Cher Public

The mystery of Stefan’s “Vêpres”

The much-anticipated Stefan Herheim production of Les Vêpres Siciliennes opened last night at the Royal Opera, and the New York TimesZachary Woolfe was something less than completely bowled over.

  • redbear

    Zack is saying that Herheim is dumming down as he gets the wider exposure? Interesting question.

    • Regina delle fate

      One of the German critics suggested that with his Salzburg Meistersinger, Herheim put on an accessible and spectacular show to curry favour with the audience that hated his radical Entführung there ten years ago. Sounds plausible to me…..

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Haroutounian having loud high notes and struggling to project the rest of the voice is pretty much how I felt about her in Don Carlos, although she was pretty good and very likable.

    Volle will be surprised to read he’s a bass.

    Looking forward to seeing this in a couple of weeks, with or without Poplavskaya.

    • Regina delle fate

      Is Poplavskaya really sick or is she just “sick”? I bet Haroutounian is the official cover and is there for the duration.

      • MontyNostry

        If they need another soprano to take over, they could probably do worse than Alexandra Deshorties, whom I just saw doing a terrific Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux for Welsh National Opera. The voice is not pretty (and it didn’t sound all that big), but she can certainly sing the notes and knows how to make them do what she wants them to. But she should be called Alexandra Destallies.
        Overall, it was an excellent show, despite a couple of slightly silly moments in the production, mainly to do with spiders. Daniele Rustoni really whipped up the excitement and he has proper Italian conductor’s hair!

        • MontyNostry

          Sorry, that should be **Rustioni**

          • manou

            …and if Alexandra is tall, Rustioni is knee-high to a grasshopper.

            • MontyNostry

              A short conductor? Surely not.

            • manou

              Electrifying, anyway.

        • Camille

          So you did go to hear her, cher M. Monty! It pleases me that you heard/saw her in a good light and do not feel as if your time, energy, and sixpence were wasted.

          Your suggestion about her as a substitute Hélène intrigues me, as well, as most certainly. Mo. Pappano knows of her abilities…wondering aloud if she is hovering about at this specific time as a possible substitute…? Certainly, she has the temperament for this firebrand of a role. Well, good luck to her. Did Cocky Kurwena also attend, as he does like this opera and he was considering it.

          Thank you for your kind report, Sir.

      • pobrediablo

        She’s sick as in has no voice at the moment.

  • Camille

    …” The “Vêpres” will be broadcast live in movie theaters worldwide on Nov. 4,…”

    FYI to all interested. Now I am wondering where it will be shown in NYC.

    • Camille

      Symphony Space will give its showing on Sunday, November 24, at 3:00 pm.

    • antikitschychick

      thanks for the 411 Camille. I shall reserve my comments until after I’ve seen the performance.

      • Camille

        ALWAYS the wisest choice, particularly around this OK corral.

        FYI: It is Jack HeGGie. Be careful, as someone will be sure to jump your bum on these kinds of errors, chicaquerida.

        Arriba, and out!

        • antikitschychick

          Ayayay what an egregious typo!! Thanks for pointing that out Camille. I was sure I did in fact type Heggie since I know that’s his name, but I guess I was autocorrected or something. I’ll def be more vigilant of those things and the future!

          Have un buen fin de semana!!

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    The conductor and conducting barely gets mentioned.

    • Regina delle fate

      lol -- not that old chestnut, again! :)

  • alejandro

    I just googled Stefan Herheim to see what his productions look like and instead I was looking at his photos thinking what a cutie he is.

    • Regina delle fate

      Tut alejandro!

    • Totally doable. It would not be a sacrifice at all.

      Se le puede hacer el favor cualquier dia de la semana

  • grimoaldo

    “Regular operagoers will recognize both these techniques — updating the action to the time of a work’s composition and setting a production on a “meta” stage — as directorial standbys”

    That’s what I said yesterday about changing the setting of an opera to the time it was written --

    It isn’t interesting any more as a concept, it is just recycling the same old idea, so is setting an opera in an opera house, and to those cliches of modern opera productions this one adds turning the overture into a ballet or background music to a dumb show.
    Maybe despite all that it still works anyway, I don’t know since I haven’t seen it, but those directorial tics, endlessly repeated over the last thirty years, have become just as much cliches as a Valkyrie in a horned helmet used to be.

  • Camille

    Belfagor’s brief but thorough accounting of his experience of the premiere, buried on page 4 of the Intermission Feature, and which I now take the liberty of transposing to this more pertinent thread:

    “Dear Camille, I don’t have time to report at length on the premiere of Vepres, but I was there. It was sumptuous indeed, very much the period of Il gattopardo, and the conceit of using an opera house or theatre onstage, with the French in evening dress, and the Sicilians on stage worked extremely well, and the skewed perspectives of the theatre, which shifted around during the evening, with internal curtains, made for a thoroughly absorbing evening. It certainly gave Scribe’s wooden dramaturgy, uninteresting and illogical plot, and cardboard characters (which Verdi’s music brings only intermittently to life) flavor, vitality and tension. Never does Herheim fight the musical impulse and flow, even if sometimes he is over-fussy, or occasionally seem to send the genre up (admittedly, not hard to do). A troupe of Paris Opera ballerinas featured throughout, which made it a shame that the Four Seasons ballet was cut, but that would have made a seriously lengthy haul. I did enjoy the choreographed Overture (I normally get irritated by this) in which the dancers, and the three male principals enacted the pre-story to the opera (Montfort raping a ballerina and Henri growing up before our eyes, Procida as an aesthete brutalized by the French which makes specific his all purpose fanaticism) and striking images from this prelude re-appear throughout the opera.

    I could see no reason to stay faithful to the real Sicilian Vespers of 1282, as I believe, the libretto is an all purpose vehicle that had already been transposed in time and place, and in no way did this sumptuous, sometime surreal and beautifully achieved theatrical experience ever lose the plot — it in fact created a more plausible, fanciful and emotional one of its own. I enjoyed the references to Parisian grand-operadom, the self conscious posing and slight ridiclousness of it all — it was illusion that somehow represented truth.

    I shall be shot for saying this, but Verdi somehow sounds wrong in French for me — those grand emotive phrases cry out for the open vowels of the italian language, though it is possible that the excellent cast were not at home in French. Best in that respect was Lianna Haroutounian, who I believed trained in France — she started incredibly well, with a vivid Act 1 aria and splendid fioratura and top Cs — she tired a bit in Act 4 and 5 and couldn’t quite do justice to the exquisite coda of ‘Henri, tu parle’, and the Bolero lacked a trill and the coloratura was approximate, but she mustered great vehemence for the trio that followed, and was very focused throughout in what was a very detailed production. I would imagine that this is one of Verdi’s most impossible soprano roles. Though I don’t personally care for Brian Hymel’s timbre, he was extraordinarily consistent throughout the evening and was dramatically possessed, as were all the cast. Michael Volle was charismatic and sang with great sense of line (unexpected, as I do not associate him with this rep), and Erwin Schrott, who i had not seen before was tremendous, even if he did approximate in pitch from time to time. I hadn’t realized that he in fact has a real basso cantante, projected effortlessly in the house, played the most complex concept of the director with great aplomb, almost Mephistophelian at times, even carrying off a masked figure of death in a hoop dress in a dream sequence in the last act. The orchestra played fabulously under Pappano, gorgeously expansive phrasing and exquisitely shot textures (what a difference to Robert le diable). The last two acts are real vintage Verdi, as profligate in inspiration as anything he wrote — I thought it was an incredibly thought-provoking, at times thrilling evening in the theatre, especially considering the genre of the piece, and how much discussion has been had on this site about the viability of French grand opera in general. Fascinating to see Verdi in transition — one sensed Herheim intuitively understood the hybrid nature of this piece and the radical experimentation it stood for in Verdi’s career.”

    Thank you again, Mr. Belfagor. You are a gem.

    • MontyNostry

      Belfagor is one of the most knowledgeable and insightful people you could ever find when it comes to opera.

  • Operngasse

    Vielen Dank to Jungfer Marianne Leizmetzerin. About two weeks ago I posted about having experienced Caballe et al performing this opera at the Met.

    Marianne uploaded the entire opera to:

    I encourage anyone wanting to hear a superbly sung production to invest his or her time at this site. This production was the first time I hear Caballe live, and it was the basis for my opinion that she was one of the greats in the second half of the last century.

  • ljushuvud

    Les Vêpres Siciliennes ROH 2013 -- review The Guardian, Friday 18 October 2013 11.03 BST

    Covent Garden’s first ever staging of this late Verdi opera creates a cogent dramatic package out of what is sometimes sprawling and diffuse material

    Andrew Clements

    4 out of 5 stars

    Les Vêpres Siciliennes, The Sicilian Vespers, was the first of the two operas that Verdi was to write, to a French text, for the Paris Opéra. Composed between La Traviata and the first version of Simon Boccanegra, and first performed in 1855, this ambitious attempt to emulate the success of Meyerbeer’s Parisian grand operas is unquestionably mature Verdi, but it’s rarely heard today. ENO put it on in 1984, conducted by Mark Elder and directed by John Dexter, but the Royal Opera’s new staging is its first, and an ambitious and generally highly successful way to mark the Verdi bicentenary this month.

    It’s the first time, too, that a production by the much admired Norwegian director Stefan Herheim has been seen here. Together with designer Philipp Fürhofer, Herheim not only shifts the action of the opera from 13th-century, French-occupied Sicily to Paris in the year of its premiere, but locates it specifically in the Salle le Peletier, the theatre in which that first performance took place. Fürhofer’s sets provide spectacular cross-sections of auditorium and stage, their geometry always shifting, and the original story of the uprising of the Sicilians against their French oppressors becomes something more complex and more intricately layered, both a study of the tension between the people and the military and an exploration of how artists are exploited by the society that creates them.
    Les Vepres Siciliennes by Verdi, ROH Oct 2013 ‘An exploration of how artists are exploited by the society that creates them’… Erwin Schrott as Jean Procida and Lianna Haroutounian as Hélène. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

    The reworking doesn’t solve all the opera’s dramatic problems, and it can do little about the creaky dramaturgy of the final act, when the action hangs fire for far too long, and Verdi didn’t come up with enough top-quality music to justify those longueurs. But the production contains many arresting images and imaginative glosses right from the prelude, when the events that preceded the start of the opera are presented. The half-hour long ballet in the third act, which was de rigueur for shows at the Opéra at that time, is dropped (Verdi thought it dispensible too), but from the prelude onwards Herheim does take every opportunity to bring dance into the production, and André De Jong’s choreography blends easily with it.

    Not all the ideas are obviously successful. The significance of a winged cherub marshalling the chorus in the final act escaped me, so did the reason for having Erwin Schrott’s Procida, the leader of the uprising against the French, change into a ballgown before the final massacre begins. But as a way of creating a cogent dramatic package out of what is sometimes sprawling and diffuse material it works very well indeed, and Antonio Pappano does a magnificent job in sustaining the spans of each act, seizing on every chance to bring the score to life; the choruses, especially have a blazing immediacy.

    The solo performances are a bit more uneven. Both Michael Volle as Montfort, the French governor and Bryan Hymel as Henri, the son that Montfort fathered when he raped a local woman, are tirelessly superb – Volle’s brooding aria at the beginning of the third act is the highlight of the whole evening. But after an impressive start in her opening aria, Lianna Haroutounian’s Hélène seemed less secure and convincing as the opera went on, and Schrott’s Procida is such a preening, cartoonish character that in a production with such meticulous attention to detail, one wonders whether Herheim is just sending the role up.

    • ljushuvud

      from The Times

      “Les Vêpres Siciliennes at Covent Garden

      Richard Morrisson
      Published at 12:12PM, October 18 2013
      Rated to 4 stars

      Grandest of grand operas, The Sicilian Vespers is rarely staged in its original French version. Every Verdi lover should see it, especially with Antonio Pappano and his fired-up orchestra offering a stunningly nuanced interpretation of its magnificent score.

      Sadly, the Royal Opera’s first-ever production is not unalloyed joy. As Helene, the feisty duchess seeking revenge against French invaders for her brother’s murder, Lianna Haroutounian capped a nervy night by slithering her big chromatic aria into a different key from the orchestra. And the amount of sexual violence on stage is worthy of Ken Russell in his loony prime. One mass-rape of the entire female corps de ballet may be regarded as a misfortune; two looks like the work of a director in need of psychiatric help.

      Yet the director in question, Norwegian hotshot Stefan Herheim, certainly shows he has the flamboyant stagecraft, probing intelligence and eye for the grotesque to make these melodramatic five-act operas not just fizz but provoke. Rapes apart, the way he integrates dancers and singers is witty, subtle and timed to split-second perfection. So much happens that one longs for a remote control with a red button to capture other angles, other subtexts.

      Even so, the main figures are given space to deliver some of the most fervent duets that Verdi wrote. Which, one exception already noted, they do with verve. Michael Volle is superb as the brutal French dictator who discovers (this being opera) that the main Sicilian hero (Bryan Hymel, very sturdy in a fiendish tenor role) is his son. And Erwin Schrott as the psychotic rebel-leader is a bizarrely mesmerising mix of vocal force and visual camp. I’m not sure why he goes transvestite to slaughter nearly everyone on stage, but it’s an eye-popping scene.

      What will divide punters is Herheim’s complex meta-theatrical concept. Nobody expects to see 13th-century Sicily realistically depicted, but placing the action inside the Paris Opéra of Verdi’s day, replete with clapping or braying spectators, tiered auditorium and proscenium stage (fabulously captured in Philipp Furhofer’s swivelling sets) imposes an entirely new conflict: between performers striving for artistry and audiences demanding entertainment. Herheim intensifies this by bringing up the house lights at moments of intense dilemma for the protagonists -- and, at the end, shining harsh spotlights in our eyes. Obviously he wants us to feel complicit in the action, but it’s a heavy-handed tactic.

      Yet the music’s visceral fervour is often overwhelming. The Act III climax, when chorus and principals hurl out one of Verdi’s greatest tunes in spine-shuddering unison, is alone worth the price of a ticket.”

      • ljushuvud

        Les vepres Siciliennes, Royal Opera House, London

        4 stars

        Michael Church

        Friday 18 October 2013

        Verdi’s first Parisian grand opera, Les vepres Siciliennes, enjoyed a brief vogue before disappearing from the repertory. Astonishingly, Covent Garden’s crowning contribution to Verdi’s centenary year represents this work’s UK premiere. Its historical basis in 13th century French-occupied Sicily was creatively doctored by its librettist Eugene Scribe to tread a careful path round Franco-Italian sensibilities in 1855, but the real attraction for its original audience lay in the staging, which Verdi had demanded should match his “grandiose, impassioned” subject.

        Modern British audiences not being overly exercised by Risorgimento politics, it’s necessary to find a new way into the story, and Covent Garden has had the wit to bring in the Berlin-based Norwegian director Stefan Herheim, who has set the piece in a stylised version of the opera house for which it was written, and who has translated its political struggle into one in which art itself is the territory over which battle is raging.

        This may sound a hackneyed idea, but, aided by Philip Furhofer’s amazing and inventive designs, Herheim loses no time in putting it brilliantly to work. He uses Verdi’s long and grandly symphonic overture for a symbolic enactment of the events to follow in which the relationship between the occupying power and its victims is expressed through a ballet rehearsal, with the corps sexually brutalised by soldiers, and with their ballet-master (Erwin Schrott as the wounded freedom-fighter Procida) impotent to protect them. Much of the ensuing plot takes place in the context of a murderous masked ball, and Herheim capitalises on this to blend narrative reality and high-flown fantasy without losing an atom of dramatic credibility.

        But he does have some fine singing actors, led by baritone Michael Volle as the tormented viceroy Montfort, tenor Bryan Hymel as the hot-headed revolutionary Henri, and Schrott, whose rolling basso profundo grounds the conspiracy scenes and lends sinister comedy to the Odette/Odile charade which is one of Herheim’s flashes of oddball inspiration. Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s Helene – granted the opera’s loveliest moment – was on opening night sometimes below the note and uneasy with her coloratura, but she shaped her arias with rare refinement. Under Tony Pappano’s direction chorus and orchestra excelled.

        If all this makes a great evening, it’s partly because in Herheim we have that rare thing, a director who allows his fertile imagination to be led by the music, but principally because this rather B-class Verdi opera has been so magically transformed.

        • ljushuvud

          Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Royal Opera, Royal Opera House

          4 out of 5 stars

          By Rupert Christiansen

          Composed just after La Traviata, Les Vêpres Siciliennes represents one of the biggest jumps in Verdi’s career – an opera in five acts, designed to gratify the exigent tastes of a jaded Parisian public and its demand for extravagant spectacle and extensive ballet interludes. But given its sprawling plot, extreme vocal demands and a score of variable quality, it has been neglected and even scorned by posterity.

          Set in medieval Sicily, it tells a semi-fictitious tale of rebellion against foreign occupation, pivoting on a son’s discovery that his political enemy is also his biological father. These are familiar Verdian tropes, handled so lamely and clumsily by the librettists that it is hardly surprising that for the opera’s first-ever Covent Garden production, the director Stefan Herheim and his team of dramaturgs and designers have chosen to jettison the superficial historical setting. Instead they freely and poetically explore the work in terms of its historical context and implications.

          The Herheimers takes us inside the Paris Opéra of the mid-19th century, where revolutionary artists are battling backstage against the forces of royalist reaction. From the boxes, an audience watches with detached amusement and interest – they don’t take it for real, and perhaps we shouldn’t either.

          Some of you may feel that this represents precisely the sort of arrogant liberty of interpretation that has become extremely unpopular among mainstream audiences, and you certainly can’t extract perfect narrative logic from the new mise-en-scène. I can only say that I found it magnificent to look at, and profoundly Verdian in its theatricality and response to the music. Others will disagree, no doubt.

          But the four principal singers are indisputably excellent: Lianna Haroutounian sings with poise, sweep and warmth as the noble heroine, failing only to render the shimmy and sparkle of her final Bolero. The men are just about ideal: Bryan Hymel effortlessly navigates the high-lying tenor role, and stentorian Michael Volle and snakey Erwin Schrott could not be bettered as the double-crossing antagonists. This is first-rate casting.

          • ljushuvud

            sorry -- missed the last part of the review above:

            “The chorus raises the roof in thrilling fashion, and Antonio Pappano’s ardently committed conducting never becomes emptily hysterical: the delicacy and detail of the orchestration glows.

            Never mind the production’s occasional excesses and eccentricities: executed at every artistic level with terrific flair and verve, this is grand opera at its grandest – a gorgeous visual and musical treat.”

    • Krunoslav

      ” …unquestionably mature Verdi, but it’s rarely heard today”

      (“a.k.a There is no life without Verona wall”)

      24 Jan 2013 18 Apr 2013 7 Athens(Megaron) I vespri siciliani New production
      16 Feb 2013 25 Feb 2013 4 Bilbao(ABAO) Les vêpres siciliennes
      11 Jan 2013 5 May 2013 8 Brno I vespri siciliani New production
      7 Oct 2013 16 Jun 2014 7 Brno Sicilské nešpory
      26 May 2013 30 May 2013 2 Budapest(SO) I vespri siciliani
      6 Jul 2013 1 Caramoor Les vêpres siciliennes Concert performance
      16 Jun 2013 6 Jul 2013 7 Frankfurt(Oper) Les vêpres siciliennes New production
      1 Sep 2013 11 Oct 2013 6 Frankfurt(Oper) Les vêpres siciliennes
      2 Nov 2013 16 Feb 2014 15 Freiburg I vespri siciliani New production
      21 Jun 2013 1 Litomysl I vespri siciliani
      17 Oct 2013 11 Nov 2013 8 London(RO) Les vêpres siciliennes
      11 Jun 2014 17 Jun 2014 3 Madrid(Real) I vespri siciliani Concert performance
      22 Nov 2013 24 Nov 2013 2 Modena I vespri siciliani
      29 Nov 2013 1 Dec 2013 2 Piacenza(TM) I vespri siciliani
      2 May 2013 4 May 2013 2 Split(CNT) I vespri siciliani Concert performance
      15 Sep 2012 16 Sep 2012 2 Wien(SO) I vespri siciliani

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Well, at least it was an excuse for a nice trip to London.

  • La Valkyrietta

    ¡Qué raro, chicas! Yo jamás pensé que esta ópera fuera considerada una rareza. ¿Lo es? Live and learn.

    • manou

      Puede ser considerada una rareza en francés.

      • La Valkyrietta

        Peut-être. But there are some recorded versions in French.

  • Todd

    Woolfe seems to me the best of the NYTimes critics, though that’s not saying much. But to single out the Xerxes as one of Herheim’s best productions--it has to be his least interesting and most dumbed-down staging, edging out even the new Meistersinger--doesn’t make me want to trust his judgment on the Vepres.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Disappointing reviews, all of them. Not of the opera, but the reviews themselves. Just stuff about the production, and their own take -- in other words, the reviews are more about the reviewers. Nothing anywhere with details about how the score was sung -- phrases, observations of markings, dynamics, technical considerations. All that hard work the singers put into this (Schrott gets merely parenthesized), and here they get scant mention of anything they actually did in the way of singing. So many of today’s reviewers don’t appear to read music, or they don’t know the score, or haven’t prepped in advance.

    • manou

      It must be because they are pretentious Oxbridge types -- or should I say a passel of overeducated prats.

    • Chanterelle

      No time to write in real detail, but just a few thoughts about the Vêpres opening night, before I actually read the reviews and not just comments by Parterrians.

      Perhaps the reason reviews have stinted on the singing/conducting is a) the singing wasn’t that remarkable, and b) the production was overwhelming--in a good way IMO.

      On the singing: Haroutounian makes some lovely sounds, but she’s a little short on top, and the Bolero, er, needs work. Schrott started out sounding like he was trying too hard to darken the sound, but eased up to sing with more forward focus. Michael Volle doesn’t have a lovely voice but he sang well and certainly put the part across. Hymel also sang well, with the best French style; he also sounded smaller to my ears than at the Met (and he definitely bleated somewhere toward the end. Man that part demands stamina).

      Papano’s conducting allowed plenty of breathing room; it was clear that musical decisions were not independent of theatrical ones. Herheim staged a number of scenes in a melodramatic hush-hush mood; this is perhaps not so Verdian, but I was never blown away by the singing, more by the quality of the characterizations. The production was so out there that total commitment and conviction were required of the performers, and we really got that, something you don’t always find in regie productions.

      This is the fourth Herheim production I’ve seen live; it felt both more bold and more simple than the others. I loved his Parsifal, but found it overloaded with ideas. Here, by slimming down the details (Herheim does love his jokes and gimmicks) the message was stronger. I came away with an indelible sense of two main themes: 1) no guts no glory, and 2) the transformation of a man into his opposite. The chorus was constantly switching among roles: Sicliians/French, and Belle Epoque operagoers. Henri, the Sicilian peasant, ends up in a French soldier’s uniform. Procida, the broken Sicilian patriot, becomes consumed by his own lust for vengeance which turns him, literally, into a travesty of his ideals. The initially evil Montfort, shaken by paternal love (Verdi and his father issues!) becomes the benign dictator. I can forgive Haroutounian for not internalizing Helène’s transformation on short rehearsal time. She also needed more attitude, which Poplavskaya has in spades.

      I wasn’t 100% on board with all the gimmicks, but overall I found the production mesmerizing. It was fun to see the ballet (and such a different style from the athletic NYC school--low to the ground, delicate, though not as preening as Paris Opera Ballet). I found the set transformations magical. I did experience a number of WTF moments, and if it all seemed a bit ADHD at times, well, that’s Herheim’s natural exuberance IMO. See, this IS about the reviewer: Herheim seeks a personal response, and he certainly gets it. I was stunned by the clarity with which his message came through--not at all, “oh aren’t I the clever director?”.

      This was my third Vêpres since June. Angela Meade at Caramoor (concert performance) and Elza van den Heever (Frankfurt) certainly gave better Bolero. But this evening was far more thrilling overall. Have I drunk the Herheim KoolAid? Is Herheim the new Sellars? Discuss.

      • laddie

        That’s a wonderful take Chanterelle. You allow us to really understand Herheim and his methods. I have only seen videos but the historical, the surreal, and those *jokes* and details always make it for me I think primarily because they are also so musical in their inspiration. ZW appears to have great admiration for Herheim and I am sure wants MORE from him, as would I, if I were a better student of Herheim and his approach. As it is, I am very much looking forward to seeing the broadcast.

      • Belfagor

        Chanterelle, very enjoyable to read, an I think we had similarly enjoyable experiences. However, one tiny aside I would comment on --

        “Herheim staged a number of scenes in a melodramatic hush-hush mood; this is perhaps not so Verdian,”

        From the very start of the Overture, and peppered throughout this score, more so than in any other Verdi wrote, is that anapestic figure that Verdi associates with death, or extreme peril, (it’s a three note drum tattoo -- dadaDUM) -- it’s the very first thing you hear in the Overture, it forms the basis of the ensemble in Act 2 after the Sicilian women have been carried off by the French, and is usually hushed, though can explode into a furious climax, it underpins the Act 2 curtain with the offstage barcarolle, with the Sicilians wanting vengeance -- this is a musical signature that underlies Verdi’s depiction of the conspirator in this opera. Herheim and Pappano even include that brief postlude to Procida’s Act 2 aria ‘O toi, Palerme’ -- a sort of hushed conspirators cabaletta that is dramatically risible (and often cut), as the chorus have to appear, make conspiratorial noises, only to be told by Procida to shut up, and he shovels them off the stage. It’s all like hide and seek, and the sort of nonsense that Gilbert and Sullivan presumably had in mind when they wrote ‘With cat like tread (CRASH!)’ -- so I thought Herheim’s hush hush whizzing through doors and curtains, though a bit of a send up, chimed perfectly with Verdi’s approximation of some of the more fatuous conventions of Meyerbeerian grand opera.

        I thought his production in general showed an acute awareness of the central tenet of the opera, nothing to do with Vespers or sicilians, but Verdi’s calling card to out-top Meyerbeer as the top cat of Paris’s opera -- ‘La grand boutique’ -- and the reigning composer in mid 19th century Paris, which was, as Walter Benjamin so aptly put it ‘The capital of the nineteenth century’.

        I thought Woolf’s critique totally inadequate in that respect -- yes setting operas within a theatre within a theatre might have been done before, but if there’s one opera in which that approach is truly germane to the subject in hand, it is this one.

        • Camille

          Thank you once more for the thought about the setting of the stage within a stage konzept as I, frankly, wondered what the problem there was. Sometimes that device really works and in this hoopdy opera I would have thought it entirely appropriate.

          And most certainly YES to the Verdi showing up Meyerbeer on his own turf. From my perspective, the conquering of La Grande Boutique was what it was ALL about. That, and the filthy lucrum.

          Thank you again and ever so much for your thoughts, a great guidepost.

      • Regina delle fate

        Wow Chanterelle -- you do get around. Carambolas. Frankfurt, London all in the space of three months. You must be a Vepres nut! :)

        • Chanterelle

          Nah, just trying to take advantage of necessary trips. I’m more of a Herheim fan than a Vêpres nut.

          Belfagor, thanks for elaborating on Herheim’s parodistic reading of that anapestic figure. I should have caught that, but there was so much else going on that despite noticing its emphasis the meaning went over my head.

          Maybe Herheim is more like Mark Morris than Peter Sellars…

    • Todd

      Let’s see if I have this right, Niel Rishoi. Anything that’s not on the music is “just” about the production, and about the reviewers themselves--who, because they’re not focusing exclusively on the part of a hybrid art form you think is more important therefore have no education and are ill-prepared. Maybe opera is the wrong genre for you?

    • Niel Rishoi -- one of the problems with today’s reviews -- and I have a feeling that James Jordan can back this up -- is the amount of space that is allocated by an editor to this sort of thing. Gone are the days of the half page spread devoted to a performance -- witness the New York Times review of Natoma that la Cieca linked to recently:

      This is a luxury that few reviewers have -- Gimme 600 words on that thing you saw last night and I’ll see if I can cut it down to 500, is more like it these days.

  • ljushuvud many thanks for posting the various reviews. However as they are by a bunch of poncy Brits, probably all with degrees from some uppity British University (a sign of elitism in some parts of the world these days) they probably bear no weight on this side of the Atlantic.

    • Krunoslav


      The question is, do the poncy Brits have Musettas, Masettos and Schaunards in their close acquaintance who can be hired unheard at the Met Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco and Houston? :)

      • Ah but Krunoslave we’re talking about the reviewers not the administrative staff as the above mentioned houses.

        Not sure how true it is but I’ve heard its often a case of “if you want so and so, you have to take what’s-his/her-name as well.”

  • semira mide

    Verdi. Doubt there will be any production discussion.
    You may have to poke around,but it will be worth it.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I was expecting to see beautiful images of this production, but am disappointed that there’s only one photo that looks like a bad production of an opera based on a horror movie.

    • Regina delle fate

      Wait for Intermezzo to review it -- her posting will be lavishly illustrated with most of the pix released by the press office, plus her own snaps of the curtain calls.

  • Su Traditor

    Popsy is on tonight!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      What makes you say that? Haroutounian is listed on the ROH site. Surely she hasn’t cancelled and been replaced by Poplavskaya?

      • manou

        Well -- I am going tonight and had previously received an email stating that Haroutounian would be singing, and no notice of any change yet.

        The plot sickens…

    • Krunoslav
      • Camille

        Oh, so it IS true. You ARE holding Nerva hostage.

        • manou

          Dissociative identity disorder can sometimes be cured by intensive therapy.

          • Camille

            Yes, it certainly worked for Sybil and the United States of Tara!

            Bonne chance avec les Poppe Tartelettes ce soir!

            • manou

              Not forgetting the mother of them all:

            • Camille

              Aha! Yes, naturally enough good old Eve WAS thought of but figured only we vecchie galline would know the reference.

              Maybe not, as it is shown here in US on the tube from time to time.
              An excellent job of acting by Miss Woodward and quite a *shocker* in its day.

          • Krunoslav

            Manure can be swept up, or cleaned by Hercules diverting a river.

            • manou

              Dyslexia is harder to cure.

  • Su Traditor

    Just had a cast change

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Heavens, it’s true:

      Christ knows what’s going on.

      Manou, we look forward to a full report.

      • Su Traditor

        Doubting Thomas!

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          My apologies. It just seemed so unlikely.

          • Regina delle fate

            Well, it’s me who needs to eat his words. She was supposed to be out for the first three performances, but maybe the not exactly ecstatic reviews for Haroutounian have done for her! I’d heard that Popsy was threatening legal action because she’s not sick. It’s Robert Le Diable all over again!

            • Camille

              Where Poppy goes, libel follows.

              Let’s hope the “voice-lift” operation was a success, assuming that was her “illness”.

              Guessing now it will surely be she on the simulcast/broadcast/transmission.

            • MontyNostry

              I’m going in 10 days’ time. Perhaps she will be ‘sick’ again by then.

            • Porgy Amor

              Maybe she didn’t need a complete voice-lift, just resurfacing and liberal injections of technique fillers.

              Quite a turn of events. I cannot wait to hear how it goes.

            • Camille

              Botox for the vocal folds is quite a quick procedure which does not necessitate being “ILL” for three performances, but only one.

              If she would ONLY steer clear of Verdi fioriture. Well, she has the tempestuous temperament for this difficult role, of that there is no doubt.

            • Cocky Kurwenal

              So am I, Monty. Will be very interested to hear how the intervening performances pan out!

            • Regina delle fate

              Apparently Haroutounian is really sick, so they had no option but to put MP on.

            • antikitschychick

              Its kind of a nebulous situation because perhaps the ROH administration thinks (or wants to give the impression) that they were doing her a favor by not letting her go on, in the anticipation of a bad performance that could damage her reputation, but if she was indeed willing and ready to fulfill her contractual obligations then lying to audience members with the hackneyed “illness” excuse could damage her reputation even more so, given that cancellations are seen as worse than bad singing these days, which makes sense from the business side of things but not so much from the artistic one lol.

            • PetertheModest

              Popsy is not sick ?! All this is well confusing.

            • Krunoslav

              Was Maraln Niska not available?

            • Porgy Amor

              For anyone who hasn’t surfed over that way yet today, there’s a little more detail on this in the follow-up comments to Intermezzo’s entry on it. Poplavskaya missed the final rehearsals, so she’ll be sort of feeling her way through it, apart from whatever vocal issues there are.

  • Regina delle fate

    What a palaver!

  • PetertheModest

    I’m very much looking forward to reports of Popsy’s performance (acting and singing), though this might be work-in-progress.