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S & H International Opera Review

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Opera de Rouen, March 9, 2004 (FC)

Messrs Blair and Bush are not the first Westerners to have to confront cultural, religious and women’s rights issues in the Middle East. Mozart’s merry romp through this territory is given a fresh and sparkling performance at the Opera de Rouen through the 23rd of March.

This production was a casualty of the war between strikers and government reformers that resulted in the cancellation of the Aix-en-Provence Festival last summer. It had scarcely made a debut when the festival was closed by management when striking temporary arts workers began pelting audience members leaving performances. The same world-class ensemble is reassembled here (it is a co production with the Opera de Rouen), but without the world-class prices and sans protesters.

The sterling production team assembled hints at why the Aix-en-Provence Festival is considered the liveliest and most engaging of the summer’s festival fare. Evocative and sunny backdrops painted by Miquel Barceló accompany a mini-Tower of Babel around and through which the fast-paced action takes place. On stage, Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïeff have created a near-perfect confection that surprises and delights at every turn. Their young, attractive cast has the carefully choreographed comedy timing down to the mille-second.

The five major singing parts are all vocally able. German tenor Matthias Klink was accurate and clear with his pronunciation but one might hope for an easer-produced sound. The Konstanze of soprano Madeline Bender seemed to have a freer delivery but also showed signs of strain from time to time. Clearly a standout was soprano Magali Léger as a remarkably perky and vocally splendorous Blonde. Loïc Félix as Pedrillo and Wojtek Smilek as Osmin were both talented actors and careful singers. Some might miss, particularly with the role of Osmin, the gravity and power that a more generously gifted singer might bring to the role. Five actors, the Pasha’s "enforcers", were a delightful accompaniment, particularly a amusingly ominous cone-head character. The speaking role of Pasha Selim, Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam, displayed a confident command of both German and Arabic languages and was remarkably fleet-of-foot to boot.

Marc Minkowski, one of France’s major young conductors, lead the members of the enthusiastic, turban-wearing Rouen opera orchestra. Playing on modern instruments as if "historically informed" it was a crisp and spirited reading. Minkowski’s youthful conducting verve should not hide the fact that his understanding of the music is wide and profound. More satisfying, knowing conducting of this lyric masterpiece would be hard to find on any stage in Europe. He fortunately had the assistance of the famed Laurence Equilbey and her choir Accentus, who, when they are not making hit recordings, happen to be he house chorus in Rouen.

To further reflect on the shipwrecked summer season last year in France, I want to say a few words about another opera which was part of the Aix calendar and failed to get a single performance. The chamber opera Kyrielle du Sentiment des Choses by the talented young French composer François Sarhan can currently been seen in Paris. A rigorous rumination on words and their inherent musical content, it features a gifted quintet of vocalists, the Ring Ensemble. The stage design is well-crafted and the music is rich and a heady mixture of minimalism and jazzy riffs which remind one of Berio’s work with the Swingle Singers. It is playing through 3 April at the Theatre National de la Colline. It is worlds apart from the new opera this season at the Opera de Paris, the soulless L’ Espace Dernier by the young German, Matthias Pintscher. A tired rework of the old Darmstadt School textbook, it sank without a trace earlier this month.

Frank Cadenhead

Photo credit Elisabeth Carecchio




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