Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bad Times for the Paris Opera

Now we can assert that --with its new intendant Nicolas Joel-- the Paris Opera (ONP) is hitting one of its history lowest points. The appalling choices he made finally drag this once respectable theater to the bottom of the European Opera standards. Only one year ago it was totally different. It still floats because it's heavily subsidized and it is rich enough to afford to bring the big stars such as Jonas Kaufmann, Natalie Dessay, Anna Netrebko... who come to hide the artistic vacuum - i.e. this theater creates nothing! [in French it's called the cache misère]

A last drop in the cup full of anger was the tonight's premiere of the atrocious production of La Sonnambula. Maybe not because of the production itself, but rather because of the intendant's choice to stage this opera at the Opéra Bastille. With such an idiotic libretto, there is no alchemy that could convert this pile of inane text into anything dramatically acceptable as to be presented on the immense stage of la Bastille. These sugary arias are for the recitals, and this opera is maybe suitable for a smaller (provincial?) theater [if any!]...

Marelli's ideas lasted for one act and then his show went down in flames: it's naive, it's ridiculous, it's appalling...  Even if one adopts the attitude "Come on! It is belcanto. The stage direction doesn't matter there",  this "Titanic" would sink anyway.  Today's rumor was that Natalie Dessay might cancel her prima. After all the drama, she finally decided not to cancel, and now in retrospect I think she should have. Her singing was painful, she was screaming, pushing her voice to the point where you feel uncomfortable and the whole show turned in a big embarrassment. A badly staged crappy opera, with memorably bad singing.

Joel's incapacity to realize that this opera is by no means suitable for Bastille is beyond me. Would it be less awful if it was staged in Garnier? I don't know but in any case, with the current vocal state of la Nata nationale this production would s(t)ink anyway. Only Javier Camarena was relatively OK, but I'm not sure if that's really a compliment - considering the dreadfulness of this show.

Should I remind that the ONP purchased this production too? Yes, from the Royal Opera House where it was premiered EIGHT years ago!!

Yours Truly - angry and sad :(


  1. I was thinking wether to buy a ticket for this production or not... Finally I decided not to buy, too risky...

    I'm sorry things are not going so well with the new intendant...

  2. That was clever Mei. Far too risky!

    The season opener "Mireille" was the defining moment for this intendant's term. It was laughable until we realized that he was actually serious. From there it's all bad-bad but since the House is rich, the artistic void is still somehow hidden.

    What angers me the most is that one of the World's richest and the most subsidized theater does not invest in artistic creation - how wasteful is that?!

    In any case, Werther works well (the cast is irresistible) and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. ;)

  3. I didn't like that bad Somnanbula either. Marelli's work is without any good idea, some of them really ridiculous (that appaling red curtain). Dessay sang badly, with a poor-colored voice, a strange style for belcanto and plenty of vulgarity in the final scene. But she was acclaimed by the Bastille's public. In my opinion, Camarena and Pertusi were OK. You're right. ONP takes a wrong way. (Abaris)

  4. Welcome Abaris ;)

    Marelli's last scene was an attempt to make this opera dramatically appealing, and he failed miserably. No wonder...

    I believe Dessay is only a part of the problem. It's Joel's fault to schedule this opera at the Bastille. He knew what to expect as he saw the show in 2002 - while he was dreaming to become the intendant of the ONP (Paris Opera).

    This comes after a series of weird decisions. It was his choice to randomly distribute the roles in Salome (and named poor Altinoglu to conduct it). His choice was to purchase the shabbiest production I've ever seen - Andrea Chenier. He screwed up Wozzeck, and he stunned everyone with his sub-sub-zeffirellian staging of the otherwise cheesy opera - Mireille (when ONP became a laughing stock among his European colleagues, press, and the intellectual circles). And so on, and so on... [look what happens with Idomeneo!]

    To me, he is the main problem.

  5. I beg to differ. Sonnambula is a wonderful opera when sung with the right cast and with a good direction. I had the privilege to attend a magnificent Sonnambula at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with Annick Massis and Juan Diego Florez in 2006. Annick Massis was a superb Amina so I am wondering why Dessay (grossly overrated in my view) is always invited to sing this role and not Massis. As for JDF, the name says it all. Don't blame Bellini for poor singing and atrocious directing.


  6. Stelucia welcome :)

    I guess, it's a question of tastes, but a complete lack of dramatic action in La Sonnambula makes it particularly unsuitable for a huge stage such as Bastille. For a smaller one we may discuss...

    I Puritani is also tough to handle stagewise although much easier than La Sonnambula. Check out what F.Negrin had to say about that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr0MNf5l114

    IMO, this opera should be given in its concert version, to satisfy the belcanto fans. That's what the ROH did with "Linda di Chamounix" (Gutierrez, Costello) in September 2009, and also the Deutsche Oper Berlin with "I Capuleti e I Montecchi" (Garanca, Siurina). In both cases the crowd loved it.

  7. I was there, not for the opening, but for the 4th performance and really... it wasn't THAT bad!! Dessay was AMAZING indeed (at the end you could hear she was tired but... just at the very end!)
    Now, I mean, YES, WE ALL CAN SAY NOW: "IT'S REALLY A STUPID LIBRETTO" but remember it was not written for OUR TIME!! who is singing is NOT the problem (and if you ask me, Camarena is not better than Florez or Florez better than Camarena... the voices are WAY too different and in my opinion Camarena's voice is richer in colors, warmth and tenderness) The problem is how is staged! It's impossible to bring to a contemporary time this libretto so NAIVE!!! This opera MUST be settled in a village, in a time where superstition, innocence and insist, naive culture be more than obvious... then maybe we can see it like the masterwork it was conceived...
    I didn't like Marelli's work, but I really REALLY enjoyed the singing and the music.

  8. Assuming that Dessay was so much better than on the night of la prima, I totally agree with you -- which only backs my claim that THIS opera is not to be produced in any of major European Theaters, it is not for this huge a scene. It's sweet belcanto arias are perfectly suitable for the concert performances.

    I am not claiming that all of the belcanto operas should be ditched. Just that this one deserves a huge axe ;)