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25.2.06

Martinů's Juliette in Paris

I don't really need any more reasons to move to Paris, but one that certainly keeps occurring to me is that the Opéra national de Paris, now under the direction of Gérard Mortier, keeps producing operas that I would love to see and hear. Most recently, it was Bohuslav Martinů's Julietta, directed by Richard Jones. Originally scheduled from December 31 to February 16, the premiere was cancelled because one of the lead singers was unexpectedly not able to perform. An article (Bastille : première annulée de "Juliette ou la clé des songes", January 26) from Abeille has the story (my translation and links added):

The interpreter of the lead male role Michael, American tenor William Burden, called it quits at the last minute. He was replaced by John Graham-Hall who -- imagine! -- needed a week to learn his role. He will be responsible for the other performances in February.
The strange circumstances seem to have caused the production not to be reviewed. Anywhere, as far as I can tell. The libretto was adapted from a surrealist play by Georges Neveux, which Kurt Weill was apparently also interested in setting as an opera. You can find out more about the Paris production, which was premiered in 2002, in an article by Hugh Canning (Julietta, or the Key to Dreams, November 2002) for Andante.com:
Martinu's Julietta was first performed in Prague in a Czech-language version in 1938, but it is based on a 1930 surrealist play by Georges Neveux, Juliette, ou la clé des songes; this brilliant new production was — amazingly — the opera's local stage premiere, and the Opéra sensibly opted to sing it in the version française closely based on Neveux's original text. (The first French performance was only in 1976, in Rouen.) Juliette may have been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait, for this was one of Richard Jones's most imaginative and beautiful stagings.

Martinu's opera is a dreamscape of illusion, obsession and bizarre incongruity: the hero, Michel, arrives in a French port town seeking his ideal fantasy woman, Juliette, whom he claims to have met three years before — but it may have been in a dream. This kind of piece is meat and drink to the director responsible for such remarkably phantasmagoric productions as the Welsh National/Bologna Queen of Spades and the famous Bregenz Festival production of Un ballo in maschera with a 20 meter-high skeleton rising out of the lake, leafing a huge book of choreographic notation.
William Burden sang the role of Michel in that premiere, so I am not really sure what happened this year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this blog, and thought you might like to know what actually happened here. The publishers insisted on a new French version being done. William Burden became ill during rehearsals and had to cancel. Because of the new version, no-one knew the role of Michel, so I was asked to learn it (in two and a half weeks, not one). The date for the premiere was put back in order to give us sufficient time to rehearse, and when we did open, the production was reviewed by about half a dozen French papers, all of which I am glad to say were enthusiastic.

John Graham-Hall