Monday, October 11, 2010

Nearly perfect production of Roméo et Juliette in Amsterdam

Roméo et Juliette, De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam, October 10 2010

Conductor ..... Marc Minkowski
Director ..... Olivier Py

Juliette ..... Lyubov Petrova
Roméo ..... Ismael Jordi
Frère Laurent ..... Nicolas Testé
Stéphano ..... Cora Burggraaf
Mercutio ..... Henk Neven
Tybalt ..... Sébastien Droy
Gertrude ..... Doris Lamprecht
Benvolio ..... Jean-Léon Klostermann
Paris ..... Maarten Koningsberger
Grégorio ..... Mattijs van de Woerd
Capulet ..... Philippe Rouillon
Le Duc/Frère Jean ..... Christophe Fel
Manuela ..... Oleksandra Lenyshyn
Pepita ..... Maartje de Lint
Angelo ..... John van Halteren

Residentie Orkest & Koor van De Nederlandse Opera
This production can be also viewed as a response to a flat/uninteresting show by Bartlett Sher we saw in Salzburg this year which remained in our memory only because of the superb cast including Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala and Misha Petrenko. Cora Burggraaf, who sang the role of Stéphano in Salzburg, was the only one from that cast to sing in Amsterdam too.

Olivier Py directs here a nearly perfect show. What separates it from being perfect are his extra details he tends to add. It feels as if he's afraid not to do "too little" and then he adds a pile of details that you could live very well without. Some of these details are cheesy and spoil the overall impression but if he manages to get rid of them, he may well be one of the Top-5 world class opera producers [examples of redundant but cheesy details: harpoon in the hand of silvery Neptun in Idomeneo, game with neons in Tristan, a large plastic key in Les contes d'Hoffmann...] I knew what to expect in that respect so I paid more attention to spot those unnecessary details in this show and: "Carpe diem" graffiti is cheesy, the burning car (with the amateurishly set flames) is totally redundant, children playing with guns during the "wedding" is derailing from the story, a guy dancing after Juliette took the poison is unnecessary trivializes the idea behind that scene etc etc etc. But once I made this comment, Olivier Py's show is WONDERFUL.There are 7 more shows in this run, and if you can make it this is certainly worth your money.

The greatest of all love stories is set in an atmosphere of a modern civil war, with obviously Roméo and Juliette belonging to different sides. On both sides of the stage you can see the graves of those who perished in the ongoing war, which makes the barrier between Roméo and Juliette only much bigger. What is striking in all the shows produced by Olivier Py is the way the scene is evolving during the show, the clever use of sets as if they were pieces of jigsaw puzzle allowing him to change the scene in a continuous way. So here too his stage goes up and down, the walls split apart, unveiling the chamber behind, the wall that brings in a "balcony", the sets that spin...  It is all superbly mounted and the tableaux are flowing from one to another with no interruption whatsoever.

I will not catalog all the ideas Olivier Py has thrown in this show, but to give you a taste of what you could experience if you go and see this show I will briefly describe the beginning of Act-1 and Act-4 (part-1 and part-2 of the show).

The beginning of the show strikes you with its intensity: as soon the stage is uncovered we see a dead body in the midst of steamy ruins, and one huge German shepherd runs across the stage while another one stops to sniff the dead soldier. Two other men in uniforms then appear to chase the dog away and collect the dead. The back part of the scene then starts rising like a platform on which two groups of soldiers appear with two coffins in their hands, which they place symmetrically on the opposite sides of the stage and leave. As the stage was rising, we discover a shelter full of people underneath (civilians). By the end of the overture, we see Roméo and Juliette rising from the two coffins and leaving... You can interpret that in at least two ways but in any case Olivier Py perfectly defines the modern civil war like atmosphere where the death is everywhere, the environment which makes the love story between Roméo and Juliette totally improbable. And yet...

When they first meet and fall in love with each other Olivier Py sets a rope between them that does not connect them directly, but stretches all the way around the crosses on the graves of those who were killed on both sides (placed on two opposite sides of the stage - left and right). From that point on, every move of Roméo and Juliette makes new cords stretch across the stage and entangle with the other ones by which Olivier Py wants to stress the complexity of environment in which their love evolves.

Also brilliant is the idea that Stéphano was a woman at the beginning of the show. A girl wants to become a soldier, she puts on a uniform, tuck her nightgown in and becomes Stéphano.  Later on, in Act-3, when she gets captured by the Capulets she will get rid of the uniform...

Part-two (Act-4) begins with the famous aria "Nuit d’hyménée, Ô douce nuit d’amour", and the stage is elevated up and you see a room with Roméo and Juliette naked on a large bed, making love. The lights are particularly beautifully directed that all the sensual part of the scene is brilliantly captured without ever showing the two fully naked (I guess they weren't fully naked anyway). After the sex Roméo quickly dresses up and the stage is pulled apart from both sides it splits, the two are separated but again a stronger cord is set between them...

On several places Olivier Py scenically reiterates the war atmosphere (cadavers, massacred bodies), the environment that totally opposes the love. The benefit is that most of the pathos and cheese from this opera is cleverly avoided, but the passionate romance is kept intact. Great great show!

To make the event ever better Marc Minkowski conducted impeccably the orchestra. Marc demonstrates here once again how great he truly is and in fact followed the story Olivier Py decided to tell in this show. His conducting also reflects antagonism of the  cords and the rest of the orchestra giving it a particularly beautiful sound, carefully avoiding the sugary side of Gounod's score. Bravo!

What about the actors/singers? Ismael Jordi  and Lyubov Petrova have not the volume of Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko but they were both fantastic in their roles here. Their physique played to their advantage making their scenic presence convincing. They both sang wonderfully. This role is extremely difficult for Roméo and Jordi's musicality of the top class belcanto singer helped a lot. He was hugely ovationed in the end. Going to Amsterdam the only unknown piece for me was Lyubov Petrova. She turns out to be a very pleasant surprise! Her voice is not that rich in colors but it is sane. She sings every note with considerable power and gives a superb interpretation of Juliette -- totally in phase with Olivier Py's show.  Nicolas Testé is a superb bass-baritone who I first saw in Die Feen at Châtelet a couple of years ago, then in Norma last year, and here again he is impeccable.

CC pics:

Last scene: see the cords I mentioned above; notice the deathbed in the middle of this pic

The wall is pulled to the left and the chorus come -- see the background

Nicolas Testé, Henk Neven and Sébastien Droy

van de Woerd, Christophe Fel, Cora Burggraaf, Philippe Rouillon

Maestro Marc Minkowski

Lyubov Petrova and Ismael Jordi

Ismael Jordi, John van Halteren, Nicolas Testé, Henk Neven

Notice that this production is co-produced by De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam and The Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen where this production will be presented between February and April 2010.

DNO prepared a trailer for this show:


What I like about this theater is that it is cleverly attached to the City Hall. The free space in hallways is where they've put lots of tables/chairs so that the crowd can come to theater an hour before the show and enjoy a pleasant atmosphere to sip a glass of wine,

especially on a sunny day when they open the terrace and you get a clear view like this:

Extra info/anecdote:  During the intermission I happened to stand near a few French speaking people discussing the pros and cons of Olivier Py's mise en scéne. I joined in and learned that one lady in the group was Nicolas Testé's mother.  Without thinking I said "Ah, maman de Monsieur Damrau !", then had to backpedal a bit to make that charming lady accept the "joke". ;)
All this to tell you that Frère Laurent (Nicolas Testé) and our fave Diana Damrau had a baby boy last week. Congratulations to the happy parents! :)


  1. Hi Carlos. When you preferred Zeffirelli's Carmen to Bieito's, it's clear you that Py is not your cup of tea.

    But that you didn't like it at all, that's a bit surprising. When did you listen to this music performed better than what Minkowski did with this orchestra? Singing was wonderful too.

    You were at the premiere or yesterday? Yesterday the show at DNO ended with a standing ovation.

  2. Sounds very exciting - much more than the old production we are about to see revived in London, with Beczala Im seeing the cinema broadcast of the Barcelona Carmen on Wednesday

  3. yes, looks very interesting indeed. it seems that so many innovative and compelling productions are being produced in the netherlands.
    being from the old school i find it rather ironic - i'm very intrigued by the new takes on the old masters but I'm often repelled by contemporary music. there is a limit to the number of new tricks this old dog can learn (to appreciate). michael

  4. Hi Michael. Do not expect much from Carmen, but be open for something different wrt what you usually see on stage.

    Roméo et Juliette is a classic opera and the way Olivier Py produced this show simply gives a new life to this work. He insists on the bleak environment and the situation in which everything is set against two young people to fall in love with each other. And in spite or because of that the love happens... It's 'realistically' romantic, which is the only way this piece can talk to the 21st century audience. If you can see it, do give it a try. ;)

  5. Well I thought the Liceu Carmen was very thrilling - a great piece of theatre, and very well sung especially by the men. Alagna was superb as he was in London last year. Tremendous audience acclaim, although there were a lot of murmurs when the Osborne Bull appeared at the start of Act III. No jeers though for the beautiful naked Toreador!

    I just heard from DNO that Romeo is being filmed for broadcast on Dutch TV in December. So hopefully I will get to see it.

  6. the ??? in the last picture is John van Halteren (choir member, playing Angelo)