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More on Mortier

Following on the heels of the New York Times piece on Gérard Mortier, the new director of the Opéra de Paris (see my post from December 6), there is this article by Jacques Doucelin (Gérard Mortier dans les pas de Karajan, December 6) in Le Figaro, which previews the next two productions in Paris, Verdi's Il Trovatore and Handel's Hercules (my translation):

It's enough to make you not believe your ears! While visiting with some friends, including former Minister of Culture Jack Lang, during the intermission of Il Trovatore at the Opéra Bastille, Gérard Mortier, glass of red wine in hand, launches into a profession of Karajanesque faith. Surprising coming from someone who succeeded the ultrafamous Austrian conductor, after his death, as the head of the Salzburg Festival, with the mission of "raising the bar" through innovation and a spring cleaning of the programming. The decade spent by Gérard Mortier in the town of Mozart's birth was indeed marked by an openness to 20th-century repertoire and by the total power of theater directors. And all of this to the great annoyance of those nostalgic for the Karajan era!

Yet here is our new boss of the Opéra de Paris proclaiming with a straight face, "You see, I am being like Karajan, who got involved in the staging." A very humorous way for Gérard Mortier to explain why his name is credited for lighting in Il Trovatore. Fiat lux! New handyman, he is also involved in the direction and the set design. Since he has chosen, for his scenographic debut, to take a stab at Francesca Zambello's worst production, no one will criticize him, except perhaps for having been too timid.
Doucelin is happier about the musical side of things, praising Mortier's decision to bring Gustav Kuhn, Karajan's one-time student, to conduct in Paris after an absence of 22 years. He also admires the choice of three of the four leads, Elena Manistina ("an irresistable Azucena"), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (the Count di Luna), and Neil Shicoff (whose Manrico "still impresses one by its style, its vocal power, and the quality of acting"). Russian soprano Marina Mescheriakova (Leonora) "suffers by comparison with her stunning colleagues."

At the Garnier, the new production of Handel's Hercules (1745), brought from this summer's Festival in Aix-en-Provence. Three Ministers of Culture were expected at the premiere, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Jacques Toubon, and Jack Lang. William Christie conducts his stellar group Les Arts Florissants, with a cast featuring American soprano Joyce DiDonato. Again, the music receives praise but not the production. Performances in Paris last for most of the month of December. I don't know about you, but I feel like taking a weekender to France.

David Stevens seems to be in agreement about Hercules in his review (Hard luck trails Hercules, December 15) for the International Herald Tribune.

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