Opera or oratorio? | Forum Opera

To stay or not to stay after intermission. This is the question that we can ask ourselves at the end of the first part of The Convertan opera created at the beginning of the month in Antwerp and revived in Ghent until June 4, before Rouen next season.

From converted heart (From Bekeerlinge), a novel written in Dutch by Stefan Hertmans, Krystian Lada has a libretto in English, Latin and Aramaic set to music by Wim Henderickx. “I read Stefan’s book in December 2016, right after it came out. I devoured it in two days and immediately knew it was going to be my grand opera. explains the Flemish composer whose music, influenced by Messiaen, Ligeti, Bartók and Stravinsky, also draws its inspiration from non-Western traditions. “All the subjects I thought about as a man and as an artist were there: the idea of ​​an impossible love, the notion of the human condition. […] The religious theme, how the beauty of religion can turn into utter horror, also made this a very topical book for me. The story is set in the 11th century, but it’s about today. »

Converted to Judaism for love, Vigdis, a young woman from Rouen, must flee her hometown to take refuge in Provence. The assassination of her husband and the abduction of her children will force her to wander from Marseille to Cairo, mistreated, raped, remarried, condemned to the stake then redeemed before finally dying of exhaustion, definitively broken.

© Annemie Augustijns

Wim Hendericck continues: “The emotional journey of Vigdis is the common thread of this opera, and we do not bring it to life simply by having it sung by the soprano. Lore Binon. We also follow Vigdis in her dreams, in her inner world, when she thinks. With the whole orchestra, choir and children’s choir, the city choir and the electronics in the room. The whole register goes through it and it’s also necessary to convey all the emotion. »

And the emotion does indeed pass, but fleeting, aroused by the Belgian conductor Koen Kessels through a rich polyphonic material – the Community Choir Madam Fortuna joins the members of the Children’s Choir and the Choirs of Opera Ballet Vlaanderen –, also through strange sounds generated by the combined use of percussion, Western instruments , oriental and electronic in the service of a writing that goes beyond the tonal divide.

Are these combined qualities enough to form the “grand opera” dreamed of by Wim Henderickx? Everyone will forge their own response to the ordeal of a show lasting three hours, including the intermission, which struggled to capture our full attention. Hence the preliminary question to which we personally answered with the affirmation: to stay.

Stay because the principle of dramatic progression, consubstantial with any story, whether set to music or not, could give hope for a narrative burst. Except for having missed the essential – which belongs to the realm of the possible –, such has unfortunately not been the case. If the second act seemed to us shorter than the first, it is only because of its shorter duration. The Convert resembles a succession of tableaux, a pretext for the breaks in musical structures dear to Wim Henderickx, but hardly compatible with our idea of ​​a narrative frame, especially since the staging of Hans Op de Beeck, using a dense symbolism, does not make it easy to decipher the plot. What, for example, is the meaning of the artists’ dressing rooms on either side of the structure on which painted canvases parade like in the good old days?

So stay, despite an intrusive sound system that prevents you from appreciating the voices in their truth, a sound volume that oscillates between strong mezzo and strong, a vocal writing devoid of lyricism – except for the choral pages, and a few prayers; to remain in the hope of a revelation alone capable of sweeping away our reservations and converting us to a work which, by its spiritual dimension and its theatrical immobility, seems to us to be more akin to an oratorio than an opera. Alas, the miracle did not take place.

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Opera or oratorio? | Forum Opera

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