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Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

Stanisław Lem's science fiction novel Solaris, published in 1961, has already become the subject of an iconic film by Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky (1972), as well a more recent version by Steven Soderbergh (2002). The work has also caught the attention of opera composers: the world premiere of Japanese-born Dai Fujikora's Solaris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was preceded by opera realizations of the novel by the German composer Detlev Glanert (2012) and Karol Nepelski (2008) from Lem's native Poland.  The Fujikora Solaris was directed, designed and choreographed by Saburo Teshigawara, with Erik Nielsen conducting the Ensemble Intercontemporain. (seen March 7).

The Solaris premiere was undoubtedly the first time that many opera goers were presented with a 3D glasses as they entered the theater. The rather conservative audience at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées seemed mystified but intrigued by the ocular assistance. The glasses were only useful for the initial silent video by Ulf Langheinrich, which expanded pointillist spatial images to accompany the audience on their journey to Solaris. This set the right extra-terrestrial atmosphere for this planet covered by a vast ocean with anthropomorphic properties — intelligence that allows it to recreate the inner doubts and the past obsessions of the space crew.  

Teshigawara (b. 1977) made dance central to the evening. Austerely costumed singers appeared on either side of the stage; it was left to their dancer doubles to physically express the emotions of the characters, particularly concerning the suicide of Kris Kelvin's wife Hari. The staging was elegantly spare and the choreography precise if slightly repetitive in its trembling expressionism, helped by exceptional performances from dancers Václav Kuneš as Kelvin and Rihoko Sato as Hari. 

Although the opera rose to a powerful climax when Kelvin lost the Solaris-created clone of his late wife, attention was inevitably shared between the static singers and the onstage dancers, which created a dramatic problem. The eye was drawn to the acting of the drama by the dancers, and this robbed concentration from the excellent singers, making the one hundred minutes of music seem as if it were a long intergalactic mission. It would be easy to imagine a production of the opera that allowed the singers to take center stage and thereby offer the work a greater emotional focus.

Fujikora's score, supported by electronic elements created at the Ircam, is exceptionally fluent and refined for this journey into outer space, where its somewhat dated modernist idiom seemed eerily appropriate. Despite the abstract orchestral music, the composer's language fortunately allowed for eminently singable vocal lines that allowed for clear declamation of Teshigawara's English-language libretto. The premiere also benefited from the superb playing of the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Nielsen and powerful singing from poised soprano Sarah Tynan as Hari, powerfully expressive baritone Leigh Melrose as Kris Kelvin, and tenor Tom Randle, stylish as ever in the role of Snaut. spacer 


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