There were some in Paris who were
looking forward to this concert performance as one of the more important
in the season. This opera appeared on many opera-lover's radar with
the fine EMI recording by Simon Rattle and starring Thomas Hampson in
the title role. But could it be that there is less to this work than
meets the eye? Szymanowski was borrowing from any late-Romantic source
in reach and a distinctive voice that engaged the listener was not heard.
Certainly there are other Late Romantic lyric works, like Die Tote
Städt, which might make a stronger artistic statement and are
still not being staged with regularity. The static nature of the plot,
by itself, would disqualify this work from frequent appearances in any
Maybe these performances were
star-crossed from the start. One after the other, the interesting singers
scheduled began dropping out. First to go was the exciting young Russian
soprano Olga Trifonova replaced by Tatiana Pozarska. The excellent German
tenor Thorsten Kerl was next, replaced by Ryszard Minkiewicz who repeats
his problematic appearance in the EMI recording. Finally the grand Thomas
Hampson became "indisposed" and the Châtelet managed to borrow
Wojtek Drabowicz who happened to be busy in Bordeaux.
The good news is that all of the
singers - by chance - happened to be Polish and the enunciation of the
text was as good as it gets outside of Teatr Wielkl in Warsaw. But,
apart from Drabowicz, who has appeared at Glyndebourne and other important
houses and has recorded the role of the King, it was not a memorable
night for the voice. The tenor Ryszard Minkiewicz, in the important
role of The Shepherd, had trouble all night above the stave and unfortunately
the composer took him there often. Soprano Tatiana Pozarska, as the
tempted Roxana, was wearing an impressive, white, off-the-shoulder gown.
Her shoulder was unfortunately the only thing about her that seemed
soft and sexy and the relentless bite of her voice became tiring.
The talented young Finn, Jukka-Pekka
Saraste, was fortunately in the pit conducting Orchestre Philharmonique
de Radio France and the Choir of Radio France. They made impressive
sounds all night that often, with the complicity of the composer, covered
the straining voices on stage. This opera will be repeated Sunday, April
27 at 4 p.m.