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14.11.09

Opera Fit for a King

The Opéra royal de Versailles was closed in 2006, the beginning of a three-year process to secure the architectural structure of the building and restore the stage to its original 18th-century state. The largest theater in Europe until the Palais Garnier was opened in 1875, it is a wonderful place to see and hear music (Ionarts was last there in 2003), not only for its historic importance but the quality of the acoustic. The theater was reopened in September, but this month's staging there of Grétry's L'Amant jaloux provided the first opportunity to appreciate what the completed work means. Marie-Aude Roux attended some of the rehearsals (Visite à l'Opéra royal de Versailles, après travaux et avant "L'Amant jaloux", November 10) for Le Monde (my translation):

It was again time for rehearsal on November 3, which saw the Cercle de l'harmonie, directed by Jérémie Rohrer, for the first time in the orchestra pit. "This is exactly what one heard at the moment when this opera was premiered, in 1778," says the technical director, Jean-Paul Gousset, entering the Salle des Colonnades, on the third level of box seats. The magnificent sounds of the trio of women in Act I suspended time and made visitors stop in their tracks. On the stage, poor Isabelle, prisoner of her aged tutor, who wants to marry her, has managed to escape with the help of the seductive Florival, taking refuge with her friend Léonore and her servant, Jacinte. Music of revolt and compassion with pre-Mozartian accents (unless it be the reverse, Mozart having been in Paris in 1778, after all), a libretto worthy of Beaumarchais: it is no surprise that L'Amant jaloux was the most performed opera in the French court.

The visit continues with the architect Jean-Paul Gousset. From the clothes-hangers to the fifth cellar, this passionate admirer of the theater -- conceived by Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1698-1782) for the wedding festivities of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette, in May 1770 -- knows every corner, every detail of ornamentation. So much so that the new stage, that he himself conceived, designed, and had built, seems to have always been here. "It has not been seen like this since 1778," he explains, referring to the premiere of L'Amant jaloux, but especially to the dubious additions made in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Nicolas d'Estienne d'Orves had a review of the production («L'Amant jaloux» à Versailles : charmant mais trop sage, November 12) for Le Figaro. A name to watch? Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun, who was announced as ill but who sang with force and had one of the most beautiful moments of the evening, the serenade D'abord, amants soumis et doux.