21 Feb 2012

Victoires de la Musique Classique 2012

Last night’s French classical music awards show, the Victoires de la Musique Classique 2012, awarded the “Best Composer of the Year” honors to Philippe Manoury, 59, for his opera, “La Nuit de Gutenberg” (“The Night of Gutenberg”).

Manoury, also on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, was influenced by Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen and is one of France’s most respected composers.

The opera’s world premiere, on September 24 at the Opera National du Rhin in Strasbourg, was well received by the audience and critics. It is a story of an old derelict who lives on the streets of modern day Strasbourg and calls himself Gutenberg. Could he be the same Johannes Gutenberg whose invention of movable type changed the world more than 500 years earlier in this very same town?

This writer was also there that evening and can report that the opera is based on late 20th Century composition techniques but always includes emotion, elegance and momentum. A young people’s chorus, with kids listening, talking or texting with their phones, was only one of the musical highlights. With flashbacks, it told the story of Gutenberg and his struggles in life. The opera was at once engaging as storytelling and powerful as music. Staged sparsely and effectively by Yoshi Oida and conducted by Daniel Klajner it was an evening of splendid vocal accomplishment. Bass Nicolas Cavallier sang the title role with Eve-Maud Hubeaux as his new friend and the fine coloratura of Mélanie Boisvert as the provocative “Hostess” of an internet cafe. Click here for a report (in French) on television channel Arte gives samples of the opera.

The Victoires de la Musique Classique, an awards show similar to the Classical Grammy Awards, features Renée Fleming as honored guest and spotlighted such singers as soprano Natalie Dessay, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, soprano Nathalie Manfrino, contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, soprano Julia Lezhneva along with other classical artists. It is available for internet viewing this week here.

Frank Cadenhead