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28.3.13

'La Dispute' from Brussels


Watch video (subtitles only in French or Dutch)
The Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels has mounted the world premiere of La Dispute, the second opera by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (b. 1964). It is based on the Marivaux play of the same title, with a libretto by Ursel Herrmann and Joël Lauwers. Patrick Davin conducts the staging directed by Karl-Ernst Herrmann, Ursel Herrmann, and Joël Lauwers. The cast features Stéphane Degout, Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Julie Mathevet, Albane Carrère, and Dominique Visse. Francis Carlin, writing in the Financial Times, found it "charming and uplifting," although it does use too much spoken dialogue:
Who is more prone to infidelity – man or woman? [La Dispute] is a delicious romp starring four Rousseauesque innocents who discover love and temptation while the fractious couple of a philandering Prince and his jealous consort Hermiane look on for inspiration. [...] The central question, of course, remains unanswered, as do our queries on Mernier’s real musical personality. His score for this mix of Così fan tutte and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream adopts the latter’s glissandi strings, is steeped in Debussy, imitates Bartók (particularly in hauntingly beautiful night music for the woodwinds) and looks to Berg for lyrical vocal expression.
Martine Mergeay interviewed the composer about the opera for La Libre Belgique, and he gave an interesting explanation of the prominence of spoken dialogue in his opera (my translation):
I use all possible vocal forms, from the speaking voice to the aria -- where singing has its maximum emotional power -- and including le mélodrame [Sprechstimme] (speaking voice notated like an instrumental part) and recitative, secco and accompagnato. As for the instrumentation, I want a very bright orchestra, able to give color to the French, which remains a rather non-tonal language. The pit has only 35 musicians, but the writing is such that through the many shifts one will hear large variations of timbre and texture.
The theater's ongoing series of online broadcasts features a Webcast of the opera, starting today, and there is a bunch of videos on the background of the opera and production.

Watch video (subtitles only in French or Dutch)

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