Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Poster of Louise at the Opéra-Comique in Paris (1900)
20 Jul 2008

Geez, Louise

“Quelle plaisir” to encounter Gustave Charpentier’s seldom performed “Louise” at the Paris Opera in a production where most everything went spectacularly right.

Above: Poster of Louise at the Opéra-Comique, Paris (1900)

 

As re-imagined here, these are not the prettied-up and rather charming bohemians favored by Puccini, but rather a French verismo take on the lower class aspiring bumblingly to bourgeois values.

The production team chose not to set it at the turn of the century, but rather to the more drab, workaday mid-twentieth century, to good effect. I am not sure I remember any set design or more specifically, construction, as impressive as the colossal creations by Nicky Rieti. Every time the curtain was raised, another massive, detailed location was revealed to palpable audience response.

The opening expository scene was played out on sets of stairs wedged in a narrow vertical space between two low income housing buildings, trimmed in by masking, and which ascended from stage floor all the way into the flies above. This gave way to an oppressively realistic interior living/dining room that was the heroine’s “prison.” Setting the street scene on the Montmartre Metro platform was a winning and witty invention, especially as it was visually replaced by the Metro entrance with “Louise” departing it on her way to work. Her dress shop was a massive two level structure. which allowed the large female chorus ample room for interplay, and provided excellent opportunities for visual variety. The stage right windows on the stair landing opened to accommodate the passing parade and allowed “Julien” access to appear and take “Louise” away.

The libretto’s cottage overlooking Paris was replaced here by a contemporary rooftop structure that gave the lovers plenty of room to romp during the expansive love duet, and provided a more acidic visual commentary to counter-balance the sweetness of “Depuis le jour.” The subsequent scene in which “Louise” is crowned Queen of Montmartre in a mock beauty pageant was brilliantly set in a public space that appeared to be part music hall, part political rally, complete with a rudimentary proscenium stage and runway, and elevated galleries. The piece came full circle with the girl back in her hellish, mundane “prison” with her manipulative parents.

The apt costumes were created by Chantal de La Coste Messelière, who excelled with the colorful opportunities afforded by the “subway” denizens, as well as the beauty pageant participants and onlookers. The evocative lighting was by André Diot, who unapologetically used follow-spots to fine effect, witness the isolation of “Louise” after her mother convinces her to return home to her ailing father.

One reason that “Louise” may not be more frequently performed is that Charpentier’s score places enormous demands on the two principals who must convey youthful buoyancy but sing like jugend-Wagnerians. Happily, Paris came up with a terrific duo in Mireille Delunsch and Gregory Kunde.

Ms. Delunsch does not yet sing much outside of France and she deserves to. For hers is a very pliant lyric voice with a slight steely edge that not only meets the introspective demands of the role, but can ride the orchestra on the dramatic “money” moments. She does not have a highly distinctive sound, and the bit of metal might not charm those who have Renee or Beverly or Victoria irrevocably in their ear, but for my Euro she not only has the solid technique but also the pleasing stage presence to bring it off.

Mr. Kunde was a revelation to me, for he can not only melt the heart with his suave legato phrasings, but can also let rip with a gorgeous, generous outpouring of slightly weighted arching lines at full throttle. Thanks, too. to his sincere and affecting acting and ever-responsive musicality, this was the star turn of the night.

That is not to deny “mother” and “father” a place in the firmament. Alain Vernhes and Jane Henschel contributed solid vocalism and wonderful impersonations of their two unsympathetic, calculating parents. Even as they were consistently controlling, the two managed to mine every ounce of nuance out of their parts, and had their pitiable moments.

The large cast of minor soloists all made a fine contribution to the evening, with an outstanding tenor Luca Lombardo doing memorable double duty as “Noctambule” and “Pope of the Fools.”

André Engel was the fine director who created beautiful stage pictures through logical movements in the large scenes with the massive forces. He was equally adept at developing the complex character relationships, and addressing the ever changing dynamics between the four principals. There was nary a false move over the long evening, and the naturalistic blocking provided the loving clarity and illumination the piece needs. Only the expansive movement during the love duet on the roof seemed a but strained. While it mirrored the orchestral outpourings, it seemed a bit out of character even for two people in love who have discovered their freedom.

Conductor Patrick Davin struck just the right balance between stage and pit, and he and his orchestra seemed to revel in every detail and delight in this unjustly neglected work. If some of the atmospheric scenes amble a bit (the street people, the dress makers), it is never more so that in “Suor Angelica,” say and it is frequently more engaging and touching. In any case, Davin is a conductor to watch for. Excellent.

Paris Opera’s production makes such a strong case for “Louise” (if such proof were needed) that I would hope other companies might take note and plan a revival so their local patrons can similarly rejoice in its many pleasures.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):