La Gioconda (AMILCARE PONCHIELLI) at la Monnaie

Such a brilliant “Cloaca Maxima” at la Monnaie!

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Olivier Py loves working against the current with marvelous scenes and light effects of Canaletto on the banks of the Grand Canal lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces!  Or even “Death in Venice”, and Thomas Mann’s eerie sense of beauty translated by unforgettable filmmaker Luchino Visconti (1971). Here comes the Twilight of human beings in a polar-shaped opera, where Evil will definitely prevail. From the start to the end, raw desire, phallocratic power and lust suffocated the scene which featured a bleak underworld.

 Hell on a small scale, sex and death were danced and pantomimed as if to turn it in a new way of life. Plain, without preliminaries or afterthoughts, exposing its crude and empowering urgency. The setting is the Venice sewer system with its grim unending walls and the dangerous edge of things perspiring everywhere. Gondolas transformed into coffins.

Eventually two gigantic cruisers would roam through the water gate, as a crude reminder of how Venice, for centuries the very heart of our western culture, is being endangered by evil appetites. Or is it Venice itself that is Evil? Olivier Py and Pierre-André Weitz (Set and costume design) put forward the idea that « The beauty of Venice is death, the greatness of Venice is decline, the power of Venice is Evil ».  Observing   the decline of the “Europe des Lumières “that created the mindset of the Enlightment   apparently conducts them to this sad statement. An even more obvious statement is made from the overture onward, which displays a (Nazi?) bathtub in which a gnome, or a joker, or a clown keeps being sarcastically drowned but not even minding! This dumb Evil ex machina character, will gather power and size and number throughout the action. In the wrong hands, water can bring death upon any poor soul who is subjected to its deadly power. Feste! Pane! Feste e pane!”claim the crowd, “Viva il Doge e la republica!”

In his day, Amilcare Ponchielli was considered the most important Italian composer of the generation after Verdi, but today we know him primarily for La Gioconda, and in particular its, famous ballet, “La danza delle ore”. The story, based on “Angelo, tyrant of Padua” by Victor Hugo was set in 17th-century Venice, where conspiracies and regattas formed the backdrop to the fortunes of the beautiful singer La Gioconda (soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon). Harassed by Barnaba (powerful baryton Franco Vassallo), the almighty spy of the Inquisition, the young lady sacrificed everything to save Enzo (alluring Stefano La Colla), the man she loved. She even saved Laura, her rival, the woman he was in love with. Act III scene 5 «  O madre mia, nell’isola fatale frenai per te la  sanguinaria brama di reietta riva. Or più tremendo è il sacrifizio mio .. o madre mia, io la salva per lui, per lui che l’ama! Speaking the unspeakable   in Act IV scene 2 “Suicidio”overwhelming rendition.

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Meanwhile, almighty and perverse Barnaba (powerful baryton Franco Vassallo) would use La Cieca, her blind mother, to blackmail Gioconda that he wishes to submit to his desire. He even toys with the idea of having her judged as a witch deserving burning. …But aren’t we all witches’ daughters? Anyway, Barnaba is determined to destroy her as she embodies pure insuperable mother love and entertains devout relationships with God.  She is a godly delicate creature, looking like a Tang dynasty woman figure, sung by angelic contralto Ning Liang. Her heavenly aria in the first act “Voce di donna o d’angelo” sounded like sheer innocence.  With such an epitome of a villain, the director Olivier Py offers us an ‘opera noir’ through and through.

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Besides, Act III scene 2 calls back dreadful visions of enfuriated Othello. We know that Victor Hugo loved Shakespeare.  “Invan tu piangi, invan tu speri, Dio non ti puo easudirn no! in lui raccogli in tuoi pensierei preparati a morir!” sung by  Alvise Badoèro , Laura’s husband. Superb Jean Teitgen. The poor spouse is cynically forced to swallow the poison on her own! Hugo’s invention proves a clever lifesaving twist as the story unfolds!

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The music, however is a relief. It forms a stunning and magnificent contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the action, with clusters of torrential passion and beauty. The flamboyant “grande opera all’italiana” is conducted by Paolo Carignani along with an exceptional double cast for the six demanding main roles.

 The audience is thoroughly washed away by the quality of the orchestra, its elaborate textures and harmonies conveying an extraordinary range of feelings, from fear to death and even suicide but also describing the various love pangs felt by all but Barnaba. The choir performances (Martino Faggiani) are breathtaking and so are the ballet dancers,   while the six soloists are equally powerful at streaming their various flows of consciousness. What a breathtaking gallery!

Dominique-Hélène Lemaire  

French version/ photos © Baus

29 Jan – 12 Feb 2019

Set and costume design PIERRE-ANDRÉ WEITZ

HUI HE (30, 3, 6, 10)
SZILVIA VÖRÖS (30, 3, 6, 10)
SCOTT HENDRICKS (30, 3, 6, 10)
Alvise Badoero JEAN TEITGEN

Zuane / Un pilot BERTRAND DUBY
Un Barnabotto / Una voce BERNARD GIOVANIU // Un cantore RENÉ LARYEA/ Una voce ALEJANDRO FONTÉ


La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus  
MM Academy & La Monnaie’s Children’s and Youth Chorus, led by Benoît Giaux  

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Gounod’s Faust in Liège

 January 23rd to February 2nd  2019

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Powerful and imaginative. “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” As in Dante’s Inferno, Old Doctor   Faust has lost everything:  love, hope and faith.  His life, dedicated to study and research, has failed to reveal the deeper meaning of human  existence and he is about to sip a cup of poison, calling on Death to  help.”Maudit soit tout ce qui nous leurre!“  With these words, Mephistopheles appears “Me voici!”. 

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We discover the alchemist moaning at the foot of a pile of rubble, a   mountain of books and documents, set like in a broken jewel, in a huge  dominating ring reminiscent of Edgar Alan Poe’s terrifying  Pit and the Pendulum. Terrifying story. The iron circle is  ominous and moves up and down around like a curse, and changing perspectives shaped throughout the performance. Is it one of the circles of Dante’s hell? The setting is everything but amusing. Those who consider Gounod’s Faust as an uninteresting, bourgeois love affair or tedious entertainment, will be surprised. The whole production comes over like a  powerful  Vanitas painting.

Staging Stefano Poda’s utterly creative production in Liège house proved to be successful gamble indeed.  Isn’t he the alchemist?  Everything spells aesthetic research. He seeks  perfection and purity as in the making of Ikebana arrangements.

This is especially so when the ring is filled with two white trees that never touch each other.  It aims at  bringing us towards abstract, philosophical and transcendental meditation.  Poda’s production is overflowing with gripping, visual  symbolism. The circle image may remind us of the circle of life, the circular flow of time, the seasons, the motion of the stars and planets but also refers to human bondage or prisoners shackled together  with leg irons, or even a wedding ring. In Christian belief, the bonds of marriage also symbolize  one’s relationship with God,  the Creator.  Accepting a pact  with  the Devil equals eternal slavery!

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 The staging, the singing and the acting, call for an enthusiastic involvement of a bewildered audience.  Gounod’s Faust wants to be young once more as it encompasses all he desires: wealth, glory and, power.  “Je veux un trésor qui les contient tous!” Mephistopheles convinces Faust to sign his deal,  showing him young a mirage of beauty, grace, and youth: Marguerite. The very flower in French that symbolizes the most common words of love: “Je t’aime”. Initially charmed by the flowers, Marguerite’s attention is diverted by the jewel box.  The humble and naive young woman will be seduced and abandoned. Eventually she will kill the son she brought into the world. The bourgeois society of Gounod’s time despised children born out of  wedlock. Single mothers were abandoned by their families, and a terrible curse hung over  them as they  could not stay with their families, and  often ended up as prostitutes. ”Ne donne un baiser, ma mie, Que la bague au doigt!…” The fated ring ? Again? Stefano Poda  insists on being  in charge of everything: the staging, the sets, the costumes, the choreography and the lighting, resulting in a captivating sense of unity. 

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Patrick Davin’s fiery and romantic interpretation was striking and effective.  He conducted with great confidence and with great attention to details. The Kermesse, or the Waltz of the second Act, were  particularly intense. The music becomes fantastic when he started depicting frantic, unleashed demons that assail Marguerite as she went to pray in Act IV.

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On the one hand, he produced an eerie   Midsummernight’s dreamy world to accompany  the  stunning ballet  of the Walpurgis Night. However his interpretation of  “Gloire immortelle de nos aieux” sounds  extremely  cynical,  with heavy soldiers returning from war walking heavily  along  the ring like prisoners and disappearing one by one! And there is also sarcastic, creepy music that accompanies a circle of pregnant women holding floating black balloons that represent their dreams of pregnancy.  But of course he has a masterful way of highlighting  the excellent cast. Marc Laho’s Faust, is a strong and determined voice with an ideal clear timbre. He sings with perfect ease and style and impeccable diction.

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When Anne-Catherine Gillet sings as Marguerite, she  radiates youthfulness, joy, loving, passion, and despair. At some point, Marguerite has become the main character of this Opera. Her last air aria leads her in powerful steps to heaven where she is welcomed by angels. Mephitopheles’ diction is certainly not perfect, but the much appraised Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s interpretation of Mephistopheles exudes darkness, aridity, and a manipulative spirit. “ Si le bouquet l’emporte sur l’écrin, je consens à perdre mon pouvoir!”  But of course, Marguerite will put on the cloak of diamonds and mirrors and reject  Siebel’s simple flowers.  Lionel Lhote sings a very intense Valentin, who goes to war, leaving his sister to be watched over by a lovely, wooing Siébel sung by Na’ama Goldman. Blind rage inspired by the Demon, will eventually challenge Faust to a duel, and also produce a desperate final song. Truculent but elegant Dame Marthe is sung by Angélique Noldus. She is the character that brings us back to Gounod’s genuine esprit français. Also worth mentioning is Kamil Ben Hsaîm Lachiri as Wagner. Chorus master is Pierre Iodice.

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Dominique-Hélène Lemaire 

The show

Production :
Fondazione Teatro Regio de Turin
Opéra de Lausanne
New Israeli Opera de Tel Aviv

Faust will also be produced at Palais des Beaux-Arts of Charleroi on Friday 8th February 2019 at 8pm.

Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège


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At Opéra de Liège : Rossini’s”Le Comte Ory” from 21 Dec to Jan 2, and Jan 5th in Charleroi

When Rossini presented “Le Comte Ory” (1828) in Paris, the Parisian public welcomed this opera-bouffe with such boundless enthusiasm that it lasted a further 60 years.  This is his penultimate opera, written in French. Rossini had largely adapted “Il viaggio a Reims”, a work he had written for the coronation of Charles X. Unexpectedly, he would stop composing opera at the age of 37, with his last masterpiece: ” William Tell”, giving in his new passions: gastronomy and worldly life. 

A tasty mix of genres, eras and virtuosity, “ Le Comte Ory” 2018, whose title role is interpreted with verve and  power, by Antonino Siragusa, a magnificent tenor disguised  as a bawdy monk, has  enchanted everyone by its lightness, brilliance, French spirit and   joie de vivre. Graceful and unassuming comic effects  can be found everywhere. The story is particularly reminiscent of some popular French songs like “La ceinture” explaining the ups and downs of using chastity belts. Rossini’s  era  was formal, hypocritical, and austere. No wonder bawdy songs  flourished! 

The opera libretto, written by  Eugene Scribe, was inspired by a medieval ballad, and contains   numerous sexual hints and humorous rhyming. A psychoanalytical analysis would say a lot about the nature of the impregnable castle. And if you decide to scrutinise the text  more closely, you might pickup quite a few  sexual references.

 In December 2017, the director, Denis Podalydès, launched into the creation of this bubbling opera, at the Opéra-Comique of Paris. The choice for the setting went to another member of the Comédie Française, Eric Ruf. The famous French designer, Christian Lacroix, has contributed to the staging with flamboyant Gothic costumes. The lightings of Stéphanie Daniel (awarded the Molière 2017 for the lighting) add up to a brilliant denunciation of subterfuges and disguises.  The  choreography and the love  scenes xere directed by Cécile Bon, who has worked  on “ En attendant Bojangles “. The very stylish choirs, conducted by Pierre Iodice are lively and full of humour and good spirits. Trained at the Marseille Conservatoire, he has been directing the choir of the Royal Opera of Wallonia-Liège since 2015.  Finally, the 2018 Belgian cast  offers a  range of  considerable talents of impeccable musicality,  which is a real pleasure to listen to.  

 There is a first interesting dramatic shift: the time of the Crusaders turns into the conquest of Algeria in 1830. The gentlemen’s costumes are declined in top hats, frock coats, trousers and  boots that are easily removed for good reasons. The  women wear Comtesse de Ségur feather hats and alluring long dresses with deep  necklines. The peasant women  wear ligh and simple clothing.   This is the era of the wealthy  Bourgeoisie set in the Restoration  period, which  is full of naughty stories, seducers and libertines to   compensate for their rigid daily routine. 

The other shift is the use of an  explicit religious setting that was banned in Rossini’s time. Denis Podalydès replaces the Castle of Formoutier by an abbey dispaying a collection of dancing chairs, with no connection  to the  liberal Abbaye de Thélème however.  It is just a convent, where the beautiful Countess Adele languishes, suffering from a strange and persistent pain, that is cunningly interpreted by Jodie Devos when she appears in the first act.  The  Countess feels desperately abandoned and suffers from physical and spiritual loneliness. She  keeps her lovely  fruity voice tone for later character development.  Her servant, Lady Ragonde,  interpreted by Alexise Yerna, explains  that the state of her mistress is due to the cruel absence of  her husband, who went picking laurels  on the Muslim plains.  For sure, Podalydes cannot resist depicting the authoritarian influence of the Catholic religion in the 19th century. The companions of the Count,  disguised as libertine nuns,  hide their desires under veils and rosaries, which makes it even more funny.

The overture is played while a period painting depicting the shores of Africa, attacks, carnage, and the siege of a city is  played on the curtain. Then the veil is  then lifted  showing the interior of the convent lit by a dull light falling through inaccessible windows. The message is -War on puritanism. The heterogeneous cliché of church pulpit, confessional, holy sacrament and holy cross mingle with the comings and goings of the chubby hermit – Count Ory in disguise – who promises to cure the villagers of all their  pains and welcomes the young girls, with open arms. The crowd, bringing fruits and dairy products, sing bucolic carpe diem tunes. Julie Mossay with her fresh tone of voice,is a revelation as Alice! The so-called monk, supposedly a present from heaven, starts to drink. The orchestra mocks his high spirits, the comic rhyming on the word “prière” emphasises the comical mood. A paralysed man struck by grace, even throws his crutches away! “ Venez, mes toutes belles, je donne des époux ! » says Ory, the virtuous man, ready to welcome the young ladies’ prayers in his humble cottage at  any time. Impossible to miss the point!

 The following scene  emphasises the light spirit of the opera because it depicts the “governor” of the Count ( the male counterpart of the governess of a lady) who complains bitterly of the harshness of his mission. He is sent by the father of the Count to try to recover the scoundrel runaway accompanied by a Machiavellian Raimbaud, (Enrico Marabelli) who has a dynamic stage presence. Laurent Kubla  interprets this role masterfully,  using the most dizzying bass notes ever. The anger of the “governor” is  twice as forceful due to   his obvious desire to indulge in other pleasures. At the end of his aria, he  is found sitting astride on a church pew, as if about to start an eighty huntsman’s dance. From the confessional and other cabinets, beautiful bare shouldered girls and lascivious voices emerge…  Happily swimming and chanting in the same water, provided it is holy! The enchanted girls sing along “Sortons d’ici! /Let’s get out of here!” while remaining, fixed on the idea of  adventure.   Comic oppositionsis a theme that is apparent throughout the opera, never  stooping to vulgarity. Suggestions and double-meanings are well-balanced, while the desire to conquer love remains incandescent but alas unfulfilled …

As  for the rather unangelic Dame Angèle (Jodie Devos), she shies away from the plans of Isolier, the cousin she fell in love with and who  serves as a page to Count Ory.  She carries on with light-hearted banter  although she claims of course to love only him .  Jodie Devos, sparkles in  in this role of diva acrobatics  sung with great ease  while at the same time displaying the freshness  of youthful seduction. Double meanings  are reflected in Isolier’s duet  sung by a woman, Jose Maria Lo Monaco, who proclaims « on verra qui de nous deux l’emportera » and adds that « Le noble page du Comte Ory sera un jour « digne » de lui ! ».    The dazzling interpretation of Antonio Siragusa as Count Ory and the naive purity of the beautiful phrasing of the page José Maria Lo Monaco were given vibrant applause. This opera is pure enjoyment of surprises, contrasts and joie de vivre.

 Jordi Benàcer’s direction generates a flow of humour and light-heartedness. The slightest postures, speech figures, displacements or changes of mood are skilfully highlighted by the director.   His storm interpretation is full of parody and his “drinking while you pray” composition sounds like a  drunken students’ song. 

It’s as if the audience itself is an actual  accomplice in the scene with the three protagonists on the Countess’s couch. Only Count Ory, disguised this time as “Sister Colette”, seems to ignore how many there are or pretends not to be able count to three!  The mishmash in love … carnal love (Ory) as opposed to pure love (Isolier) ends with the imminent return of the husband, who will probably just have to turn a blind eye to these joyful events…. As in the famous song of “La ceinture”? 

Photographs and French version

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Dominique-Hélène Lemaire

At L’Opéra de Liège,  21st  December up to  2nd  January 2019/

Cast : Antonino Siragusa (Le Comte Ory), Jodie Devos (Comtesse Adèle), Josè Maria Lo Monaco (Isolier), Enrico Marabelli (Raimbaud), Laurent Kubla (Le Gouverneur), Alexise Yerna (Dame Ragonde), Julie Mossay (Alice), Stefano De Rosa (Mainfroy), Xavier Petithan (Gérard), Ludivine Scheers, Réjane Soldano, Stefano De Rosa, Benoit Delvaux, Alexei Gorbatchev

In Charleroi Saturday January 5th 2019 – 20:00
► Place
PBA / Grande Salle
► Booking 
071 31 12 12 /

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Il y a huit ans déjà!

C’était mon premier billet sur Arts et Lettres…

Notre Dame veille

Envoi dans l’illumination.

Patrick Virelles s’en est allé aujourd’hui, à 70 ans. Je regrette qu’il ne soit plus là pour partager avec nous son amour des mots. Leur rondeur, leur ‘fumet’ comme il disait. Les mots doivent avoir du ‘noyau’, de la texture. La vérité est dans le vin capiteux des mots. Encore faut-il savoir vendanger et vinifier. il y a tant de mots qui n’ont pas d’odeur, des mots aseptisés, des mots – les plus terribles – ceux de la langue de bois qui nous donnent froid dans le dos et ne disent que leur contraire.

Que de scories sur notre chemin et dans nos oreilles rabattues, les mots politically correct, si énervants d’hypocrisie. Les mots qui tuent et nous assourdissent. Les mots, cela doit être la fête, la vibration, la lumière, même s’ils font dans le sombre. Ils sont rares ces écrivains qui fabriquent des perles qui parlent et luisent dans leur robe de nacre au fil des phrases, des MOTS QUI FONT NAîTRE LE PLAISIR ET LES CONVERGENCES, des mots sculptés, des mots d’humour qui réveillent l’amour.

J’avais enfoui dans mon jardin ce petit bijou:‘ Les pigeons de Notre-Dame’ comme un vrai trésor de gaieté et d’humanité, je vais me précipiter pour lire ses autres écrits, à la recherche des pains perdus.

Comme épitaphe, je souhaite partager une très belle phrase, la dernière du livre ‘Helena Vannek’ d’un autre écrivain belge, Armel Job. “L’éclair de Guido t’aveugla, chère maman. J’espère que la lumière ardente de cet autre Fils de l’homme, tellement plus mystérieux, a rendu la clarté à tes yeux qu’une lueur trompeuse consuma.” Envoi dans l’illumination.

Que la terre lui soit légère et le souvenir vif et tendre.

Vues : 30+

Et voici le lien  des billets les  plus récents…. 808 billets  aujourd’hui! Je remercie le Réseau Arts et Lettres de tout  cœur et Robert Paul, son fondateur! Janvier 2019

For English readers,  Here’s a new English section: Deashelle’s blog

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