Saturday, February 25, 2012

Le Freischütz

Le Freischutz, Opéra Comique in Paris, April 7 2011 

Sir John Eliot Gardiner ..... Conductor
Dan Jemmett ..... Director

Sophie Karthäuser ..... Agathe
Andrew Kennedy ..... Max
Virginie Pochon ..... Annette
Gidon Saks ..... Gaspard
Matthew Brook ..... Kouno
Luc Bertin-Hugault ..... L’Ermite
Samuel Evans ..... Kilian
Robert Davies ..... Ottokar
 Christian Pelissier ..... Samiel 

The Monteverdi Choir 
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

I am actually in Berlin where I could see last night the new Calixto Bieito production of Der Freischütz which has that recognizable Bieito theatrical smoothness, a quality that always makes his shows a special operatic experience. This is far from being the best Bieito, if you ask me, but it is still incomparable with the show we were given to see at the Opéra Comique in Paris less than a year ago.

Yes, you spotted it right -- it was Le Freischütz, i.e. adapted to the French operatic standards of the beginning ot the 19th century. Von Weber composed this opera in 1821, and the French adaptation arrived in 1841.

Before I continue I must say that contrary to many other countries, in France you don't have the French translations of the famous operas performed in theaters. This is actually considered to be a very poor taste. So despite superb productions one can see at the English National Opera in London or at the Komische Oper in Berlin, the French don't dig their shows unless it's an English or German opera respectively -- no translations.

Like with everything in life, I believe there should be a sense for good measure. Idomeneo in German at the Komische Oper could be a good way to facilitate access to the opera for young Germans. But then again, why not making half of the run in German (like 5 shows out of 10) and the rest in Italian?! Rigoletto in German was the hardest to digest, I must say. Similarly, Don Giovanni in English sounds wrong from A to Z.

If today the French are very much opposed to the performances of the famous non-French operas translated into French, the situation was completely the opposite at the beginning of the 19th century. Opera was just a good way to entertain the --often uncouth and always judgmental-- bourgeoisie, and so the translations were mandatory. Also the addition of ballet was compulsory.

Hector Berlioz was an ill-tempered free thinker, a great artist and an outstanding composer, who abhorred both the translations and the incompetent people who adapted the foreign operas to meet the French standards. When he was offered to adapt Der Freischütz, his first reaction was not to, but later on --as we learn from his memoirs--  he accepted the job because he thought this opera was a masterpiece and if he didn't do it, someone else --who cared much less about von Weber-- would butcher Der Freischütz. And so, in 1841 appeared the French version, Le Freischütz.

The Berlioz adaptation of Der Freischütz is rarely performed in France or anywhere else, and the Opéra Comique in Paris had a relatively good idea to invest in a fully staged production of this piece.
Just when I thought they would use the opportunity and present a run of 20-30 shows and bring young boys and girls from high schools to see an opera live [opera is financed by the tax payers' money in France and this seemed to me a good opportunity to show to tax payers that their money is not used to finance exclusively the entertainment of the jaded opera aficionados], I realized they again decided to put up 7 shows only -- which for the smallish auditorium of the Opéra Comique is enough for the opera fans only. And so, since it was for the opera fans only, and since they dislike 'the boorish habits' of translating the foreign opera into French, the production was basically slated before it was premiered. 

Unfortunately,  Dan Jammett --a very good Frenglish theater director-- who presented a delightful take on Béatrice et Bénédict at the same house a year before, made it even easier for the detractors. The show looked tired, uninspiring and routinely. If you add the shabby sets, the show obviously didn't stand a chance to survive. Jammett placed the action at the beginning of the 20th century, in the environment of a popular fair. The episode of Agathe and Annette occurred in a van, and the Wolf's Glen scene was on a bare stage with poorly tuned light-filters and with the static chorus members wearing the animal masks... Painted drapes that served as the background decor did not help the overall impression either. 
Not everything was bad in this show:  Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique lead by Sir John Eliot Gardiner did a very good job. Whenever they come to Paris, they always perform with great care for details, perfectly focused throughout the performance and with a peculiar style. They brought some kind of lightness to the score, most probably reflecting the Berlioz' adaptation.  Virginie Pochon was probably the best singer on the stage. The role of Annette sits particularly well with her voice and she was perfectly at ease with her part. Andrew Kennedy was a new name and a new tenor for me. Like many of these young English tenors his impeccably lead Tamino-voice suited very well the role of Max and the auditorium of the Opéra Comique. 
Sophie Karthäuser was clearly miscast. Her beautiful voice does wonders when employed in the baroque repertoire and/or in appropriate roles of the Mozart operas, but it's nowhere close to what it takes to sing Agathe. Her gravi were inaudible and her top register unrecognizably shrill -- I guess it was a consequence of her not being at ease with the role. 
I like Gidon Saks and his dark voice should have been a perfect fit for the role of Gaspard, but for some reason, and despite the smallish size of the auditorium, he was barking most of the time and was trying to outsing everyone else. I should add that both Kennedy and Saks impressed by singing in perfectly comprehensible French.

Production photos © Elisabeth Carecchio

Annette and Agathe in a van

Wolf's Glen scene

Final scene

My pics:

Gidon Saks - Gaspard

Andrew Kennedy - Max

Virginie Pochon - Annette

Sophie Kartäuser - Agathe

Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Dan Jemmett

No comments:

Post a Comment