Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Julie by Boesmans and Bondy: an opera for posterity

So what about Julie? I saw this DVD a year ago or so. Since we have another production of this opera in Paris starting on January 8, I decided to see it again, to brush up on it.

3 general informations about this opera would be: (1) it is short - only 74 minutes long; (2) it is a chamber opera somehow following a Britten-like line of creation - I bet he would've loved it; (3) it is close to the Wagnerian vein too, as it combines an extraordinary libretto with the music that weaves through the text only to accelerate your dive into the psyche of each of three characters. This should be as close as you can get to the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, and I'm pretty sure Wagner would have loved it too.
To the above generalities I should add two essential elements which make this production (and this DVD) stand out: the perfectly fitting actors/singers, and the impeccable stage direction.

This DVD is based on the recording made at the opera festival in Aix-en-Provence 2005, the same year the work was premiered in Brussels. The libretto is an adaptation of the play "Miss Julie" by Strinberg. To adapt a play for a modern opera is tough and most of the attempts end in thrash.  Luc Bondy and Philippe Boesmans made an exceptionally delightful adaptation, and I'm pretty sure this work will remain for posterity.

Once you have a good libretto it is much easier to put it on stage, so -even though I absolutely loved the staging- I'd moderate my praise for the director. The stage looks like a painting that Vermeer of our times would have made...

Deep down, the story is about us: our desires, our passions, ambition, our constant (in)ability to reconcile with who we are; it is depicted through 3 characters placed -in a typically Nordic manner- in an extremely simple environment (both geometrically & socially). Reflections of the inner self of each of the personalities go through impulses, through mood-swings, through bursts of intensive action which generate equally powerful reactions and thereby a network of complex relations which constantly change in shape, in color and robustness (it is eventually fragile, as we all are...)
Ph. Boesmans' music impressed me the most because it provides an ingenious support to both the action and to the mood-swings: it comes in intense impulses too, with a constant change of rhythms and the musical cross references make its listening the most enthralling experience. It underlines every single feature of each of these three (let's face it) ordinary characters, without ever falling into self-sufficiency: it is written for this play and it describes these three characters and their relations (I doubt that listening to this music on its own could be nearly as interesting...) Kazushi Ono served this music brilliantly, as he always does.

This DVD will most likely remain unbeatable because of the actors/singers involved in the process. It is hard to say whether they excel more as actors or singers. This must have been the lifetime best by Malena Ernman. Her mezzo, covering a wide range of notes, is being used constantly and her acting is the best you could ever see in Opera.  Her initial femme fatale attitude, a dominant and seductive woman, hides her deep despair and desire to flee her family, her house, herself... This is progressively unveiled along the play not only by her acting but also by her singing. Garry Magee is a perfect partner in this theater - again scenically and vocally. Add to that the presence of virgin-looking and angelically-singing Kerstin Avemo, and you get as perfect a cast as it can get.

On the scale 1-5:

JULIE Malena Ernman 5
JEAN Garry Magee 5
KRISTIN Kerstin Avemo 5

Luc Bondy's production  5

Kazushi Ono 5

  Overal impression:  5  


  1. You can see Julie in Malmö-Sweden between 16januari-7 februari.This is a production in cooperation with Cape Town Operan and NorrlandsOpera.

  2. Thank "YOU" for that info. I really am glad this superb opera is kept in life. Will you go and see it? If so please do let us know how it was. Cheers