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The Bullet Dodged by New York City Opera

Gerard MortierIn case anyone at New York City Opera actually regrets losing Belgian opera bad boy Gerard Mortier as its new artistic director, here is a taste of the latest operatic gold to pass from his fingers. Jonas Kaufmann was apparently a pretty good Florestan ("actuellement sans rival," according to Marie-Aude Roux) in the first production of Beethoven's Fidelio at the Opéra national de Paris since 1982, a favorite opera chosen by Mortier to celebrate his 65th birthday on November 25 with a big formal premiere. That is where the good news ends, according to the review (Le ténor Jonas Kaufmann desservi par un "Fidelio" sans émotion, November 29) by Marie-Aude Roux in Le Monde (my translation):

The staging by the Dutch director Johan Simons, already to blame for the sad memories of a Simon Boccanegra in 2006, where Verdi found himself in the middle of a Berlusconian political campaign, sins here by too much plainness. It gives too much to the cold and worn sets by the Flemish designer Jan Versweyveld, whose lighting further dehumanizes this penitentiary hell of a state prison. [...] Gerard Mortier asked the German writer Martin Mosebach to rewrite the Singspiel's dialogue. It turned out to be a mass of moralisms, the result of underscoring the message of Beethoven, contemptuous of tyranny, better to exalt liberty, fraternity, love, and human rights.

That's nothing by comparison to the version of the score proposed by the conductor Sylvain Cambreling. [...] Nothing prohibits one from beginning with the rarely chosen "Leonora 1" overture or to change the dramatic focus by reordering the musical numbers. But why play Beethoven with such vulgarity, to force the message to this point, so much that the final chorus, which prefigures the Ode to Joy of the Ninth Symphony, so thunderous, can barely hold to a heavy cavalry tempo?
Angela Denoke's Fidelio was "short of the tessitura and flat of pitch," while Alan Held's Pizarro was "monstrueux," a cartoonish incarnation of evil. Christian Merlin was no kinder in Le Figaro («Fidelio» sans le grand frisson, November 27), although he insists that the casting was quite good (with the exception of Denoke, who struggled valiantly with the role): "Was this approaching the ideal production, during the gala evening, before a parterre of tuxedos and ball gowns? No." Eric Dahan made many of the same criticisms in his review for Libération («Fidelio» prend l’eau à Garnier, November 27). Good luck to the audience of the Teatro Real in Madrid, who will be seeing a lot of Sylvain Cambreling and Mortier's favorite directors starting in January 2010.


Anonymous said...

Dear Charles,

I'm reading that the Sant'Ambrogio Don Carlo from la Scala will be broadcast live worldwide.

Do you know what theater, if any, in DC will be showing the season opening? The closest I've been able to locate so far is the Charles Street cinema in Baltimore.

Many thanks.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hmm -- no further information from me. Sorry about that!