of the 19th century; he was also a prolific composer of stage and vocal works. L’isola disabitata (1831) is one of the five chamber operas written the year before his death for the singing students at his Paris school. Based on a century-old libretto by Metastasio (adapted, among others, by Haydn), the piece is a perfect fit not only for the Centre de Perfeccionament, the young artists programme at the Palau de les Arts, but also for these pandemic times, as it requires just four singers with piano accompaniment to perform this charming 90-minute score.
In its underground teatre martín i soler the Palau presented a production (seen on February 19) first seen in Bilbao in 2010 and directed unobtrusively by Emilio Sagi. The blue sand (set design by Daniel Bianco), white costumes (Pepa Ojanguren) and the nocturnal lighting (Albert Faura) brought a welcome dreamlike touch to a story in which not much happens. As the two sisters who survive for 13 years on an uninhabited island, the soprano Larisa Stefan (Costanza) and the mezzo-soprano Evgeniya Khomutova (Silvia) gave well contrasted performances, Stefan moving in the plaintive passages, Khomutova more warm toned. The baritone Oleh Lebedyev was a likeable Enrico, the companion of Gernando, sung by the tenor Jorge Franco. With his clear voice, secure coloratura and nuanced phrasing, he was the singer who stood out in this performance, which was vigorously accompanied by the pianist Carlos Sanchis. xavier cester
SWITZERLAND Geneva La clemenza di Tito, the first real new production of the season at the grand théâtre de genève (streamed February 19), also marked the first foray into opera of Milo Rau, a Swiss journalist, essayist and director who is noted for his politically engaged approach to theatre. In the event he provided less of a breath of fresh air than a replay of stale clichés: a staged preamble before the music started; updating of the action—here to a refugee camp situated in a museum plagued by union unrest; blood-smeared faces, shootings and lynchings, hi-vis jackets, bin liners, nudity, violence, video close-ups, interpolations of parallel action, music from other sources and spoken interventions unrelated to the text of the opera … and, of course, the obligatory wheelchair.
But that was not all. Rau decided to add subtitled videos that ran during the arias. These provided elements of backstory for the six protagonists and also for an assortment of extra characters. Oh yes, and there was the small matter of starting the show with the final scene. The overture was preceded by a rendition of the chorus ‘Che del ciel, che degli Dei’ and some of the recitative that follows it. What this added to the musical and theatrical experience—as opposed to the general confusion—was unclear. According to the press briefing this jumble of disturbing images, extraneous action and intrusions was intended to ‘provide a critique of the political and cultural elite of the 18th century’, and supposedly numbered Pasolini, Chéreau’s centenary Ring and Greta Thunberg among its references. Be all that as it may, in the end most of the arias were delivered at the footlights and there was little interaction between the characters, evoking nothing more subversive than the grand old tradition of ‘park and bark’.
The day was saved by Mozart’s music, superbly interpreted. Chief credit must go to Maxim Emelyanychev, conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, whose
Opera, May 2021