Sunday, January 20, 2013

Who lit the barbecue in the Versailles Opera House?

Louis XIV must have turned in his grave at the smell of barbecue smoke that slowly embalmed yesterday evening the Opera House of his dreams and I must confess that I didn't like it either. I might have become more versaillaise than I thought being possible, but as much as I love the exuberant and overflowing creativity of Hervé Niquet, I think that his burlesque "King Arthur" didn't fit in the Royal Opera House of Versailles and its magnificent, delicate setting.

When I saw that the spectacle is in the 2012-2013 season and having missed it in its first live representation in Versailles in 2011, I enthusiastically bought myself a ticket with the clear image in mind that the guys who conceived that jewel were some kind of creative geniuses. I had so much fun watching it on DVD (a 2009 version performed at the Montpellier Opera) and I thought that the live version will be even more enjoyable, as these things usually are. Hilarious references to the enduring English-French love-hate relationship, a lavish display of unshakable prejudices the French have of Brits, unorthodox and downright improbable happenings and funny freestyle-translated subtitled were for me a revolution in itself, a way to make opera more approachable and palatable to the younger generation, kind of what the Three Tenors did when they brought it out in open air: a stroke of genius!

Blessed are the ones who don't have expectations! Last night I walked out the Opera House door with a mixed and almost disappointed feeling: a Niquet reciting his part at times mechanically, most of the time artificially, hurried scene passages with the unpleasant result of ruining funny details (they must've been anxious to get to the smoky scene...) and, even though the acoustics indoor is amazing, some words were inevitably covered by the music or the audience itself (actors should've carried microphones like they did in the video!...). It always gets risky when actors on stage actively involve the audience in the course of their shows, they need to have enough patience not to rush things for the spectators so they have time to understand and savor the comical effects. I could clearly tell that some actors were worn out, probably victims of their own success and the number of times they had to play the show, but this is not an excuse in my book and what is more, the public sensed it too.

And of course, the famous offending barbecue gag: the scene in itself was very funny on stage, but the impression of tarnishing the ethereal beauty of the Opera House with the vulgar smell was more powerful than that...

I still think the spectacle is delightfully creative and I highly recommend seeing it on video, but unless someone offers you the tickets I'd say: find yourself better things to do, maybe even watch it on youtube (you have to understand French to get the jokes):

A special mention for the bass João Fernandes: he's just perfect as King Arthur!

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