Which opera is loved best and why
Pénélope by Gabriel Fauré at the Frankfurt Opera,
Review of the premiere and first performance in Frankfurt on December 1, 2019
Pénélope is an opera (original name "Poème lyrique") in three acts by Gabriel Fauré with a libretto by René Fauchois. The premiere took place on March 4, 1913 at the Monte Carlo Opera. Gabriel Urbain Fauré (born May 12, 1945 in Pamiers, died November 4, 1924 in Paris) was a French composer who mainly wrote vocal, piano and chamber music.
“The opera deals with the last chants of Homer's Odyssey. After the end of the ten-year Troyan War, Odysseus (here called Ulysse in French) had to wander for another ten years before he was able to return to his home in Ithaca. His wife Penelope (Pénélope) faithfully waited for his return. She was pressured by various aristocratic suitors to give up hope and marry one of them. Ulysse finally returns and initially explores the situation disguised as a beggar. The suitors are defeated after a "bow test" before the couple can reunite. "
Musically, the wet nurse Euryclée and the shepherd Eumée are presented particularly positively. But Fauré also dedicates soulful music to the two suitors Eurymaque and Antinous with the arioso “Depuis qu’en ce travail” (first act) and the aria “Qu’il est doux de sentir sa jeunesse” (third act). In the duet “O mon hôte! à présent, puis-je t’interroger? "of the two main characters (second act), both main motifs of Ulysse appear, the ruler and the beggar motif.
Gabriel Fauré composed an overture for his Pénélope that sounds like the sea, the water, the waves can be heard. The Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra plays under the direction of Joana Mallwitz, GMD at the Staatstheater Nürnberg from the first note cautious, tender, gripping, forced, withdrawn, attentive to the singers and the director, perfect craftsmanship in the solos. Joana Mallwitz is the "Conductor of the Year 2019" (Opera World) and "Best Conductor" (Opera Awards). He sang Choir of the Frankfurt Opera under the direction of Markus Ehmann.
Corinna Tetzel (Direction) is dealing with a subject that has fallen as completely out of time as possible. Fortunately, the opera is called Pénélope and not Ulysse and so 20 years of waiting, of expecting from a female point of view, are told from home in Ithaca.
The stage of Rifail Ajdarpasic is strictly geometrically square, like a roof terrace of a brick house. However, it is positioned slightly sloping backwards. A neon square of the same size hovers above it. This is currently a popular prop, nice to look at and it is still fitting. There are two brick staircases or stairways on this flat roof, the furniture consists of red plastic chairs. A second, smaller, elongated playing area is located between the orchestra pit and the house wall. Jan Hartmann is responsible for the lighting and Bibi Abel for the videos.
Why does a woman wait 20 long years for her husband? Pénélope would wait even longer, so much has she established herself in her life as ruler, as the sole decider of herself. There is no reason to give that up. If she can get her husband back at the end of the opera, she can't turn to him. The elegant mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy makes her role debut. Her voice seems to be made for the Pénélope and in harmony with the director, who ascribed slow flowing movements to her, the result is a picture like in a baroque opera.
It is totally inappropriate for a woman in Ithaca, and one in Pénélopes position, to live without a man by her side. For the time being, she keeps the suitors, who press her more and more intensely, at bay with promises. Only when the shroud for Ulysses father Laërte was finished would she choose one of them to be her bridegroom. At night she unravels what is woven during the day.
Fauré has reduced the 108 men described in the Odyssey to five. From the considerate understanding of women to the ridiculous looking cuckold, everything is included. Sing it Peter Marsh as Antinous, Sebastian Geyer as Eurymaque, Ralf Simon as Léodés, Dietrich Volle as Ctésippe and Danylo Matviienko as Pisandre.
Pénélopes servants, young in years and five in number, are, in contrast to her, not entirely averse to the advances of these masters. Whereby these advances are by no means romantic and are not portrayed as such. But as long as you are on hold with the lady of the house, you can do something else for yourself. Things are getting really intense, with one of the gentlemen, Antinous, carefully pushing his jacket under the head of his lady, who is lying on the floor below. Pénélope asks himself, and certainly also the suitors, why they have to insult them and puts it in a nutshell: “In the past you loved better”.
As servants we hear Nina Tarandek as Cléone, Angela Vallone as Mélantho, Bianca Andrew as alkandre, Julia Moormann as Phylo and Monika Buczkowska as Lydie.
While the gentlemen are celebrating and are not averse to alcohol, Ulysse comes back, he looks like a beggar, but won't be a beggar. Eric Laporte sings his role and his house debut at the beginning with a metallic sounding tenor, but that changes in the course of the evening, the hard tips are then no longer there. What is it like when you return to your own house after 20 years? One recognizes little or nothing and one is not recognized, neither by the staff nor by one's own wife. Only the nurse Euryclée (Joanna Motulewicz) suspects that it could be Ulysses and gains certainty when she discovers a characteristic scar while she washes his feet.
Fauré's credibility problem becomes clear in the second act when Pénélope speaks to her husband on the beach and does not recognize him. But is it really that difficult? Twenty years change people, especially if ten of them were spent in war and another ten on the long way back to Ithaca. She, who has been hoping for his return for so long, who has prayed to Zeus for it, now believes she recognizes his voice and asks him who he is. Had he answered, the opera might be over here. Ulysse, however, has long since made his way to the shepherd Eumée (Bozidar Smiljanic) and forges with him plans for revenge on the suitors, who not only wanted his wife but also treated his belongings very freely. So the woman was not worth revealing herself to, but jealousy still had to be taken into account. It is understandable that Pénélope had doubts about himself, it could be who knows who. In addition, he gives her the advice to accept as a husband the one who manages to draw Ulysses bow and shoot it through twelve ax holes.
None of the five suitors manage to solve the task at hand, but the stranger is also allowed to shoot. Ulysse takes the bow and manages it with ease. Without a word, he draws the bow again and shoots Eurymaque. Only now does Pénélope recognize the husband who has returned home, joyfully calls his name and faints. But that's not how it is in the Frankfurt production. Here, too, everything ends in slaughter, none of the suitors survive. But then the playing area divides into two parts, a ravine arises, Ulysse goes through this ravine on his way and Pénélope remains behind in the life she has chosen over the last twenty years.
The costumes of Raphaela Rose clearly demarcate the position and the state of mind of the Pénélope. As the ruler, she wears a black pantsuit with a white blouse, while waiting, she makes the work on the white shroud so her own that she wears this shroud as a dress and, waiting longingly for her husband, she wears a wide white tulle skirt, her wedding dress.
The suitors wear dark, elegant suits and white shirts, the servants bright yellow dresses. That reminded me of Margaret Atwood's book “The Maid's Report”, here too the maidservants wear such clothes and Atwood also dealt with Homer's material in her “The Penelopiad”.
Sang in other roles Julia Katharina Heße the governess and Luise Rabe a shepherd from the children's choir. I would like to mention a detail of the set in connection with Julia Rabe. During her scene on the beach, the narrow strip at the front of the stage, she carried a quiver of arrows. The bottles from the previous feast were lined up in two long rows. There was a white rose in each bottle. She exchanged some of them for her arrows. During the dialogue that arose with the Ulysse who joined him, he again exchanged these for roses. I didn't see the deeper meaning behind it, but I remembered it as a wonderful picture. And that's how opera can be.
Overall, I liked the production very much, there was a benevolent but not exuberant final applause for everyone, there is still room for improvement for the upcoming performances. Fauré's music is wonderful, and that alone is worth a visit.
- Review by Angelika Matthäus / Red. DAS OPERNMAGAZIN
- Oper Frankfurt / piece side
- Cover photo: Oper Frankfurt / Penelope / Paula Murrihy (Pénélope; front) and Eric Laporte (Ulysse; above in the center of the picture) as well as ensemble / photo @ Barbara Aumüller
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