Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Les Pecheurs de Perles at Opera Comique

Les Pecheurs des Perles. Opera Comique (Paris). June 18th 2012. Production: Yoshi Oida. Conductor: Leo Hussain with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Cast: Sonya Yoncheva (Leyla), Dmitry Korchak (Nadir), André Heyboer (Zurga), Nicolas Testé (Nourabad).

That I did not have a ticket for this evenings sold-out performance did not bother me as last-minute tickets normally are not that difficult to come by in Paris, as a fair amount of people normally sell their tickets outside the theatre just before the show. However, had I given more thought to the facts that 1) Pecheurs de Perles is quite popular here in France, 2) Opera Comique is an extremely atmospheric opera house with only about 5 productions every year and 3) this was the opening night of an entirely sold-out run, I would probably have arrived a little earlier than 20 minutes before curtain-time. Only sheer luck awarded me with a ticket, bought 5 minutes before show-time, as I was competing with at least 15 other people, left ticketless.

First of all, much is to be said for attending opera performances at Opera Comique, infinitely more atmospheric than the huge auditorium down at the Place de Bastille. And the history of the place including the world premieres of Carmen and Pélleas and Melisande, just to name a few.
The production, however, was disappointing with Japanese director Yoshi Oida created a simplistic, though stylistically confusing production. Set on the naked stage painted in an impressionistic pattern of bluish colours and elevated like a wave, he made effective use of a group of dancers representing some of the pearl fishers and repeatedly disappearing behind the wave. However, with Leyla dressed as a semi-Indian looking belly-dancer, Zurga and Nadir in indeterminable rags, the Pearl Fisher´s occasionally like Japanese karate fighters, the styles simply did not seem to match and Yoshi Oida would have been much better off choosing one of them - ie. Japanese or Indian or a third one. My major criticism, however, concerns  his apparent lack of personal direction of the singers, who looked like they were simply left to themselves on stage, delivering the lines. Admittedly the libretto is not among the finest, but with only three singers on stage for the majority of time, without personal direction it simply does not work, though his choreographic concept was intriguing.
I did not quite take to André Heyboer´s rather wooden timbre and stiff acting and whoever made the casting decision to give the superb Nicolas Testé the small role of Nourabad instead of that of Zurga should have some kind of reprimande.
Dmitry Korchak has some upcoming high-profile engagement including Lenski in the Vienna production of Eugene Onegin with Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky next year. His is a pleasant voice, but still, I find him rather non-distinctive as an artist. His french diction, however, was superb, with every word to be understood without consulting the text panels.

The true revelation of the evening was the 31-year old Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, winner of the Operalia competition in 2010 and in the beginning of a career, which will definitely take her places most sopranos don´t go. Hers is a lyric voice with an exceptionally beautiful dark timbre, and she produced some astonishing singing especially in her Act 3 confrontation with Zurga. A voice I just hoped would go on and one. To quibble a little she may still improve on controlling her higher register, her vibrato (on the large side) and work on her acting skills, in which I suspect she was not helpted  by the director. As she is young, all this may come in due time, however. May come, suspected not helped by the director.

Leo Hussain did well with a reduced (12 violins in total for example) orchestra though more strings obviously create a more creamy sound. However, the small orchestra pit of the Opera Comique is not sized for Wagnerian kind of orchestra.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Sonya Yoncheva: 4-5
Dmitry Korchak: 4
André Heyboer: 2-3
Nicolas Testé: 5

Yoshi Oida´s direction: 3
Overall impression: 3

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