Sep 26, 2009

Mireille ressucitée


Opéra en 5 actes de Charles Gounod
Livret de Michel Carré d'après Frédéric Mistral
Créé au Théâtre Lyrique le 19 mars 1864
Entrée au répertoire de l'Opéra de Paris, 14 septembre 2009

Mireille - Inva Mula
Vincent - Charles Castronovo
Ourrias - Franck Ferrari
Ramon - Alain Vernhes
Taven - Sylvie Brunet
Vincenette - Anne-Catherine Gillet
Andrelou - Sebastien Droy
Ambroise - Nicolas Cavallier
Clemence - Amel Brahim-Djelloul
Le Passeur - Ugo Rabec

Orchestre et choeurs de l'Opéra de Paris
Conduction - Marc Minkowski
Stage direction - Nicolas Joël

Opéra Garnier Sept.22 performance - gala AROP

There were certainly some in Paris to boo Nicolas Joël's new production (only on the premiere it seems, as in NY). Nobody followed through in the performance I attended though, not even me, though his lack of ideas and actors direction is the only thing one can think of after seeing his production.

But Joël's decision to start his 5-yr contract as director of the Paris Opera by staging this particular piece is so commendable - and Minkowski's conduction is so exquisite one can only thank the man. Finally, after too many years of drought, Gounod is back in Paris. Adios Gérard Mortier...

I can't emphasize enough how extatic I felt when the first notes of the overture emerged and how exquisite the musical execution was. Finally, after too many years of bad treatment - including Plasson's massacre last year in Orange, Gounod's music is fully rehabilitated.

Who can, after hearing this performance, honestly say Gounod is boring and emotionless? It took Mark Minkowski - a baroque's conductor - to unravel all the marvels of Mireille's score.
I had truly never heard this opera played so brilliantly - a magnificent interpretation indeed (why he was also booed on the premiere is beyond comprehension).

And so does it really matter that Joël's staging is unattractive and quite dumb and so desperately true to the libretto ? Not for me.

Beginning of Act I

The piece

Gounod wanted to adapt provensal poet Frédéric Mistral's novel for the lyric stage (he actually composed most of the music while staying in the very places Mistral's story takes place in), but had to adapt to so many demands he ultimately delivered a piece quite different from his original idea.
 The huge pressure he got all his life from opera directors and prima donna meant he constantly had to make concessions and give way.

For Mireille, Marie Miolan-Carvalho - wife of the Théâtre Lyrique's director and the soprano who would create the role - told Gounod "Surtout, n'est-ce pas, faites brillant, très brillant, brillant" [Make it shiny, shiny, shiny], so he had to cut most of the dramatic scenes and add light and joyful arias for Mireille.

The score was cut and rewritten again and again after the premiere, and some arias of the original score were lost during the fire of the Opera House.

The version performed in Paris is the one Reynaldo Hahn assembled in 1939 - the closest to the original version.

More on this opera:
- Synopsis - in French

Alain Vernhes and Inva Mula

The performance

Apart from the marvellous job Marc Minkowski did, the orchestra had a great night as well.
The strings were superb, as were the woods and the brass.

The energy coming from the pit was mind-blowing, but the chorus of the Paris Opera did not deliver nearly as good a performance as the musicians did. The change of the chorus master hasn't succeeded in improving the quality of the ensemble - their unison is always somehow off and terribly unstable.

The soloist singers on the other hand were overall interesting - and Charles Castronovo, with his dark yet juvenile timbre made a good impression on me as Vincent.

I was also impressed by Alain Vernhes' Ramon, a rich and colorful voice very expressive, and Anne-Catherine Gillet's Vincenette.

The weakest main character was Franck Ferrari's Ourrias. The acting was vaudeville-esque and pretentious(and I hate vaudeville at the opera), while the singing was mediocre and not really up to the overall level.

Inva Mula's French is not really understandable for anybody, but her singing was decent enough not to ruin Minkowski's view of Mireille.

Overall a great evening for me.

Further reading 
- Mireille au palais Garnier,  Formalhaut
- Oh Mireille, même à Garnier, tu ne vieillis pas

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