Despite being familiar with some of Salieri's work beforehand, 'Tarare' was a relatively new discovery for me. It is a shame that 'Tarare' (or Salieri's music in general for the matter) is not performed more often...
Because, despite its length, the story's sprawling nature and having a lengthy and intellectual prologue that may turn people off viewing any further, 'Tarare' is a very interesting opera with some really pleasurable things. This reviewer found the prologue to be thought-provoking and rich in entertainment and tension, though can see why it may alienate others because it is admittedly a bit convoluted at first.
Love also the story's mix of political and social commentary, satirical comedy and lyric tragedy, balancing these elements is a challenge when it comes to directing due to not wanting to have one element dominating the other. The characters that the viewer can be entertained by or relate to, they are also not easy to cast or portray, especially the villain Atar which needs menace and humour without overplaying the humorous elements. And the lovely music, Tarare, Atar, Astasie and particularly Calphigi (with his strophic Barcarolle-like song) getting the best of it, Salieri may have been in the shadow of Mozart and maybe his work is not quite as memorable but it's beautiful, complex music on its own and one can see why Salieri was considered important in his time.
This is a delightful production of 'Tarare', with its flaws really actually being minor. This won't be obvious to anybody who doesn't know the opera very well, but there are cuts in case there are those who prefer complete performances. Luckily however, the cuts don't make the music disjointed and they don't convolute the story. The only inexplicable one was cutting the Overture between the prologue and Act 1 to just a few bars, because the cutting down left some big jumps that didn't make the music flow as much as it could have done. To a lesser extent, there is some dead time too between acts that does grind the production's momentum to a halt at times. The quality of the video directing itself is very good indeed, which allows a real intimacy with the music and the drama, but one does wish for the orchestra and audience (just as integral to the experience) to have been acknowledged more and had been a bigger presence, at times it did feel like it was an opera film.
Visually, the production is tasteful and sumptuous on the eye, with a genuine exotic atmosphere. Jean-Louis Martinoty does a wonderful job with the direction. There was a challenge ahead of Martinoty with staging a lengthy and sprawling opera with a mix of moods and elements, and he rises to it better than one can expect and with a lot of imagination while never straying too far, being too static or including touches that are distasteful or out-of-kilter. The prologue is perplexing at first, but quickly becomes thought-provoking, entertaining and with a tense dynamic. The political and social commentary is very intelligently explored and clearly laid out, while the comedy and satire elements are genuinely funny and have bite and the lyric tragedy elements are affecting and nuanced. Oh and the dancing in the dance interlude/divertissement is grand and has stately grace without being overblown.
Musically, 'Tarare' is spot on. The orchestra play with a lot of depth and beautiful tone but most importantly also with continuous boundless energy, essential in a score that keeps moving and flows in a through-composed way. The chorus are very involved and sing beautifully, while Jean-Claude Malgoire matches the orchestra and cast in energy and grace, there's not a dull spot but at the same time the more intimate spots have time to breathe. The performances are fine from all, Atar is the most problematic character to play, a comic-villain character where one can forget to be funny in an attempt to be menacing or the comedy can be overdone to the point of mugging or buffoonery, traps that at no point Jean-Philippe LaFont falls into, he brings out the menace and especially humour of the role seamlessly and the singing delights.
Howard Cook is confident and arresting as Tarare, without being over-earnest, his singing of "Astasie Est Une Déesse" is beautiful. Zehava Gal is an elegant and passionate Astasie, with her rendition of "O Mort, Termine Mes Douleurs" full of pathos and passion. Eberhard Lorenz's athletic Calphigi also shines, as does Anna Caleb as Spinette in the mistaken identity duet, her and Cook's emotional confusion reaching dizzyingly humorous heights often.
All in all, a delight in almost all areas. 8.5/10 Bethany Cox
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