Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Musical program of the Salzburg Pfingstfestspiele 2014

I am not writing these entries in order at all, it is more as I recollect them in memory, so far I have spoken more about Dresden than Salzburg. So here I will return to the Festival which was the main reason of our trip to Europe this Spring.

As per years past we had a full program of music and this year the program prepared by musical director Cecilia Bartoli was dedicated to Rossini. Of my experience this year I most enjoyed the concert given by Joyce DiDonato who has a beautiful voice and clear diction. She was accompanied on the piano by David Zobel.

Her Liedmatinee program was dedicated to music about Venice. We heard her sing from Venice most famous son Vivaldi an aria from his opera Ercole su'l Termodonte (1723).  Then from Fauré, Cinq mélodies op 58 De Venise. Followed by Rossini, La Regata Veneziana. Schubert Gondelfahrer, Schumann Two Venetian Airs, Michael Head Three Songs of Venice, Reynaldo Hahn, Venezia, Songs in Venetian dialect.

The other concert I enjoyed was the Stabat Mater by Rossini and the Libera me of Verdi directed by Antonio Pappano with the orchestra and choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia the Choirmaster is Ciro Visco. We often heard them in Rome and both the orchestra and choir are very good and always give a solid performance.  The soloists were Maria Agresta, Sonia Ganassi, Lawrence Brownlee and Erwin Schrott, who is quite the peacock on stage.

We then heard La Petite Messe Solennelle of Rossini with again Pappano and the choir and orchestra of Santa Cecilia. This time the soloists were Eva Mei, Vesselina Kasarova, Lawrence Brownlee and Michele Pertusi. I did not like Mei nor Kasarova, their voices simply did not suit this piece at all, I am not even sure in what language they were singing. It could have been Russian for all I knew.
This piece is sung in Latin and I enjoyed both Brownlee and Pertusi, strong and clear voices.

We also attended both operas La Cenerentola ossia la bonta in trionfo by Rossini and Othello by Rossini. In both cases I was confused and annoyed by what I saw.

The staging for La Cenerentola was modern, a dingy dinner run by the violent father of Cinderella also known as Angelina in this opera and the Palace of the Prince was a Disco. There was a lot of special effects like a car chase and a traffic accident, chairs which were all over the place, dancing furniture etc... All very distracting and annoying. I am told that Madame Bartoli loves Damiano Michieletto and Paolo Fantin as designers, both are very young 30 something. I just find their style distracting and somewhat childish.

The Choir of the Vienna State Opera under the direction of Jean-Christophe Spinosi which I dislike and his orchestre Ensemble Matheus. Spinosi is good at directing musician but when it comes to opera he cannot resist the temptation of burying the singers with loud music. You the listener loose in such a combination. He is young and brash, like those personalities you see on French Television Talk Shows where everyone is a smarter than the other guests and tries to prove it.

Cenerentola or Angelina was played by Cecilia Bartoli, the father Don Magnifico, Enzo Capuano,
Don Ramiro the Prince, Javier Camarena, Dandini the valet, Nicola Alaimo, Alidoro, Ugo Guagliardo, the ugly step-sisters Clorinda Lynette Tapia and Tisbe, Hilary Summers.

Again the female voices of Clorinda and Tisbe left a great deal to be desired, weak and incomprehensible.

As for Othello by Rossini the plot is different from the opera by Verdi. The plot is somewhat complicated by all that is not said and should be said by the actors. Hysteria, confusion reigns though out this opera and as one psychiatrist who also attends this Festival every year like us and who we have come to know through the years, Dr. M told us that he would have put the lot on tranquillizers because that is what they needed. Of course Rossini wrote this opera prior to the age of psychiatry.

There was no love between Desdemona and Othello, we learn because we are told so that they married secretly, really? Could have fooled me. Desdemona appears to be having an affair with her lady in waiting Emilia, this appears to be an idea of the designers.

The staging was very bad and frankly amateurish, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier were the designers and we were treated to a Desdemona given to spraying graffiti in her bedroom walls, seaport bar run by Maghreb Arabs and an Othello in black face, yes it is still done in this day and age.
Why does Othello have to be black? He is a Moor and they are Arabs so there is no need for him to be black or in this case in black face a la Al Jolson. Iago is not very present in this opera version by Rossini, he is a bit character. Rodrigo is the other main character with Elmiro, cruel, racist and stupid. The characters appear more motivated by racism than jealousy, I had the impression that we were playing to modern stereotypes.

The orchestra Ensemble Matheus was directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, again not impressed.
Desdemona was played by Cecilia Bartoli, Othello by John Osborn, Rodrigo by Edgardo Rocha, Iago by Barry Banks, Elmiro by Peter Kalman.

As for the Gala organized by Madame Bartoli it was a complete washout, I am so glad we did not buy tickets to it. Many of the great names of opera did not appear, the program had to be improvised at the last minute and dinner was finally served at midnight instead of 21:30. What a mess.

So in conclusion this years Festival had its good points but there were also quite a few false notes and I was disappointed and question the capacity of Cecilia Bartoli to direct such a Festival. She seems to want to try to many things at once and the results are very uneven.

The great voices of this festival Joyce DiDonato, Javier Camarena, John Osborn, Lawrence Brownlee, Erwin Schrott, Michele Pertusi. Great conductor Antonio Pappano, great orchestra Accademia Santa Cecilia of Rome and Choir under Ciro Visco.

I did not put Cecilia Bartoli in the list above because I feel that though she has a wonderful voice it has become cold and mannered, there is a tendency to try to impress the listener with vocal tricks which though pleasant to hear sometime lacks the emotion required in a piece and adds nothing to what is being sung. Bartoli was wonderful last year in Norma but this year in Cenerentola and Othelo, I felt boh as we say in Italian.

Overall we had a good time, Salzburg is always beautiful and gemütlich the weather was hot and sunny.



  1. Stratford will seem a disappointment after all that loveliness

    1. Stratford has its charm in a different setting and we will have our visitors from Phoenix to entertain and delight us.