Thursday, February 11, 2010

Idomeneo drowns in La Seine

In Paris, at Palais Garnier, we have yet another rerun of Idomeneo, the same Luc Bondi's production seen many times over the past 5 years on the stages in Milan, Madrid and in Paris.

More specifically, in Paris we saw it last year (!), but Nicolas Joel --the new unfortunate intendant of the Paris Opera-- insisted to program the very same production this year again. The only rational explanation for such an irrational decision is that he wanted to show how he can bring a better show to Garnier than his predecessor (Gerard Mortier). And so he announced Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko to sing, Emmanuelle Haïm to conduct, which made many aficionados rush to subscribe for the 2009-2010 Season at the Paris Opera: safe way to score the tickets for Idomeneo before the box-office opened... However,  several months before the premiere the two super-stars cancelled their appearance and the whole Nicolas Joel's vanity show turned into a nightmare:

Philippe Hui    Conductor
Luc Bondy    Stage Director

Charles Workman Idomeneo
Vesselina Kasarova Idamante
Isabel Bayrakdarian Ilia
Tamar Iveri Elettra
Lothar Odinius Arbace
Xavier Mas Gran Sacerdote di Nettuno

  1. Luc Bondy wasn't in Paris this time to supervise this revival, which must be one of the main reasons why the show now looks so tragically amateurish.
  2. A spat between the orchestra and Emmanuelle Haïm resulted in EH pulling out from the production 2 days before its premiere (!) In the separate press statements she and the Orchestra explained their artistic incompatibility, the Orchestra took the responsibility and  promised to maintain the good quality of their performances...  Judging from the way they sounded last night, all I can say is that they failed miserably.
  3. The singing last night was between OKish and plain bad, including Vesselina Kasarova whose beautiful voice  was out of tune most of the time.
  4. Never have I seen so many subscribers selling their tickets in front of the theater before the show (slashing the price by a factor of 3 wrt what they'd paid!); this situation should serve both them and hopefully the management a good lesson. [Incidentally the French press is silent about the overall quality and mismanagement of this and the series of other productions...]
I feel uncomfortable to further dissect the show, so I'll stop here. The artistic management of the Paris Opera should be ashamed of themselves not only for Mireille, Salome, Andrea Chenier, Die tote Stadt, La Sonnambula, but also for doing what even Neptune didn't want to do: drowning poor Idomeneo.

Poor Wolfie and boo @ big fat Opera National de Paris! :(

 Last scene: Ilia & Idamante; lights are off and we're happy this thing is over

 Odinus, Iveri & Workman

 Kasarova & Bayrakdarian

 1 nice thing about the evening was the stunning beauty of details you find at the Palais Garnier: here is a chunk of its enormous dome painted by Marc Chagal - excuse me! ;)


  1. Since this production and cast was announced I thought it was a weird mix of production, singers and conductor...

    I'm sorry it did'nt end well...

  2. You are very good at predicting the outcome of the production from what you see on the paper.

    We were both wrong re. Lohengrin at DOB and we both listened to Ben singing Tristan in London :) OK, the whole show wasn't bad - but I felt it didn't match my expectations (and from what I could read neither it did match yours).

  3. It's just experience, viewing a lot of performances let us to do better predictions, not always accurate...

  4. Our first, and perhaps only, time at the Garnier and we were hugely disappointed--a bad production on every level. We think everyone should go to Toronto and experience the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre. There you will find generally wonderful productions in a beautiful modern house (with brilliant accoustics) at half the price of the Garnier or the Bastille (which we thought was just slightly better for La Sonnambula).Our comments are posted at http:/

  5. Can you explain in more detail why you believe the singing was bad?
    I saw Charles Workman three times as Palestrina the last three Sundays and he was wonderful in that role! Just lovely :).

  6. That whole show was beyond salvation. Workman was not the weakest point but it was still much less good than Paul Groves who sang the same role in the same production a year before.

    To that add the subjective aspect because between Groves and Workman I listened to Richard Croft's Idomeneo which must be one of the best ever (if not the best ever).

    Palestrina is VERY different from Idomeneo though.

    I saw that production last year in Munich and I was very disappointed by that opera, and by the production -- in spite of Christopher Ventris, who was great as ever.

  7. I was not disappointed by that opera - I had read what you had said before on some other entry here about it, but no - it could use a lot of heavy editing definitely, but on the other hand it does have some fine music. The text is also rather interesting in places while odd in others (do you know German to appreciate it?).

    The production worked quite well too - again due to Mr. Workman, who did a supreme acting job in this (he did get some bravos by the way). The other cast members were partly the same that you had, partly different and generally speaking it was well sung and partly quite amusing (different conductor, too, actually). So once you get used to the opera being too long, it's not bad at all. Plus you need a subtle actor for it. And maybe hear it more than once.

  8. Idomeneo is very much different.

    To me Palestrina is a bad opera on every account: the story (very old-fashioned, and the libretto is badly structured!), musically LOUSY (we're fully in the postwagnerian crisis with the German school incapable to do anything new without embracing Wagner and by rejecting Debussy; Only Berg will come to save the day and revolutionize the operatic language). The flow of the amorphous music that goes on and on forever... The scene in that production was made to wake the folks up (very bright saturated colors), but to little effect. Even I --who very much like Chris Ventris-- was fighting against the snooze-bombs coming from the pit ;) That's obviously only my opinion.

    You're actually the first person I came across [even virtually] who really liked that opera/production. Good for you :) Cheers

  9. I don't think I said "really liked" re opera or production ("heavy editing", "odd"). The colours are rather hard on the eyes, that is true, and there are some outright dumb elements in it. There is quite a lot of irony in this production, though.

    I only said really liked re Workman ;). I am not the only one regarding this particular aspect as you can check out on a German forum where he is called "Aha-Erlebnis" among other things by people who are actually quite critical... My guess is that Workman actually worked ;) much better than Ventris in this because he fits it better type-wise (I have not heard Ventris anywhere, so that is a guess only).

    You should have seen this series!, I am not so sure if you would have hated it so much. Not convinced by that at all!

  10. I am sorry. You "pushed" me to spit out the truth [what I really thought about that opera]. I rarely talk about I really dislike -- unless it's really beyond tolerable (as it was the case with this production of Idomeneo).

    Good for Workman if he found his niche in Palestrina. He is a fine tenor, and it's maybe my bad luck that I didn't get to see him in the roles that suit him the best.