Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Opéra Burlesque: Les Mamelles de Tirésias

Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Opéra Comique - Paris, January 9 2011

Musical direction ..... Ludovic Morlot
Stage direction ..... Macha Makeïeff

Thérèse /La Cartomancienne ..... Hélène Guilmette
Le Mari ..... Ivan Ludlow
Le Directeur de théâtre/Le Gendarme ..... Werner Van Mechelen
Presto ..... Christophe Gay
Lacouf ..... Loïc Felix
Le Journaliste parisien ..... Thomas Morris
Le Fils ..... Marc Molomot

Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra de Lyon

Recent shows I've seen but had no time to blog about. 

Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a burlesque opera by Francis Poulenc that you cannot see that often on an important operatic stage. This production was premiered in December in Lyon and less than a month later it is premiered at Opéra Comique (a.k.a. Salle Favart) in Paris. Important or not, this opera was premiered for the first time ever at Opéra Comique in 1947.

It is based on a play by Guillaume Appolinaire (written in 1903) that Poulenc adapted to a libretto for his opera, which is also kinda testimony of the French response to what Kurt Weill and friends did in Germany before the WW2. The opera was obviously much more edgy at the time of its creation as it was addressing the issue of emancipation of women: of course it's full of double meanings and you can use it to see it from whatever is your side of the issue, but --more importantly-- you can never ignore the other side. Resonating with the time in which he created, Appollinaire constructed his story by a surreal & burlesque extrapolation of a simple story of a woman who desires to take her destiny in her own hands. All in a good mood the text is very witty, and Poulenc had genius to translate that in  music -- far closer to opera than to cabaret. For a brief synopsis see here [it's again about boobs.]

Since the opera would be far too short (slightly over an hour long), the organizers decided to add two musical pieces both performed before the actual beginning of the opera. The two pieces were Le boeuf sur le toit by Darius Milhaud, and Foxtrot by Shostakovich [good choice as Francis Poulenc quoted those two as his major musical inspiration that lead him to Les Mamelles de Tirésias.]

Ludovic Morlot is one of these good French conductors who rarely perform in France.  He came to Paris with a very good orchestra of the Lyon Opera and the orchestral performance was a musical feast for the packed auditorium of Opéra Comique.

Since the show was presented around and the year's ending holidays, Macha Makeïeff opted for a light version of the show. She stripping away the seriousness and references to feminism, and decided instead to make it as joyful as possible. The action is set in a circus and flows come scritto. Hilarious story about Thérèse and her husband evolves among acrobats, clowns...  It is joyful and allows you to focus on the text, although personally I'd preferred it to be a bit deeper. I guess Macha's intention was: (a) to make it as festive and light hearted as possible, (b) the emancipation of women nowadays has a totally different dimension compared to the time when Poulenc was composing this opera, so you may as well skip it.
The show then is progressing in opulent decors thanks to the brilliant text the dynamics of which is brilliantly reflected in timings of Poulenc's score.  For that to work you obviously need a good cast and that was clearly the case here. Hélène Guilmette is a lively vibrant girl with a terrific scenic presence and who can sing high. She dominated the stage from A to Z. Ivan Ludlow was her troubled husband who acted and sang his role very well -- in impeccable French. Werner van Mechelen and his rich dark bass-baritone completed a cool trio of main characters.

My CC-pics, followed by the production photos [© Jean-Louis Fernandez], and a short trailer.

Ivan Ludlow, Hélène Guilmette, and Werner van Mechelen

Ludovic Morlot

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