Back to school at the Opéra Bastille with Tosca, Saioa, Dudamel, President and Ministers

The Opéra national de Paris is ringing the operatic return with Puccini’s Tosca played by Saioa Hernández triumphant on stage, like Gustavo Dudamel in the pit, in front of an amazed audience including the President of the Republic, the Minister of Culture, the Minister of National Education:

The bell in the corridors of the Bastille has rung, this means (but yes, but yes) that the Opera has resumed in this new 2022/2023 season. This return to school (large vocal and musical classes deployed here) is certainly enough to make many establishments envious, and the Minister of National Education attending the show would no doubt have dreamed that, everywhere, for the return to school, there reigns such a studious and passionate enthusiasm in the spans, in front of such a quality of training. The public thus warmly applauds each entrance of the conductor, as he salutes each end of the act before rising for a unanimous and spontaneous standing ovation at the last curtain.

However, and as for a return to school, Master Dudamel begins the evening with a sort of review of the staff, directing as if he were taking roll call: by indicating in turn different desks so that they present themselves with their stamps and their melodic line. The accents are certainly from the outset fiery and even with a grating intensity in the brass, but the rendering is first sequenced, between an analytical and de-structured proposal but it is to better unite then all the desks and the whole phalanx in the lyricism of this score and the ardor of this conductor. Tragic outbursts then and constantly fuse from her baton, just as she knows how to soften the passionate languor of bel canto.

The result fascinates the public, in a doubly audible way (by the silence that resonates during the music, like the bursts of applause afterwards, sometimes even on a few concluding notes) but in an equally visible way: and this starting with the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, himself on the edge of his seat, his face resting on his arms crossed on the railing of the first side balcony, which has become a dressing room for him and his wife, the Minister of Culture Rima Abdul- Malak and the Director of the Paris Opera Alexander Neef (the Minister of National Education, Pap Ndiaye who knows the house for having provided him with a report on diversity last year, is for his part in protocol rank 15 of the floor, not far from the regular Jack Lang).

Joseph Calleja & Saioa Hernández – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

Saioa Hernández is not for nothing in this triumph, in Floria Tosca, for her great debut at the Paris Opera (which she told us about this summer shortly before La Gioconda at the Chorégies d’Orange before finally having to give it up). The Spanish soprano captivates the audience as soon as she enters the stage with her acting, immediately reminiscent of the figures of the great divas of yesteryear portraying this role. The voice also knows how to lean on the game and ensures the triumph, in particular for its impressive richness of contrasts. Firstly by its range: Saioa Hernández, far from being afraid of the bass as too often with his colleagues, fully affirms it on chesty resonances which increase the richness of his vocal palette all the more (all the more, because it can as well pass from bass to treble in a dash, or gradually over a deployed phrasing). The nuances also deploy a full and entire palette, each phrase filling the acoustics of the Bastille, from the first vibration of the first note.

Saioa Hernández & Joseph Calleja – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

The Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja did not want to be absent from the class photo for this start of the school year and therefore did not ask for a word from the doctor to announce his problem in the treble (no announcement is made on this subject or to no other). Admittedly, this is the only fault with his performance as Mario Cavaradossi, but it unfortunately manifests itself at each peak of his score: each of his highs, over the entire range of the highs, is the victim of hoarseness, with a sound effect disturbing, as if the background of the voice crossed an aquarium. The singer even takes advantage of the fact that he embodies a painter to drink from the container that is obviously used to wash the brushes (fortunately the brushes are fake here), but without succeeding in clearing his throat. However, it is enough to go beyond the heights of his interventions to fully savor the richness of the interpretation, in particular in the character of the nuances: even in the most intense and valiant moments of his performance, the singer knows how to switch at will. in a suddenly pianissimo dolce most endearing. This delicious vocal effect, his mastery of expressive scales and the accuracy of the phrasing won him applause for his grand air (“E lucevan le stelle“) although a voice among the public expresses loud and clear its incomprehension at the very idea of ​​​​applause.

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Bryn Terfel – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

Bryn Terfel is the first of four artists who will play Scarpia alternately in this revival, which runs until November 26. But the Welsh bass-baritone (who will return to Bastille as Barbe-Bleue by Bartok at the end of the season) already played this role in this staging in loco in 2016: proof that the devil is also resurrected, proof that this singer’s performance is still impressive, all along. He makes an impression even for those who have already seen and heard him like this and here, as soon as he enters all dressed in black and capped leather (like his henchmen) by deploying bass and mediums with ample vibrato and dark anchoring but a timbre almost clear, which makes its pronunciation crystal clear. This demon even knows how to put the flexibility of his vocal organ at the service of a few moments of sweetness, well feigned and fleeting, to make himself seductive before resuming his paces and his intonations of a carnivorous ogre.

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Saioa Hernández & Bryn Terfel – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

Sava Vemić interprets Cesare Angelotti with his voice with a humming timbre that resonates even in this stage space devoid of walls. The song translates the torments of this escaped political character but the scenic incarnation renders the anxiety of this character by a hesitation of gestures and glances.

Renato Girolami makes Il Sagrestano a Don Camillo, corresponding perfectly to the comic dimension of the character (very welcome in this ocean of drama). Admittedly, his acting is very sequenced at first, his different reactions being seen from afar (long in advance but also for the spectators placed at the back of the Bastille). However, and moreover like the orchestra conductor, he quickly finds flexibility, in his playing as in his singing. The voice relies on its eloquence of phrasing and articulation, while piercing the back of the throat veiled by assertive accents.

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Bryn Terfel & Philippe Rouillon – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

Philippe Rouillon embodies Sciarrone as a perfectly hateful henchman: lieutenant portefaix of his boss Scarpia, following him like a trusty snake, hissing and hissing also with his song which arises in moderate accents. By contrast, Michael Colvin’s Spoletta is a sober and serious servant, with a dark and hushed voice.

Christian Rodrigue Moungoungou needs nothing more than the very short vocal interventions of the jailer to affirm and deploy his dark, full and resonant voice with a phrasing having the formal and funereal character of this character.

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Joseph Calleja & Christian Rodrigue Moungoungou – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

The Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine / Children’s choir of the Opéra national de Paris is having a great time, having all the more fun running around the set and doing stupid things in communicant outfits. But all their sins are immediately forgiven them, thanks to the implication and the accuracy of their song. Allies to Choirs of the National Opera of Paris they wear a Te Deum intense and colorful as befits this score and this Scarpia who can thus show his vocal capacity by relying on this set to complete it.

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© Vincent Pontet – Paris Opera

The staging (signed in 2014 by Pierre Audi, who has since become Director of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence where he notably brought Puccini from its first edition via the Tosca by Christophe Honoré with, moreover, Joseph Calleja) also fully contributes to this impression of a return to school, with its didactic constancy: very clear and coherent, this vision is based on an element that is all the more essential in that it is immense in a space empty stage. It is about this Cross, inseparable from this staging, which first rests on the ground of the first act, before being raised for the two following ones. Mario paints directly on this cross, the top of which is oriented towards the public. In fact, if this cross were raised, his painting would only be visible from the sky. But the huge object is lifted horizontally, hovering over the rest of the drama like a threat, recalling how Scarpia uses all symbols and dogmas to establish her infamous personal power. This cross thus suspended in the air threatens to crush the stage, but it nevertheless remains so high, like a miracle and a possibility of redemption for the tragic characters of this drama.

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Joseph Calleja & Saioa Hernández – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

This is therefore also why Tosca, in this staging, does not jump into the void, but walks towards a powerful light at the end of the stage. Even if she has committed the double sin of killing and killing herself, this Tosca does not fall to join Scarpia (even if that is what she announces in her last words): this Tosca will certainly rise towards the heavens to join Mario , the only place from which to see the picture painted on this Cross, the only altitude corresponding more or less to the triumph of this back-to-school evening.

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Saioa Hernández – Tosca by Pierre Audi (© Vincent Pontet – Opéra national de Paris)

See you on Ôlyrix for our other reports of the distributions of this Tosca, for the rest of the season at the Paris Opera and in other houses.

Back to school at the Opéra Bastille with Tosca, Saioa, Dudamel, President and Ministers -…