Les Péchés de Rossini, a recital at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, Aix-en-Provence, France, on July 7, 2016
Produced by the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, featuring the Lauréats HSBC de L'Academie

This review is part of Opera Lively's extensive coverage of the 2016 Festival; consult the other reviews, interviews, and pictorial blogs by clicking [here], a Portal with links to all our Aix articles already published and upcoming.

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This superb recital featured the HSBC Lauréats 2014, Belorussian soprano Katharina Melnikova, American bass Scott Conner, and Brazilian pianist Hélio Vida.

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The program:

Sémiramis (1823)
Récitatif et air d'Assur "Deh ti ferma" (Scott et Hélio)

Il Signor Bruschino (1813)
Air de Sofia "Ah, voi condur volete" (Katharina et Hélio)

Le Voyage à Reims (1825)
Air de Don Profondo "Medaglie incomparabili" (Scott et Hélio)

Péchés de Veillesse (1857-1868)
Extrait de Quatre hors-d'oeuvres "Radis" (Hélio, pour piano seul)

Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816)
Cavatine de Rosina "Una voce poco fa" (Katharina et Hélio)
Air de Basilio "La calunnia è un venticello" (Scott et Hélio)

Il Turco in Italia (1814)
Air de Fiorilla "Presto Amiche" (Katharina and Hélio)
Air de Fiorilla "Non sid da follia maggiore" (Katharina et Hélio)
Duo de Fiorilla et Selim "Credette alle femmine" (Katharina, Scoot, et Hélio)

Péchés de Vieillesse (1857-1868)
Extrait de Quatre hors-d'oeuvres "Anchois" (Hélio, pour piano seul)
"La grande coquette" (Katharina et Hélio)
"Ave Maria sur deux notes" (Scott et Hélio)

Encore: "Duetto buffo di due gatti" (Katharina, Scott, et Hélio)

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Given that I stayed in Aix only 5 days and one of them, a Sunday, the Festival pauses so that everybody can have a break, I actually missed the contemporary piece Kalîla wa Dimna, a world première of this opera in Arabic and French with music by Palestine composer Moneim Adwan (born in 1970), with a libretto by Fady Jomar and Catherine Verlaguet, inspired by the Book of Kalîla and Dimna, attributed to Ibn Al-Muqaffa. The piece was commissioned by the Festival. Unfortunately it overlapped with another opera I did attend.

So, my last day here, July 7th, there wasn't any major opera showing. The Bureau de Presse asked if I wanted to attend one of the other shows scheduled for today - this recital, two concerts by students of the Academy, and a concert of instrumental music by Bach and Handel, with the Freiburger Barockorchester.

I confess that I picked the Rossini recital because it was short, starting at 8 AM and finishing supposedly at 9 PM... and today it was the semifinal of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, featuring France and Germany. After five days of high culture, I did want a bit of soccer.

After seeing on stage some of the best operatic artists in the world in the three spectacular productions of Pelléas et Mélisdande, Così fan tutte, and Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno that I reviewed in the last three days (click the Portal link above for these reviews), I wasn't expecting much from this recital. After all, I thought, these were young singers, recent graduates of the Academy, and since they got the HSBC awards, I was sure that they were good, but hey, I had just seen the likes of Barbara Hannigan and Laurent Naouri! It would be a nice way to kill some time before the football match - I just hoped it finished on time at 9 AM so that I'd see the game from the beginning.

Oh wow, what a surprise!

The performance was simply excellent, and actually, one of the best operatic recitals I've ever seen. Write down the names of these young singers and this young pianist, my friends! They are not just good as I expected: they are phenomenal! I felt that I was witnessing some future stars in the making!

It turned out that the recital started late (8:10 PM), and with the encore and the long curtain calls with delirious applause, I left the beautiful Théâtre du Jeu de Paume at 9:30 PM, and by the time I made it back to the hotel, the game was at 38 minutes of the first half - still 0-0 (later, France scored two goals and won the match - Aix-en-Provence exploded in celebration!). I watched the game from my hotel room since I had bought some excellent cheese and wine (some of my favorite: Époisse, Saint-Félicien, and Bleu d'Auvergne) and had had no time to consume them; I did get back on the street for the very end of the match to get together with the French and celebrate with them - I sang the Marseilleise to the top of my lung with a bunch of drunken and happy French guys and girls... lots of fun.

But anyway, I don't regret those 38 missed minutes at all... given the quality of the singing and piano playing.

Katharina Melnikova is extremely charming. She has body language and facial expressions that reminded me of Maria Callas. Seriously. Her poise and elegant gesticulation on the stage did emulate the Callas videos I have. She acted very well the pieces as if she were performing staged opera, instead of just standing there in her beautiful gown and singing. Her voice is stupendous, and she delivered beautiful bel canto-style coloraturas and ornamentations. Sincerely, I haven't been this impressed with a young singer in a long, long time.

Scott Conner wasn't an inch behind. What a beautiful voice and great musicality! He is also an accomplished actor, both in voice and body language. His rendition of the different accents in the famous "Medaglie incomparabile" aria brought the house down. The parts where Don Profondo mocks the English, the French, the Germans, the Russians, etc., were so well done by Scott that we had the impression that he was singing in English, French, German, and Russian instead of Italian. His acting range is very good too, since he interpreted arias that go from tragic to comedic to solemn, and like Katharina, he acted the parts as if he was in the full operas.

Hélio Vida played the piano with virtuosic speed and agility, and was perfect all along in the piano score for the vocal parts, supporting the singers beautifully, and he was extremely impressive in the parts for piano only.

This recital was pure pleasure and achieves another A++.

It's the end of my Aix-en-Provence live coverage. I still have seven interviews to transcribe - and brace for it; all seven are formidable! I leave tomorrow, flying to Milan, going to La Scala next, and I regret it. Seriously. I'm going to my other country (I'm also a citizen of Italy), to that temple of opera called Teatro alla Scala, in my beloved Milan (by the way, I'm an AC Milan supporter), and actually feel sad about it, so good this festival was! I'm already missing it, and can't wait for an opportunity to come to Aix again in the future.

Here are some very low quality photos - in dire lighting conditions, and blurry, but that's what I have, since there weren't production pictures for this recital so I just snatched some pics to add a visual side to this review. In the Portal you'll be able to see more pictures of the Théatre du Jeu de Paume (in the Venues pictorial blog) and I'll also do, time permitting, another pictorial blog with the football celebrations - these may have to wait for my return home because these hotel Internet connections are slow to upload, and I filmed the excited and victorious French - each upload of a full video clip in these conditions is taking hours).

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Curtain calls - Katharina, Hélio, and Scott

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The beautiful roof of the theater

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A detail of the roof on top of the stage

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Another picture of the interior of the theater