Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cosí fan tutte in Nancy

Cosí fan tutte, Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy, September 30, 2012

Lionel Lhote, Gaëlle Arquez, Gyula Orendt, Tito Muñoz, Marie Adeline Henry, Julien Behr and Clémence Barrabé

Director ..... Jim Lucassen
Conductor ..... Tito Muñoz

Fiordiligi ..... Marie Adeline Henry 
Dorabella ..... Gaëlle Arquez 
Despina ..... Clémence Barrabé 
Ferrando ..... Julien Behr 
Guglielmo ..... Gyula Orendt 
Don Alfonso ..... Lionel Lhote 

Jim Lucassen is a young Dutch director whose name is often associated with two enthusiastically received productions: Rigoletto and Rusalka. His Rusalka was also created in Nancy, then traveled elsewhere [btw, it will open the 2013-2014 season in Frankfurt] and placed Lucassen among the  recognizable names in the world of opera directors [he was also a winner of the Regie prize for young directors in Graz]. The rave reviews that followed his Rigoletto made it then clear that Jim is a very talented producer that is to stay with us in the years to come.

I unfortunately did not see neither of these two acclaimed productions but was quite intrigued by the reviews of his Rigoletto: the critics --especially those who, like me, see Rigoletto as one of the dramatically incongruent Verdi operas-- were so impressed that I eventually regretted not to have seen it myself.

Let me stop here and add a line of two that would hopefully prevent the influx of hate-mails from the diehard Verdi fans. ;)  Like many/most opera-goers I too enjoy the numerous tunes from Rigoletto but the weaknesses of the libretto are too big an obstacle for me to enjoy this opera in theater [in the Paris Opera production I felt a guilty pleasure when Gilda died in the end -- Gilbert Deflo Jérôme Savary had made it that cheesy]. Of course, not all productions of Rigoletto are bad. The one by Barrie Kosky [for the Komische Oper Berlin] made me truly admire Barrie who salvaged the part in which Gilda comes back looking for The Duke of Mantua [the cringeworthy moment of the opera] by showing a disoriented and very pregnant Gilda looking for her man. This was a little detail that --added to a series of excellent ideas-- made that production particularly memorable, even if it was basically spoiled by singing in German [Rigoletto in German... I mean... honestly...

Back to Lucassen. Cosí fan tutte represents a different kind of difficulty [w.r.t. Rigoletto or Rusalka]: despite its superb libretto, it is hard to produce something that would become a reference on its own and different from what Jossie Weiler, Adrian Noble, Claus Guth, or the Herrmanns did in the past decade. Opting for a traditional staging could be risky too (and unlikely for Jim), as the classiness of the Eric Génovèse production in Paris would be hard to beat.

Let me be clear and say that Jim Lucassen does not produce a reference Cosí here, but rather takes the Claus Guth route but goes an extra mile in sculpting the drama. Even the sets look similar to those from the Guth production presented in Salzburg in 2009 and 2011, except that the action here is placed in a department store, among the fancy shops with expensive cloths, shoes... Despina is an employee -- a kind that is supposed to flatter the rich clientele, and Don Alfonso is the store manager. The two amuse themselves by playing two young couples, trying to expose their fake morality/fidelity, and their naivety.

What is truly impressive in the show is the accuracy of the direction. None of the actors is ever left on his/her own, and often the action on the stage occurs simultaneously, which is very tough to pull out unless the director is skillful enough to avoid derailing the spectators' attention from the storyline. Jim does a superb job in that department. Every props had its purpose in portraying the characters or supporting teh dramatic action. First act is particularly fast paced. Attention to details is amazing: e.g. during Smanie Implacabili Despina goes out of the store (glassy door in the back of the stage) and next we see her taking a break --> smoking a cigarette, while Dorabella has her moment in the hall of the store. Such details are many-many. In short this is a good example of how a 21st century opera production should be mounted.

 Once Guiglielmo and Ferrando are disguised, they come as spitting images from the Diesel commercials in the 90's. They appear in front of Dorabella and Fiordiligi when Don Alfonso rises the shutters of the perfume shop. One is next to a huge flask of Opium by Yves Saint Laurent and the other with a huge bottle of Poison by Christian Dior. So once they opened their bottles they are poisoned and start hallucinating.

Always difficult to stage is the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 of this opera. Lucassen had an excellent solution: the girls are leafing through the fashion magazines in front of the curtain and Despina comes to encourage them to be more seductive with two 'Albanians'. To fully convince them she gives them dresses from the magazine... Then the make-up assistants come and prepare the girls for the seduction game that follows. Only then the curtain rises again, unveiling the same store but now with the ground floor converted into a garden (perfectly fitting with the text of the libretto).

Another point which makes this production going beyond Claus Guth is that the women are portrayed as assertive, conquering, 2012-ish. Dorabella is --for example-- not hesitating to make the first move on Guiglielmo, but remains seductive and very womanly all the way. All the ambiguities of the libretto are finely staged,bringing more balance to the story -- none of the characters is a victim or guilty: they are all endearing and absolutely human.

What makes this show gaining in credibility is the cast of pretty/handsome young [under 30] singers: Marie Adeline Henry, Gaëlle Arquez, Julien Behr and Gyula Orendt. Marie-Adeline Henry is an interesting singer. Her voice is definitely big, with particularly rich timbre in the medium. She nails all all the gravi but is forcing the top notes (à la Dessay). The overall impression is however excellent.
I hope you remember me admiring Zerlina by Gaëlle Arquez in the Haneke production of Don Giovanni. She was superb at Bastille, and here she's absolutely amazing. She's a total package: a  superbly audible voice and homogenous in all registers, wonderfully expressive in style, and her scenic presence matches that of Isabel Leonard (which one of the two is the hottest female singer today?!) Bravissima!
Lionel Lhote remonds us here how truly terrific a singer he is. His Don Alfonso is smashing from the beginning to the end. Fine singing by Clémence Barrabé was a bit underwhelming in comparison with her exceptionally good colleagues.
Gyula Orendt is a name to retain. His warm baritone is expressive, he's in full command of his voice and everything sounds so effortless and completely in phase with his excellent acting. I could bet on the brightness of his future career. A huge Bravo!
Right before the beginning of the show the announcer informed us that Julien Behr was indisposed but decided to sing. His singing is undeniably beautiful, not nasal at all, his singing line is terrific, but in his arias he occasionally failed to sustain the power of his voice. It was nevertheless a very good performance for the auditorium of the Opéra National de Lorraine, but it would certainly be insufficient for Bastille, for example. 

Tito Muñoz backed the liveliness of what was happening on the stage by fast tempi. All in all his  orchestra sounded very good, very well balanced and never crossed the dangerous line of drowning the singers. Yours truly, however, detected at least three delays between the orchestra and singers which were clearly the conductor's fault but he would fast get the situation under control.  Never mind!

So, in the end, I very much enjoyed the show [that ends with Don Alfonso and Despina holding an apple and a snake -- for obvious reasons], I loved the staging, and was very pleased to see and listen to these brilliant young singers who sang their hearts out.

Good go for the Nancy Opera and I hope to be back there for the 2012-2013 David Hermann show.

Production photos [©ONL]

My curtain call photos:

Despina and Don Alfonso

Dorabella and Guiglielmo

Fiordiligi and Ferrando

Maestro Muñoz

And once again the super-gorgeous Gaëlle Arquez

and the production trailer:


  1. Great you have tume to report so beautifully. Sounds like a very dramatic and satisfying evening.

    I wondered if you might have time to finish your review of the Madrid Poppea. I am so curious to have your pinion in detail

    All the best

    1. Hi Michael! That was the best show in 2012 so far for me. Hope I'll get some time off to blog about it. It's tough with work and all things that get on the way but I hope I'll manage to write something short about it. Cheers

  2. Amazing looking production. Adrian Noble's production is one of my all time favorite Cosi's. The singing and acting in that production was so organic to the music and concept - may the Youtube gods come through with a video of this production some day.

    1. Noble is not really my favorite director but his Da Ponte cycle was really terrific. It was his "To America with Love" card: Cosi was in California, Le Nozze was in Washington [very funny ;)] and Don Gio in Manhattan. Each opera is related to the socially important moment in the modern American history. I believe they're preparing the DVD set. If it comes out don't miss it! I KNOW you'll like it ;)

  3. One advantage I can see in this production over Guth's is that the railing on the balcony is too narrow to stand on. (I am terribly afraid of heights and always have to look the other way when Isabel Leonard is singing "Smanie implacabile!")

    1. I remember of that scene at the Haus für Mozart where it looked much more scary than on the video. The moment when Isabel made a move as if she was losing her balance, we all stopped breathing and many women let a quick "Aah!" that in a fraction of a second changed from "Aah!"-afraid/shocked to "Aah!"-relieved.