Thursday, April 8, 2010

Philip Glass and Franz Kafka In der Strafkolonie

Théâtre Athénée Paris, April 7, 2010:  Dans la colonie pénitentiaire (In the penal colony)

Philippe Forget    Conductor
Richard Brunel    Stage Director

Stephen Owen  The Officer (singer)
Michael Smallwood The Traveler (singer)

Nicholas Henault The Soldier (actor)
Mathieu Morin-Lebot The Condamned (actor)
Gérald Robert-Tissot Soldier (actor)

This opera cannot have a "poor libretto" problem because it's based on the text by Franz Kafka. 

My every new encounter with a work by Kafka is a new realization of how huge a genius that man was: either I discover a new depth of his analyses of the texture of human soul, or my grasp at his work changes with my own life experience. In any case this too was a strange but overwhelming experience.
I a few lines this is a story about an officer who wants to maintain his abominable machine for torturing the prisoners on his prison-island. He feels his passionate activity is in danger because the governor has changed and the new one does not condone torture. The officer's last hope is to persuade the Traveler  --who is supposed to report on the situation on island to the Governor-- that his machine is useful and important, and invites the Traveler to attend an execution. After seeing a terrifying execution The Traveler is shocked and totally rejects the torture. The Officer, desperate to rescue his atrocious passion, commits suicide by using his own machine -- in the process the machine will explode too. 

The orchestra for this chamber opera consists of the String Quintet only and the music very much resembles what you get in the thriller movies. It's too light for my taste, but it's OK for one Glass experience. ;)  

There are only two singers [The Officer (bass-baritone) and The Traveler (tenor)], and it is unfortunate that this particular bass-baritone has the voice of a retired-Alberich, which spoils the musical quality of the evening.  

The auditorium at the Théâtre Athénée is small and I was surprised that there were no more people (roughly 1/5 of the theater capacity was free). My front row seat would be really bad because the sets are constructed in such a way that you cannot have a good perspective from the first 5 rows. Happily I could easily jump on in the balcony and see the show in much better conditions. 
If you're in Paris, go and see the show, but do not expect the music to be a better part of the evening!

The actors are excellent and the stage solutions (machine and the execution) are "interesting" (am I becoming creepy!?)  Note the name of Richard Brunel: he's likely to become big among opera directors in the years to come!

The initiative to stage a chamber opera by Philip Glass at Athénée is refreshing and I hope they continue surprising us next year too. 

See the slide show on this website.

I have only two CCpics:
In white Owen (left) and Smallwood (right): other 3 are the actors

Here you see the whole crew: 2 singers, 3 actors and members of the String Quintet from Lyon

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