Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Off night for Offenbach

The entire crew involved in  Marthaler/Niquet production of "La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein", premiered in Basle last December, came to Pleyel tonight to give us a concert version  of their show (in costumes).

From right to left: Norman Reinhardt, Anne Sofie von Otter, Agata Wilewska

Hervé Niquet : conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter : la Grande-Duchesse
Agata Wilewska : Wanda
Norman Reinhardt : Fritz
Rolf Romei : Prince Pauld
Karl-Heinz Brandt : Baron Puck
Christoph Homberger  : Général Boum

Anne Sofie von Otter is always kinda nice to see but she struggled through the show, with a few patches in which she was barely audible. And that in spite of Niquet taming the orchestra to play Offenbach pianissimo (how weird is that!?)

Agata Wilewska was OK, but I was only impressed by Norman Reinhardt (yet another good American tenor!). Bravo a Fritz! :)

Whatever was on the program today was bound to be disappointing in comparison with the awesome concert we had in Pleyel on Saturday night which was still too fresh in our memory. Fighting your own bias by being fully aware of it is not an easy thing to do. The show tonight didn't help either. There are  two-three extra-elements which played against the Duchess tonight:

(1) Offenbach did many excellent opera-bouffes, but he also did some pretty mediocre copies of his major successes.  La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is definitely not what you'd call a good Offenbach.

(2) Let me make one thing clear! I'm the first to be annoyed when I hear the French being picky on the tiny flaws in pronunciation, when listening to a foreign singer doing her/his best to sing in French (I should stress that those picky annoyers are a tiny --albeit vocal-- minority; Many French are actually very tolerant and do their best to encourage you to speak French, making effort to understand you without being rude.) With that being said, I must say that more than 50% of the text sung tonight was incomprehensible (and there were no surtitles). By the end of La Grande-Duchesse I don't know if I was more annoyed or tired trying to interpolate in between what I could (not) understand to make some sense of every bloody line!

(3) The Kammerorchester and Choir from Basle are OK-ish (this is me being very nice!). Hervé Niquet helped us understand the storyline from time to time by making a short summary of what had just happened (and what we were desparately trying to understand). He directed the orchestra well enough not to cover the singers.

I guess the show would have been far more interesting had we imported also the scenic Marthalerian side of it [for a report by someone who likes Marthaler, see Musica Sola blog].

1 comment:

  1. I saw the fianl performance of this production in Basel on Saturday (16/1). To call this a production of Offenbach's work is a little like putting on Tom Stoppard's "Rosenkranz & Guilderstern are dead" and calling it "Hamlet". I was not previously acquainted with Mr.Marthaler's work, and he certainly has many interesting theatrical ideas, but he should be more honest about what he is doing. To give a couple of examples: 1) after the orchestra left, about half-way through, we were left with a sole piano-player (stuck up near the roof) playing an hour of music of which little if any was by Offenbach, and 2) for the final 10 minutes, the only action was the whole cast of principals (the chorus had also gone home) singing "Bonne nuit !" about 25 times while Ms.van Otter slept on a couch downstage, dressed in her wedding-gown but with a couple of large AK47 machine-guns lying on her lap. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas le Jacques.