Les Nibelungen Invade Geneva

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Reyer: Sigurd Soloists, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Chorus of Geneva Grand Théâtre, Frédéric Chaslin (conductor), Victoria Hall, Geneva, 6.10.2013


Sigurd: Andrea Carè
Brunehilde: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Gunther: Boris Pinkhasovich
Hagen: Tijl Faveyts
Hilda : Anne Sophie Duprels
Uta : Marie-Ange Todorovitch
Un prêtre d’Odin : Khachik Matevosyan
Un barde : Nicolas Courjal
Rudiger : Nicolas Carré

Like many cities around the world, Geneva is commemorating Wagner with a series of varied and ambitious productions. Jean-Marie Blanchard, former director of the Grand Théâtre, has created a Geneva Wagner Festival  which will include a performance of The Flying Dutchman and various concerts and exhibitions. The Grand Théâtre itself will complete its Ring under the team of Ingo Metzmacher and Dieter Dorn. It is also preparing a conference on Wagner in which France’s most famous “nouveau philosophe,” Bernard-Henri Lévy, will take part, and it has unearthed a rarity, a French opera whose libretto is inspired by the tales of the Nibelungen.

The opera, Sigurd, was written by Ernest Reyer whom history remembers as a friend and confident of Hector Berlioz. The influence of La Damnation de Faust is apparent in the choral treatments, which have a hint of the student song, “Gaudeamus”; in the long meditative tenor aria which reminds us of the “invocation à la nature”; and in the woodwinds playing to evoke evil spirits and fairies. There is in other words nothing remotely Wagnerian, and hearing singers talk about Walkyrie, Brunhilde, Gunther and Hagen in French does indeed require a mental adjustment.

Reyer however is no Berlioz. While he has some inventive ideas, he does not fully develop them. Another weakness is that his orchestration can lack subtlety, and the first acts were very loud. Finally, the libretto is starting to show its age. The characters are poorly defined, and the wording is somewhat heavy. It is the arias and meditative passages that have value, and they deserve more hearing.

The work benefited from Frédéric Chaslin’s enthusiastic conducting although he could have been more sensitive to the balance of his singers. The performance took place in Geneva’s Victoria Hall, which is normally used for symphonic concerts. This is an average-size house well suited for Mozart and Schubert, in which velvet side curtains are sometimes (and not enough to my taste) used to reduce resonance for the works of Shostakovich and Mahler. They would have been of genuine help here.

The casting was pretty strong. Andrea Caré in the demanding title role is proving to be a genuine Italian tenor with nice phrasing and ringing sunny top notes. With her command of the language, French mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch stole every scene she was in, and her first act aria could have come straight out of The Tales of Hoffmann. Boris Pinkhasovich may be somewhat stiff but has plenty of sound to offer in the role of Gunther. If the Grand Théâtre were to ask him next year to sing Onegin, this could be a good choice.

Finally, credit must be given to Anna Caterina Antonacci whose many fans were in the hall. The Italian singer remains more of a mezzo than a soprano: she has the high notes but does not linger on them as sopranos do. Her medium and lower notes however are superb. More importantly, she has this gift of the great “tragédiennes” to bring so much meaning to the words. Her Brunehilde was in line with the outstanding Cassandra she sang in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.

One should be grateful to have the opportunity to hear this work but, in the end, despite the genuine efforts of all concerned, there may be many who are looking forward to Wagner’s music. Geneva will be able to deliver plenty of it in the near future.


Antoine Leboyer