Deutsche Oper Berlin: “Dinorah”

Deutsche Oper Berlin – Season 2014/2015
Opera in three acts, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré after the narration La chassse aux trésors by Émile Souvestre Music by Giacomo Meyerbeer
First shepherdess ELBENITA KAJTAZI
Second shepherdess CHRISTINA SIDAK
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Conductor Enrique Mazzola
Chorus William Spaulding
Concert performance
Berlin, Philharmonie, 1st October 2014

There are operas one does not need a complete recording of, only excerpts will do. Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Dinorah seems to be a case like that underlined by the fact that there is one studio recording of it only by Opera Rara. The best-known part of the opera is undoubtedly the aria “Ombre légère qui suit me pas” sung by most coloratura primadonnas of the past. Maria Callas was probably one of the last in this tradition and through her interpretation, it is still widely known. At second glance however, Dinorah proves to be Meyerbeer’s ultimate contribution to the Opéra comique after earlier attempts (Vielka, L’etoile du Nord) and above all, after having established himself as the leading composer of the Grand opéra with Robert le diable, Les Huguenots and Le prophète. The Deutsche Oper Berlin plans a revivalof his operas in the next few seasons and started with a concert and at the same time the first German performance of Le Pardon de Ploërmel, the original version of Dinorah in French with spoken dialogues. Meyerbeer loved making changes to his operas according to the taste of the audience, requirements of theatre directors, singers, and even the boss of the Claque. Therefore there are no fewer than seven versions of the score. After the first staging at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra Comique in Paris on 4th April 1859, the second version under the title Dinorah was not merely a translation or adaption of the French original to Italian but a complete revision of the Opéra comique for an Opera semiseria for the London premiere at the Royal Opera House on 26th July 1859. The Italian version was soon spreading all over Europe to become especially popular in London where it was sung for 15 subsequent seasons by Adelina Patti. It was a good idea of the Deutsche Oper to present the opera in a concert to avoid a staging of the strange plot that also includes a goat named Bellah that accompanies the mad Dinorah and whose bell is tinkling from the orchestra from time to time.
Enrique Mazzola conducts the Orchester der Deutschen Oper masterfully. Under his baton the orchestra creates a miraculous and romantic wall of sound for the contrasting elements: day and night, belief and superstition, reality and madness. The few unsteady moments at the beginning are forgotten as soon as the overture turns into a spirited opening piece leading over to the big chorus of the pilgrims. The Chor der Deutschen Oper (chorus master William Spaulding)excels in awonderful homogeneity here and in the last act forming a kind of musical framework for the singers and their vocal performances. The a-capella chorus of the lumberjacks and their wives at the beginning of act 2 was crowned by a highly impressive C at its end.
Phillippe Talbot has a charming tenor for the cowardly bagpiper Corentin. His couplets “Dieu nous donne à chacun en partage” and “Ah! Que j’ai froid” in the 1st and 2nd acts become masterpieces of enigmatic comedy but he is also able to put on some romanticism in his first encounter with Dinorah who he first takes for a fairy queen. Along with Etienne Dupuis as the goatherd Hoël he puts up the trenchant dialogues in a semi-scenic and idiomatic way. Dupuis’s baritone is elegant and combines both romantic and comic aspects of the role. He sings Hoël’s treasure aria of the first act “O puissante magie” with aggressive determination and crowns his lament over the seemingly dead Dinorah in the final scene with well-controlled and yet powerful outbreaks.
The Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi sings a brilliant title role. Her genuine soprano leggero seems ideal for the French repertory. It is not big but warm and the singer starts with a superb recitative and beautiful floating piani followed by an elegiac lullaby for Dinorah’s goat with accurate staccati embedded in the romantic vocal line. She leads the terzettino de la clochette “Ce tintement que l’on entend” masterfully with nice trills and lots of short notes. It is little wonder that the shadow scene of the 2nd act turns out to be the highlight of the evening. The melancholic picturesque romance “Le vieux sorcier” is followed by the famous virtuoso rondo and La Ciofi reaches a climax of perfection culminating in a splendid final C. She never leaves the musical line and serves the score perfectly well. Despite all virtuosity her performance does not prove as an end in itself. Chapeau!
The rest of the cast is also on the usual high level. Elbenita Kajtazi and Christina Sidak as shepherdesses mix their lyrical voices perfectly well in short but beautiful duets in the 1st and 3rd acts to finally join the quartet with the tenor Gideon Poppe (mower) and bass Seth Carico (hunter) after the bass has powerfully sung the little aria “Au chasse” at the beginning of the last act followed by the tenor’s virtuous little aria. The unanimous applause of the audience during and at the end of the concert for the soloists, conductor, orchestra, and chorus left no doubt that it was a most enjoyable evening and an encounter with a nowadays rarely performed work by Meyerbeer. I think we can look forward to the scenic staging of his Grand opéras at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in the next few years starting with L’Africaine next October. Photo credits Bettina Stöß