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Louise, a young seamstress, has fallen in love with Julien, her neighbor, a composer who lives a Bohemian life with his friends, artists like him. Her over-possessive working class parents unfortunately object to her marrying her beloved. Louise then decides to flee in company with Julien. One day she comes across her father, now very sick... Written by
Charpentier abridged, but much more than just historical curiosity
Gustave (not to be confused with the Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier) Charpentier's 'Louise' is a lovely opera, with a lot of atmosphere.
It has one of the better stories (even if not sounding very much in hindsight, though the atmosphere and emotional impact is very believable) and characterisations of any "Verismo" opera and wonderful music, the popular soprano aria "Depuis Le Jour" which is a concert and recital favourite being the most famous part. And yet despite being a big success when first performed and with a very successful performance history, it is comparatively not often performed outside of "Depuis Le Jour". It is quite well-served on record, though the competition isn't huge, but on VHS/DVD this 1939 film is the only one available which is a pity.
The opera, unlike other operas with very scant VHS/DVD competitions, is hardly an obscure one and shouldn't be mistaken for one by those unfamiliar with it. For the only film/production of 'Louise', while not one hundred percent ideal, this 1939 film does make do. It is of good historical curiosity, but even though not complete is so well made and performed that it does deserve to be known as much more than that. Anybody familiar with 'Louise' and hasn't seen it yet should be warned, the film is a very much abridged treatment of the opera with over half the music being cut and with spoken dialogue. This may have been to make the opera more accessible or something or to suit feature length, but there are far longer operas out there than 'Louise' (see any Wagner opera for example) and part of me does wish that more of the music was included.
Even with the abridgements however, the story is still very clear and cohesive, with all the major events intact and making sense, the characterisations still believable (thanks to the performances mainly) and the spirit of the opera is very much there. It's just a pity that there isn't enough of the music, but because it is more than made up by the rest of the opera's components being very much respected it's hardly a complete bowdlerisation, especially when the composer himself had a say in what stayed and what went or was changed and approved it. There are also admittedly far worse treatments of opera around, in terms of cuts and how much the opera in question is respected, many of them not having the excuse of not being a feature length film.
Oddly enough, apart from it being abridged there is very little to criticise here in 'Louise', in fact was pleasantly surprised at how well done everything was. It is a beautiful-looking film for starters, gorgeously shot, very atmospheric and elegant in settings and costumes and the use of light and shadow is further striking. Abel Gance (a very solid director on his own merits, at the same time the composer's extensive advisory input is evident too) does a remarkable job directing, not just stylistically with such clever and atmospheric use of light and shadow but also especially for very early days filmed opera great direction of the story and singers. The story is still rich in atmosphere and very poignant, but while there are some operatic gestures one would find on the opera stage at the time the direction and acting also feels very real and current, which will be a pleasant surprise for anybody expecting stand and deliver and static schlock with minimal interaction.
Charpentier's music is beautifully performed by the orchestra, as well as conducted with a real sense of expressivity (important for "Verismo" opera) yet with enough dramatic intensity to stop the drama from losing momentum. The chorus is small but lively and well balanced. The cast consisted of those coached by the composer himself especially (such as Grace Moore), or those who had already recorded the roles and were already famous interpreters (Georges Thill and André Pernet). The secondary roles are also incredibly well-filled, and one does wish because of the high quality that the roles were bigger whether reduced to speaking roles or with some singing.
Grace Moore is just wonderful as Louise, 'Louise' was her favourite opera and considered one of her greatest roles and it is not hard at all to see why. She is graceful and affecting and she sings beautifully. Even if occasionally stiff in a role that doesn't allow him to do a lot with, Georges Thill acts with enough ardour, his singing rings heroically but also melts even the coldest of hearts with its lyricism and his French is blameless. André Pernet is a very powerful in every sense father figure.
All in all, it is a pity that the opera itself is abridged (especially with the music being so heavily cut), but the opera's appeal still comes through and the film itself is so well made and performed it is very difficult to be hard on it. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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