Jan 3, 2009

Der Vampyr, Mezzo Competition 2008

Heinrisch Marschner, 1828
Live Nov.15 2008 broadcast from the Szeged National Theatre
Hungarian premiere

Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Olari Elts

The Vampire, Ruthven: Nabil Suliman
Janthe/Emmy : Helen Kearns
Malwina : Vanessa Le Charlès
Aubry : Marc Haffner

Stage direction : Zoltán Balázs
Production of the Opéra de Rennes

Vanessa Le Charles (right), Marc Haffner (left) & Christophe Fel (middle) © afp Rennes, Oct. 28 2008, dress rehearsal

There are a lot if elements quite appealing about this piece I knew nothing about - most of them having to do with its similarities with both Weber's Freischütz and Gounod's Faust.
Marschner's score is indeed very reminiscent of Weber's musical construction: the harmonics, the use of spoken dialogues, the sometimes very unbalanced vocal lines (especially in Act I) and, most of all, the rhythm and orchestration, that is a clear signature of the XIXth century.

The libretto is a mix between manichaeism (thus the Gounod's feel to it - though musically there is a lot to be said about the influence Weber had on Gounod's music) and a Perrault's tale (specifically Barbe bleue); the happy ending that is a key element of the Freischütz is also present here, as the lovers defeat the vampire, get married and live happily ever after.

© afp Rennes, Oct. 28 2008, dress rehearsal

As for the production itself, there are much more bad choices to comment than praises to make. Basically, the concept doesn't work at all with this piece, that tells the quest of a vampire for the blood of three virgins before the end of the night. 

One could argue my main problem is that I am deeply formatted by my education - and that there's no reason why a vampire should live somewhere in Romania and not on a Japanese island, with the ad hoc aesthetics of the land of the Samurais and Geisha (set and costumes). The fact that director Zoltán Balázs added some awkward and peremptory gestures that don't have anything to do with the libretto obviously doesn't help, nor does the lack of expressivity from all the singers.

This actors direction is all to familiar with the recent Braunschweig's Don Carlo production in Milan (beautiful set lines on an empty stage) with ugly costumes and make-up, that doesn't use the scenic space at all. 

The cast is decent especially Nabil Suliman and Helen Kearns (who started slow but did well a great Act II), "only" lacking the vocal expressivity required nowadays; the conduction is inspired at times and overall serves Marschner's music quite well. The musical execution is indeed the driving force of this performance.

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