Representative affairs. For its season opener, the Théâtre du Capitole has seen the big picture by summoning all its troupes (orchestra, choirs and dancers in full force) as well as a reluctant cast. Mona Lisa, of which it is, surprisingly, the entry into the repertoire in Toulouse, it is grand-opera, with obligatory ballet, a plot that refers to the best (or worst) American series (love, betrayal, death, blood and sex), tubes do you want some here, in short, a production worthy of the beautiful opera houses, everything that we had missed in recent months.
Christophe Ghristi, the director, takes over the co-production presented at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in 2019, in the proposal ofOlivier Py. Unsurprisingly, we find a refined reading of the libretto, from which emerge elements with striking symbolic charges. Whether or not we adhere to the options chosen by the director, we will give his credit for giving meaning to the play by retaining a few key ideas, which he will decline throughout the four acts, even if it means neglecting or abandon other points of view that will be those of a more literal reading of the work. In fact, we do not get lost in superfluous artifices (particularly decorations), but we focus on what is seen as the quintessence of the work.
The main character of Gioconda, for Olivier Py, it is Venice. In this, he takes up and reinforces the line of the librettist Arrigo Boito who transposed the action from Padua to the capital of the Veneto. Venice yes, but not that of the postcards, rather that of the back side always hidden from the decor; not the Bridge of Sighs strafed by tourists, but the footbridge (omnipresent on the plateau) which looks like a bridge, which leads to torture, as in the 17th centurye century; not the Carnival which leads to dance and gives a taste for life, but the only mask of Pierrot with a smile that freezes and gives death (in IV, Barnaba comes out of a gigantic mask to pounce on Gioconda); not the Venice of the Lagoon and the drunken canals of gondolas (here the only buildings are these gigantic cruise ships which today poison the Venetians), but that of the murky and lightless undergrounds, where the water stagnates and reflects reflections terrifying; not the Venice of gallantry in the Venezuelan palazzi, but that of the dances or rather the contortions of demonized beings who recreate Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell with these naked bodies that copulate and twist on the ground, and these newborns that we cut throat! Even the Dance of the Hours turns into an infernal round where the corpses are collected with a shovel. Do not throw any more.
It is this Venice that we have permanently under our eyes as water reminds us, a key element in the reading of Py, the water which covers almost the entire scene for a few centimeters.
It is because Boito, by repeating the play by Victor Hugo, Angelo tyrant of Padua, chooses himself to blacken the table; his main find, a real stroke of genius given to the libretto, in addition to the introduction of the character of Cieca (the blind mother of Gioconda), is the diabolical thickness that he gives to an almost non-existent character in Hugo: Barnaba . He alone is all the darkness of this underground Venice and it is he who pulls all the strings, whether in broad daylight (Py choosing to show Barnaba strangling Gioconda’s mother) or under the puppet mask of a macabre Pierrot to which he ends up totally assimilating to the IV. Here Barnaba is a concentrate and, chronologically, a precursor of Jago and Scarpia.
To give life to this decor as black as it is effective, Py has surrounded himself with his usual acolytes: Pierre-André Weitz of course whose sets and costumes are designed to make the action timeless, and Bertrand killy for sometimes pyrotechnic lighting, always in support of the director’s reading.
To serve this abundant piece, Ponchielli takes the luxury of summoning the three female voices and the three male voices of the range for parts that are not easy. On will be grateful to Roberto Scandiuzzi to have joined Toulouse three days before the premiere to replace Marco Spotti in the role of Alvise at the last moment. With his characteristic singing bass, he gives the character a credible authority. Laura from Judith Koutasi received a nice ovation which seemed to surprise and move her. She was however well deserved so much this regular at the Arena of Verona convinced us, by the assumed drama of her playing and the assurance of a dark and powerful voice: she also brought La Cieca (although a viola role) to her repertoire and she will be one of the Valkyries of the Berlin Ring next month. La Cieca was run by Agostina Smimmero, which is not an authentic viola, but whose dark timbre is particularly suited to the misfortunes which overwhelm it (“Figlia che reggi”). The dreadful Barnaba was the lovely surprise of the evening; on the salt Pierre-Yves Pruvot in constant search of less sought after or less known roles; here the quest is fruitful and now he adds a beautiful string to his bow: darkness assumed in his beautiful “O monumento” where the voice darkens and twists as if to expel the demon from his body.
Ramon Vargas took on the role of Enzo; the clarity of the tone is there, it would also bring a welcome light in this so dark atmosphere. On this premiere night, he seemed too concentrated (in the expected “Cielo e mar”) to be totally free; suddenly, the breath was sometimes short, but what cantabile and what intelligence of the text!
Beatrice Uria-Monzon is a poignant Gioconda: she who sang Laura, tessitura of mezzo, has seized the title role where she evolves with the mastery of the one who knows how to lead her boat over the long haul. The role is indeed exhausting and the obligation to an almost uninterrupted presence on stage, and especially to a dramatic progression which culminates in a fourth act which she fully embodies. His “Suicido” despite some serious discoloration was inhabited, like the whole role. For the rest, there is the warmth of the timbre, the embodiment of the character, which makes her unique.
The dancers had a lot to do with the elements, water in this case, which they tamed very beautifully. Choirs of men, women and children overflowing and in great shape. Magnificent orchestra; one hesitates to put forward the strings, very solicited, so much the whole of the desks responded to the baton of Roberto Rizzi-Brignoli.
Justice is done at Mona Lisa ; the lyric season is off to a good start in Toulouse.