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In Review > North America

Ne Quittez Pas

PHILADELPHIA
Opera Philadelphia
9/22/18

In Review Ne Quittez Pas Philadelphia hdl 1218
Christopher Allen and Patricia Racette in Ne Quittez Pas at O18
© Adam Larsen

ON SEPTEMBER 22, Opera Philadelphia added the city’s well-worn rock palace Theater of Living Arts to its O18 festival venues with Ne Quittez Pas. Stage director James Darrah, whose brilliant 2016 production of Breaking the Waves won OP great acclaim, promised that Ne Quittez Pas would be a “reimagined La Voix Humaine.” The new production added a contextualizing prologue to a performance of La Voix Humaine, to create an evening-length program of an hour and thirty-nine minutes, including intermission. Other than suggesting that Elle is a struggling cabaret singer—which the subsequent post-intermission performance of Poulenc’s opera did almost nothing to substantiate, save for the rock-club setting—the prologue in no way enhanced or elucidated La Voix Humaine. It merely tired the audience out and blurred the evening’s focus. The Prologue was given in a mix of French and English; the Poulenc opera was sung in French.

One presumes that the Prologue was Darrah’s mémoire/fantasie (the synopsis begins “Paris, 1979 or was it 1980, we can’t remember”) but whatever the source, it seemed an exercise in directorial narcissism. The attractive, engaged performers—including Christopher Allen, the excellent pianist throughout the evening—did what was asked of them. As the “Jeune Homme,” lyric baritone Edward Nelson sang a dozen Poulenc mélodies with fine style and finely graded tone. As Paul and Elisabeth/Lise, a glamorous pair of siblings, actors Marc Bendavid and Mary Tuomanen (a gifted local icon of theatrical hip) brought louche energy and fine French diction to their polymorphous antics. Costume designer Chrisi Karvonides Dushenko unearthed delightfully unspeakable garments for the cast to wear and shed—and trade—while singing and declaiming French poetry. It just didn’t add up to anything memorable.

Other than the bar setting, the actual Voix Humaine—while sympathetically and mesmerizingly performed by Patricia Racette—felt in no meaningful way “reimagined,” and one wondered how likely such an establishment anywhere in the world would be to have an operator–adjudicated party line in 1979 or 1980. Oddly, Darrah had the landline’s short cord initially limit Racette’s Elle to the immediate area of the bar for some time before she suddenly could carry the phone chassis all over the playing space with impunity (if with varying visibility from all parts of the seating). 

Racette commands the fluid, dynamically varied declamatory style and offered a typically fearless, intense performance in rich, settled voice up to an arresting, hyper-resonant high C. Clad in a leopard-print coat over a black slip, and exercising seemingly boundless artistic concentration, the soprano created a living, suffering being within inches of cocktail-sipping patrons. Tony Fanning’s production design gave us cabaret tables, well-chosen props and striking if sometimes mysteriously motivated lighting by Pablo Santiago. —David Shengold



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