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The Paris Opera has no luck resuscitating trophy works from its past. After a botched Guillaume Tell and inane Vêpres siciliennes during Hugues Gall’s reign, Gerard Mortier’s choice of Pierre Audi to produce Halévy’s warhorse, last seen here in 1934, is another letdown.
The judgement comes with a rider: none of the production team took a bow at Friday’s first night, annoyed that no official announcement was made about a strike which meant reduced lighting. The principals were ineptly lit from the wings, but normal conditions might only have highlighted Audi’s awkward stage directions. French grand opera has more than its fair share of set pieces so getting the chorus to file on, stand to attention and file off as if in an oratorio is asking for rejection.
Rachel, the Jewess of the title, dresses like a war refugee while the Emperor’s guards have been beamed down from Klingon. This may give a universal gloss to a story of religious intolerance, but movement, and our attention span, is stifled by the set. George Tsypin’s Eiffel-inspired steel cathedral undergoes various permutations during a long evening, and finally gives way to what looks like rows of outsize Ferrero Rocher chocolates for the execution scene. This is as incongruous as the occasional visit from a spectral group of dancers executing busy sign language choreography. La Juive’s canvas needs a producer with solid crowd management technique, not injections of limp-wristed gymnastics.
The salutary buzz comes from a feisty cast. Neil Shicoff’s Eléazar is now beyond good tuning but still owns the role through sheer determination. As Rachel, Anna Caterina Antonacci’s dramatic fibre upstages a screechy top; Annick Massis canters through Eudoxie’s fireworks and brings the house down; Robert Lloyd is a deeply human Cardinal and John Osborn’s fabulous Léopold is the most stylish. Daniel Oren’s superb conducting upgrades this variable score. Scribe’s lame libretto is beyond belief but La Juive still strikes a chord in Paris.
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