Viewpoint: All-Star Ensemble
On April 13, at the Plaza Hotel, the ninth annual OPERA NEWS Awards will honor five wonderful artists, each with a unique place in the history of the art form we all love. Nina Stemme, who began her international career with a win at the 1993 Operalia competition, is now one of opera's most in-demand dramatic sopranos: her calendar this spring holds performances as Salome in Zurich, Isolde in Berlin and Brünnhilde in Vienna. Juan Diego Flórez has set new standards for tenors in the bel canto repertory that has become his specialty; he returns to the Met this season as Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola, which will be seen as part of The Met: Live in HD series in May. James Morris, who defined the role of Wotan for a generation of Wagnerites, remains a vital presence on the Met roster: his authoritative Oroveso was part of the Met's revival of Norma this past autumn. And the incomparable Christa Ludwig, who first beguiled audiences more than sixty years ago, is now active as a teacher and — as witness her Carnegie Hall master class in January of this year — remains a force of nature.
Director Patrice Chéreau became a part of opera history in 1976, when his transformative Ring cycle staging opened at Bayreuth. In the years since then, Chéreau directed relatively few operas, but each of his productions was a special event. It was our privilege to have Chéreau accept our offer of an OPERA NEWS Award this season. Our first correspondence with Chéreau on the subject was almost a year ago, in the spring of 2013, and we continued to exchange e-mails with him while he was in rehearsal for his triumphant staging of Elektra in Aix-en-Provence, which opened in July. Although illness had been a part of his life for some time — David Lan's tribute to Chéreau at the Young Vic in Decemberconfirmed that the director had been under treatment for cancer in 2011, when he directed I Am the Wind in London — Chéreau's work remained vigorous, shaped with exacting attention to emotional and textual detail. The freshness of his imagination and the depth of his curiosity endured. At the time of his death, in October, Chéreau was already planning the arrival of the Elektra production at La Scala, where it will open next month. (The staging is a coproduction with the Met, where it will be seen in a future season.)
Chéreau rejected the notion that he had made a legacy for himself; critic Stephen Moss's obituary of Chéreau quotes the director as saying, "I haven't built anything. I've never had any plans about a career." Chéreau was an artist, a man devoted to the project at hand — the story that needed to be told. In conversation, Chéreau was direct and simple, sometimes to startling effect; in 2009, when an interviewer praised the authenticity of the hospital scenes in his film Son Frère, Chéreau dismissed the compliment with a shrug, saying, "The scenes looked authentic because I used real nurses." That was true, of course, but Son Frère was not a documentary; the rich drama of its mise-en scène was the product of Chéreau's seamless combination of real-life hospital workers and professional actors; at some moments, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. Chéreau created a world in which all of the on-camera participants, whatever their professions, were equal partners in telling the story.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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