Tuesday, March 13, 2007

La Juive at the Opera Bastille; Le Jardin des Voix; Trinidad; Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Susan Graham at the Garnier

Well, you just can't have everything. I love blogging, but I haven't been at it lately because I'm very much under the gun, a hostage to my work for the next few weeks. I wanted to check in to let you know that, and to quickly run through what's been going on lately.

I had no idea what I would think of Halévy's La Juive, presented at the Opera Bastille as a new production this season. The most popular opera in 19th-century France, it's rarely heard today. Well, thanks to effective stage direction and a striking set consisting of elaborate metal and lights, and, more importantly, to a stunning cast, I was absolutely floored. I will remember Neil Shicoff's wrenching performance of Éléazar's famous Act IV aria as one of the great moments that I have been lucky to witness. Even Anna Caterina Antonacci--a remarkable actress--couldn't quite match Shicoff's formidable presence. But Robert Lloyd, with his biting voice and intimidating appearance, certainly did. Brogni's final plea for his daughter's whereabouts elicited my ambivalent pity. I'll never forget the vengeful tone of Schicoff's ringing, stinging, burning "La voilà!" ("There she is!"), as red light flooded the stage (representing the boiling oil that kills her), framing Antonacci's graceful physique in the background while Lloyd collapsed in horror and grief. I also have to mention two other singers: John Osborn, who handled Léopold's cruel tessitura with ease and cut an attractive figure on stage; and the elegant Annick Massis, who was born to sing the high-flying lines of Eudoxie with princesslike grace.

This past weekend, I was lucky to catch three events. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, currently on tour with the 2007 incarnation of Le Jardin des Voix, played two nights at Cite de la Musique. These young singers sang beautifully, and I strongly encourage you to see them if they come to your town.

Parc de la Villette featured the music of Trinidad, the country of my birth, as its theme for this past Sunday's program in the series Scenes d'Hiver. The 5.5-hour program was remarkably well organized, with an ingenious combination of performance, demonstration and lecture in the sexy venue Cabaret Sauvage. Unfortunately, I missed Calypso Rose's performance, as I had to leave to make it to a very different venue . . .

. . . the Palais Garnier, in time for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recital featuring Susan Graham. Last month, I spotted Graham in the lobby of the Met at three performances in a row. At the last, my friend Sarah and I (as she recounts on her blog) spoke to her, and Graham mentioned that much of her material on the Aimard program will be new to her. She sang an extraordinary, little-known Ravel song cycle ("Nobody knows it," she said to me following the concert, when I mentioned that I'd never heard it) called Trois chansons madécasses. At its center is the chilling "Aoua!", a tale of the horror of colonialism, bearing the refrain, "Méfiez-vous des blancs"/"Beware of the white man" (I translate). Graham delivered a thrilling, no-holds-barred performance, altering her voice to sustain an admonitory tone.

Finally, I wanted to mention stage director Irina Brook, who found my blog and took the time to comment on my Giulio Cesare post. As I mention in my post, the opening night audience booed her off the stage. In her comment she reacts to this, and I especially appreciate what she says about putting her "heart and soul" into her work. I always try to keep this in mind in my commentary.


Anonymous said...

How extraordinary that Ms. Graham, whom I admire intensely, didn't know the Chansons madécasses. I kind of thought they were close to standard repertoire--my voice teacher at Oberlin sang them on her senior recital, and I've heard them a couple of times in the past couple of decades. (Love your blog, BTW; keep it up for us parisophiles and mélomanes!)

of the kosmos said...

Hm, a couple times in 20 years is not very frequent . . . by contrast, I've heard Shéhérazade three times in as many years. Chansons madécasses should really be programmed more often--it was a thrill to hear these little gems!

Thanks so much for the kind words!