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Summer Opera: La Bohème in Orange

Many thanks to Alan Forst, who is linking to Ionarts as August 2005 Featured Site at his excellent Web site, What an honor! If you are new to Ionarts, we cover classical music first and foremost but also have posts on art, literature, and culture in general. To get ready for you, we have updated the summary of our articles on opera, Ionarts on Opera, which lists everything we have written on opera. This summer, we are running a series of articles on Opera in the Summer 2005, for which we have reviewed several opera productions around the United States and compiled press reviews of many others. So, have a good look around and we hope you come back often!

Sometimes, when it comes to opera in the summer, it can be fun to hear an old favorite for the nth time (not, for the most part, the sort of production I listed in my post Opera in the Summer 2005), especially if you are lucky enough to listen to a dream cast and simultaneously be drinking a nice cold beverage, or both. In France, everyone (well, almost everyone who can afford it) goes on vacation in the south in July and especially August (everyone is supposed to get six weeks of vacation every year), where not by coincidence there are enough music and arts festivals to keep everyone inclined that way busy and off the streets. One I haven't mentioned yet is a festival called Les Chorégies d'Orange, a series of performances in the Roman amphitheater in Orange. The festival has included two operas this year, Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and Puccini's La Bohème. On the surface, this is not terribly exciting, but the star casting for the latter work included Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the lead roles. Jean-Louis Validire was there to preview the performance (Les Chorégies s'ouvrent ce soir avec «La Bohème» de Puccini interprétée par un couple de légende, July 30) for Le Figaro (my translation):

It's a sure thing because the couple seems today like the duo to be beaten in this repertory, as Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni were for the previous generation. Furthermore, if we may say so, the two singers are husband and wife in real life, extending the myth for the audience. "I have always sung well with other people, but with Angela there is an obvious understanding. It's like a sort of barometer, when we perform together, to know where we are. We debuted together in La Bohème. We were married after a performance at the Met. The mayor of New York, Giuliani, came on the stage to marry us," Roberto Alagna recounts with emotion, in a one-minute version of the story.
For a review, we turn to a brief article (Chorégies d'Orange: totale réussite de la Bohème, July 31) from France 2 Cultural News (my translation):
This was not a slam dunk. The work involves numerous intimate scenes that do not necessarily work well in an open air setting and in the vastness of the ancient theater. The majority of the audience—some 8,300 people on Saturday with, foremost, the Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and as many expected for the second performance next Tuesday—had quickly taken tickets based on the names of the French tenor Roberto Alagna and the Rumanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. This star couple did not disappoint. [...] True, the whole cast was directed by scenographer Nicolas Joël, who without destroying the omnipresence of the Roman acoustic wall, managed to use several set pieces to frame each act.
Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez Cobos reportedly led the Orchestre national de France in an admirable performance (the artists received many ovations). Tuesday's performance of the opera will be broadcast on France 2 (August 2, 10:30 pm). When will American satellite companies allow us to buy European channels? Obviously, PBS continues to fail us.

For another review, see Jean-Louis Validire, Orange : Gheorgiu et Alagna réunis (Le Figaro, July 30).

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