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A Non-Opera

Grand Théâtre
01/28/2002 -  and january 30, 1, 3, 5, 7 February 2002
Luciano Berio: Un Re in Ascolto
Armand Arapian (Prospero), Pierre Lefebvre (The Producer), Georg Nigl (Vendredi), Ziya Azazi (Ariel), Donna Ellen (The Protagonist), Sophie Fournier (The First Soprano), Mary Saint-Palais (The Second Soprano), Nona Javakhidze (The Mezzo-Soprano), Patrick Davin (Conductor) Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Chorus of the Grand Théâtre, Chieng-Lien Wu (Chorus Master), Philippe Arlaud (Producer).

When one reads Berio’s commentaries on this piece created in Salzburg in 1984, one discovers that it is not an opera but an “musical action”, though it has almost all that an opera needs (sopranos and even a mezzo-soprano), accept that it is complex and highly intellectualised. It is in fact a non-opera. The picture of Magritte, the Belgian painter, comes to mind in which one can see a pipe under which it is written: “this is not a pipe”. These are the first impressions of a piece that is not very eventful in happening, and happens more in the mind of Prospero, the theatre director. Indeed Prospero wants to create a new kind of theatre, - which is the dream of most contemporary producers -, but he fails in this, letting his producer do something very odd out of Shakespears “The Tempest”. Then he looks for a singer and finds it after many auditions. But this prima donna, The Protagonist, tells him that he has failed… He, then, dies alone. Much freedom is given in this non-story to each individual of the audience to interpret the “action” in his own way.

The production is lavish in colour, scenery and light, with jugglers and clowns recalling us something of Leoncavallo. A semicircular red ramp brings the artists on stage with a stormy background. All this entertains the eye making the performance spectacular, in contradiction to the action that is static.

Prospero says “Music is silence”, and Shakespeare becomes opera since he is looking for a singer and not an actor to play it: contradictions and absurdity, are constantly calling for reflection. Concerning the musical aspect, Propsero speaks more than sings alternating speech and whisper through which he repeats, like the echo of his inner self, the questions that are torturing him.

The singers (sopranos and the Mezzo-soprano) perform their “arias”, that are more vocalises, though the difficulty is even greater for there is no pattern of music to follow, only sentiments that have to be sounded to be expressed. In this art, the wonderful and impressive cast has done very well. Since an “opera” of this sort is in constant movement, it is difficult to capture and compare, like one does while listening to traditional opera. Indeed, during a classical performance the critiques await the difficult arias to execute or glorify the protagonist. Here it is The Protagonist that accuses…

Zoltan Becsi



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