A performance of a grand opéra, and especially one by Giacomo Meyerbeer, is always an event not to be missed. Unfortunately the staging was far from pleasurable. One issue I had, it drew inspiration from Regietheater. The opera, set in the late 40s judging from the clothes, starts with corpses in the church which get alive little by little, one might think “flashback” but they keep running around at various stages of the opera without that one understands why. In act 2 we see queen Marguerite, who literally stages her meeting with Raoul, constantly moving between two cameras put on the sides. The cameras don’t come back until act 5 so it is a bit unclear what they really are doing there, but in act V Raoul bursts in to sing his aria “A la lueur” only to interrupt a movie scene which is being filmed. Nobody really takes notice and by the end of the aria the set is being dismantled and chorus members wonder whether he will go on with his singing for very much longer. But cringeworthy moments kept coming as the directors clearly had no idea what to do with all the people during the whole duration of the opera. People stumble, fall, drop scripts, the “Jeunes beautés” in act II is a beauty contest, during the ballet in act III the chorus moves as if attacked by swarming bees, the choir improvises dancing moves to the music in the most inappropriate moments, in act III Raoul and Nevers take out their boxing gloves to start a boxing match, and Catherine de Medici appears three times in the background, three times on the phone, three times waving about like an Italian in the worst of clichés, just to name a few. But what I found appalling is that the team of directors don’t have any feeling or maybe even interest to connect the plot to the music. Not only don’t they care who sings and what (the women distribute flowers and dance instead of the gipsies, there is no difference between catholics and huguenots) but in the moment of the biggest confrontation, where musically we first hear the Rataplan, then the procession of catholic girls (Vierge Marie) where Meyerbeer masterfully intertwines the different choruses heard separately into one big dramatic piece, an innovation lauded amongst others by Berlioz, in that moment the directors put everybody standing stiff and still with not differentiation between the opposing parties whatsoever. What an anticlimax for an Act III finale.
Both Minkowski and Osborn are still vivid in my memory from the wonderful Brussel performances. Minkowski is one of those conductors who manages to direct the most intricate passages with clarity and punch. The Bonheur de la table is launched at a devilish speed keeping all rhythmic and dynamic challenges clearly audible, each instrument discernably playing semiquavers also when the orchestra plays fortissimo. Wonderfully limpid are all woodwind and brass interventions, the music never sags in one single bar in over 4 hours of music. In a vibrant and sparkling direction full of contrasts, Minkowski’s musical painting is marvelously smooth and mellow one moment just to explode in violent passion in the next. Like no-one else, Minkowski knows how to draw the listener into a world of emotions. With only slightly less audacity than in Brussels, John Osborn depicts a wonderful Raoul with ringing top notes, able to masterfully mix head and chest voice when needed, he sings with expressive phrasing. Ana Durlovski as Marguerite is capable of beautiful filati and all notes are more or less there, but she did not convince me to the full. Her voice has a disturbing vibrato, she often sings top notes louder than lower notes as if less important, her coloratura is very approximate and the legato absent. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s expressive Valentine fully convinces with a powerful volume, a voice equal in the lower notes as well as the ringing top ones, and a respectably fluid agility. An excellent Valentine. Michele Pertusi was credible in the role of Marcel and good in the higher notes of his bass voice but no low notes were present anymore so he ended up speaking the lowest parts which would otherwise be inaudible. All other parts good, the chorus and orchestra excellent.
Direction musicale-Marc Minkowski, Mise en scène et dramaturgie -Jossi Wieler & Sergio Morabito, Scénographie et costumes -Anna Viebrock, Lumières -Martin Gebhardt, Chorégraphie -Altea Garrido, Direction des chœurs -Alan Woodbridge, Marguerite de Valois -Ana Durlovski, Raoul de Nangis -John Osborn, Marcel -Michele Pertusi, Urbain -Léa Desandre, Le Comte de Saint-Bris -Laurent Alvaro, Valentine de Saint-Bris -Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Le Comte de Nevers -Alexandre Duhamel, De Tavannes -Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, De Cossé -Florian Cafiero, De Thoré / Maurevert -Donald Thomson, De Retz -Tomislav Lavoie, Méru –Vincenzo Neri, Archer -Harry Draganov, Une coryphée -Iulia Surdu, Une dame d’honneur -Céline Kot, Bois-Rosé / Le valet -Rémi Garin, 26 februari 2020, photos by Magali Doudaos from https://www.gtg.ch/les-huguenots