First a disclaimer, I’m not a huge Massenet fan and even among his works Don Quichotte would rate pretty low with its cheesy melodies and faux Spanoiserie. However, a good production has the potential to liven it up and a stellar cast is always a plus. The run that opened at the Canadian Opera Company last night certainly had the latter in Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili. Unfortunately Linda Brovsky’s production looked and felt like one of Mr. Peter Gelb’s attempts to get the Broadway audience into the Met. It was cluttered, unfocussed, pretty much devoid of ideas and didn’t even really make best use of the acting talents of the principals though Rashvelishvili did her best to inject some life into it. It’s exactly what I feared when I heard they were going to use a real horse and donkey (later replaced by a mule in one of the more recent of the season’s casting problems at COC). For me, one of those productions almost best listened to with eyes closed.
John Cox’s production of Massenet’s Thaïs at the Metropolitan Opera is probably most remembered for the rather extraordinary collection of Christian Lacroix frocks that Met perennial Renée Fleming gets to wear. It’s rather more than that. In fact it’s a pretty good example of what the Met does best. It’s sumptuous and spectacular and has a pretty much ideal cast which, together, go a long way toward making this curious piece rather enjoyable.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is less often performed than Rossini’s take on the same basic story. I’m really not sure why. Rossini’s take is a bit weird (in a good way), especially in the Ponelle production, but Massenet’s is much more interesting musically. Oddly enough there’s only one version on DVD; a 2011 recording from the Royal Opera House. Fortunately it’s very good. The production is by Laurent Pelly and it has quite a bit in common with his La Fille du Regiment. Here the set is made up of pages from the original syory by Perrault rather than military maps but the effect is similar. Costumes are quite cartoonish (shades of the recent Alice in Wonderland ballet) except for Cendrillon herself, the prince and her father. There’s a strong emphasis on the humorous side of the piece and the “ballets” are thoroughly subverted.
I seem to be in the middle of a run of operas full of dodgy theology. First it was the Met’s Parsifal where Wagner à la Girard dished up a puzzling mixture of misogyny, sacred wounds, centuries long curses, bastardization of the Eucharist and weird holy weapons. There’s a really good conversation about this over at Likely Impossibilities. Today I was at Opera in Concert’s semi-staged production of Massenet’s Thaïs. (My review of this should be in the summer edition of Opera Canada). So today was more misogyny, hairshirts, lots of penance and the idea that the road to sainthood is to be a tart until one’s looks start to go and then torture oneself to death in an appropriately aesthetic manner. Also, showing empathy for anyone not exactly like oneself leads to doubts, expulsion and damnation. Coming up soon, Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, in which salvation is achieved by rejecting anything to do with the Enlightenment and being guillotined. There’s a Salome in there too somewhere though I’m not sure there’s anything that could be called coherent theology at all in that.
Blessed are the cheesemakers… Really.
Massenet’s Manon is a glitzy 19th century set piece. It’s very French and very much a star vehicle. In this 2007 production from the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, director Vincent Paterson’s decides to to stage it in the 1950s and make Manon somewhat cinema obsessed, in a narcissistic way, which works rather well. It’s a self consciously glitzy affair with a bright gold curtain and technicians with Klieg lights following Manon much of the time. Even the “squalid” bits are treated with glamour. The only jarring element, deliberately I guess, is the use of giant reproductions of 19th century paintings as backdrops; notably Liberty Leading the People in Act 3.