World Report: Reviews of Opera from around the World: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom

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AUSTRIA

VIENNA

WHY DO PRODUCERS ALWAYS FEEL THE URGE TO transfer opera of yesteryear into the present? The production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at the Vienna Volksoper was a point in question. Nicolas Krieger ordered Titus to live in the 20th century together with all that belongs to that era, including soldiers in modern uniforms and such like.

However, musically the production was a definite success under the baton of Arnold Oestman, who conducted with great skill. Silvana Dussmann acted a nervous Vitella, Heide Brunner got lots of cheers for her role as Sextus and Kurt Azesberger established himself as an excellent interpreter of Mozart's music. Credit should also go to Krieger for a new translation that made the text more understandable and to Jorge Jaras, who designed the costumes.

The Vienna State Opera recently included Boito's Mefistofele in its repertoire, in co-operation with La Scala in Milan. The work has not been seen in Vienna since the `20s, and under the baton of Riccardo Muti, the singers, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the chorus rose to the occasion.

As well as Muti, Samuel Ramey in the title role was the star of the evening, although the other singers were by no means outclassed. Miriam Gauci performed a soft and touching Gretchen, while Francis Farina (Faust) was suitably meditative and despairing. --Clemens M. Gruber

FRANCE

PARIS

TWO MAJOR FRENCH OPERAS--DEBUSSY'S PEL-leas et Melisande and Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust--recently benefitted from exemplary renditions by the Paris Opera. Director Luca Ronconi proposed a stylized but always approachable version of La Damnation, with only a minimum of action as befits the libretto. The audience was thus provided with appealing tableaux vivants in Margharita Palli's sumptuous and heterogeneous sets, which also provided the background to a stunning cavalcade to hell.

In his Paris Opera debut, American tenor Jerry Hadley displayed an Italianate style well suited to the demanding score. Samuel Ramey sailed devilishly and with great flourish through his part as Mephistopheles, while French mezzo Beatrice Uria-Monzon put her huge voice to good use. Gary Bertini's warmly attentive conducting gave the orchestra and chorus full opportunity to shine (he has just been appointed music director of the Rome Opera).

Once or twice a year only, opera-goers have the privilege of spending an evening at the Palais Garnier, the historical 19th-century opera house now devoted mainly to dance. The pleasure of being in one of the world's most beautiful theatres was fully matched by a no less splendid but thoroughly modern view of Pelleas et Melisande, cohesively engineered by Robert Wilson whose other Paris Opera productions--Madama Butterfly and Die Zauberflote--are always greeted enthusiastically.

Contributing to this production's success were Wilson's sets and lighting in all possible shades of muted lavender, with panels moving mysteriously and minimalist sculpture furniture, and Frida Parmeggiani's evocatively stylized costumes: an all-white frock for Pelleas, a bishop-like robe for Arkel, a stern magistrate's outfit for Golaud, playful Renaissance garb for Ignol and, of course, Wilson's trademark movements, derived as much from Martha Graham as from breakdancing.

James Conlon, the opera's permanent conductor, had opted for darker voices in the title roles, and thus the parts of Pelleas and of Melisande were sung by a baritone and a mezzo instead of their higher counterparts, a decision well justified in view of the results. In this second Paris Opera engagement, Canadian Russell Braun sang with all the fervor of young love in his voice. American mezzo Suzanne Mentzer, with a warm register like Frederika von Stade's, camped a childishly neurotic Melisande, while German bass Victor von Halem resounded reassuringly as the sympathetic father, Arkel. Thirty-five years after his debut in this same theatre, Jose van Dam still sang and played with the same exceptional ardor, providing the audience with a model of tortured jealousy as Golaud. …