Such a brilliant “Cloaca Maxima” at la Monnaie!
Olivier Py loves working against the current with marvelous scenes and light effects of Canaletto on the banks of the Grand Canal lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces! Or even “Death in Venice”, and Thomas Mann’s eerie sense of beauty translated by unforgettable filmmaker Luchino Visconti (1971). Here comes the Twilight of human beings in a polar-shaped opera, where Evil will definitely prevail. From the start to the end, raw desire, phallocratic power and lust suffocated the scene which featured a bleak underworld.
Hell on a small scale, sex and death were danced and pantomimed as if to turn it in a new way of life. Plain, without preliminaries or afterthoughts, exposing its crude and empowering urgency. The setting is the Venice sewer system with its grim unending walls and the dangerous edge of things perspiring everywhere. Gondolas transformed into coffins.
Eventually two gigantic cruisers would roam through the water gate, as a crude reminder of how Venice, for centuries the very heart of our western culture, is being endangered by evil appetites. Or is it Venice itself that is Evil? Olivier Py and Pierre-André Weitz (Set and costume design) put forward the idea that « The beauty of Venice is death, the greatness of Venice is decline, the power of Venice is Evil ». Observing the decline of the “Europe des Lumières “that created the mindset of the Enlightment apparently conducts them to this sad statement. An even more obvious statement is made from the overture onward, which displays a (Nazi?) bathtub in which a gnome, or a joker, or a clown keeps being sarcastically drowned but not even minding! This dumb Evil ex machina character, will gather power and size and number throughout the action. In the wrong hands, water can bring death upon any poor soul who is subjected to its deadly power. “Feste! Pane! Feste e pane!” claim the crowd, “Viva il Doge e la republica!”
In his day, Amilcare Ponchielli was considered the most important Italian composer of the generation after Verdi, but today we know him primarily for La Gioconda, and in particular its, famous ballet, “La danza delle ore”. The story, based on “Angelo, tyrant of Padua” by Victor Hugo was set in 17th-century Venice, where conspiracies and regattas formed the backdrop to the fortunes of the beautiful singer La Gioconda (soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon). Harassed by Barnaba (powerful baryton Franco Vassallo), the almighty spy of the Inquisition, the young lady sacrificed everything to save Enzo (alluring Stefano La Colla), the man she loved. She even saved Laura, her rival, the woman he was in love with. Act III scene 5 « O madre mia, nell’isola fatale frenai per te la sanguinaria brama di reietta riva. Or più tremendo è il sacrifizio mio .. o madre mia, io la salva per lui, per lui che l’ama! Speaking the unspeakable in Act IV scene 2 “Suicidio”overwhelming rendition.
Meanwhile, almighty and perverse Barnaba (powerful baryton Franco Vassallo) would use La Cieca, her blind mother, to blackmail Gioconda that he wishes to submit to his desire. He even toys with the idea of having her judged as a witch deserving burning. …But aren’t we all witches’ daughters? Anyway, Barnaba is determined to destroy her as she embodies pure insuperable mother love and entertains devout relationships with God. She is a godly delicate creature, looking like a Tang dynasty woman figure, sung by angelic contralto Ning Liang. Her heavenly aria in the first act “Voce di donna o d’angelo” sounded like sheer innocence. With such an epitome of a villain, the director Olivier Py offers us an ‘opera noir’ through and through.
Besides, Act III scene 2 calls back dreadful visions of enfuriated Othello. We know that Victor Hugo loved Shakespeare. “Invan tu piangi, invan tu speri, Dio non ti puo easudirn no! in lui raccogli in tuoi pensierei preparati a morir!” sung by Alvise Badoèro , Laura’s husband. Superb Jean Teitgen. The poor spouse is cynically forced to swallow the poison on her own! Hugo’s invention proves a clever lifesaving twist as the story unfolds!
The music, however is a relief. It forms a stunning and magnificent contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the action, with clusters of torrential passion and beauty. The flamboyant “grande opera all’italiana” is conducted by Paolo Carignani along with an exceptional double cast for the six demanding main roles.
The audience is thoroughly washed away by the quality of the orchestra, its elaborate textures and harmonies conveying an extraordinary range of feelings, from fear to death and even suicide but also describing the various love pangs felt by all but Barnaba. The choir performances (Martino Faggiani) are breathtaking and so are the ballet dancers, while the six soloists are equally powerful at streaming their various flows of consciousness. What a breathtaking gallery!
French version/ photos © Baus
Conductor PAOLO CARIGNANI
Director OLIVIER PY
Set and costume design PIERRE-ANDRÉ WEITZ
Lighting BERTRAND KILLY
Chorus master MARTINO FAGGIANI
La Gioconda BÉATRICE URIA-MONZON
HUI HE (30, 3, 6, 10)
Laura Adorno SILVIA TRO SANTAFÉ
SZILVIA VÖRÖS (30, 3, 6, 10)
Enzo Grimaldo STEFANO LA COLLA
ANDREA CARÉ (3)
Barnaba FRANCO VASSALLO
SCOTT HENDRICKS (30, 3, 6, 10)
La Cieca NING LIANG
Alvise Badoero JEAN TEITGEN
Isèpo ROBERTO COVATTA
Zuane / Un pilot BERTRAND DUBY
Un Barnabotto / Una voce BERNARD GIOVANIU // Un cantore RENÉ LARYEA/ Una voce ALEJANDRO FONTÉ
La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
MM Academy & La Monnaie’s Children’s and Youth Chorus, led by Benoît Giaux
Co-production THÉÂTRE DU CAPITOLE (TOULOUSE, 2020), TEATR WIELKI WARSZAWA (2020)