Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Triple Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Triple Time

Article excerpt

La Navarraise; Le Portrait de Manon;

Comedy on the Bridge Guildhall School of Music and Drama The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is outdoing itself in putting on a triple bill of little-known operas, two by Massenet and one by Martinu. What is still more remarkable is that GSMD has put them all on before, though I think in different productions. This time round the designer Yannis Thavoris has produced a set of which the main ingredient, a heap of miscellaneous broken or discarded objects, remains throughout the evening, while other props are introduced that are sufficiently striking to create a quite different mood as the curtain rises on the three little operas.

The first, Massenet's La Navarraise, goes so against everything we associate with the composer that it must have been written partly in order to demonstrate how wide his range was. Not that he hadn't already demonstrated that pastel-shaded love stories with a harrowing conclusion after a couple of hours of build-up were not the only thing he could pull off, but none of the very wide range of other varieties of subject-matter seems to have kept his creative attention, with the exception perhaps of Thais, the ultimate sex-and-God concoction, and given the material most of that is pretty tame stuff.

La Navarraise used to be compared with, even paired with, Cavalleria Rusticana, but it was sent packing by I Pagliacci, a much stronger work. Still, Navarraise made a sufficiently strong impression at its first London performance in 1894 for the Prince of Wales to order a royal command performance at Windsor, not a remote possibility now for any opera. It begins promisingly with gunshots and fanfares, we are plunged into a Spanish civil war, and there is no danger whatever that the name of action will be lost. The heroine Anita is so passionately in love with the hero Araquil, a brave soldier, that she is prepared to assassinate the enemy leader to win 2,000 douros, to pay her own dowry to her beloved's hostile father.

Araquil thinks she must have sold herself to the leader, and curses her, before dying of his wounds. Anita goes mad, but the curtain comes down before she has a chance for a proper mad scene, which wouldn't be in the idiom of the piece.

Massenet comes up with angular phrases, special effects, fast-moving music, but all to no avail. …

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