Jan 25, 2011

Werther, Villazon directing

Jules Massenet
Drame lyrique en quatre actes
Livret de Edouard Blau, Paul Millet et Georges Hartmann, d'après Les Souffrances du jeune Werther (Goethe)

Opéra de Lyon
Jan. 24, 2011 - premiere
Last performance of this run: Feb. 7

When you have been especially careless with your voice, the time comes rather quickly when you have to find a new way of earning money, and hope to find a new career besides singing - directing, in the case of Rolando Villazon.
Well, I don't think he's yet ready, and if he'll ever be ready for that new job of directing an opera.

Having sung the role of Werther many times clearly didn't provide him with any kind of a deeper insight of the opera, as he tried - and failed - to give it a Regietheater twist that only resulted in a disaster.

All the components of the Regitheater are present, from the white and almost empty stage, the bright, colorful and ugly costumes, to some "grand" ideas that completely disrupt the dramatic moments of the opera and to some frankly very naive views on the whole story.

First of all, I think the way to core concept of Villazon is very wrong.
Werther is not one of those operas you can twist into a circus-like idea, or if you can, you completely loose all it's interest; maybe the idea of all the characters living in a world of fate and thus being clowns of their own lives could have had a chance, if Villazon could have been constrained to be less explicit and more subtile.

Subtility, here's what's clearly missing from this.
For instance, the first time Werther enters the stage, it's not enough that this child double is dressed in the same horrific color as he is (chick yellow), Villazon trusts himself (or the audience) so much that, just to make sure everyone gets it, they have the exact same gesture. Really useful? I sure don't think so, but I'm also sure this example is pretty much the quintessential way to describe this production.

It all seems terribly immature, almost childish, and this is clearly not the way to emphasize the dramatic quest of Werther.

Yet another example at the end of Act II, moments after Werther bids farewell to Charlotte in a very dramatic way (basically telling her he's going to kill himself): a giant pillow fight on stage orchestrated by the clowns and the children.
Again, was that really useful?

As far as the conducting by Leopold Hager was concerned, nothing extraordinary there, but rather a blend and forgettable reading of the score.

The singer clearly on top of the cast is Karine Deshayes (Charlotte) whose interpretation was indeed very convincing and quite well-sung.
Arturo Chacon-Cruz (Werther) struggled with his high notes (or rather has to learn how to sing a high note without yelling) and seemed like a clone of Villazon on stage: too much movements for such little effects... his stage presence, in other words, was all but sincere and credible.

Lionel Lhote (Albert) and Alain Vernhes (le Balli) both had a good performance, as well as Anne-Catherine Gillet (Sophie).

All pictures on this page from the Opéra de Lyon.

Video extract here.

Links to the Opéra de Lyon website:
- presentation of the production
- programme (incl. libretto)

Press reviews:

- "Un Werther "clownesque" à Lyon pour la première mise en scène de Rolando Villazon", AFP
- "Werther à l'Opéra de Lyon - rencontre avec Rolando Villazon", Le Progrès
- "Pas tout à fait la Bohème", Le Progrès, Antonio Mafra
- "Werther, Opera de Lyon, review", The Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen
- "Des danseuses et des clowns", La Libre Belgique, Nicolas Blanmont

Jan 3, 2011

Ernest Blanc is dead

Just a few days before Christmas, on Dec. 22, the great French baritone Ernest Blanc died at the age of 87.
He was, as stated here, probably the baritone I loved most.

Reviews in French:
- "Ernest Blanc s'est tu pour toujours", Sud-Ouest
- "Ernest Blanc est mort", Qobuz