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A “Shakespearian” opera season ends in Lausanne

06/02/2002 -  and 5, 7, 9, 11, June 2002
Hector Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict
Isabelle Cals (Béatrice), Monique Zanetti (Héro), Elodie Méchain (Ursule), Jean Segani (Somarone), Alain Trétout (Léonato), Nicholas Cavalier (Don Pedro), Ivan Ludlow (Claudio).
Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne, Emmanuel Joel
(Conductor), Choir of the Lausanne Opera, Véronique
Carrot (Chorus Master)
Jean-Marie Villégier, Jonathan Duverger (Directors).

Were does Béatrice et Bénédict come from? It sounds like a romantic tale, but the story is much older than Romanticism it self. Berlioz was often inspired by Shakespeare - like Verdi with his Falstaff that has been performed last winter in Lausanne - for his compositions and he chose the story of Much Ado about Nothing as the subject of his last opera and his song of the swan is a comédie. But it was already much too elaborate to be an ordinary opéra-comique following the French fashion of an Auber or Halévy.

Besides the music he also wrote a long, complicated and in fact quite clumsy libretto. The directors of this production, Villégier and Duverger, dared to change the initial text to make it lighter. By doing so, they adopted it to their purposes. It is maybe sad to see the old Somarone’s role as the Maître de Chapelle - through which Berlioz makes fun of baroque tradition - disappear. Somarone becomes a bearded wine loving Falstaffian soldier in red renaissance uniform, the Swiss mercenary type. Somarone and his bizarre choir composed of seamen and tavern girls repeat the serenade they want to sing for the wedding of Héro and Claudio. What is even odder is that we suddenly leap to the 20th century in the wedding scene. The uniforms become modern. A pink Cadillac roles in to serve as a high alter for the wedding mass. But except these alteration it remains a fine production, entertaining and avoiding the boring parts of Berlioz’ text.

Of course the music is of a different quality. Here Berlioz could prove his fine creativity. The composition sounds very symphonic and is more a musical play than an opera for it has long unsung parts. In the scena sung by Béatrice Non! Que viens-je d’entendre the composer can translate a whole array of feelings, and Isabelle Cals is a great medium. She has experience in singing Berlioz. The Englishman Tracey Welborn as Bénédict is also at his best. The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra brings us the symphonic diversity of the partition entirely.

Zoltan Bécsi



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