Belgian town Liège is a safe haven for the opera lover who doesn’t want to let his evening be ruined by directors who give their best to “ground-breaking, disorienting, urgent” musical theatre and other clowneries. The performances of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie are not only filled with Belgians, but also with opera lovers from Germany and the Netherlands. Coming from Amsterdam ourselves, we meet more of our fellow-citizens in Liège than in the Amsterdam Music Theatre. Liège is also popular with the opera world’s Great Names; it is not uncommon for them to perform in an opera of their choice, and in general they rely on a direction in which they don’t have to be raped or show primary or secondary genitals.
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Many celebrities, such as Ruggero Raimondi and José van Dam, made their appearance in Liège. In the season 2019-2020 alone there were the following of renowned singers to be admired: Svetlana Aksenova (Butterfly!), Annick Massis, Patrizia Ciofi, Leo Nucci, Gregory Kunde, the sensational bass-baritone and belcanto specialist Marko Mimica, and Anna Pirozzi, Anna Netrebko, Pretty Yende, Ruggero Raimondi, Roberto Tagliavini, Sumi Jo, José Cura, and Tatiana Serjan. The latter is one of the best “Ladies” in the world, if not the best. In recent years she has performed the role of Lady Macbeth in the Viennese State Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre, in Barcelona, in Florence, the Opernhaus Zürich, the Deutsche Oper Berlin and…. in Liege.
The opera in Liege is led by Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera. He is not only responsible for his blessed policy, he also directs. And almost always in an excellent, non-blatherskite way. He always follows the entire production process in order to, in his own words, “ensure that there is always respect for the audience and for the composer and his librettist”.
“Respect for the audience and for the composer and his librettist.”
Feel free to pause for a moment, and let these words permeate your mind, preferably to stay there.
Mazzonis specialises in the Italian and French repertoire, and, it may be said again: “We perform this with integrity, with respect for the composition”. The beautiful opera house in Liège, which after its renovation opened in 2012 with the opera Stradella by César Franck, can accommodate 1440 spectators, who can sit on the red plush. Every evening fully occupied, 100,000 visitors a year. (30% “young people”).
Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera was born in Italy. While studying law and musicology in Rome, he was already directing. In 1983 he directed his first operas and soon he was invited to several Italian opera houses, a.o. in Florence and Rome. In the following years he directed a.o. Nabucco, La Traviata, Manon Lescaut, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Anna Bolena, Aida, Madama Butterfly, Don Carlo etc. etc.
From 2007 Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, of noble descent, was the head of the Liège Opera. He came from the Teatro Communale di Bologna, where he had been appointed intendant five years earlier. He left Bologna at the height of his fame: he had arranged sold-out performances, admired by both experienced opera goers and novices. These successes continue to this day in the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège. The Liège Opera became a bastion of italianità and a lot of culture française. Many people from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgian are extremely happy to be able to attend unspoilt opera performances so close by.
The vision of Mazzonis is brilliant: leave Wagner to the Germans, and the Bieito-like blatherskites to Brussels and Amsterdam. Then let us do Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Donizetti. With costumes and stuff…
Aïda, Liege, 2014, directed by Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera
A minus was his Bohème in Israel. He pushed the opera forward for more than half a century, to Paris 1946, and also made a small mistake with the libretto (“In my eyes Mimi already knows Rodolfo”).
The mistake is heartily forgiven. Liege stays the safe haven for the genuine opera lover.