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Re Orso

PARIS
Opéra Comique
5/19/12

Postponed from last season, Marco Stroppa's Re Orso, a légende musicale, was given its world première on May 19at the Opéra Comique with Susanna Mälkki conducting the Ensemble Intercontemporain in a production directed by Richard Brunel. The electronic contribution was created at the IRCAM, whose electronic musical research department the composer directed from 1987 to 1990. 

Re Orso takes as its starting point a poetic fable written by Arrigo Boito. Like composer Stroppa in our own time, Boito — celebrated as the librettist of Verdi's Otello and Falstaff and composer of Mefistofele — sought to revitalize opera. The story of the "bear" king is presented in two parts: the first half explores the bloodthirsty reign of terror of the monarch, whose conscience is gnawed by a "Worm" who reminds him of his heinous crimes, climaxing in an orgy of violence at the king's expedient marriage to the abducted Oliba, at which he murders the Trouvère who dares to sing of his love for the bride-to-be. The second half deals with the King's death and his unsuccessful search for redemption and the poet's triumph over repression. 

The eighty-minute score for four actors and four singers is similarly divided into two distinct sections, the first accompanied by eleven instruments in the pit, the second based on an electronic dispositive and a totem acoustique, a pillar of electronic gizmos, which was lowered to center stage at the end of the evening. The musical language of Stroppa owes much to the avant-garde of the 1970s, and his Italian origins bring Dallapiccola and Nono to mind, along with a Berio-like percussive exploration of spoken and sung text. A pizzicato double bass using a jazz slap technique attenuated the modernist musical language in the violent first half with a swinging rhythm and an airy orchestral texture. The second part is a more original exploration of electronic language and aural spatialization, including the musically frenetic robot piano of the murdered Trouvère, which becomes his touching double, and the electronically created solo for the "speaking" accordion — sensationally played by Anthony Millet. Voices were transformed and meshed into the electronic language with Italianate vocal relish, including an extraordinary descending scale for Orso, from countertenor to deep chiming bell. 

Brunel's sustained theatricality ensured that audience attention never flagged in a studio-theater style production set against the bare back wall of the stage, which created a spare but effective acting space with two walkways into the pit allowing the cast to interact with audience and band. Orso was sung by countertenor Rodrigo Ferreira, whose wide-ranging voice and strong stage presence made him an ideal antihero. His suffering bride, Oliba, brought a performance of astonishing accuracy from soprano Marisol Montalvo, who explored the highest register of her coloratura soprano with clinical ease. Mezzo Monica Bacelli's strong dramatic presence and knowing stagecraft made her an ideally insinuating Worm, while tenor Alexandre Kravets made the most of the vocal possibilities of his role as the Trouvère. A special mention goes to actor Geoffrey Carey as Papiol, the court jester, whose Brechtian distancing of the drama added to the success of the evening under the experienced baton of Mälkki. spacer

STEPHEN JOSEPH MUDGE

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