Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

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):