Saturday 21 March 2020

Orchestre National de Lille on-line, with 'Carmen' and Mahler's symphonies

Bizet: Carmen - Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch - July 2019 (PHOTO PASCAL BONNIERE)
Bizet: Carmen - Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch - July 2019 (PHOTO PASCAL BONNIERE)
    The Orchestre National de Lille, under its chief conductor Alexandre Bloch, recently complete a tour of the UK, its first visit for over 20 years [see my review of the orchestra's Cadogan Hall concert]. With live performances currently not possible, the orchestra has released a number of archive recordings on YouTube. Notably, Alexandre Bloch's complete cycle of Mahler symphonies, recorded during the orchestra's 2019/2020 season. But my eye was caught Bizet's Carmen which was originally live-streamed in 2019 from the Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle in Lille.

    This very effective concert staging features projected images and animations created by Grégoire Pont, and makes good use of the auditorium. Alexandre Bloch leads a highly dramatic and very vivid account of the score, but one which does not neglect the work's subtleties too, and it is great to see an opera performance with the orchestra on full view, and the orchestra is in fine form.

    The cast members are all, I think, Francophone which makes a big difference in this opera and all the soloists are off the book so that performances are engagingly dramatic. Aude Extrémo is a rich-voiced Carmen, moving between the sexy and the dramatic, this is definitely an account of the role I would love to see in the theatre. And this seems to have been her role debut! Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger made a very intense and naively earnest Don José, with Bélanger freely using a lovely mezzo voce.  Gabrielle Philiponet was a very self-possessed Micaëla, rising to the challenge of Act Three, whilst and Florian Sempey swaggered wonderfully as Escamillo.

    The smaller roles were all strongly sung, making this a very rewarding performance, with Pauline Texier as Frasquita, Adélaïde Rouyer as Mercédès (and I particularly loved the contrast between them and Aude Extremo in the Act Three trio), Jérôme Boutiller as Le Dancaïre, Antoine Chenuet as Le Remendado, Bertrand Duby as Zuniga and Philippe-Nicolas Martin as Moralès. The Opera de Lille chorus throw themselves into the work with a will, and there is an impressive children's chorus from the maîtrisien du Conservatoire de Wasquehal.

    The opera is given, correctly, in the version with spoken dialogue but this is replaced by a narration by Alex Vizorek. There do not seem to be surtitles, thank fully, as Vizorek's self-consciously funny narrations to the audience are thus easily screened out.

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