Schönberg, Verdi, Wagner and Berlioz: the commitment to cycles

A fresh look at season 15/16

By Octave 03 August 2016

© Bernd Uhlig

Schönberg, Verdi, Wagner and Berlioz: the commitment to cycles

During the summer break, we offer our readers a retrospective glaze on Stéphane Lissner’s first season at the Paris Opera. The rhythm of season 15/16 was marked by recurring “rendez-vous” with composers whose work, essential or enigmatic, appeals to invention and discovery. Between revivals of timeless productions and creations, these diverse companionships set the tone for an eclectic operatic season, revealing the inexhaustible quality of the Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus.


Indeed, inaugurating season 15/16 with a symphonic concert of works by Arnold Schönberg took audacity, furthermore in uncharted territory. The Paris Opera Orchestra invested the Philharmonie de Paris for the first time with the Variations for orchestra, op.31, a major modern piece, inaugurating a cycle dedicated to the Austrian composer. Philippe Jordan carried out the audacious project of making Schönberg’s work better known in its diversity through a series of concerts and recitals which was followed by Pierrot Lunaire and the String Quartet, op.10 a reflection of his shift from late romanticism to atonality – and the Gürre Lieder. The climax of this commitment was undoubtedly the mobilization of all the vital forces of the Paris Opera in the service of Moses und Aron, Schönberg’s unfinished philosophical opera, reputed for its reluctance to the stage. “There is something deeply theatrical and human in this work that must be recognized” insists Philippe Jordan in an interview. The task had been handed to the most plastic of today’s stage directors, Romeo Castellucci. The result was a striking journey through contradictory signs, trails of tainting speech and haunting images, succeeding in making Schönberg our contemporary. To complete the cycle, the composer’s early style of feverous romanticism found a perfect embodiment with the Paris Opera Ballet dancers in Verklärte Nacht choreographed by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. The choreographer will renew her collaboration with the Paris Opera by stage directing Così fan tutte, which will inaugurate a Da Ponte trilogy.    
"La Nuit transfigurée" d'Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker © Agathe Poupeney


As for Moses und Aron, season 15/16 was marked by the return to grace of works rarely – or never – given on the Paris Opera’s stages so that some shows were practically must-see events. Last March, a new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which hadn’t been performed for over a quarter of a century, thrilled the audience. Philippe Jordan teamed up again with stage director Stefan Herheim to offer five hours of musical and scenic jubilation. Through Hans Sachs’ character, Wagner reflects on the artist’ status and design a self-portrait to a comical effect. The Wagnerian cycle will pursue with a concert of excerpts from the Tetralogy and Lohengrin directed by Claus Guth with Jonas Kaufmann singing the title-role. Faithful to the Paris Opera, the German tenor lent his voice to Hector Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust which inaugurated a cycle dedicated to the composer. This complex “dramatic legend” displays the forward-thinking talent of a visionary composer and the audience will have the possibility to discover the musical richness of his works with Béatrice et Bénédict in concert version.
Sophie Koch, Jonas Kaufmann
Sophie Koch, Jonas Kaufmann © Élena Bauer / OnP


Through cycles, one is amazed at the variety of artistic worlds that can spring from the work of one composer. The cycle dedicated to Giuseppe Verdi displayed with flying colors the repertoire’s vitality. This season, two internationally acclaimed stage directors made their Paris Opera debuts taking over operas by Verdi. Spanish stage director Alex Ollé, from la Fura dels Baus, addressed the issue of aggravating social tensions during war time in a First World War set Trovatore. German stage director Claus Guth, for his part, created a melancholic cabaret in a cart wood box from the material of Rigoletto’s fantasies and regrets. Verdi’s “popular trilogy” was completed with a revival of Benoît Jacquot’s production of La Traviata; the French director paying tribute to the sulfurous 19th century heroine with the elegance for which he’s known. The Verdi cycle above all gives time and space to appreciate opera singing. One was able to hear and see the greatest singers in the world perform on the Paris Opera stages: Anna Netrebko, Marcelo Àlvarez, Sonya Yoncheva, and Bryan Hymel… To end the season, like a cherry on the cake, Aida displayed one of the most brilliant vocal casts of the year: with Sondra Radvanovsky in the title-role alongside Alexandrs Antonenko and the revelation Anita Rachvelishvili. The Georgian mezzo-soprano will be back next season in Samson et Dalila and Carmen, the role that earned her international fame; so that we almost wish the end of summer were tomorrow!    
Anita Rachvelishvili
Anita Rachvelishvili © Salvatore Sportato

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