After a triumphant success Hatis Lully directed by Angelin Preljocaj, Grand Théâtre de Geneva takes us to a completely different universe with a Swiss creation Insomnia Peter Eötvös, co-production with Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, which presented it in November 2021.
Libretto by Marie Metzei based on Trilogy John Foss, which brings together three dramatic episodes that explore the relationship between the individual and society. That is why he puts us before two young people, Alida and Asle, who are rejected by the outside world. A young woman is pregnant, and to make room for the birth of a child, her companion, acting as a completely destitute little boy, will plunge into unwarranted violence, leading to several murders being committed. People from dysfunctional families both live in illusions and become helpless outcasts, unable to find their way. Like Vreli and Sali in In the village Romeo and Juliet Frederick Delius, they have only one property, the violin of Siegwald’s father, which Asle will exchange for a bracelet under the reproachful gaze of a mysterious man in black.
To depict this Norse universe resembling Peer Gynt, Peter Eötvös creates a fluid sonic atmosphere that contrasts with the hyper-reality of the subject, designed like an operatic ballad in thirteen scenes, the first twelve of which, active and contradictory, are based on twelve chromatic tones (si-fa, fa). sharp – do it, etc.). But there is nothing repulsive about this artful harmonic construction, as it is a storytelling style that leads to a final monologue filled with indescribable emotion. And six female voices placed on the side balconies give advice like norns and comment on the action like an ancient choir. The relationship between the voices and the orchestra is skillfully balanced, as speech is never overwhelmed by instrumental force, no matter how significant it may be.
It must be said that Peter Eötvös himself conducts the Orchester de la Suisse Romande, taking care of the completion of the plot, staged by the Hungarian director Cornel Mundruzo. With sets and costumes by Monica Pormale and lighting designed by Felice Ross, he aims for timelessness by placing a giant metal salmon on a revolving stage that houses rooms where the action takes place, as if the stomach is guzzling life daily. Like the dragon Fafner, its mouth will open to deliver a pile of gold in which Asle will find an engagement ring and bracelet to offer to her companion. This simple gesture will bring him to a tragic end, as the man in black strangles him with drunken patrons of the inn and hangs him, assuring that whoever killed will be killed. After giving birth to a boy named Sigvald, Alida will eventually meet Asleik’s companion whom she knew as a child. And it is he who will take care of them, raising a child who will become a violinist. However, having reached old age, Alida will want to find Asle, deciding to commit suicide. She will strive to become one with him, entering the sea, which will approach her.
This outcome depends entirely on Victoria Randem, a Norwegian soprano of Nicaraguan origin, who embodies the self-confident Alida, who meets her tragic fate with unwavering determination. His companion in misfortune, Asle, is portrayed by Dutch tenor Linard Vreelink, who uses phrasing intelligence and high-pitched clarity to paint an apparently reserved being, barely masking a violent propensity that will lead to a double homicide. Sarah DeFreeze’s “girl” was able to bear the brunt of her tempting advances; but the brilliance of her light soprano voice keeps her in the saddle thanks to the confidence of her vocalizations in particularly spiky lines. As we remember him Wotan and the Wanderer from Ring of the reopening of the Bolshoi Theatre, Thomas Tomasson is an impressive Man in Black who basically erects his inclinations that Roman Trekel’s comforting Rybak would like to dampen. Despite the ravages of time, the mezzo Hanna Schwarz is undeniably present in The Old Woman, a presence that Katharina Kammerlocher especially misses as she struggles to overcome the central tessitura of Mother Alida and the Midwife. Finnish baritone Arttu Kataya personifies the pleasant and hopeful Asleyk, Czech bass Jan Martinik the trivial and lewd innkeeper, and tenor Siyabong Magungo plays backstage intonations like the treacherous Jeweler. In good shape, Sailor Sextet rings the bells to enliven the inn scene, and an absolutely wonderful female double trio facing each other from the stage’s balconies to guide the trajectory of hapless Alida.
At the last curtain, the small audience of the premiere evening applauded the entire set, the two vocal sextets and Peter Eötvös, the composer-conductor, who smiles at the reception given to his latest work.
Paul André Demier
Geneva, Bolshoi Theatre, March 29, 2022
Photo Credit: Magali Dougados