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Disappointing Ariane et Barbe-Bleue in Paris

There is disappointing news from Paris about one of the more exciting opera productions on the schedule of the Opéra national de Paris this fall, Paul Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-Bleue. Although she was looking forward to this production very much, Marie-Aude Roux has utterly trashed it in her review (Un "Ariane et Barbe-Bleue" filandreux, September 15) for Le Monde (my translation):

What a disappointment! We awaited this new production of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue with impatience, happy that the Opéra de Paris had finally revived Paul Dukas's only opera, last mounted in 1975 at the Palais-Garnier. How to begin describing this trilogy of regret? The voices: let us say that, even though well supported by her nurse, the Swiss mezzo Julia Juon, Deborah Polaski was not a very good Ariane. The vibrato was wide, the intonation flat, and the diction barely understandable as soon as the role stretched into the upper range. One small tip of the hat to the Moldavian mezzo Diana Axentii as Sélysette, who made an error-free debut out of the Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra.

Let's talk about the orchestra. On the beautiful Maeterlinck libretto, Dukas wrote music that was colorful, sensuous, expressive, descriptive in a good way (the overture of the doors and the shimmering of jewels, amethysts, sapphires, pearls, emeralds, rubies, diamonds). Must Sylvain Cambreling therefore conduct it with such triviality that, in the end, he leaves us with a dry and streaky score? Finally, the direction. Since 1993, Anna Viebrock has been one of the regular collaborators of the Swiss director Christoph Marthaler, more precisely, his costume and set designer. What follows proves that people never change. In an accursed "Marthalerien" set, a huge cage with glass partitions, somewhere between asylum, office, and study, with neon light (of course), Bluebeard's wives, variously lying down, seated, or standing, appear and disappear.
Oh, dear. Lest we think it is Mme. Roux overreacting, other reviews are equally negative about the same things. Didier van Moere also criticized the conception of Ariane and her nurse as female detectives (Roux likened them to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple), out to uncover the mystery of Bluebeard. As van Moere puts it, "At least when [Marthaler] massacres an opera, he does it with ideas worked out mercilessly to their conclusion, a meticulous exploitation of space and a thoroughly explored direction of acting. Here, nothing is completed. Anna Viebrock has killed the mystery by a poorly digested naturalism." Nothing from Le Figaro yet.


Chester said...

That's too bad. I fell in love with this opera when NYCO did it a few years ago. Has anyone heard the new recording?

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for the comment. It is always good to hear of a case like yours -- hooked on opera by Dukas instead of crossover. Nice.

Telarc needs to send me that recording, because I have not heard it.