Wednesday, June 2, 2010

L'Etoile in Berlin: scintillating music in too sweet a show

L'Étoile, Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin (UDL), May 19 2010

Conductor  Sir Simon Rattle 
Director  Dale Duesing
King Ouf I.  Jean Paul Fouchécourt 
Lazuli  Magdalena Kožená 
Princess Laoula  Juanita Lascarro 
Siroco  Giovanni Furlanetto 
Prince Herisson de Porc-Epic Douglas Nasrawi 
Aloès  Stella Doufexis
 Tapioca Florian Hoffmann

Staatskapelle Berlin

L'Étoile by Chabrier is a fine cheery opera with some nontrivial and beautiful music in spite of the lightness of the intrigue. After having seen this new production, very high profiled & with big names taking part in it, my first reaction was that it's maybe a wee bit too light for the Staatsoper. On the second thought, however, I believe the intention was to bring Paris closer to Berlin. The atmosphere in the theater was exactly the way you'd expect it to be at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris: the show, the sets, the public, the corridors, the wine sipping neatly dressed people discretely chatting all over the atrium... -- everything looked parisian.
If that was the intention of the organizers of this event, then they really hit the cord. Personally I wouldn't have done all the acrobatics with my planning to squeeze this show in one night of my stay in Berlin, but now when I did it I take the positive.

Chabrier's opera (operette) is musically very interesting when well performed. Purely musical side of the show was really excellent.  Sir Simon Rattle did what he does the best: he decomposed the score and then repacked it into homogeneous but lively musical treat in which every segment was distinct yet cleverly fitting in an uplifting music. A comparison with a rubber-ball is very appropriate: you have a feeling as if the music to be played was like a wild rubber-ball flying constantly in the pit, from one instrument to another, back and forth... making all the members of the orchestra alert and having a great deal of fun [that is to be contrasted with a common way to perform Chabrier -- i.e. all the details are immersed in a cheesy tasting amorphe structure]. It would be interesting to see how the parisians would respond to this level of musical performance of this score.

Magdalena Kozena was very good but I'll stick to my old statement that her voice is not suited for large opera houses. Unter den Linden was just about the biggest auditorium her voice could fill in, but in Paris, La Scala, or at the Covent Garden it would never work. With that being said, I discovered a good actress, a very fine singer/musician and a girl who totally enjoys herself performing -- the element which is particularly important for this opera to work with the audience.

Stella Doufexis is perhaps the most reliable singer you could find these days. Her presence on the stage is remarkable: she carries a big part of the show on her shoulders, but she's not a star, not someone who draws attention to herself. If you observe how the show is organized, you'd soon realize that she makes the most important links in the action. A very good comedian and as good a singer -- no wonder the Komische Oper offered her a contract and starting from 2010-2011 she'll be a part of the Komische team! ;)

Jean Paul Fouchécourt is a perfect person for this role: it sits very well with his voice, he articulates the text impeccably and it allows him to exhibit his respect-worthy comedian skills. A down side is that in comparison the other singers sound less good in terms of the French language. It's not that the French singers are all good in pronouncing the French -- not at all!-- it's rather Jean Paul who's particularly good, and that would make many French singers sounding less intelligible when singing next to him.

What didn't work then? I am used to see good, illuminating or edgy shows in Berlin. Especially the new productions are regularly peculiar in one way or another. Dale Duesing is not a producer. He's a singer who ventured into the opera producing business which doesn't seem to be his call. I believe the singers should sing and these "easy" shows should be given to young theater directors to make their way through to the operatic world.
There is nothing that I can point my finger at:  it is well done, well shaped, the decors are good, it all looks professional - and yet too nice, too polished,  and after about 1 hour that niceness becomes quite irritating and towards the end I was quite annoyed actually. The show was 1 hour 50, with no intermission and I thought it was enough.

So, if musically it was all wonderful, scenically it was OKish [I like sweets but this was just too much sugar for me], but definitely not at the level of standards you'd expect from the leading German opera house.

At the DSO website you can find a very good photo-gallery and a long trailer which, I believe, perfectly reflects the spirit and quality of the show.

Fouchecourt, Kozena and Furlanetto


  1. In what position will Doufexis be? She's been a soloist in the ensemble since 2005...

  2. Her big photo is in the program of the Komische for 2010-2011. I have it in my office. Will tell you tomorrow. Cheers!

  3. My bad. She will remain the ensemble soloist.

    In the new production of Idomeneo, she'll sing the role of Idamante.

  4. I know this question might sound silly, but I am just beginning to appreciate opera. What is an ensemble soloist? Does that mean the singer is not a much-sought-after freelancer yet and only gets a base salary from that opera company, no matter how many roles she sings in a season? What if the singer was rising and another opera house wanted her to be in any of its production?