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16.10.04

Opera Is Back in Toulouse

An article (Toulouse : le Capitole au top niveau, October 11) by Philippe Motta for Le Figaro describes the completion of the renovation of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse, undertaken by architect François Bénet. The theater had already undergone renovation in 1996, but the Toulouse Opera decided it had to reconsider its scenic equipment and backstage thoroughly, so the theater was shut down again in June 2003 for a period of 14 months. Here is my translation:

This part of the theater, which generally is hidden from the public, remains critical because it provides the important infrastructure on which a spectacle's technical potential relies. The stakes were high. Installed in the right wing of the Hôtel de Ville [Town hall], completed at the beginning of the 18th century, the Théâtre du Capitole could not even consider extending its historic walls outward. That meant space had to be found on the inside. The architect François Bénet fought cleverly and, ultimately, with valor. He not only managed to open up storage and movement spaces around the backstage, but also enlarged the stage. which gained some 50 square meters [538.2 square feet] over its initial 250 square meters [2691 square feet]. But the critical part is the machinery, which is invisible to the eye. Raising the ceiling allowed the installation of pulleys controlled by computer.

Putting their best foot forward, Toulouse wanted the best. The scenographer Michel Cova advocated for the control program known as Bytecraft, which from the Peking Opera to the Châtelet in Paris, controls the largest scene changes in the stage world. This computerized system also allows the Théâtre du Capitole to offer the best there is in terms of lighting. It is hard to see, after the purchase of 8.6 million € [$10.7 million] of equipment, what else could possibly be missing or detrimental to the 36 productions planned for this season.
Nicolas Joël, Théâtre du Capitole, ToulouseNow the work is done, and a new season of opera has opened with a new production of Leoš Janáček's Jenůfa, staged by the organization's artistic director himself, Nicolas Joël (shown at right), with sets by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino. The opera was premiered by the composer in Brno 100 years ago this year, and the Capitole is performing the original version, in an edition overseen by the Janáček specialist, conductor Charles Mackerras. The cast list includes Helga Dernesch (Buryja), Jorma Silvasti (Laca), Kevin Anderson (Števa), Hildegard Behrens (Kostelnicka), and Barbara Haveman (Jenůfa). A review (La sombre "Jenufa" de Leos Janacek illumine le renouveau du Capitole, October 15) by Marie-Aude Roux in Le Monde has the following quotation from the director (my translation):
For this premiere of Janáček's Jenůfa, artistic director Nicolas Joël has teamed up with stage designer Nicolas Joël. "I could have programmed a Magic Flute or a Traviata," he said, "but I found that it was the right moment for this expressionistic work that I consider one of the masterpieces of the repertoire and which, one century after its premiere in Brno, had still never been produced in Toulouse!"
The reviewer notes that Joël's design is intended as "heavy symbolic counterweight" to this dark and violent opera: the enormous, menacing wheel of a mill, the frozen stream that is the "future cradle for the little cadaver," the bitterness of the sets, the mute stridency of the lighting, the costumes recalling the black-and-white films of the 1930s. "All of it reinforces the savagery of the place and the passions that are in play there." Dutch soprano Barbara Haveman's Jenůfa is a "truly beautiful discovery," with a rich tone, full projection, and skilled tragic acting, especially in the Act II prayer, in which she foresees her child's death. Jorma Silvasti was "vocally brilliant and impeccable" as Laca, which is "not at all the case" with Kevin Anderson as Števa. The two "ex-Wagnerian glories" of Helga Dernesch and Hildegard Behrens were "quite simply impressive in the vocal realism and stage presence." Czech conductor Jiří Kout, "one of the best Janáček conductors right now," led the Orchestre du Capitole in a performance that confirms it as "one of the leading orchestras of the provinces." The last performance is tomorrow (October 17) at 3 pm. We hope that our favorite Toulouse blogger (see my posts on Toulouse, from April 3, 2004, and back on July 30, 2003) has been to see it.

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