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With so much new work, Early Music and striking concert performances (La Monnaie's 2008 programme spans much more than that outlined here) outshining more traditional 19th century repertoire (besides the Weber, a new staging of Werther, concert performances of Donizetti's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, recital works by Berlioz and a new production of Verdi's La Forza del destino under Kazushi Ono to provided a climactic season's finale from 5-29 June), de Caluwe's first steps into the water can be seen as boldly confident in the extreme: perhaps typically so, in his programming during an orchestral concert late in the season (26 April 2008) conducted by Danish conductor Michael Schønwandt of Gurre, by the Danish composer Christian Frederik Emil Horneman (1840-1906), a work based on the same Scandinavian epic poem as that which inspired Schoenberg's searing Gurrelieder, heard at the season's opening.

Both the exciting approach to repertoire and the flair in the stage and musical appointments and casting exemplify Peter de Caluwe's homily that 'the power of the message of tradition is only really audible today if it is transmitted in a contemporary form ... Sometimes we have to let ourselves be carried away by unexpected and surprising ideas, in order to get back to the original truth.'

The La Monnaie team. From left to right: Patrick De Laender, Eva Kleinitz, Christian Longchamp, Peter de Caluwe, Eddy Ballaux, Charmaine Goodchild and Bernard Coutant. Photo © Johan Jacobs
The La Monnaie team. From left to right: Patrick De Laender, Eva Kleinitz, Christian Longchamp, Peter de Caluwe, Eddy Ballaux, Charmaine Goodchild and Bernard Coutant. Photo © Johan Jacobs

Whether presenting baroque, classical, romantic or contemporary operas, La Monnaie's production concept in the 21st century, under Bernard Foccroulle and now under Peter de Caluwe, is the very reverse of the staid, monolithic, traditional productions that still survive in some parts of the globe, yet also devoid of the posturing and garish, often superficial experimentation that still bedevils some reputable stages in neighbouring Germany. Belgium's premier opera house is there to tease, and to challenge, to excite and to edify. Provided he can take his audience with him, something on which the jury is still perhaps out, de Caluwe has started as he means to go on: courageously. To judge by his first season, it's a an impressive and attractive start.

Copyright © 17 February 2008 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK

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LA MONNAIE

MARK WIGGLESWORTH

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