La Scena Musicale

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cellist Kleinhapl slated for tour of Eastern U.S. and Canada

Cellist Kleinhapl slated for tour of Eastern U.S. and Canada

By Rick MacMillan

The distinguished Austrian cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl [] is perhaps unique among players of that instrument in that his major sources of inspiration have often been singers rather than other cellists. He and his regular duo partner, the German pianist Andreas Woyke, who are about to appear together in recital in Montreal, have played and recorded arrangements of songs by the likes of Brahms, Schubert and Richard Strauss.

Not so strange really. As is often said, the cello is a singing instrument, and its range, which lies in the gamut of the baritone voice, conjures a tonal warmth that is immediately appealing. “It touches the heart in a very literal way,” says Kleinhapl in a phone conversation from his home in Graz, where he was born, “partly because of how you hold the instrument. You feel the vibrations in your heart, directly from the instrument.”

“One of the singers who moved me very deeply,” he remembers, “was Mario del Monaco. His son gave a portrait of his father at the university when I started there, and I saw in the films of del Monaco that his style was somehow very realistic; there was no theatre, no playing, it was real life. This was the first moment when I thought to myself, ‘It need not always be beautiful.’ It’s sometimes more important to forget that you are a musician, to think of yourself only as a human being, not acting but living.”

Maria Callas comes to mind. “Yes, yes,” he responds. “And Pavarotti too. I underestimated him myself for a very long time, because I thought he was only singing very loudly, that he was not very intellectual. But a few years ago it struck me that it’s not necessary to be very intellectual, to think too much about music, but only to be open in your heart to make music. And that’s what he did in an incredible way. He formed his tones so easily, much easier than Domingo and many other singers. So this is often the image I take in my cello playing: When the cello sounds like that, like Pavarotti, it sounds very natural.”

As we spoke the 49-year-old musician and Woyke were gearing up for a mini-tour of eastern North America, beginning in Montreal on Sept. 26 in that city’s La Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. The tour continues with performances in Annapolis, Maryland (Sept. 27, at St. John’s College), New York City (Sept. 29, at the Austrian Cultural Forum) and Washington, D.C. (Oct. 1, at the Austrian Embassy). All are free admission to the public. The tour is designed to promote the duo’s latest recording on the Austrian Ars Produktion label, an SACD release featuring the first three Beethoven cello sonatas: op. 5 no. 1, op. 5 no. 2 and op. 69. Kleinhapl’s 12th CD release, and his fifth with Woyke, it recently won Stereoplay’s Audiophile CD of the month honours.

“I’m interested to hear what people think about my Beethoven performances,” he ponders, “because I play more expressively than is usual. It was hard for me to find a way to play Beethoven because what I heard before, what I learned from my teachers, was not convincing for me. I wanted to find a way of speaking that was [relevant] for our day, since the way we hear music has changed so much over the centuries. I felt it was time to stop with all tradition, and everything I read, and define my own way, a way that would be convincing for our time. With steel strings we produce a totally different sound now. I like to think more about how Beethoven lived, how he worked. He was very passionate, maybe even a bit crazy. How would he perform now, in our time?”

Concertgoers are in for a real treat of luscious playing on an outstanding instrument that was actually built decades before Beethoven was born. For the past year, Kleinhapl has had the pleasure of performing on the valuable Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, ex von Zweygberg, Piacenza cello, dating from 1743, on loan from the priceless collection owned by the Austrian National Bank.

“I knew it would be a big step to take on this instrument,” he says looking back, “but I didn’t think it would be SUCH a big step. It’s incredible for me. For the first time, every day when I pick up the cello it seems to me to be not just a THING but something that has a soul. What I like about it is the warmth of the sound, which is still brilliant and somehow focused. During the time I’ve had it I’ve gone through five different bows, heavier and heavier, built by a Hungarian bow maker I work with, and the sound has changed quite a lot over that time. It’s a good instrument for cello concertos; it has a very big sound. I find it so easy to play.”

It seems playing the cello also came easily for the young Kleinhapl, who took up the instrument at the age of 8, after three years of music study. “My parents brought me to an education program for children and all the teachers tried to convince me to take up the cello. First I played piano, then flute. Then I took up the cello. At first I wanted to be a conductor but I found the cello so fascinating that I never went on to anything different.”

Apart from singers, many cellists have served as inspiration. “There was especially Philippe Muller, my teacher in Paris,” he recalls. “He was a very big influence on my cello playing. And also Paul Tortelier. It was incredible to experience his energy and his openness. He was always open to new points of view. I played Bach for him, for instance, and he said it’s not the usual way to play Bach but it’s interesting and it’s convincing. He was the first to encourage me to grow in this way. He told me, Find your own way and this will be the only good way.”

That way eventually led to collaborations with Claudio Abbado, Yehudi Menuhin and the great Hungarian violinist Tibor Varga, and performances throughout Europe, China and North America with the likes of the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, the Wiener Concertverein led by Fabio Luisi, the Graz Philharmonic with Johannes Fritzsch and the Prometheus Ensemble at the Haydn Festival Eisenstadt.

Next up in Kleinhapl’s recording plans are the remaining two Beethoven Cello Sonatas, op. 102, plus, he hopes, that composer’s sets of variations for cello and piano. “These late sonatas are not very easy,” he cautions. “And the sets of variations [two based on tunes from Mozart’s Magic Flute and one after Handel] offer very different music from the sonatas, very friendly music. My roots are in the Romantic era, with side trips to modern music, then bach to Bach. And I would love to record the Haydn sonatas. That will be another big project, but a big step for me, to control the energy, to find the lightness they require, not to push too much as I generally like to do.

New music holds a special place in Kleinhapl’s repertoire, including some unusual fare: Friedrich’s Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra; the young Austrian Johannes Berauer’s Werden, Sein, Vergehen, for cello, mixed chorus and percussion; Sofia Gubaidulina’s Sonnengesang, also for cello, chorus and percussion; and American Ed Neumeister’s Fantasy for Cello and Big Band. Kleinhapl’s Ars Produktion catalogue includes a CD devoted entirely to music by the Belgian-Austrian composer Dirk D’Ase, including his Cello Concerto, plus another that pairs the Gulda and Neumeister works mentioned above.

Working with composers during the gestation of their works can be illuminating for both parties, when the situation calls for it. Says Kleinhapl: “Some composers don’t want to involve musicians. They want to start and stop and then say, ‘Here it is.’ Others have many questions. Johannes Berauer is one of those who accept ideas of mine. We did some improvisation sessions where I showed him what I would love to do in his concerto. It was very different. I’d never worked with a composer in that way before. I think it can be good to have two creative people working together, but the chemistry must be just right.”

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Wotan Takes Back The Ring

by Janette Griffiths

Richard Wagner dispatches the god Wotan, his most complex, conflicted and, therefore, fascinating character in the Ring, on the penultimate day of the Tetrology. On day three Siegfried, the troubled god, traverses the earth’s ‘broad back’ disguised as the wise and weary Wanderer. The lumbering young lummox of a hero that RW created in Siegfried splits the old man’s spear in two, destroying Wotan’s powers. He retreats. From then on it’s down to his daughter, Brunnhilde to sort out the ensuing mess.

This has always struck me as an eccentric bit of story-telling: create a charismatic character, make us think it is his story, then get rid of him. Any Hollywood script guru would tell you this is dramatic folly.

Nobody would dare change a note or syllable of the old German genius’s epic, of course. But in Seattle’s third outing of its 2001 ‘green Ring’, Greer Grimsley’s tireless, commanding Wotan/Wanderer dominated the cycle—despite that third day departure. When Grimsley first sang the role in the 2005 Seattle production, I was struck by his secure technique, stamina, vocal power and beauty of tone not unlike that of the great George London. This was a world-class performance, so Covent Garden please take note: next time Bryn Terfel pulls out of a Ring because his kid has broken a finger, try calling on this great American bass-baritone.

And then as Fricka there is Stephanie Blythe —probably the finest mezzo-soprano singing on any opera stage anywhere in the world today. Had Wagner given the Goddess of marriage and family a greater presence in the cycle this Ring would have been Blythe’s. Seattle made the wise decision to make the most of her glorious, lush, sumptuous mezzo and dramatic presence by bringing her back as the Götterdämmerung Waltraute and even as Second Norn.

There were some significant newcomers to Ring roles this year , the most important being the arrivals of the American Janice Baird as Brunnhilde and the Danish Stig Anderson as Siegfried. The tall, slim Baird looks wonderful and is a fine actress; she has spectacular high notes and can create great dramatic excitement. She was, however, let down by a wobbly middle range and some off-pitch singing, most notable, alas, in the Immolation scene.

Stig Anderson had been indisposed by a viral infection during the first cycle but had soldiered on. By the time I saw him in the second cycle his performance went from a worrying, weary-sounding start in Siegfried to a magnificently sung death scene. That’s quite an achievement in this thankless role that makes so many vocal demands but provides so few dramatic rewards.

Another key newcomer, Australian Stuart Skelton made a stunning debut as a lyrical, romantic and youthful Siegmund, his voice ideally suited to the role.

San Franciscan Denis Petersen’s first Seattle Mime was also a magnificent debut. It is a tribute to the immense acting and singing talents of Petersen and the returning Richard Paul Fink as Alberich that the comic scene between the two wretched dwarfs in the second act of Siegfried was one of the most memorable of the whole cycle.

Kudos also to Chorusmaster, Beth Kirchhoff . The great male chorus of Vassals in Götterdämmerung, Act 2 sounded fantastic: virile, powerful and they acted well too.

Robert Spano, returning to the Seattle Opera pit for his second Ring since 2005, gave us a sweeping, lyrical Ring let down just occasionally by some erratic French horns.

Director Stephen Wadsworth and designer Thomas Lynch have made few changes to their production. The ‘back to nature’ theme, so appropriate for the Pacific Northwest setting, remains a refreshing response to the many and varied, and invariably ugly European ‘concept’ Rings. One small quibble, and it takes us back to where we began with Wotan and Fricka: the Seattle team have decided that Fricka is not a shrew. That’s fine—Patrice Chereau came to the same conclusion in the Bayreuth Centenary production in 1976. But for my taste, Wadsworth has taken this idea a step too far. Wotan and Fricka constantly smooch, caress and gaze so moonily and sappily at each other that this writer started to wonder if they might not be better suited to a weekend at a Sandals resort for couples instead of going to live on Valhalla. But it’s a small flaw in what remains probably the loveliest Ring to be seen anywhere in the world.

DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN - Richard Wagner - Seattle Opera. Marion McCaw Hall
G.Grimsley, S.Blythe, RP Fink, M.Plette, A. Silvestrelli, G.Hawkins, K. V. Rensburg, J. Collins, M. Streijffert, D.Petersen, S Skelton, MJ Wray, J.Baird, S. Andersen. Dir: R.Spano. Dir.esc: S. Wadsworth. Designer: T. Lynch 17,18,20, 22 August.

  • 09 Rheingold rl 008a: Jennifer Hines (Flosshilde), Michèle Losier (Wellgunde), and Julianne Gearhart (Woglinde), with Richard Paul Fink (Alberich). © Rozarii Lynch photo
  • 09 Walkure cb 260: Greer Grimsley (Wotan). © Chris Bennion photo
  • 09 Siegfried cb 161: Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) and Dennis Petersen (Mime). © Chris Bennion photo
  • 09 Gott rl 250: Gordon Hawkins (Gunther), Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), Stig Andersen (Siegfried), and Marie Plette (Gutrune), with supernumeraries and members of the Seattle Opera chorus. © Rozarii Lynch photo

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Berlioz and Nagano: Beauty & Frustration at Place des Arts

by Paul E. Robinson

The Berlioz Requiem requires an enormous orchestra with extra brass and percussion. It's a costly work to undertake and is necessarily a rarity on the concert circuit. Over the years, nevertheless, I have had the good fortune to hear a fair number of performances; the two best I ever heard – or expect to hear – were both conducted by the same man: Seiji Ozawa.

The first Ozawa rendition I heard was in Salzburg with the Orchestre de Paris and the second at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony. On both occasions Ozawa effortlessly coordinated the four required brass groups situated around the hall. He not only achieved monumental and thrilling climaxes, but also captured the ethereal quality of the work which is its dominant characteristic.

Since Kent Nagano was at one time Ozawa’s assistant in Boston, I expected great things from Nagano’s own performance of the Requiem this week at Place des Arts in Montreal. I was disappointed, but I don’t think the fault was entirely, or even primarily, Nagano’s.

I have come to believe that music reviewers should begin their reports by stating the location of their seats. The same concert can sound very different depending on seat location. This is especially true of a work like the Berlioz Requiem. Berlioz’ concept was for a large chorus and orchestra to be positioned in their usual places on stage, with four brass groups stationed around the hall. In Place des Arts, for this performance, there were brass ensembles placed on either side of the main floor (Parterre). The other two groups were placed at the first balcony level (Corbeille) at the very front of the two aisles. Anyone sitting on the ground floor about half way back probably got a very good sense of what Berlioz had in mind.

In the Dies Irae movement – specifically, the section called Tuba mirum ("Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth") – the brass groups let loose a barrage of fanfares suggesting the majesty and terror of the day of judgement. Berlioz’ music is cleverly conceived to be at once powerful, awe-inspiring, and conflicted. If one is fortunate enough to have a seat more or less equidistant from each of the musical groups, the effect makes your hair stand on end. Unfortunately, my seat was in one of the worst locations for an ideal appreciation of these wondrous happenings - just a few feet away from one of the Corbeille brass groups. I heard this group just fine, but not as part of the whole, and so missed the intended effect. For me, and quite possibly for many of the people in my section, this ‘isolated’ effect was simply annoying and unpleasant!

But after all, these quadraphonic effects are really a small, if extraordinary, part of the Berlioz Requiem. Elsewhere in the piece, Nagano achieved an exquisite lyricism. The choir, prepared by guest chorus master Michael Zaugg, gave him nearly everything he wanted. In later performances the sopranos will probably do better with their first entry than they did on opening night.

The members of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) played impeccably, with flutist Timothy Hutchins performing miracles of breath control. Those famous flute/trombone chords are always treacherous in terms of intonation but the OSM musicians nailed most of them spot-on.

I have already blamed my seat location for some problems with the Dies Irae, but other weaknesses have to be laid at the feet of the hall’s dreadful acoustics and/or Kent Nagano’s direction.

Berlioz’ score for the Requiem calls for eight sets of timpani. There were only four in this performance. Nonetheless, even four timpanists can produce a bigger sound than I heard in this performance. The effect here was one of four grown men beating on tubs of marshmallows. Totally ineffectual. As for the soft cymbal strokes – a magical touch in this work and one which Wagner borrowed in Lohengrin – Nagano apparently added a Dada-esque mime episode to the Requiem. One percussionist was seen to rub two large cymbals together - but not a sound was heard. In the Salzburg Ozawa performance mentioned earlier, each of the eight timpanists executed the delicate swish with a small pair of cymbals and the sound was both exotic and otherworldly.

With a new hall for the OSM already under construction, complaints about the old one are admittedly a waste of breath. Best to talk about what Place des Arts acoustics do provide. For soft singing and playing, they are acceptable and much of the Requiem is comprised of quiet music. A case in point was the Sanctus, played and sung as beautifully as one is likely ever to hear it. Tenor Michael Schade was wisely brought down to the front of the stage for his solo. Had he been stuck back in the chorus, he might have burst a blood vessel trying to make himself heard. Nagano’s tempo was expansive, but Schade filled out the phrases with beautiful and meaningful sound.

The performance apart, I was quite taken with Dujka Smoje’s programme notes. I hope members of the audience took time to read them. They are somewhat academic, but enormously thought-provoking. I don’t recall ever hearing Berlioz’ Grande Messe des Morts described as “an atheist’s mass,” but Smoje has a point. He argues that the Requiems of Verdi and Brahms could be similarly described, and he might have added Britten (War Requiem).

So why did all these great composers use traditional liturgical texts if they didn’t believe a word of them? Smoje argues that “the religious frame is only a pretext for the reconciliation with the finitude of man.” It is not necessary to be a Christian to reflect on the mysteries of life and death, good and evil, and the human condition. Believers of all faiths - and philosophers too - have been preoccupied with these matters for centuries. The true believers more often embrace firm and comforting conclusions. Philosophers and composers like Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi, Britten and Mahler go on wrestling with the questions. The words of the last movement of the Berlioz Requiem – the Agnus Dei – speak of paradise and eternal peace, but the music is not quite so reassuring.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music, both available at

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The “Enchanting” Santa Fe Opera Festival

The “Enchanting” Santa Fe Opera Festival

Daniel Turp*
Special collaboration

After putting it off for several years, attending Santa Fe Opera this summer was a great decision. The French soprano Natalie Dessay, sharing the stage with her husband, baritone Laurent Naouri, sang her first Violetta in a new production of La Traviata, directed by Laurent Pelly. The 2009 season also included Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Gluck’s Alceste and the creation of American composer Paul Moravec’s The Letter, commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera.

This year was also Charles MacKay’s first season as general and artistic director. At an event organized jointly between the Center of Contemporary Arts Cinematheque and the Santa Fe Opera at Santa Fe’s Lensic Theatre, MacKay recalled the dynamic role the Santa Fe Opera has played in the community. Before the screening of the Met HD’s production of La Fille du Régiment, MacKay’s fascinating exchange with Natalie Dessay allowed the soprano to reveal herself as, in his words, a “singing actor.”

During my interview with MacKay on the impressive grounds of the Santa Fe Opera, seven miles north of Santa Fe, he appeared both determined and optimistic. Sante Fe Opera is perhaps perceived more as a festival, he acknowledged, because its productions are all held in the summer, yet, with its apprentice programs for both singers and technicians, its year-round cooperation with musical organisations such as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and its commitment to the community, the Santa Fe Opera is really a true opera company. It has a “collective consciousness” due to its founding director John Crosby and his successor Richard Gaddes, who, for more than half a century, brought together creative individuals, thus contributing to the emergence of a community of professional musicians. Having been part of this community and held many positions at the Santa Fe Opera, including that of business manager, Charles MacKay is keen on nurturing this consciousness. The experience he gained as general director of the Spoleto Festivals in the United States and Italy and in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis should serve him well.

Asked to describe the Sante Fe Opera in one word, Charles MacKay promptly answered “enchanting,” perhaps in reference to New Mexico’s state motto “Land of Enchantment.” MacKay argues that it has more to do with the natural setting where the operas are sung: the sky, the clouds, the sunsets that are part of each opera and that many stage directors have brilliantly integrated into their “mise en scène.”

Three evenings at the John Crosby Theatre proved to be enchanting. Laurent Pelly gave an audacious rendering of La Traviata, Verdi’s most popular work. L’Elisir d’Amore with the American tenor Dimitri Pittas as a delightful Nemorino was amusing, as Donizetti’s cherished piece should be. Enchanting does not mean perfect, however, not even at Santa Fe! Making Mozart’s Don Giovanni credible is a challenge and this production did not quite succeed. The staging was conventional and the characters were seldom “in character.” Although I didn’t get to see it, The Letter, composed by Paul Moravec, received mixed reviews.

Mixed reviews of contemporary commissioned operas will not, however, deter the company from its commitment to creating new works. The Letter was the ninth such opera since the SFO’s birth in 1957 – an average of one new opera every six years. And since Charles MacKay believes that opera is a “compelling form” of musical expression, his plan for the company includes new commissions for 2013 and 2015. The Santa Fe Opera will take up the challenge of trying to attract the best conductors, stage directors and singers worldwide. Santa Fe was the home of Igor Stravinsky, and it is where the careers of such great singers as Chris Merrill and Joyce DiDonato began. Tatiana Troyanos, Ben Heppner, Bryn Terfel and Natalie Dessay have all brought fame to Santa Fe!

One of the most important decisions Charles MacKay faces is the appointment of a new music director, or more probably, as MacKay noted, a chief conductor. The Santa Fe Opera will be looking for stability in this key position. It has known only one music director, Alan Gilbert (2003-2006), who was replaced – on an interim basis and for the 2007 season only – by Kenneth Montgomery. Appointed as chief conductor in 2007, Edo de Waart will be leaving at the end of this season. The shortlist features strong candidates according to Charles MacKay, but this key decision will not be rushed.

I could not resist mentioning Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain. His credentials as an opera conductor have been enhanced after his stellar direction of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the 2008 Salzburg Festival and his hiring by the Metropolitan Opera’s director Peter Gelb to conduct the new production of Bizet’s Carmen next season. Charles MacKay calmly opened his notebook and asked me how to spell his name! He remarked that Bernard Labadie had conducted Mozart’s Lucio Silla expertly in Santa Fe in 2005. I recalled on my part that Quebec bass Claude Corbeil had taken part in at least twelve productions of the SFO.


Santa Fe is enchanting not only because of opera. Its art galleries along the elegant Canyon Road as well as its museums provide hours of cultural enlightenment, including a better knowledge of the contribution of the native peoples to the cultural heritage of humankind. In Santa Fe, visitors can be inspired, not only by works of art, but also by the words of artists, such as those of the great painter Georgia O’Keefe who considers that “[s]inging has always seemed to me the most perfect means of expression.”

* President of la Société des arts en milieux de santé and a candidate for the Certificat Musique, art et société at the Faculté de musique de l’Université de Montréal. The interview with Charles MacKay was held on Tuesday, July 14, 2009, and the author wishes to thank Ms Joyce Idema, the director of communications at the Santa Fe Opera, for having made this interview possible. To learn more about the Santa Fe Opera, I recommend reading the beautiful 50th SFO anniversary album authored by Philip HUSCHER, The Santa Fe Opera – An American Pioneer, Santa Fe, The Santa Fe Opera, 2006, 199 p.

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Natalie Dessay : des « choses extrêmes » pour l’art total

Natalie Dessay : des « choses extrêmes » pour l’art total
Daniel Turp*
Collaboration spéciale

« J’aime les choses extrêmes », répond Natalie Dessay à une question que je lui pose lors d’un entretien sur le magnifique site du Sante Fe Opera où elle tient, pour la première fois, le rôle de Violetta dans une nouvelle production de La Traviata. La question porte sur l’importance que revêt pour elle, à l’opéra, la mise en scène et sur les rapports entre l’interprète et le metteur en scène.

Que sont donc ces choses extrêmes qu’aime la soprano française ? Sans doute s’agit-il des défis que lui posent les metteurs en scène, qui exigent d’elle des « choses » qui lui permettent de véritablement incarner ses personnages et de raconter leur histoire. Des choses qui, à la demande de Laurent Pelly – « son frère » – qui assure à Santa Fe la mise en scène du plus célèbre des opéras de Verdi, supposent qu’au premier acte elle boive, coure et danse tout en chantant, qu’elle exprime joie et détresse, tantôt par des cris stridents, tantôt et surtout en utilisant toutes les ressources de sa voix de colorature. Et qu’elle le fasse dans une robe fuschia sans bretelles qui ne simplifie guère ses déplacements sur scène.

Mais ce n’est pas seulement dans La Traviata que Natalie Dessay explore les extrêmes. Dans la production de Lucia de Lamermoor présentée au Metropolitan Opera en septembre 2007, qui l’a d’ailleurs consacrée comme l’une des étoiles de la grande maison new-yorkaise, sa scène de la folie lui a permis de traduire les sentiments les plus extrêmes. Et c’est dans une autre scène de la folie, celle d’Ophélie dans le Hamlet d’Ambroise Thomas au Teatre del Liceu de Barcelone en 2003, dont une nouvelle production est prévue avec Natalie Dessay en mars 2010 au Met, qu’elle démontre jusqu’à quel point elle excelle dans la gestion des extrêmes et les incarne dans ces personnages dont les sorts lui sont confiés sur les grandes scènes du monde aujourd’hui. Cette façon d’aborder l’art lyrique n’est-elle pas d’ailleurs conforme à la conception que se faisait Richard Wagner de l’opéra, à l’idée de « Gesamtkuntswerk », les « choses extrêmes » étant sans doute nécessaires pour rendre l’« art total »?

À cette approche centrée sur sa propre contribution aux personnages qu’elle dit avoir le devoir de « réinventer », Natalie Dessay rappelle par ailleurs qu’une production lyrique est d’abord et avant tout une œuvre collective. « L’opéra est un travail d’équipe », affirme-t-elle, en soulignant d’ailleurs le plaisir de travailler, pour la production de La Traviata à Santa Fe, en compagnie d’artistes avec lesquels elle a déjà collaboré, qu’il s’agisse du chef Frédéric Chaslin, de Laurent Pelly qui l’a mise en scène dans La Fille du régiment de Donizetti au Covent Garden de Londres et au Met ainsi que dans Pélleas et Mélisande de Debussy au Theater an der Wien, sans parler du baryton Laurent Naouri, son conjoint, qui tient le rôle de Germont dans La Traviata à Santa Fe et incarnait aussi le prince Golaud dans la production viennoise de Pelléas.

Et pour Natalie Dessay, dans l’équipe, c’est le metteur en scène qui est le chef, le « capitaine du navire ». C’est la mise en scène qui donne à l’opéra du sens, qui le rend « scéniquement » crédible. D’ailleurs, avec la franchise qui la caractérise et qui est appréciée dans la communauté lyrique, elle admet que son combat est pour le théâtre, pour convaincre que l’on doit d’abord et avant tout « chanter ce que l’on joue » et qu’une telle approche doit être proposée aux jeunes qui se destinent à une carrière dans l’opéra.

C’est d’ailleurs par le théâtre que peut s’accomplir une « révolution » de l’opéra qu’elle appelle toujours de ses vœux, comme elle l’a fait il y a quelques années et dont elle « désespère », comme elle l’affirme dans une entrevue à un magazine français (« Natalie Dessay – La métamorphose », Diapason, décembre 2007, p. 23). Cette révolution se réalisera-elle aussi par la création de nouvelles œuvres, comme le fait le Santa Fe Opera qui a enrichi le répertoire lyrique en commandant neuf opéras durant ses cinquante-deux années d’existence et qui a l’intention, comme me l’a fait confié son nouveau directeur général et artistique, M. Charles MacKay, de commander deux nouvelles œuvres pour 2013 et 2015 (voir l’article « The Enchanting Santa Fe Opera Festival » dans le présent magazine) ? La réponse de Natalie Dessay est on ne peut plus claire : non, la révolution de l’opéra passe essentiellement par la théâtralité des œuvres, qu’elles soient anciennes ou nouvelles.

Et s’agissant d’œuvres nouvelles, et puisque Natalie Dessay dit aimer chanter en français, parce qu’elle s’exprime mieux dans sa langue et que chaque mot a une « résonance », je me permets d’aborder avec la chanteuse la controverse entourant le refus du Metropolitan Opera de présenter l’opéra Prima Donna composé par Rufus Wainwright et dont la première a eu lieu le 10 juillet 2009. La controverse vient du fait que le musicien québécois a rédigé le livret de l’opéra en langue française et qu’il a eu le culot de dire non au directeur du Met, M. Peter Gelb, qui lui demandait de le traduire en anglais ! Elle s’emporte, s’indigne, d’autant que l’œuvre a été créée au Manchester International Festival en Angleterre… en langue française ! Elle compte d’ailleurs, me dit-elle, soulever la question avec le directeur du Met à la première occasion.

Après une année 2008-2009 qui aura été marquée par l’attribution d’un prix du meilleur enregistrement aux Victoires de la musique classique au disque Lamenti, sur lequel Natalie Dessay interprète de façon bouleversante, et sous la direction de « sa sœur » Emmanuelle Haïm, les Lamenti della Ninfa de Claudio Monteverdi (, et la parution chez Virgin Classics d’une interprétation par Dessay des cantates de Bach avec le Concert d’Astrée d’Haïm à nouveau, la soprano française se prépare pour une saison lyrique bien remplie en 2009-2010. Après la sortie DVD du Pelléas et Mélisande présenté au Theater an der Wien au début de l’automne 2009 et une présence à la salle Pleyel le 18 septembre pour chanter, avec l’Orchestre national de France, Ein Deutsches Requiem de Johannes Brahms, elle interprétera son premier rôle puccinien en incarnant, dans La Bohème, le personnage de Musetta à l’Opéra national de Paris dont la première est prévue pour le 29 octobre 2009. Et en 2010, elle sera de retour à la Bastille pour y jouer Amina dans La Sonnambula, ce qu’elle fera aussi au Staatsoper de Vienne. Elle reprendra ses rôles d’Ophélie dans Hamlet au Met et de Marie dans La fille du régiment au Covent Garden. Elle pourra aussi être entendue au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées à Paris le 16 mai 2010 dans un concert avec l’Orchestre Philharmonique et le Chœur de Radio France (

Et ne serait-il pas temps d’entendre à nouveau Natalie Dessay chez nous ? L’unique, et brève, présence de Natalie Dessay au Québec remonte au 8 mai 2005 lorsqu’elle donna un récital dans le cadre d’un concert-bénéfice de l’Opéra de Montréal à l’occasion duquel elle fut, selon le compositeur Jacques Hétu, devenu critique pour l’occasion, « tout simplement sublime » et se révéla « une artiste dans son corps et son âme, [u]ne grande tragédienne » ( Ne serait-il pas d’ailleurs intéressant de la voir partager la scène avec le grand Placido Domingo lors du premier Festival international d’opéra de Québec en 2011 et l’inviter dans notre capitale nationale pour qu’elle puisse offrir aux adeptes de l’art total des « choses extrêmes » ?

* Président de la Société des arts en milieux de santé et candidat au certificat Musique, art et société à la Faculté de musique de l’Université de Montréal. L’entretien avec Natalie Dessay s’est déroulé sur le site du Santa Fe Opera House le mardi 14 juillet 2009 et l’auteur tient à remercier la directrice des communications du Santa Fe Opera, Mme Joyce Idema, pour sa collaboration dans l’organisation de cet entretien. Pour une entrevue antérieure réalisée avec Natalie Dessay et publiée dans le présent magazine, voir Wah Keung CHAN, « Natalie Dessay in Conversation », La Scena musicale, 14 mai 2005.

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