Archive for April, 2011

Still Dangerous After 181 Years?

Posted in News on April 12, 2011 by figarosi

The new brochure of the 2011-2012 season at Paris’ Opéra-Comique has only arrived in the past few days and has already caused a stir in two countries. Most Parisians know the name of the composer Auber only as the name of a metro stop near the Palais Garnier. But Daniel François Esprit Auber (1782-1871) was the most performed French opera composer in the 19th Century and his opera “La Muette de Portici” (The Mute Girl of Portici) has an important history. The fact that this opera is in the season at the Opera-Comique next year, from the 3rd to the 21st of April, has caused a minor sensation.

When performed in Brussels in 1830, two years after its debut at the Paris Opera, it was already a European favorite and had established the new genre, “Grand Opera.” The libretto, by Auber’s long-time collaborator, Eugène Scribe, is the story of an abortive attempt by the city of Naples to revolt against Spanish rule. While the chorus represents the oppressed populace, it was actually the duet “Amour sacré de la patrie” ( “Sacred Love of the Homeland”) that caused a riot in the hall. As every Belgian child knows, this immediately became the anthem of the revolution against their Dutch rulers and, some months later, Belgium was an independent country.

What turned heads was the tiny print in the Opéra-Comique brochure indicating that this opera was a co-production with “Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie” – Belgium’s principal opera in the capitol of Brussels, also known as “Koninklijke Muntschouwburg (de Munt)” in the Dutch language. (The opera is located in an area where money was minted in earlier times.) The La Monnaie orchestra will actually be in the pit and the conductor is Patrick Davin, another Belge.

Belgium was annexed by France in 1797, given over to Holland with the fall of Napoleon in 1815 but freed itself of Dutch rule in 1831. It is a parliamentary democracy with a monarch (now Albert II) with limited powers. In 1971, as a result of conflict between the two principal regions, a new confederation of three semi-autonomous regions was created: Dutch speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south with the city of Brussels – mostly French speaking but physically in the area of Flanders – a third region. This federation was created to resolve the political conflicts between the two language regions of Belgium in the 1960s.

These historic conflicts are again a factor in Belgium politics and there are even proponents of dividing the country in two. As a result of these conflicts, Belgium has been unable to form a new government since the last fell in June, 2010 (the previous government remains as a caretaker.) The stalemate marks the longest any state in history has been without a government and many young people, who refuse to accept that Belgium cannot stay united, are protesting. A recent “Nude-in” by students was well-covered by the European media and there is now a Facebook group demanding a new staging of this historic Auber opera.

In any case, this is a political hot potato and an April 7 article in the major Brussels newspaper, La Libre – entitled “La Muette de Portici?” Oui, mais pas ici!” (“The Mute Girl of Portici? Yes, but not here!”) the reporter asked a wary Peter De Caluwe, the La Monnaie boss, about his role in this project. De Caluwe, obviously ducking the political issue, spoke of conversations with Jérôme Deschamps who heads the Opéra-Comique. When Dechamps proposed a co-production of an opera by Adolphe Adam, De Caluwe, “amused,” suggested “La Muette de Portici” instead and Deschamps, unexpectedly, ran with that suggestion, now soliciting a third co-producer: the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The production will be by Emma Dante, the Sicilian director who staged the politically edgy “Carmen” of Bizet opening the La Scala season in December of 2009.

The La Libre article concludes: “There is no date planned then for this production on the stage at La Monnaie: nothing before 2015. By that time, we should have a government and, if everything goes well, still a Belgium.”

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Will it work? Lang Lang and Roberto Alagna on the same stage?

Posted in Reviews on April 1, 2011 by figarosi

It was a high-risk venture that finished as a major triumph in Paris on Tuesday night. The superstar pianist Lang Lang, as part of a week’s residency, joined with the French tenor Roberto Alagna in a program of rare French arias at the historic Salle Pleyel. But the success of this “carte blanche” evening for Lang Lang was not automatically assured.

The French have a history of neglecting their rich musical heritage and the arias, with one exception, have not been heard in Paris in living memory. While some of this repertory is beginning to appear in regional operas, only the aria, “Anges du paradis” from Gounod’s Mireille, has been heard at the Paris Opera recently when that opera opened their previous season. Would the audience, even with these star names, warm to this effort?

Another worry is sometimes the omnivorous musical appetites of Lang Lang leads him to say yes to a project he has not had time to sufficiently digest prior to the performance. There was no hint of that this night. There was a vibrant rapport between the two extrovert stars with Lang Lang, no mere “accompanist” here, relishing the lovely melodies which began each aria.

Alagna sang each aria with French style and clarity of expression uncommon on world stages recently. A tenor at the heights of his power, the hall rang with his generous passion for these musical treasures. Including the Gounod, there were arias by Adolphe Adam (“Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire” from Le Postillon de Longjumeau), Edouard Lalo (“Vainement, ma bien-aimée” from Le Roi d’Ys), Ernest Reyer (“La bruit des chants” from Sigurd), Giacomo Meyerbeer (“Pays merveilleux… ô paradis” from L’Africaine) and Alfred Bruneau’s passionate `”Le jour tombe, la nuit va bercer les grands chênes” (from L’Attaque du moulin), among others.

Toward the end of the concert, Alagna took a brief break to sip backstage tea (a result of Spring allergies) and the audience happily prodded Lang Lang into playing a second delicious Rachmaninov prelude. Lang Lang’s solo works, including Chopin etudes and a sensitive reading of Schumann’s “Träumerei.” were part of the evening’s program. With the unrestrained cheering at the end, Alagna and Lang, arm in arm, circled the stage like victorious bull-fighters, shaking hands and collecting bouquets of flowers. Clearly this music has strong appeal but could Parisian opera bosses still be unconvinced?

Alagna has an album of French Opera Arias (with Bertrand De Billy and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) which has a few of the arias he sang this night. Lang Lang had a live transmission the following day from the Cite de la Musique in Paris streamed on Medici.tv. The concert was recorded by France Musique radio for later broadcasting with no date yet specified.