th century. New Creations Festival is usually announced much closer to the date of the festival, and there is a chunk of empty dates in early March so I’m hoping it’ll return. New Creations Festival, it has been confirmed, is cancelled for good. BTW, the TSO website now has a nifty search engine for the 2018-19 season, worth spending some time with.

And what’s ahead for Peter Oundjian? His tenure as the MD of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra too ends this year, Thomas Søndergård taking over (also one of the regulars returning for a TSO gig next season). Oundjian’s agency website offers the following on the artist’s pageOundjian was recently named Artistic Advisor for the Colorado Music Festival, and this season he returns to the Baltimore, Atlanta, and NHK Symphonies, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Maybe a few years of freelancing after two busy MD-ships, I am guessing.

This and next season’s Interim MD will be Andrew Davis. As Opera Ramblings put it in his recent post, he won’t be “hogging the podium”, which is an excellent thing for an interim MD to do.

Really eager for some TSO news soon, though.

(And let’s hope for no more program copy faux pas like the unfortunate Ligeti graf that went globally viral-ish on Twitter. I found myself having to explain to Twitter friends from Seattle and Paris that no, the TSO is not usually terrified of the twentieth century and new music and that no, we don’t usually print warnings in programs and that I’d attribute the graf to a distracted program editor rather than read too much into it etc etc. )

New podcast episode out

January Alto is out.

First guest is Victorine de Oliveira, contributing writer @ Philosophie Magazine in France, who talks about her opera and classical highlights this season, books she’s been reading and also the French opposition to the MeToo. (Recorded on Skype, please forgive the extraneous sounds) People mentioned: Lea Desandre, Claus Guth, Kaija Saariaho, Terry Gillian, Paris opera loggionisti, Sarah Bakewell, a historian of the May ’68 Ludivine Bantigny, sociologist Eva Illouz, Virginie Despentes, Catherine Millet & the signatories of the PasMois letter.

Song: Emoke Baráth with Emese Virág on piano, Debussy’s “Nuit d’etoiles” (Hungaroton label, May 2017)

Followed by the conversation with opera director Christoper Alden on directing Rigoletto at the COC, the figure of the “Fallen Woman” in Verdi, working on a Peter Pan play via Leonard Bernstein and Nina Simone, whether his (rent-controlled) apartment in NYC is more Zeffirelli or minimalism, what his worry would be if the Met ever came calling, and what is opera to do in the age of Trump and the internet domination of culture.

2016: A year in performing arts

Best spoken theatre

Best theatre was nontraditional: Germinal at World Stage 2016, Les Liaisons Dangereuses at NT Live in cinemas, Independent Aunties’ Gertrude and Alice at Buddies in Bad Times, Joel Pommerat’s Ça Ira (1), La fin de Louis in Amsterdam at Holland Festival in June.

Best opera

Stefan Herheim’s The Queen of Spades in Amsterdam.

A very non-grand Traviata sung and spoken gorgeously by non-operatic singer-actors at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris in October.

François Girard’s Siegfried at the COC. (But see opera on DVD for the verdict on his Parsifal.)

Scottish-Welsh-Tapestry Opera presented The Devil Inside.

The David Alden’s Maometto was irreverent and fun (and tangentially caused a bizarre media storm in which the most conservative of Canada’s opera critics ended up getting a global platform for his pearl-clutching). While most people praised the singing, I was more into the production. I don’t include it here as one of the best opera performances ever seen, but rather as a major operatic event of the year for various non-operatic reasons. Kudos to David Alden for daring to put a little bit of an Islamic culture on stage without kid gloves and fear.

I’ll add Damiano Michieletto’s Samson et Dalila at Opera de Bastille in Paris in October for these things primarily: the brilliant coup de théâtre ending, the sexy as hell Anita Rachvelishvili as Dalila. Also, for the opera house itself. Bastille gets a lot of flak, and unjustly: it’s a very pleasant space inside and outside the hall.

Best concert or recital

This all-Beethoven on period instruments concert in Paris with Viktoria Mullova and Sarah Alice Ott as soloists. First visit to Paris’s new Philharmonie, so that was exciting. The hall is fantastic. The outside spaces, where people mingle in between and after performances, not so much: they’re narrow and like an after-thought to the hall.

As a Stranger, by the Collectif Toronto. I didn’t write about this all-female take on the Winterreise back then, but it was tremendous.

Lineage, the vocal + chamber orchestra program on 19th-20th-21st century musical lineage.

Dean Burry goes Schoenberg on Romanticism with Talisker Players.

Scenes of the Mediterranean: Stéphane Denève conducts TSO in Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture, Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” – Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano, Ibert: Escales (Ports of Call) and Respighi: Pines of Rome

TSO and Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto (soloist discovery of the year for me) in Nielsen’s Violin Concerto. The program also had Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé (conductor Juanjo Mena, with Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) and Granados’ Intermezzo from Goyescas. 

The entire New Creations Festival 2016: first night of the Fragile Absolute, and subsequent nights. The TSO removes the concert web page as soon as the concert’s over, so I had to search through my emails for concert reminders and save them as JPGs.


There was also a TSO concert with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique on the program, with Barbara Hannigan singing Dutilleux, that I attended in January, but I can’t remember much about it (it kinda pales) – so let’s include it as “it sounded so great on paper, but then IRL…”

Best opera: streaming, cinema & DVD

The Royal Opera House Boris Godunov, a Richard Jones production, at Bloor Hot Docs cinema. It was an unexpected joy.

Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor (same cinema): excellent with no reservations.

Katie Mitchell’s Pelléas et Mélisande from Aix-en-Provence: ground-breaking. Historians of operatic theatre will look on this production as a milestone, I have no doubts. I have saved an ungeoblocked URL with English subtitles here — do watch it the soonest, because Arte won’t keep it online forever.

I finally watched Girard’s Met-COC Parsifal on DVD and am sorry to report that I was disappointed. Too literal, too Christian-propaganda-y, especially the final act, which was an endless bro-ness renewed, Kundry humiliated agony. So the COC can keep postponing that production for as long as it wants, as far as I’m concerned.

Dance (of which I’ve seen very little this year)

Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit at Canadian Stage; Toronto Dance Theatre’s Marienbad which wordlessly explored the dynamics of intimacy between two men.

Another good thing about 2016: meeting opera Twitter friends in real life.

Now let me see if I can do a quick post on the 2016 in reading.

Have you heard the one about an atheist walking into a Messiah performance

As somebody who doesn’t believe in the Trinitarian God, the resurrection, and the Judgment Day, I’ve sometimes struggled to feel close to or give meaning to the texts of many of my favourite musical works (Mozart’s Mass in C minor and the Requiem, Faure’s Requiem, Bach’s Johannespassion, Rachmaninov’s Vespers, Berlioz’s Requiem, to name just the first few to come to mind). I look up the translations if it’s Latin or German, that’s not an issue, but the theology behind them is. Sometimes I succeed in understanding the words as directly relevant to my life today, sometimes I fail. When I fail, the music comes to the rescue: music is so bizarrely powerful over our emotions that it really doesn’t matter what the text is, music does its own text on you. And I am often one of the millions of unsophisticated listeners that make Adorno toss in his grave in agony, when we should know better. So for example I enjoy the dramatic anger of Mozart’s Dies Irae even though the notion of the omnipotent, omniscient God who will at one point divide the sheep from the goats means nothing to me. I do, there’s no other way to put it, often consume some of my favourite works of art kinda idiotically.

I wonder if the love that we—that I! I should stop using the nebulous we—have for these works is an expression of a nostalgia for faith? For a time and situations when Dies Irae really meant something? Did people who listened to Mozart’s Mass in C minor enjoy it as a theological work primarily? Who can even begin to tell. That’s an even worse kind of listening: escapist, mythologizing of the past, needy.

I wish that present-day conductors (institutions, program writers) doing these works today spoke about this question more. There’s a global audience for the sacred classical music canon today, consisting and potentially consisting of people of all kinds of non-Christian religions beside the atheists and agnostics. What more important is there for a conductor of a sacred work than this, to tell us why we should listen to these words, and therefore this work? Among the conductors that I follow, I’ve noticed Laurence Equilbey broaching the topic now and again, but still extremely rarely. There’s a quote in a magazine interview along the lines of some of these sacred works being about the celebration of creation, of the importance of something existing rather than nothing, of how glorious being alive can be, and I thought, okay, now we’re talking business. (The quote was frustratingly short.) In another radio interview she mentioned a potential collaboration with artist Philippe Quesne on The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross by Haydn and about the work being about something anybody can understand, the thirst for water, the need for air, the survival against all odds, and then too I stopped what I was doing and said, Go on, that’s interesting.

In moments like those I realize how badly I need these kinds of interpretations. We are taken for granted as an audience; we’re expected to keep showing up “because it’s the work X, Y, Z and the work X, Y, Z is important”.

Any of you reading this, have you encountered any other conductors addressing the issue of interpretation in this way?

These thoughts are actually prompted by last night’s performance of Handel’s Messiah (at the Metropolitan United on Church East, with Elmer Iseler Singers and Lydia Adams conducting). Bizarrely, I’ve become something of a Messiah fan, and even more bizarrely, I don’t have any problems finding its texts resonant. The music naturally oils the cogs, nothing new there, but the texts survive scrutiny even if I read them from the page, music-less. The Messiah text is a hodge-podge of snippets from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, a lot of it allegorical. I don’t know if it’s the poeticism of the King James translators or Handel’s genuinely populist music genius, but arias like:

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Isaiah XL, 5)

…are a bottomless pit of interpretive pleasure. Yes, ultimately this is indeed about the Judgment Day, but it can also be about the dream of the this-wordly justice, of those who tirelessly work for it and won’t give up the notion? Those distant ideals that seem to be receding but not disappearing, the betterment of the condition of the womankind, the democracy?

Or this much trickier chorus:

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi III 3)

What do we do when we ‘offer an offering in righteousness’? Is this about leading by example?

For we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, ev’ry one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah LIII 6)

You don’t need to believe in The Redeemer to get the depth of how much like sheep we have gone astray, and in what ways. But how are the consequences of our own iniquity transferred to another?

He trusted in God that He would deliver Him, let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him. (Psalm XXII 8)

And where to even begin with this one: Christianity tangling itself into a knot of polytheism, in order to introduce the attribute of compassion to its god.

I mean, I could go on and on (“Let us break [the bonds of nations] asunder”, anyone?). But there it is. Sacred classical music as pop culture, where you know the lyrics, they mean something, you misremember and abuse them, want to sing and dance when they’re offered to you in much too solemn concerts. I’ll always prefer a whole slew of other sacred pieces to the Messiah—just about any of the named above–but there is some work ahead of us as a generation of classical music listeners and performers toward making them… come closer, put it that way.

TSO’s 2015-16 season announcement

TSO by Sian Richards
Photo by Sian Richards

Toronto Symphony Orchestra announced the 2015-16 season last week. A few highlights:

Matthias Pintscher will make his TSO debut as conductor and composer on April 28, 30 2016. He will conduct his own work towards Osiris, and also Mahler’s First and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 with Inon Barnatan at the piano. (Pintscher is also conducting a fabulous  program with the NAC Orchestra in Ottawa next month. Double Ravel, including the iconic piano concerto in G, and one of my favourite Beethoven works, the Sixth.)

Dina Gilbert, the dynamic young (27) assistant conductor at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra will debut as a conductor at the TSO, but in a children’s program. (Alas. Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, May 14.)

Speaking of women conductors, Victoria Symphony will guest in a Matinee Masterworks concert on March 31, under the baton of its music director Tania Miller. Oesterle, Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with Stewart Goodyear), Copland and Stravinsky on the program. The one remaining woman conductor this season will be Barbara Hannigan, who will sing and conduct in the program of Haydn, Nono, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky, October 7 and 8, 2015.

The New Creations Festival will be curated this year by the Australian composer, conductor and violist Brett Dean, while Bernard Labadie curates Mozart@260 Festival.

Composer stats this year look like this: The warhorses for the TSO are again Mozart (9 works) and Beethoven (6), with Brahms and Tchaikovsky at the atypically low 3 each. There are, unusually, 5 Richard Strauss works in the program this season. Among the composers I’d like to hear more performed, we find 3 Berlioz (including Symphonie fantastique), 2 Debussy, 2 Haydn, 2 Mahler (usually a higher number per TSO season), 2 Ravel, 3 Sibelius, 4 Stravinsky, 1 von Weber (a clarinet concerto). Kurtag and Ligeti 1 each. For those who like Shostakovich: 4.

The TSO multidisciplinary programs also continue, the pop and jazz nights, children’s programs, the Second City at the Symphony is back, and there’s some stuff with circus artists in December. The standout in their film with a live orchestra program this year is Hitchcock’s Psycho. Constantine Kitsopoulos (TSO debut) will conduct Bernard Herrmann’s string orchestra score.

Castellucci’s Orphée must be watched

Castellucci’s Orphée must be watched

La Monnaie just closed the run and started the internet streaming of the remarkable new production of Gluck’s Orphée (the Berlioz version) directed by Romeo Castellucci. Big part of the production is a fully conscious but completely paralyzed–saved for the eye movements–woman who follows the performance from her hospital bed. Simultaneously, her image is transmitted to the screen on stage.  She ‘enters’ the performance the moment Orpheus finds Eurydice on the other side and they try to communicate. Her image is transmitted live, but there is a lot of pre-recorded video that is equally important. We learn more about Els’s (not her real name, she has chosen to stay anonymous)  life thanks to the words in English projected on to the black screen behind Stephanie d’Oustrac while she is singing the preliminary stuff and is being visited by Amour. As she proceeds to “brave le trépas”, the video starts showing the route that Els’s husband takes each time he goes to see her at the hospital.

I’d better stop here before I retell the whole thing: you must watch this while it’s online. The production is really a milestone.

And I can’t remember ever *not* being bored during a Gluck production, so this is a new experience for that reason too. Orfeo, Alceste, Iphigenie, they’re all about death, and this is the closest any director has gotten in bringing death–or mortality, bodily decay, contingency and fragility of life, the very biology of it–on operatic stage, as far as I can tell.


You may notice interesting things about the music too. Hervé Niquet kind of rushes through all the “beautiful melodies” that people often love this opera for, sort of ‘unbeautifies’ them, and it makes very much sense to do so.

The Opera Questionnaire: Camille De Rijck

The Opera Questionnaire: Camille De Rijck

Very pleased to start the new series, The Opera Questionnaire, with Belgian journalist, producer, artist manager, blogger, and founder, Camille De Rijck. Find him on Twitter over here.


Camille De RijckThe work (or the scene) that is most likely to make a teenager intrigued by opera?

I think that a grand finale or a large ensemble performing concertante still remain unique to opera. It’s what ultimately convinced Victor Hugo regarding Verdi’s adaptation of Le roi s’amuse (which became Rigoletto): the fact that each character within a quartet can express different feelings at the same time, and still remain comprehensible. So in this sense: maybe the finale of the second act of Nozze di Figaro?

The opera (or the scene) with which to intrigue a pop-music-savvy adult?

Something that will click with their musical universe. I have a friend who loves death metal. He takes me to hear groups like “Cannibal Corpse” or “Dying Fetus”. I was surprised to discover how open he was to the contemporary classical music, and maybe this is because its language in some way relates to the sound fog and the violence of the death metal. But the best bridge for the pop music aficionados is probably the musical. Passing from Hairspray to Sondheim to arrive at Puccini seems to me a reasonable trajectory.

And a film buff?

Probably an opera with a libretto based on a text that was also adopted for film and theatre. Schnitzler’s La Ronde was adopted for the screen by Max Ophuls and made into an opera by Philippe Boesmans [as Reigen in 1993 at La Monnaie – ed]. Shakespeare’s Richard III had many cinematic adaptations – a recent notable one is the 1995 film with the incredible Ian McKellen – but was also adapted for opera by Battistelli. There are many other examples.

The best argument to use with opera traditionalists who argue that productions should be done the one “faithful” way and no other way?

It’s an old and well-known argument: opera isn’t a museological art. So that it can continue to be alive and well, we need to allow room for re-creation. And I think it’s fine to expect that this re-creation be respectful.

Have you ever been moved to tears at the opera?

I don’t think so, no.

Have you ever nearly dozed off at the opera?

Oh yes, frequently. You come across a lot of bad stuff on stage. Truth be told, I am surprised when I don’t nod off. It’s rare.

What kind of behaviour by the fellow audience members do you easily tolerate and what kind inevitably distracts?

I like when people show their enthusiasm – when they let the performers hear that there’s a lively audience in the theatre. Thunderous applause, for instance, I love.

Name three performances about which you always say to your friends, “You had to be there…!”

La Calisto Cavalli / Herbert Wernike

Agrippina Händel / McVicar

Athys Lully / Villégier

A piece that illustrates how well opera understands love or desire.

I’ve recently discovered a duo from one of Handel’s operas, Sosarme, and I was struck by the infinite sensuality of the lines that interweave: “Per le porte del tormento”.

A piece that shows that in effect opera is as political as art gets.

“Vittoria! Vittoria!” that Cavaradossi sings in Tosca.

The Met in HD – overall good (popularizing opera) or overall not so good (taking away the audiences from the local, less glamourous live productions; reinforcing “lookism” for singers)?

I have to say I don’t own a TV and the idea of going to the cinema to watch opera flat out depresses me. Stage, at least, means a direct contact with the voice. If there’s a cinematic screen between us and the performance, it doesn’t really work. But on principle, the HD transmissions are a wonderful idea if they end up inspiring people to go to see live opera.

A composer that never ceases to amaze?

Rossini, because he’s always more complex than we give him credit for. Berlioz, for his ingeniously madcap way with the orchestra. And Mozart, for all the obvious reasons.

A work that keeps revealing new and new layers of meaning and pleasure each time?

Pelléas et Mélisande and maybe, to a lesser degree, Erwartung.


Lovers of Nuits d’été, converge here

Lovers of Nuits d’été, converge here

Table d’écoute: Hector Berlioz, Nuits d’été op. 7
Host: Anne Mattheeuws
Guests: Martine Dumont-Mergeay, Camille de Rijck and Claude Jottrand
November 20, 2011

Take an hour of your time to hear last week’s edition of the show Table d’écoute on Musiq3, a radio channel of the Belgian francophone public broadcaster RTBF. It’s a must-hear and I hope they’ll release it as a podcast so I can save it off line for later revisits. The opinionators – a welcome mix of female and male voices (we’ve heard too many the all-male panels of cultural commentators) – are comparing four recordings of Berlioz’s song cycle and introduce a fifth recording mid-way through the show. The recordings are eliminated one by one to come to a tentative essential, a primus inter pares.

Even if you don’t do French, you will enjoy the show due to the recordings played and the process of selection. For everybody else with some or considerable French, you can pause the player, go back, move forward, the player is amenable to these kinds of adjustments. It will absolutely be worth your while. Find the show here. An ad will greet you, which you can easily escape by clicking on the top right corner, where it says Musiq3.

To aid your listening pleasure, I have here some of the highlights. The text of the Nuits both in French and translated you can find on the ever reliable usual place.

At the beginning, we hear a bit about how the work came about. The cycle is written for three different voices, yet today it’s performed and recorded primarily as a single singer piece, with some songs transposed. Téophile Gautier’s poems had only been recently published, so Berlioz obviously didn’t hesitate choosing the writing by his immediate contemporaries. MDM has an interesting theory on why Berlioz put the lightest songs first and last: it was a concession to the audience of the day; we’re talking about Paris un peu frivole, the audiences who think, Yes we can cry, but all must end on a high note.

The host first plays the Villanelle in four versions A, B, C and D, in the order of mezzo, soprano, mezzo, soprano.

MDM: Immediately obvious that this cycle is a much more difficult task for the soprano than for the mezzo. With a soprano, we get less satisfaction from the text; with a mezzo, we understand everything. Version A is very good; the voice a little affecté, without the freshness that you might expect, but a beautiful, refined voice, great attention to text.  A little ‘old-fashioned’, but all the same beautiful.

CJ: In overall agreement with MDM. Re. old-fashioned, he noticed the singer in A version rolls the Rs, which was at the time of the work acceptable practise but to us sounds maybe archaic… Orchestra excellent in Version A, can hear all the details.

Version B: MDM: the voice is sublime, but we don’t understand a single word. Also, the audio balance between the orchestra and the voice was considerably tipped in favour of the voice.

Version C (which the host characterized earlier as having peut-être un clin d’œil – the version with a twinkle in the eye): MDM found a little throwing, baffling (désarçonnant). First, the tempo very fast; orchestra-wise, there’s something martial about the treatment. BUT there’s a poetic sense, the excellent pronunciation, and although she’s not terribly moved by it, it’s a good take.

CJ: Likes the voice, its rich timbre, BUT there’s coquetterie in the singing. Yes there’s twinkle in the eye, there’s humour, but this kind of intervention in this type of mélodies not desirable, in his opinion.

Version D: MDM: voice pretty, fresh, of great quality, but general impression: it takes too long, it is heavy, it lacks spirit.  CJ: didn’t like it, voice not free.

CR: defends the version D. He describes the voice as “whiteish”, “virginal” in colour. Villanelle is quiet before the storm, so this lightness appropriate. After the Villanelle, the drama ensues. He also appreciates that this voice is something of a manifesto for lighter voices in the Nuits repertoire, which is often recorded by the heavier voices. Loved other versions too, irrationally and ardently drawn primarily to B, likes the atmosphere in C.

Le spectre de la rose (originally written for contralto, reminds the host) was then played.

CR: Difficult to choose between two divinities: between A & B. All perfect in each, diction, timbre, musicality; has no reservations.

CJ: Expresses a preference for A, because of the mezzo tessitura. Also, the orchestra intense, precise. Last phrase of the song shouldn’t be exaggerated, not chest-voiced, should be simple, and this is perfectly rendered. The B a little too light for his taste.

MDM: Version A fantastic; loves the way the last strophe is delivered, from the peaks of ‘J’arrive’ to the depths of ‘jalouser’.

CR took to task MDM for complaining about the sopranos “mangling the diction” – he says he can hear all. She replies: it’s not that the diction is rotten (ok, she’ll withdraw the word “mangle”), but that the text in the soprano version is always secondary. We hear the glorious voice first, and then the text under it, as not as important. In Version A,  the text is as alive as the music.

Version C:

CJ: Orchestra under-invested. Slow tempo, but the orchestra phones it in. As regards voice, we hear that it’s a more mature voice, a wider vibrato occasionally, nice autumnal colours easily conveyed, but maybe not the same quality as version A for me. Version D: very fast, with vigour, a new concept for Le spectre, more heroic, incisive than usually heard – which works, surprisingly.

MDM: Intelligent singing, but orchestra pas très inspiré. Version D was much more convincing this time.

CR: Most touched by the version C – as the song itself,  this version is about the passing of time. This is obvious in singing; seriousness, intelligence more than compensate for the voice that is not in its prime. So you recognize that this is an old voice? – the host. No, I wouldn’t call it that, I’d call it a voice of maturity, voice that lost some of its brass and facility for which it was known. In Le spectre, the voice is walked from bottom to top, and an older voice who lost its unity of registers will show it. Also, there’s overinvestment in text in Version C, which I salute as a quality.

Host: She camps it up occasionally (elle cabotine un peu… ). CR: Yes… But more importantly, the now obvious fragility of the instrument contributes a lot to the performance here; this mélodie is a mélodie of nostalgia. And for all these reasons, the version C is great.

Version D: less immediately perfect and spectacular, but it says something interesting… less seductive than A & B, less moving than C but still has something to say.

On to Sur les lagunes – Lamento (excerpt played around the “Ah! sans amour s’on aller sur la mer”). As an extra, a Version E is played: deep, vast, dark, utterly gorgeous and young voice (DtO comment)

MDM: A & B great quality; Version A remains accomplished from all points of view; C: beautiful, good position for the text, better organized orchestra than in Le spectre; D not really inspired, they didn’t give meaning to the text as much as they should. E: loves it, low voice with luminous highs, sumptuous  orchestra.

CJ: version A most theatrical; orchestra dramatic and voice falls into it very seductively and coherently. B: some reservations. C: very expressive; huge emphasis on text pronunciation; loses a little fluidity of phrase, text too proclaimed, and it loses some of its poetry. D: a little flat. E: very pretty. Darker-sounding voice. A B & E should stay, C should be voted off.

CR: Version A he loves without reserve; C continues to overinvest into text.

[eventually a reluctant consensus emerges to vote C off the list, and reveal what it is]

CV: But we say goodbye to it with a bouquet of flowers. (Swedish flowers, somebody interjects)


CR: Version A is less at ease here, surprisingly. E has a vibrato which removes it from his favour; he remains faithful to B, and continues rooting for the outsider D.

CJ: Version E fulfills the promise; singer takes all the space she can, magnificent.

[As clouds of reservations start gathering around Version D, CR comes to its defence]

CR: The usual dramaturgic choice for Les nuits: it’s done by the grandes dames, it’s a diva vehicle. Whereas here in D we have une jeune fille en fleur. It’s original in its approach, and fills a discographic void.

[Nobody buys it, and D gets voted off the list and revealed]

L’ile inconnue

MDM: Version E is the most accomplished. Version A is sumptuous if a little deceiving, highs aren’t so pretty, pronunciation neither; Version B: not enough orchestra heard, though the voice sublime; text as usual poorly conveyed. E version: energy, life, most complete.

CR: E shows incredible temperament. In B, orchestra sacrificed.

Host: re B: here it’s almost as if we’re talking about Le spectre de la musique de Berlioz, without an orchestra.

CR: Inexplicable that the recoding / miking team decided to relegate the orchestra to background.

CJ: Loved A’s orchestra; the version E had more suitable tessitura than A. Overall, however, if we look at all 6 songs, A is a better version.

MDM: Agrees. Villanelle is important, but Sans Spectre, on est mort.

The host reveals the E version. The panel allegedly did not recognize it until then! (In a tweet answer to my disbelieving question, CR confirms that this was indeed the case.)

CR: Nor surprised that they didn’t recognize it: it shows what the difference between then and now is. There was nothing that that voice could not do.

Version B revealed. The panel chooses the Version A as the winning disc. I, of course, disagree, but what a majestic ride this was!

No geoblocking: Minkowski-von Otter Nuits d’été from Opéra Royal de Versailles

No geoblocking: Minkowski-von Otter Nuits d’été from Opéra Royal de Versailles

…finally available to watch HERE. Tried it several times before, no luck. Many thanks to Valkirio for the find.

Some spectacular close-ups of von Otter, something I missed in the Mahler Abbado from Berlin, which survived on YouTube precisely one day after it was shown on Arte and BerlinPhil Digital Hall. (Curtain calls still on YT) As one obscure writer once said, older women’s skin is not a boring, blank canvas, but a narration.

(And no hair clips in sight! Everything just dandy.)