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June 22, 2011 6:14 pm

Le Cid, Opéra de Marseille

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The Roberto Alagna show has rolled into France’s second largest city. Two television channels filmed the first night and a giant screen relayed the performance live to 8,000 people in front of Marseille’s town hall. Even Frédéric Mitterrand, arts minister, came down from Paris, perhaps to mend bridges after outraging the locals by suggesting that their opera house – which incidentally he had never previously visited – was not terribly good and would do better to merge with Avignon.

The pretext for all the fuss was Massenet’s Le Cid (1885), based on the Corneille play every French child has dutifully ploughed through at school. Part grand, pompous opera, part trial run for the wrenching personal tussle in Werther which the composer subsequently turned to, Le Cid is an unequal work that requires a solid tenor as Rodrigue, the title role, and a dramatic soprano as Chimène.

 
Le Cid
 Time travel: Massenet’s ‘Le Cid’, updated to the 1920s

There is no question that Alagna’s Rodrigue has the vocal goods – the voice seems to have doubled in size over the past 10 years while preserving its sensational diction. His big tune “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père!” predictably stops the show but his showbizzy acting is all about massaging his ego and courting popularity rather than characterisation, a cavalier attitude that ranks him as simply a fine tenor rather than a truly great opera singer. The comparison with Domingo is not in his favour.

Béatrice Uria Monzon’s proud Chimène looks stunning in Katia Duflot’s gorgeous dresses, paces the stage with authority and ruins it all by belting out her part from beginning to end. Chicago-trained Franco Pomponi is too young for the king but sings sturdily without a trace of accent while Francesco Ellero d’Artegna, no French and no ear for Massenet’s line, is woefully miscast as Don Diègue.

Charles Roubaud’s staging updates the action to Spain in the 1920s for no other reason than to show off Emmanuelle Favre’s fetching art deco sets. Jacques Lacombe’s conducting manages some subtle poetry when he is not otherwise engaged in futile attempts to follow Alagna’s whims. Massive audience acclaim for the superstar, both inside and outside the house, should put the minister in his place but the performance was hardly a victory for an unjustly neglected work.


opera.marseille.fr

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