Le timbre d’argent @ Opéra Comique

Another rarity is presented yet again by the very courageous Opera Comique. Le timbre d’argent, Saint-Saens first ever composed opera, created in 1865…but for various reasons not performed until 1877. The last revision by the composer (chosen for the present revival) was performed in Brussels in 1904. Overall I was extremely happy to hear such an operatic rarity and a few minor glitches in the libretto (banally moralistic in christian sauce) the music (has some drops in tension and lacks some lyricism probably due to the fledging opera-composer) or the setting (a bit cheap looking) did not lessen the high quality of the performance.

The story evolves around the painter Conrad loved by Hélène but not loved in return. Conrad is poor, very sick and in love with the dancer Fiammetta. The devilish doctor visits him while Hélène and her sister Rosa, who is about to marry Bénédict, pray to the virgin for his recovery. The doctor returns as the devil, gives Conrad a silver bell which, when struck, will give him Fiammetta’s love and richness at the cost of a death. Throughout the  plot, the devil tempts Conrad to strike the bell for money, the first death is Hélène’s father, the second Bénédict who dies during the wedding ceremony. At the end Conrad breaks the bell which breaks the spell and he wakes up to Hélène  and Rosa singing the beginning’s prayer, and he realizes that all was dream. General praise to God, hallelujah and curtain

The conductor François-xavier Roth  was almost excellent, from the very bubbly overture throughout the entire score (maybe a bit more rubato would have underlined some crucial parts of the score), marvellous in displaying the richness of Saint-Saens orchestration and colours.  Hélène Guilmette and Tassis Chrystoyannis were very good as Hélène and the devilish Spiridion. A pity that Edgaras Montvidas’ tenor had no Hoffmannesque ringing top notes but rather hard and dry ones, reached with some strain. Excellent the Bénédict of Yu Shao and Jodie Devos’ Rosa. Such a pity that the good voices of Hélène, Rosa and Bénedict received such short roles at the cost of Fiammetta, a mute dancer’s role. The setting department was clearly on a budget, but nonetheless it was effective enough in some scenes although a higher regard to the mysterious and devilish would have been much appreciated and I could have done without some of the magic tricks. All in all a highly satisfying and enjoyable rediscovery.

Direction musicale François-Xavier Roth, Mise en scène Guillaumes Vincent, Décors-James Brandily, Création video-Baptist Klein, Costumes-Fanny Brouste, Lumières-Kelig Le Bars, Chorégraphie-Herman Diephuis, Effets magiques-Benoît Dattez, Circe/Fiammetta-Raphaelle Delaunay, Conrad Edgaras-Montvidas, Hélène-Hélène Guilmette, Spiridion-Tassis Chrystoyannis, Bénédict-Yu Shao, Rosa-Jodie Devos, 11 juin 2017, pictures Pierre Grosbois.

 

Bozar in Brussels – Paisiello and Berlioz

What De Munt/La Monnaie doesn’t offer in terms of variety this year (50% is 20th century music and the remaining 50% are the omnipresent Haendel, Mozart and Verdi, though still one interesting Fierrabras – albeit in concert version) was given at the Bozar with only a couple of days from each other, organized by the Klarafestival.

IMG_1664Il barbiere di Siviglia. Not the well-known rossinian version, but Giovanni Paisiello’s, composed over 30 years earlier for the court of Saint Petersburg. Petrosellini’s libretto (which was set to music also by Francesco Morlacchi) is almost equal to Cesare Sterbini’s libretto for Rossini, and I was amused when I heard the same scenes, and in some cases the  exact same words. Paisiello’s genius doesn’t show as much in the Barbiere as it does in other works like Nina or Fedra. But the music is delightful, with heights in the Pace e gioia ensemble, Rosina’s music lesson, Bartolo’s Vuoi tu Rosina. The singers also follow stage directions and act the respective roles so the evening is almost as enjoyable as a staged opera. The cast rests on Pietro Spagnoli’s shoulder who’s rendition of Bartolo is perfect: excellent diction, wonderful singing technique, versatile actor. The rest of the cast are solid professionals with Mari Erismoen as Rosina, André Schuen as Figaro and Fulvio Bettini as Don Basilio. I didn’t enjoy Topi Lehtipuu very much, whose voice I found weightless and dry. Renee Jacobs gives a personal but lively and sparkling rendition of the score making it a highly enjoyable evening.

 

IMG_1691The other vocal work given at Bozar only a couple of days later is Romeo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz. It is described as a symphonie dramatique and includes 3 soloists and a choire and is regarded as one of Berlioz most admirable works. Richard Wagner was present at the premiere on 24 November 1839 and it must have made an impression on him if 20 years later he sent Berlioz the printed version of his Tristan and Isolde with the inscription Au grand et cher auteur de Roméo et Juliette, L’auteur reconnaissant de Tristan et Isolde.

Isabelle Druet’s and Jean-François Borras’ roles are rather short and confined to the beginning and neither have particularly marked my mind. Jerome Varnier’s voice was a bit absent and I felt it didn’t give the big recitative and aria of père Laurence the gravity it needed. François-Xavier Roth, who directed an interesting Christophe Colombe (by Félicien David) in Gent which I much enjoyed, chiseld the wide variety of emotions perfectly, from the whirling “fête” to the sweet and delicate love duet (Romeo and Juliet are impersonated by the orchestra) and the stirring final “serment”