Ariodante – Opéra de Lausanne

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Ariodante_Lausanne1

The Opéra de Lausanne is a small and very beautiful theatre, perfect for baroque opera, so this Ariodante, by Haendel, was really at home there!  As you may remember, I just saw another Ariodante, in Amsterdam, three months ago, so it was hard to avoid comparisons. This production was very stylized, outside of time and space. The scene was often very empty, and the few chorus bits were sung from outside the stage. The result is a very intimate, personal drama: a psychological tragedy. The costumes were impressive: the men in leather, with large black overcoats fluttering about, while Ginevra had really sumptuous costumes, lots of fabric. The direction was a bit boring, but not offensive, nor distracting. In this production, just like in Amsterdam’s, there was no happy ending: Ginevra and Ariodante sing the final duet without looking at each other, and leave separately afterwards. This seems a very modern and reasonable solution: Ariodante believes Ginevra to be unfaithful based on the flimsiest evidence; faced with a suspect, instead of talking to her he immediately believes she’s cheating and tries to commit suicide. Everybody believes her unfaithful, based on a last note written by Ariodante, with no evidence at all; her father repudiates her, everybody shuns her. It is not very credible that she just forgets all this in a second, when Ariodante shows up alive and the bad guy confesses his deceit; it is a typical trick of a certain narrative, where women are not real human characters, but just devices to advance the plot, which is a men’s plot.

The Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne was conducted by Diego Fasolis, who I had already heard as the head of his own orchestra, I Barocchisti.  I really like them a lot, the harpsicord in particular was on fire! They took the first act in a bit of a rush, fast tempi, not enough musical “breathing”. The interpretation was overall suited to the plot, which, in the first act, sees everybody happy and partying. But in the second and third act they provided much more emotion and were painting with a broader brush.

Ariodante was Yuriy Minenko, an Ukrainian countertenor with a typical countertenor voice. Very good, precise, agile, with strong confident high notes which, alas, are very VERY metallic. The result is a strained voice in the high range. Maybe it’s just me, but I have really low tolerance for metallic high notes. In the video above, Dopo notte, from the Lausanne performance. He results also not very communicative, often his coloratura sounds more like a technical exercise than anything else. I am being very critical against a singer who I actually enjoyed quite a bit, but part of the reason is that the comparison with Sarah Connolly (the Ariodante in Amsterdam) is really merciless. Minenko is good, but Connolly is a genius.

Ariodante_Lausanne9Marina Rebeka was at her debut as Ginevra. I had already heard her in Vienna, she was Juliette to Florez’ Roméo in Gounod’s opera, and I had liked her very much. She confirmed herself as a very good singer, her voice has a very beautiful timbre and her coloratura is brilliant and precise, but, in my opinion, baroque music is not for her, at least not in such a small theatre. Her voice is very suited for the Wiener Staatsoper, both venue and orchestra, but in a small theatre, with a baroque orchestra, surrounded by countertenors, she really sounds like a hen with her brood of chickens. Jeez, Rebeka certainly doesn’t deserve to be compared to a hen, she sings like an angel, but you understand what I mean. Sometimes her high notes were so shiny and piercing that they were too loud, and this certainly was not the case in Vienna. In my humble opinion she should remain on a lyric-soprano-repertoire, I don’t think baroque suits her. Nevertheless, her singing was glorious, and her interpretation very convincing.

And here we come to Christophe Dumaux, who, as Polinesso, stole the show from everybody else! His countertenor voice, as opposed to Minenko’s, is round, smooth, velvety, and very uniform. It is also very powerful and confident in his coloratura, it projects wonderfully towards the audience and it gives him a strong musical presence. This, in turn, is reflected in a fantastic stage presence. His interpretative skills were not put to the test by a character who is very unidimensional, pure evil. But the charisma he exudes is tangible, and (as I have already said about Bartoli) when he’s on stage, you can’t watch anything else. He’s also very easy on the eyes, and the result was a charismatic Polinesso, a dark and handsome bad guy, irresistible. All in all, it made Dalinda’s character more credible, in her taking part in his schemes because she loves him. In the video below, the aria Dover, giustiza, amor, from the performance in Lausanne.

Dalinda was Clara Meloni, a real baroque soprano, a light and crystal clear voice, with beautiful coloratura. I really would like to hear her as Ginevra, I think she would do great. She looks very young, I’ll try to follow her.

Lurcanio, Ariodante’s brother, was the tenor Juan Sancho, a very tiny man, he must weigh no more than 20 kilos or so, with a good voice with great projection and very high: he passes from high notes to falsetto smoothly and with no effort. He really sings well, but his acting is a bit wanting. He acts a bit like the stereotypical opera singer: clutching pearls and clinging to curtains.

The baritone Johannes Weisser was the King of Scotland, Ginevra’s father. A screamer, unfortunately. He screams in tune, but he screams. When he said “Non sei mia figlia!” (you are not my daughter) I really felt like Aida’s father was on stage, and I expected “dei faraoni tu sei la schiava!” (you are the slave of the Pharaoh!). Not a great baroque style.

The global impression was very good, a performance of very high level. And baroque opera confirms itself as one of the things in the world which gives me more joy.

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7 comments

  1. I think Mynenko is better at lower lying roles. I’d like to see him live as I have liked what I heard (recorded) but based on your impressions I’ll steer clear of Ariodante. Dumaux seems to be a very well rounded singer/actor and a true professionist, I too have enjoyed him lots when I saw him. This version of Dover, giustizia… is excellent.

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  2. So I have finally found a bit of time to reflect on the past weekend and compare your impressions with mine.

    I agree that the Opéra de Lausanne is an ideal spot for baroque opera! It’s got an ideal size, not too large, yet the stage is large enough not to compromise the productions (like in other baroque places where there’s hardly room to swing the proverbial cat).

    Like you, I liked the stylish look of the production – the stage setting, the costumes, etc. Lots of fabric indeed, very lush. I did lose count of Ginevra’s outfits though, there were really a lot! And some of them really beautiful. I didn’t get why one of the outfits looked like a snail’s house on the back though (or rather wings?). the men in black leather *yummy* errr..did I just say yummy? *lol* It was all about the signing and acting, of course ;-P

    Re the direction I think I would need to see it again to be able to pay more attention to detail. In the first act, I found it all very static (not to say boring), but in acts two and three I was really drawn in and I was literally on the edge of my seat. However, I think for someone not knowing the plot it was very, very difficult to get what was happening from the action on stage. I saw a different Ariodante production in Münster last year (with Nicholas Tamagna as Polinesso) where the story was outlined in a very clear way, that production was also much more light-hearted (despite the drama) and not as dark.

    Hmm, I don’t quite agree with your little feminist comment here…I could imagine an opera plot where a woman thinks she’s been deceited by a man based on a flimsy little note, too. She would then probably rather grab a knife and stab HIM instead of committing suicide *lol* (but men are such drama queens…)

    Loved the orchestra and conducting! Pure baroque luxury! I often have to deal with compromised productions in smaller houses, where modern orchstras play baroque rep or they only supplement an orchestra with a basso continuo section or the house staff sings baroque for the first time or or or. So this was baroque heaven for me 🙂 I first saw Fasolis with Artaserse in 2012 and 2014 and especially in the reprise they had really fast tempi – I had feared worse for the Ariodante, but found it really good. Not too fast, not too slow, fantastic harpsichord, little highlights by the violin etc.

    I really enjoyed Yuriy Minenko as Ariodante. I have to admit I had some tiny doubts over whether he’d be able to pull this off. He didn’t sound as “metallic” as I’ve heard him before as Megabise in Artaserse (where I heard him four times, all in concert version). He recently sang the role of Artaserse in a production in Kassel which I also enjoyed and I didn’t hear any “metal” there. Coloratura-wise IMO he did reach his technical limits in Con l’ali di costanza – but still managed it alright. I was worried that I might not be open-minded enough for his Dopo notte as I have heard it sooooo often in recitals sung by Franco Fagioli (and I would really, really love to see him as Ariodante in a staged production one day, though I didn’t miss him at all in this one. He often stands out in productions, and that would have ruined the homogeneous/uniform impression I had of this cast/production). But I really enjoyed it (and the quality of the YouTube recording doesn’t do it justice IMO). Yes, it’s not the biggest voice, and yes, it might take a while to get used to it or appreciate it, but I enjoyed it. I did miss his bright top notes a bit, but then learned that they avoided those on purpose so that noone of the cast would stand out and in order to achieve an even level.

    In the first act, I also thought that Marina Rebeka didn’t really suit this baroque role, and there was a strange ringing in her voice, too. But I really grew on her during acts two and three and thoroughly enjoyed her in the slow arias. I also noticed her bad cough/cold, so I’d always give her another chance. I met her shortly after the performance and her cold was so bad it’s a mystery to me how she could sing that well at all! Apparently, she had to be replaced by another singer in the Wednesday performance.

    This was my first live experience of Christophe Dumaux – and in his signature role of Polinesso! What a stage presence and what a charisma! You are absolutely right, it’s hard to look somewhere else once he’s on scene! Very sexy, too, despite not really being my type *lol* Those outfits certainly suited him best! Concerning his voice…hmm…I’m not an instant fan, but as with everything, it’s a matter of personal taste. He is a very fine singer, but to my ears there is something in the voice that won’t let me fully enjoy it. I don’t find it velvety at all for example. But I’d always go and see him in a concert/staged production again 🙂

    I really enjoyed Clara Meloni, a lovely, fresh and light baroque voice. I’d like to hear her in other parts as well and think that there’s still room for some development. She sounds very youthful, but I look forward to hearing the voice mature a little bit more, too.

    Really liked Juan Sancho in this! I also first saw him in Artaserse in 2012 and he has developed so much since then! I was positively surprised by some of his singing in this Ariodante – e.g. his change to falsetto that you mentioned as well. I’d never heard him do that before! I like watching him on stage, why not a bit of clutching pearls and clinging to curtains – it’s opera after all ;-))

    After having been told by a friend how much she had enjoyed Johannes Weisser in a different piece, I had quite high expectations which unfortunately were not met. But then, it is very very difficult to please me when you are a baritone or bass. I just don’t enjoy this voice type. I didn’t find him screaming, but tending towards shouting instead of singing at times, yes. And – not his fault – he really looked hilarious in that costume and strange beard…

    I thoroughly enjoyed this Ariodante!!! A wonderful baroque experience at an overall high level!!

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    • Thank you so much for your thorough counter-review! I think it’s fascinating how different people can hear very different things in the singers’ voices. That’s one of the things that makes opera so interesting.
      I use “scream” and “shout” interchangeably in English (maybe it’s wrong, I’m not a native speaker after all) so I guess we are kind of saying the same thing about Weisser. He did look funny in that outfit.

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  3. Thank you for writing this chronicle, especially from people like me who haven’t been able to attend the performance.

    I’ve read the exchange under the link you provided to Christophe Dumaux’s aria (watch?v=OMT_MRguvPs). I hope somebody could forward the following link to “Sophie” (or perhaps she can read it here):

    http://www.latele.ch/play?i=59080

    It contains some footage from Lausanne Ariodante — including some nice acting from we-know-who — proof that at least the dress rehearsal was partially recorded by a team from the regional TV station.

    Greetings!

    Liked by 1 person

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