Magazine article Opera Canada

Opera De Montreal: 20th Anniversary

Magazine article Opera Canada

Opera De Montreal: 20th Anniversary

Article excerpt

IT is often said, quite rightly, that Quebeckers and specifically Montrealers are lovers of the voice--they are, after all, the spiritual children of Albani, LaPalme and Jobin. It is no exaggeration to state that their love of opera has been the principal reason for L'Opera de Montreal reaching adulthood. And indeed, this year marks L'Opera de Montreal's 20th birthday, which is not only cause for rejoicing but also a time to take stock.

The OdeM has had two very different "parents." Jean-Paul Jeanotte was the company's supremo between 1980 and 1988, at which time the company's precarious financial situation forced him to be replaced by Bernard Uzan. Uzan's tenure as general and artistic director lasted until his recent resignation as the former. He continues as artistic director for another season, at which time he will become an artistic consultant to the company for a year. (Ironic that he should remain in what is perceived to be his chief weakness, the artistic sector.)

OdeM has undergone various growing pains and survived. But after two decades of radically different management styles and philosophies, one must ask at what cost that survival has been achieved. The Jeanotte era was characterized by a certain financial irresponsibility, but also a checkered artistic record. The company's opening season was indicative of its strengths and weaknesses. The inaugural Tosca in October 1980 featured the home-town star and Metropolitan Opera soprano Nicole Lorange as Puccini's heroine and Luis Lima as Cavaradossi, with Charles Dutoit and his Montreal Symphony Orchestra in the pit (the only time Dutoit has conducted an OdeM production). A largely locally cast Cosi fan Tutte was followed by La Traviata, in which Diana Soviero sang Violetta. Soviero is the artistic link between the two eras. She is, of course, married to Uzan, and it was in 1986 that he made his OdeM debut as stage director in a production of Romeo et Juliette that starred his wife.

The artistic teams for OdeM's first season were extremely strong. The three stage directors that season were Jean Gascon, Olivier Reichenbach and Roberto Oswald, while the conductors were Dutoit, Mario Bernardi and Franz-Paul Decker. Subsequent seasons brought a fourth production and such highly regarded artistic talents as Humbert Camerlo, Yannis Kokkos, Josef Svoboda, Lotfi Mansouri and Frank Corsaro. The musical staff included guest conductors Michelangelo Veltri, Jean Fournet and John Matheson, with Denise Masse (now at the Met) as head repetitrice. There was also a core of local singers and members of the company's finishing school, l'Atelier-lyrique, in secondary roles.

Yet artistic results became increasingly variable. Alongside superb performances of Lucia di Lammermoor and Die Zauberflote, there were disastrous productions of Otello and Carmen. Some casting decisions were hard to fathom. Clients of certain New York agencies seemed particularly well represented, and Hungarian singers appeared to be especially and mysteriously favored.

In the end, the financial precariousness of the company, allied to an underlying artistic unease, did Jeanotte in. Jeanotte, the somewhat aloof, distant dandy, was replaced by Uzan, the ultimate realist who not only sought the limelight but grabbed it with both hands. Uzan was not so much a breath of fresh air as a walking tornado. …

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