Monday, April 26, 2010

Billy Budd ROCKS the Paris Opera

Billy Budd, Opéra Bastille Paris, April 24, 2010

Jeffrey Tate    Conductor
Francesca Zambello    Stage Director

Kim Begley Edward Fairfax Vere
Lucas Meachem Billy Budd
Gidon Saks John Claggart
Michael Druiett Mr Redburn
Paul Gay Mr Flint
Scott Wilde Lieutenant Ratcliffe
Andreas Jäggi Red Whiskers
Igor Gnidii Donald
Yuri Kissin Dansker
François Piolino The Novice
John Easterlin Squeak

This is the second revival of an astonishingly successful production of Billy Budd by Francesca Zambello, premiered in Paris in 1996. This Saturday night I attended the premiere of this revival. The show boasted the superb cast lead by a magnificent Kim Begley, who after his remarkable Loge in the Paris' production of Das Rheingold, comes back to deliver a smashing incarnation of Captain Vere. The surprise of the evening came with the title role sung by Lucas Meachem who was making his debut at the Paris Opera. And what a debut  my friends! His physique is a perfect match for the role [must have been extra working out for the past couple of months;)], while his voice is fresh, youngish, luminous. If you were looking for the most appropriate person to sing this part today, I'm pretty sure that would be Lucas.
If we  expected nothing less then brilliant from Kim Begley, the performance from Lucas Meachem came as major surprise. What a wonderful-wonderful singer! He comes like the cherry on the cake, and the cake being the superb Orchestra and the Chorus of the Paris Opera. I don't remember to have listened or even seen the orchestra so fully focused in the performance, totally submerged by the sensational conducting by Jeffrey Tate who clearly loves & feels Britten and who knows how to channel the subtle portions of the score.

I feel I would be unfair if I don't mention Gidon Saks too. He more than convincingly incarnates John Claggart, with his impressive acting and  powerful singing.

The production is classical [traditionalists were calm], but it is made with such a brio that we're ready to excuse Francesca some of her less successful productions we could see over the past several years. OK, you may say it doesn't take a rocket scientist to stage classically an opera with such such a magnificent libretto [see the synopsis here], beside a wonderful music which could perfectly exist alone. Yes, you can afford to make a classical staging and still be sure that this opera will breath with its modernity and musical and scenic awesomeness. The credit is due to Francesca Zambello for the way she construct her show, unveiling little by little the whole of the scenic (apparently simple) sets. She makes sure the dramatic action indeed to progress crescendo  clearly distancing herself from the zeffirellian cheap tricks.

The simplicity and depth of the score is absolutely spellbinding although it must be super-duper difficult to sing it.

If you, my dear reader, can possibly squeeze in a trip to Paris these days, do not miss this absolutely sensational show! I wonder if it is humanly possible to sing it better than this (props to all the singers!), the staging is extraordinary, the chorus/orchestra at their best and the conductor who wraps the whole thing up by his experience, his clear resonance with Britten's music.

There will be two more shows in April and five more in May.  This must be the best show on the operatic stages in Europe right now. GO!

Top performance by the chorus of the Paris Opera

The three protagonists: Lucas Meachem, Kim Begley and Gidon Saks

Full cast

On this URL you may find a 1 minute video excerpt from this production of Billy Budd.

Glorious weather in Paris, plus this sensational show, and the Opera Bastille regained all its magic beauty. Here is just one photo I took while wandering on the 6th floor before the show. 
What do you call this? Beauty! 

The inside geometry of the Opéra Bastille... 

"Indomitable" in the fog before the Act 2 

1 comment:

  1. En fait c'est la 3e reprise (la 4e série, donc), d'une production que Gall avait en plus importée de Genève... Je ne l'ai pas encore revue (ce sera samedi), mais dans mon souvenir c'est une production assez efficace, mais qui fait son âge esthétiquement : du pur Gall, donc...