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Die Frau ohne Schatten: Robert Wilson Strikes Again !

Le Coq d'Or According to Ennosuke Ichikawa

 

By Joel Kasow


PARIS, 6 January 2003—Robert Wilson's travelling light show parked itself at the Opéra National de Paris, using Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten for background music. The Empress glides around the stage, the Dyer's Wife is restricted to mincing footsteps (extremely ludicrous when executed by the majestic Luana de Vol), the Emperor has a bow growing out of his back. There was never a question of the Empress having a shadow, as no one did, except when we were shown a poor imitation of Japanese shadow play.

Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
The red Falcone, the Emperor (Thomas Moser) and the cellist soloist (Martine Bailly)
in Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten
Photo: Eric Mahoudeau


Whose choice was it to have the voices of the minor characters amplified to such an extent that the atmospheric chant of the Nightwatchmen that ends the first act closely resembled a brawling beerfest?

Wilson presented the bare narrative, without the least attempt to tackle any of Hoffmanstahl's intellectual meanderings, making it difficult to believe that not only a dramaturge but also an assistant were necessary for this spectacle which differed so little from its predecessors.

Of course, the fact that Wilson had just been promoted Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French Government and that Hugues Gall, the Director of the Opéra, had been elected to the Académie des Beaux Arts lent a certain intellectual cachet to the enterprise that is in fact unjustifiable. I would even go so far as to say that any director of a European opera house who persists in hiring Wilson for anything but a contemporary opera—where the composer is able to protest if so minded—is sufficiently blinded by the man's reputation that he could be accused of misuse of public funds.

Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Barak's wife (Luana DeVol), the Nurse (Jane Henschel) and the Empress (Susan Anthony)
in Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten
Photo: Eric Mahoudeau


In the event, conductor Ulf Schirmer led a competent performance, but only one of the principals hired for five of the most demanding roles in the repertoire was up to snuff. Jane Henschel's expressive face gave life to her portrayal of the Amme, a truly malevolent portrait. Thomas Moser's Emperor was well-sung, but never entered the superhuman dimension that is part of the role. Luana de Vol's wobble and uncertain high notes had the audience cringing, Susan Anthony's blond goddess has been singing roles too heavy and too often so that she has difficulty with the music allotted to the Empress, while Jean-Philippe Lafont's all too human Barak lacked the vocal assurance he once displayed in the same role. Once again, Wilson has struck, eliminating any drama in the work chosen for his pseudo-Oriental manipulation, so that the audience is left watching a puppet and light show that cost a fortune and is ineffective.

A revival at the Chatelet of Ennosuke Ichikawa's 1984 production of Rimsky-Korsakov's Coq d'Or offered equally stylized movement, but movement that seemed better integrated into a total concept. Unfortunately, the director's assistants were responsible for this year's staging and too often the performers seemed to be walking through the motions without really knowing why.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or
Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or
Photo: © : M.N. Robert


Kent Nagano led the Orchestre de Paris in a colorful reading, with a largely Russian cast supplying linguistic authority. Albert Schagidullin's clear baritone was not exactly the voice one expected for the bass role of King Dodon, with Ilya Bannik not always audible as General Polkan. Ilya Levinsky and Andrei Breus (Gvidon and Afron) made much of little as did Elena Manistina (Amelfa). Olga Trifonova's Queen of Chemakha was not as playful as some, but the music held no terrors for her, while Barry Banks's Astrologer once again demonstrated that it is character roles that best exploit his talents. The peculiar vocal demands of the role were not shirked (up to E above high C).

Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or
Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or
Photo: © : M.N. Robert

Sumptuous costumes by Tomio Mohri added to the visual pleasures, while the Maryinsky Chorus contributed to the aural pleasures. Despite the cast's unfamiliarity with the stylized movement demanded of them, there was a more authentic feeling about this performance (19 December) than that of the previous evening's Wilsonian attitudes.




Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com..

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