C. M. von Weber, Oberon: Soloists, Orchestre National du Capitole, Choeur du Capitole. Conductor: Rani Calderon. Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse. 24.4.2011 (JMI)
Direction: Daniele Abbado
Sets: Angelo Linzalata
Costumes: Giada Palloni
Lighting: Guido Levi
Video: Luca Scarzella
Huon de Bordeaux: Klaus Florian Vogt
Rezia: Ricarda Merbeth
Oberon: Tansel Akzeybek
Fatima: Roxana Constantinescu
Scherasmin: Arttu Kataja
Puck: Silvia de la Muela
Nymph: Adrineh Simonian
Narrator: Volker Muthmann
Few opportunities are offered to see Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon, his last opera, so a visit to Toulouse was a must, and indeed one of the highlights of the opera season at the Capitole.
Oberon has two fundamental problems to deal with that explain its scarce presence in the programs of the opera houses. There are many spoken dialogues and the presence of pure non singing characters. That was already a problem at its premiere in London in 1826. Even then the dialogues were largely outdated. Then there are the immense difficulties that the score presents for the two main characters of the opera – Huon and Rezia. Interpreters of these roles do not exist today, if they did.
Weber himself wanted to replace the dialogs with accompanied recitatives, as he had done in Euryanthe, but he died less than two months after the premiere of Oberon. Even though Weber is dead, there’s no practical reason why adequate replacement-recitatives couldn’t be produced and performed now.
The problem of the vocal difficulties cannot be solved in practice. Huon and Rezia are both written for dramatic voices, very demanding in the middle, with remarkable agilities present along the score. To this we must add a particularly high tessitura for Huon. In practice the so called Wagner voices are required here for both characters, but with notes that Wagner would have never dared to write –and with demands for a typical first-half of the 19th century type of vocal agility.
The Capitole has offered a new production directed by Daniele Abbado. In these days it is a truly heroic decision to offer this opera in a new production. No wonder that Daniele Abbado’s minimalist production is characterized by its economy of means that doesn’t strike as the most appropriate choice for the various locations where the action is supposed to take place… from the world of the god of the elves to the palace of the Emir of Tunisia, passing through the palace of the Caliph of Baghdad to the shipwreck on a desert island. With minimal sets, the above mentioned locations must be conjured by the imagination of the audience. In keeping with this decidedly un-Zeffirelliesque streak, the costumes are not as colorful and attractive as might be expected from such exotic environments. Daniele Abbado best idea was replacing the dialogues and the non-singing characters with a narrator who now becomes the true protagonist of the opera: A valid, simple, indeed brilliant solution. The stage direction itself is static and not the best work young Abbado has delivered to date.
Israeli conductor Rani Calderón returned to Toulouse after his Euryanthe in concert of last year, which I could not attend. I found his direction significantly better than the last time I saw him (Faust in Bilbao). In this case I could understand why he is considered a promising talent. The Orchestre National du Capitole and the Chorus were reliably good.
Klaus Florian Vogt as the interpreter of Sir Huon passed the test without major injuries, which is itself quite remarkable. The tessitura of the character is ruthless and in the first act demands pure falsetto. A world renowned singer who accepts to sing this character has my full admiration secured and he should be acknowledged for this gesture, which in this case includes silence about the less fortunate moments. His performance improved in the last two acts, rather a little short of vocal weight here and there.
Ricarda Merbeth’s Rezia, the daughter of the Caliph of Baghdad and Sir Huon’s partner in love and adventures, was as safe a bet as there can be for this role. Merbeth is not a paragon of vocal beauty and perfection in any of her characters, but she always offers a remarkable result with her attractive and wide soprano, and those easily coming top notes.
Roxana Constantinescu sung Fatima, Rezia’s confidante, and was very well suited to the role, using her attractive voice very well. Scherasmin, Huon’s squire, and Oberon himself were sung without distinction. Silvia de la Muela’s Puck offered an attractive voice, albeit with a small voice limited in the lower lies. Adrineh Simonian gave an excellent Nymph and the actor Volker Muthmann was an outstanding narrator, as natural on stage as a fish in water.