Beauty and Elegance

Gluck – Armide

Armide – Karina Gauvin

Hidarot – Andrew Foster-Williams

Renaud – Frédéric Antoun

Artémide/Le Chevalier Danois – Sébastien Droy

Ubalde/Aronte – Henk Neven

Phénice – Karin Strobos

Sidonie – Ana Quintans

La Haine – Diana Montague

Koor van De Nederlandse Opera, Nederlands Kamerorkest / Ivor Bolton.

Stage director – Barrie Kosky.

De Nederlandse Opera, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam. Thursday, October 10th, 2013.

Karina Gauvin is the owner of one of the most beautiful soprano voices around in the world today. But she is also the owner of a spectacular technique that gives her complete security and consistency in whatever she sings. Having followed her career for a number of years but never having had the opportunity to see her in a staged production, I was delighted to finally be able to see her as the titular character in Gluck’s wonderful opera, Armide.

Despite having a glorious score, unfortunately, Armide, doesn’t seem to be performed very often. It’s a shame because there is real richness in the music and real inventiveness in the score. I had seen one other production before this, that of Bieito at the Komische Oper in Berlin, and as always with that outstanding stage director, it was a revelation. Unfortunately it was sung in German, so I missed out on hearing the imaginative libretto in the original language. Tonight it was sung not only in French but every single member of the cast had immaculately clear diction that rendered the Dutch and English surtitles completely unnecessary.

Karina’s Armide was a model of classical dignity, a real tragédienne. She moved with great poise on stage and held attention in every scene she appeared in. Vocally she was magnificent. The role is a perfect fit for her and she fully managed to switch between all the facets of the character’s feelings – from rage to love to desperation. Her final aria was absolutely devastating.

Fortunately she was surrounded by an outstanding cast. The Portuguese soprano, Ana Quintans, was a real discovery for me. She has a fabulous lyric soprano with a distinctive white wine tone. A very promising artist who I would like to hear in some Mozart very soon. Diana Montague sang her terrific set piece very clearly with warm rounded tone. Andrew Foster-Williams was superb as Hidraot. It’s an awkward role but he sang it with a perfect blend of strength and ease. In the supporting cast I also enjoyed Henk Neven’s velvety baritone in a number of roles.

Karina wasn’t the only Québec artist performing. She was joined by the glorious tenor of Frédéric Antoun another of the superb artists emerging from la belle province right now. His mellifluous tenor is perfectly matched to the music, the range held no terrors for him and his tone was free and easy. He is also a real discovery and I’m looking forward to seeing him again next year at the London Royal Opera as Tonio.

Ivor Bolton elicited superb playing from the Nederlands Kamerorkest. Vibrato-free strings and natural brass created the perfect sound world to accompany what was happening on stage. It was beautifully paced and elegantly played. A shame that the score was every so slightly cut but otherwise it was glorious. The Nederlanse Opera chorus sang very well and ensemble was tight.

The last Barrie Kosky production I saw was Castor et Pollux at English National Opera and tonight I had a real sense of déjà vu. So much of it was incredibly similar to that show but fortunately there were no scenes where one of the lady characters ended up taking off around twenty pairs of panties. There was some mild nudity but otherwise it was quite conservative. What Kosky did succeed in was creating a series of incredibly beautiful stage pictures that perfectly matched the classical beauty of Gluck’s music. I very much hope that this production will be released on DVD. Relations between the characters were clearly delineated and exceptionally clear.

Tonight was certainly a triumph for Karina Gauvin who portrayed a heroine of great poise, beauty and dignity. It was also a real ensemble show that had been perfectly cast with singers who really brought the wonders of Gluck’s score to life. It’s an exceptionally beautiful visual spectacle but it’s more than that, it’s an opportunity to hear one of today’s finest singers at her very best in a role that is perfectly suited to her gifts.

Photo: © Monika Rittershaus

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