Sunday, April 18, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki - a touch away from perfection?!

This opera was a very-very pleasant discovery to me.

An opera with a magnificent libretto (cannot get better than this), and with Penderecki's music which is not something you'd listen to on your iPod, but it fits impeccably the underlying dramatic action.

Penderecki obviously knew how to enhance every emotion not just by using the text but by using the sounds of human voices. Melodic or atonal, everything is permitted to make a thrilling moment chilling, to define the creepy atmosphere when necessary, or to make a mockery of the evident cases of hypocrisy.

It is a slightly "televised' [TV-adapted] version of the production that was staged in Hamburg at the time of this opera's creation (early 70's), which is the only reason I cannot go on with unreserved praise about this DVD.

If you like theater, and take pleasure in listening to the contemporary operas, you're gonna love this one. Let's hope one of so many European theaters decides to stage this excellent work.

Penderecki based this opera on the German translation of Aldous Huxley's  The Devils of Loudun, a novel/study based on historical fact, namely the torture and execution of the Catholic priest Urbain Grandier. On August 18, 1634, a large crowd gathered to see Grandier burned at the stake in the provincial town of Loudun.

The drama is excellent because you have a political intrigue in the background, the sexual infatuation of a nun, and the priest who is a victim of both the politics and his own sexual urge. Add to that the environment of the Middle Age, and you won't be surprised that Huxley was so interested in the case, which then got turned into libretto.

Background is interesting: In 1598 the French king Henri IV enacted a law [Edict of Nantes] that granted to the Huguenots the freedom to practice their religion and accorded them a number of civil rights, including access to schools, hospitals and positions of authority. The law was signed in Loudun. The opposition to that law was fierce and was particularly strong during the times of Louis XIII, when his principal minister Cardinal Richelieu started the propaganda that such a liberalism and tolerance are the work of the devil and urged the king to raze to the ground the walls of Loudun. Richelieu warned that the Huguenot diaspora flourish within the city walls and even plot a revolt. A trial was brought against the pries Urbain Grandier, whose liberal lifestyle had lead him to break his wow of chastity. But that wasn't enough and he became a subject of an inquisition with the prospect of a death sentence. For that there had to be serious charges involving black magic, blasphemy and an alliance with the devil... The law [Edict of Nantes] was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685.
I think this much is enough for you to know and to follow with no problem the passionate story of Urbain Grandier. If I wrote more about the intrigue you'd lose the effect of surprise.

As I said it above, the only problem for the today's viewer is the slightly televised adaptation of the work meant for theater. The fact that it was filmed in the 70's and the sets were not atrocious like in many DVD's filmed in that era, gives the show a welcoming vintage look.

Impeccably sung by all of them and wonderfully acted too; Tatiana Troyanos and Andrzej Hiolski gave outstanding performance. There are many powerful moments in the opera and the scenes of torture are quite disturbing.

On the scale 1-5 :
URBAIN GRANDIER Andrzej Hiolski 5
JEANNE Tatiana Troyanos 5

PHILIPPE TRINCANT Ingeborg Kruger 5 
FATHER BARRE Bernard Ladysz 5

Marek Janowski 

  Overall impression:  4-5  

You can listen to the beginning of this opera here and decide whether or not it's worth your 30 €, and/or about 110 minutes of your time.

Here is also a YT video [posted by naxosvideos] with Tatiana Troyanos in the scene of exorcism:

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