Gala concerts rarely give a complete sense of how a new conductor is going to fare in the long term, but the early signs of the Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel’s tenure as music director of the Opéra National de Paris are extremely good.
Although I am not a fan of concerts consisting of selected snippets from operas, the choice of music was intelligently made, the caliber of the performers was exceptional, and the Opéra Garnier foyer and staircases, festooned with flowers, have never looked so stunning.
Dudamel displayed both versatility and range in a program combining much-loved classics (a vigorous opening with orchestral, choral and solo extracts from Bizet’s Carmen showed his willingness to embrace the core French repertoire) and 20th- and 21st-century composers, including John Adams and Benjamin Britten, and, nearer his roots, South American and Spanish opera. The extracts from contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar were thrillingly performed by the conductor, orchestra and soloists (with mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova in particular on gloriously sultry form).
The two stand-out performances of the evening were bass-baritone Gerald Finley’s simple and moving rendition of “Beat My Heart” from Adams’s Doctor Atomic and the final trio from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, performed with shimmering beauty by Gubanova, Sabine Devieilhe, and Jacquelyn Wagner, a late replacement for Diana Damrau. Even though Wagner’s Marschallin looked implausibly younger than the two young lovers, Octavian and Sofie, she acted and sang the part with heartbreaking sincerity.
Dudamel’s charisma, energy and precision were clear for all to see and hear. Future operatic performances will certainly not be lacking in excitement. He seems to be a wonderfully imaginative choice by the powers that be at the Opéra National de Paris. Let’s hope that they support him fully and give him the freedom to express himself creatively.
The only disappointment of the evening was the chorus, through no fault of its own. Somewhat ludicrously, they were forced to wear masks while singing, which had the predictable effect of completely muffling their vocal projection, especially as they were placed at the very back of the large stage. This was particularly evident in the finale from Verdi’s Falstaff, which closed the evening. The concern for safety measures was entirely understandable, but to have the 10 soloists in the Verdi piece singing their unmasked hearts out at the very front of the stage, with the masked chorus singing in the far distance, seemed somewhat contradictory.
The concert will be free to view on the digital platform of the Opéra National de Paris, L’Opéra chez Soi, for three weeks. Don’t miss it!
Nick Hammond’s latest book, The Powers of Sound and Song in Early Modern Paris, is now available in paperback and as an e-book here and from online vendors.Favorite