The Birds – Strasbourg – Critique

Against covid winds and tides, the Opéra national du Rhin will have managed to raise the curtain on The birds for its French creation, 102 years after its birth in Munich. The work is a nugget of the post-romantic repertoire, as a recent number of the Avant-Scène Opéra reminded us, excommunicated in the boxes of degenerate art, then put away as if simply outdated after the war, before pioneers – at Decca in particular – do not come to put these succulent sections of the beginning of the 20th century back on our stages. However, it was close: the same day the musical director Aziz Shikhakimov and six instrumentalists among the winds (oh so solicited in this work) tested positive. Fighting all day to find six replacements at short notice, while Sora Elisabeth Lee, who was to conduct the last one and has only been able to rehearse once with the orchestra, is preparing to make an early debut on the Rhine scene. Inevitably, the desks are looking for each other a little all evening and the stage is destabilized by tempos different from those of the rehearsals. Especially since the South Korean chef wants above all to lead everyone to safety and begins the work by redoubled precaution. No accident, barely a few dross, small shifts therefore but in the end a representation that holds up. We attended the premiere less in place than this one, especially since once the marks were taken, Sora Elisabeth Lee deploys a beautiful dynamic and capitalizes on the obvious work carried out by the musical director during rehearsals with the orchestra, especially on the colors.

The Opéra national du Rhin brings together a first-flight line-up for French creation. The work is full of small interventions that give life to this entire aviary. To salute the impactful interventions of Young-Min Suk, sonorous and authoritative Zeus; Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel, Ominous Eagle; Daniel Dropulja, insidious Raven. The thrushes and swallows, soloists for certain issues of the choir, complete this first bestiary. Six roles figure prominently in the story. The Wren with the full-bodied timbre of Julie Goussot, very comfortable on stage in the role of king’s secretary/manager assigned to him, stands out elegantly from the pyrotechnics of the Rossignol. Joseph Wagner makes short work of the long monologue of Prometheus which places it directly in line with that of Erda or with the imprecations of a Jochanaan in Strauss. Christopher Pohl has a lot to do as Hoopoe, king of birds. He lacks volume in places but composes a earthy, jovial and lazy character, living at the expense of others (like any good manager, in short). The two heroes of the story, Fidèlami and Bonespoir offer two very different vocalities, beyond the difference in range. Fidèlami, the baritone turns out to be a Papageno confronting a Wagnerian orchestra. Cody Quattlebaum excels there and imposes a certain scenic charisma (despite a broken arm on his bike in the weeks preceding the show). Bonespoir is an even bigger step. It is a Tamino, for the phrasing and the vocal lines, which must also know how to tap into the heroism of a Bacchus. Tuomas Katajala comes to the end with honors, beautiful nuances sometimes heckled in the fortissimo passages where the timbre is tainted by a tight vibrato. No matter, the portrait of the young idealist in love with elsewhere and faraway is convincing. Finally Marie-Eve Munger wins the expected triumph in a role that has everything to seduce: coos, super high notes spun and endless like the one that concludes the opera, great duet with the tenor. The soprano chirps with the agility of an acrobat and even adapts to the phrases at changed tempos which surprise her.

© Klara Beck / Rhine National Opera

For this historic creation, the ONR called on a young talent, already crowned with success in France and abroad. After a remarkable 4.46 psychosis on this same stage, Ted Hufmann abandons both post-romantic aesthetics and the tale of Aristophanes to keep only the initial idea. Fidèlami and Bonespoir are two humans who, out of weariness and boredom from their daily life in the big city of men, dream of elsewhere, believe they find it in birds and engage them in a revolutionary and utopian project: to dethrone the gods. So here we are in the offices of a tertiary company, made up of these cubicles of the 70s, and those jobs that we would call bullshit today. We are bored there. The employee who will become the Nightingale, cuts out a pattern with scissors, others yawn. Then comes the grain of madness at the end of the working day, the revolt, the set manager who gets caught up in the game, the battle of paper balls, the reams that are emptied. This crazy night at the office continues in the second act: the offices have been overturned and the established order, the photocopiers have dumped their jammed paper all over the stage. Prometheus arrives, the surface agent who has come to clean the night offices. He warns that it will be difficult. Zeus, the CEO hardly needs to raise his voice for everyone to put the set back in the state. But they still have the memory of madness and the breath of freedom, like what the song of the Nightingale gave Bonespoir a glimpse of, for the duration of a tale. The bird cuts out a lovely last pattern on its last notes. In short, Ted Hufmann staged the adage “opera is made to get us out of everyday life”. A nice snub to this quarrel that occupies us at column length and in the comments section. The one in this column will certainly not escape it.

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