René Jacobs, indefatigable defender of Baroque repertoire, revives a masterpiece of operatic satire in La Monnaie, L’Opera Seria, by Florian Leopold Gassmann. He will conduct here the B’Rock Orchestra in this new production presented at the Cirque Royal. The English scenographer and stage director Patrick Kinmonth, who recently designed the sets of Alcina and Tamerlano, has now developed his first staging for La Monnaie.
In 1769, Gassmann and Calzabigi concocted a small masterpiece of humour targeting the excesses of a genre that ended up taking itself awfully seriously. Being both insiders, they found it easy to pick up its flaws. By placing the theatre within the theatre – an old tradition of the commedia del arte – they take apart the mechanism in a succession of tragicomic scenes that allow them to denounce, one after the other, affect-laden melodies, outrageously precious libretti, the stinginess or opera directors, the impudence of singers, the whims of divas. The music follows inch by inch the changing atmosphere, parodic or sublime, grotesque or grave, sometimes worth of the best opera seria and sinking a minute later into the most comical travesty.
The plot takes place during the feverish preparations for a new production bearing the exotic title Oranzeb. The names of the protagonists already set the pace: the impresario Fallito (Bankruptcy); the librettist Delirio (Frenzy), the composer Sospiro (Sigh), the three prime donne, La Stonatrilla (the Off-key One), La Smorfiosa (the Pretentious One) and La Porporina (the Purpurine), the primo uomo Ritornello (Tune) and the choreographer Passagallo, and the tree mothers, Bragherona (trousers), Befana (witch) and Caverna.
The cast will bring together singers who have been associated for a long time with René Jacobs’ work. The Bulgarian soprano Alex Penda, who was recently Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito (Mozart) at La Monnaie and has worked directly with René since 2003, will perform again the role of Stonatrilla. The American soprano Robin Johannsen will make her debut for La Monnaie in Smorfiosa after singing Emma (Emma und Eginhard, Telemann) in Berlin for René Jacobs. Porporina will be interpreted by the Korean soprano Sunhae Im, who regularly performs at La Monnaie.
The Argentinian baritone bass Markos Fink was Sancio Pansa and Don Alfonso in the concert version of Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena and Così fan tutte with René Jacobs in 2009 and 2010. Here he takes the role of Fallito. The British tenor Thomas Walker will incarnate Sospiro; he debuted at La Monnaie in Linfea (La Calisto, Cavalli) in 2009. Pietro Spagnoli will sing Delirio. Mario Zeffiri, Nikolay Borchev, Magnus Staveland, Stephen Wallace and Rubert Enticknap will respectively interpret Ritornello, Passagal
lo, Bragherona, Befana and Cav erna.