Meyerbeer’s Dinorah ou le Pardon de Ploërmel must be a very strong candidate for the silliest opera ever written. It concerns a young girl, Dinorah, who is deserted on her wedding day by her fiancé Hoël who disappears in search of a cursed treasure. She goes mad. There’s sheep and goat ballet, a lullabye to a goat accompanied on the bagpipes, more sheep and goat ballet and a scene where Dinorah sings a very difficult aria to her own shadow. There’s a “ghastly” enchanted glen scene at the end of which Dinorah, pursuing her pet goat, falls into a river; apparently fatally. Rather than resolve this we then get another half hour of pastoral with a hunter and a reaper and assorted shepherdesses and, inevitably, dancing sheep and goats before Hoël shows up having rescued Dinorah. He persuades her that the last twelve months have all been a bad dream and they get married accompanied by much pious singing.
Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise is an astonishing piece of music theatre and Pierre Audi’s Amsterdam staging of it is equally extraordinary. There is very little “plot”. The work consists of eight loosely linked tableaux taken from 16th century accounts of St. Francis’ life and ministry. There is theology and leprosy and ornithology and it goes on for four and a quarter hours. It ought not to work but it does. Continue reading