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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Pinocchio in Aix-en-Provence

    Pinocchio, contemporary opera (2017), music by Philippe Boesmans, libretto by Joël Pommerat, after Carlo Collodi, sung in French - Premiered at the Grand Théatre de Provence on July 3rd, 2017
    Commission by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and La Monnaie, Brussels, co-produced by these two companies and also L’Opéra de Dijon, and L’Opéra National de Bordeaux
    Score published by Éditions Jobert

    Emilio Pomarico conducts the Klangforum Wien

    Stage Director, Joel Pommerat
    Sets and lighting, Éric Soyer
    Costumes. Isabelle Deffin
    Projections design, Renaud Rubiano
    Video Director, Arte Concert broadcast, Isabelle Soulard
    Filmed at the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix-en-Provence, July 2017


    Le directeur de la troupe, premier escroc, deuxième meurtrier, le directeur de cirque: Opera Lively interviewee Stéphane Degout
    Le père, troisième meurtrier, le maître d’école: Vincent Le Texier
    Le pantin (Pinocchio): Chloe Briot
    Deuxième escroc, le directeur de cabaret, le juge, premier meurtrier, le marchand d'ânes: Yann Beuron
    La chanteuse de cabaret, le mauvais élève: Julie Boulianne
    La fée: Marie-Eve Munger

    Stage music
    Fabrizio Cassol, saxophone, and improvisation coordinator
    Philippe Thuriot, accordion
    Tcha Limberger, violin


    I'll tell you what, my friends. After spending a fabulous summer attending in person the 2016 Festival d'Aix-en-Provence (see our extensive coverage by clicking [here]), I was already very fond of the company, and now I'll say this: after seeing this new opera they commissioned and co-produced, in my humble opinion Aix is the best opera company in the world (I'm not making a distinction between festival-based, and regular season-based; just calling them all opera companies for short, and comparing their ability to put on stage perfect shows). Period, full stop. Yes, the German-language companies are fabulous (Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Bayreuth, Zurich). Yes, the Met has its moments. Sure, the Royal Opera House is impressive, Glyndebourne is tops, Salzburg is gorgeous... But I think nobody else has been churning out phenomenal production after phenomenal production of the highest possible level of quality, and not only doing that, but actually creating the very best new operas, such as the spectacular Written on Skin that they commissioned and premiered there, and now this equally sublime Pinocchio, again commissioned and premiered there.

    I mean, when a company, among the hundreds in the world, creates no fewer than two of the three best new operas in our day and age in my opinion - George Benjamin's Written and Skin and Philippe Boesmans' Pinocchio [with the third one having been made in London, Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel], well, they are not just putting opera on stage. They are putting opera in the art form. They are advancing the art form and keeping it alive.

    This is exactly what Bernard Foccroulle told us last year (see his piece in our coverage mentioned above): that he wanted to keep the art form alive by commissioning high quality new operas, and he continued to do it this year. Well, it is a bit concerning that he is leaving (he will still control the 2018 festival but then on September 1st 2018 he passes the baton to Pierre Audi). But it is reassuring that Audi has worked very closely with Foccroulle and has engaged in many co-productions with him, so maybe Aix will keep the high quality under the new director. I hope so.

    Back to Pinocchio. I couldn't be more in awe of this piece. First of all, this is one the best scores I've ever heard in modern and contemporary opera. Its versatility is incredible. It is decisively current, unmistakably up-to-date in terms of the classical music being composed today up to and including jazzy parts, but it is equally comfortable with very traditional-sounding coloratura pieces for soprano (the fée role), and quotations of older French operas (there is an aria that recovers "Connais-tu le pays" from Mignon, and other moments when we almost expect other famous French arias to break through) - not to forget as unexpected moments as a stretch with Arabic chant. There are melodious intermezzi, and a rich and harsh more dissonant soundscape for the tenser moments. The score fits so well each dramatic situation, that it is almost Puccini-like or Korngold-like in its cinematic quality. It is written for a small ensemble which includes interesting parts for piano and percussion. A trio of saxophone, violin and accordion figures as an on-stage band, playing some very, very beautiful parts, very melodious during the narration provided by Laurent Naouri, and also chaotic and lively in the cabaret and classroom scenes. The vocal writing is simply excellent, with some dizzying coloratura as well as fine baritone lines for Degout.

    Then, the libretto is also hugely theatrical. It makes of this tale a very dark one, recovering its somber original source as opposed to the sweet Disney version. It is interesting to see how the libretto is able to make of this very well known story, something still suspenseful, deep, and engaging. Wow! That's how an operatic libretto needs to be! Also, it keeps getting better (the second half of the opera is better than the first half).

    OK, so, the piece itself is of stratospheric quality, A++. Then you give it to a fabulous company like Aix, and you have perfection. First of all, the casting. Aix is known for gathering phenomenal singers, and this was no exception. I'd say that this piece might qualify as Degout's best role ever, and it is saying a lot because he is a darn good singer. And then, every single one of his colleagues did almost as well. Orchestra-wise, it doesn't get any better than the Klangforum Wien for contemporary pieces. So, the musical aspects of this show easily get another A++.

    What about the theatrical arts? Well, I've rarely seen as good acting on the operatic stage as I saw today. Oh. My. God! Stéphane Degout and Chloe Briot put together a performance that should be shown to students in acting classes. Her troubled, motor tic-ridden Pinocchio was a thing of beauty, and Degout conducted the show like Beckenbauer, Zidane, or Pirlo would conduct an association football match.

    Lighting, blocking, video projections? All perfect. Make up? Pinocchio's panda bear face was a strike of genius, as it allowed Chloe to put together some amazing facial expressions, and the Zombie-like make-up for Stéphane was pretty impressive too. Some of the scenes are rather visually striking.

    In other words, this is as good as it gets. A++, maximum score, simply perfect, highly recommended. This is how we show to audiences that opera is alive, and contemporary opera can be as good as the great works of the past centuries.

    I don't know for how long this video will be available on Arte Concert. The festival has happened several months ago so it shouldn't be long. Don't miss it. It's a must see. Here is the link, while it lasts:

    Some pictures:

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); December 10th, 2017 at 06:49 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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