|Nathalie Paulin as the eponymous Sapho in Martini's opera
Perhaps not every lover of the arts will agree with us but we believe that a work of art requires no explanation. It should stand on its own merits. We see people in museums being led around by a docent explaining why a certain painting is excellent. We are the type to wander around and stop at a painting that arrests our attention, take it in, and decide for ourselves why we like it.
When we go to the theater and the director requires several pages to explain his/her concept and what he/she is trying to convey, we feel irritated. Either it works or it doesn't.
On Sunday evening, Opera Lafayette, those welcome visitors from D.C., threw us a curve ball by presenting some strangely directed excerpts from three operas composed during the late 18th c. in France. No doubt the tumultuous political climate had an influence on the choice of libretti and compositional style.
However, we feel that Director Mirenka Čechová, in her attempt to do something new and interesting, decided to fit the scenes into a Procrustean bed. She elaborately described why she chose the colors of the French flag and laid a common motive onto the three heroines of the three operas from which the scenes were taken. We got a headache just trying to understand her "Director's Note".
Judith A. Miller, Associate Professor of History at Emory University contributed several more pages about the French revolution. We would sooner read Simon Schama's 1989 tome "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution". We do not come to the opera to be educated nor to be baffled. We come to be entertained and inspired by beautiful music.
And beautiful music was heard, no doubt about that! Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin gave an impressive performance in scenes from the three operas represented. In Sacchini's Oedipe à Colone she made a splendid Antigone; in Jean-Paul-Égide Martini's Sapho she was equally fine as Sapho; and in Luigi Cherubini's Médée she was incredibly powerful. Her acting was as fine as her singing.
We find no fault with the fine singing and acting of tenor Antonio Figueroa who excelled in the roles of Jason and Phaon. Baritone Javier Arrey was no less excellent as Oedipe and Stesichore. Soprano Sophie Junker was fine in the smaller roles of Cléis and Néris.
Ryan Brown's conducting of the Opera Lafayette period-instrument ensemble was thrilling, as it usually is. With such fine musical values to delight our ears, it seemed a shame to clutter the stage with symbols. This may be all the rage in Europe but it did not please us.
This is not to say that the images were unattractive. We mostly admired Martin Spetlik's lighting of Petr Bohác's interesting set design; it's just that the images, as striking as they were, seemed jarring against the music and apposite only to the unconscious of the director.
There were birds on sticks, men carrying suitcases leaking sand, an acrylic tub filled with water to drown the soprano, and what all else. If music is to provoke imagery we want it to be from our own unconscious memories and fantasies, not from someone else's.
We hope Opera Lafayette's next visit will return us to the world of theatrical realism!
(c) meche kroop