If the updating of the plot to contemporary times offered to us by the American Peter Sellars annoys, Beatrice di Tenda by Bellini, performed for the first time in Paris, is worth the trip from a lyrical point of view.
We sometimes begin to imagine what Bellini’s genius would have produced if the Sicilian composer had not died prematurely, at the age of Christ, two years after the creation of Beatrice di Tenda at Fenice – an oven. In 1831, La Scala gave Norma (also a fiasco, but which at least will be noted by posterity). Four years later, The Puritans, the ultimate masterpiece, will, on the contrary, experience an immediate triumph at the Italian Theater in Paris. Not only Beatrice di Tenda had no success (three performances!) but, written in haste, unfinished, it caused Bellini’s definitive falling out with his appointed librettist, Felice Romani. Bad luck seems to weigh heavily on this score, to the point that we had to wait until 2024 to see this gem of the bel canto enter the repertoire of the Paris Opera.
False accusation of adultery
It is difficult to imagine a darker plot. To be compared to Anna Bolenawritten by the same Romani for Donizetti in 1830, it is inspired by a tragedy by the Italian playwright Carlo Tedaldi-Fores, created in Milan in 1825, itself taken from the chronicles of the Quattrocento recounting the martyrdom of the Milanese wife of Count of Pavia, better known to us as Béatrice de Ventimille or Béatrice Lascaris, princess put to death in 1418 by her husband Filippo Maria Visconti, on the accusation of adultery.
Also read: Sauternes obliges
Romani’s libretto in no way ignores the power relationships underlying the passionate conflict. In full romanticism, these obviously echo the revolutionary context which shook Europe at the time, at a time when Lombardy-Venetia was beginning to resist the Austrian yoke. It is even this political dimension which gives Beatrice di Tenda an already powerfully Verdian accent, even in the choirs (of men, in particular), which occupy a preponderant place, unusual in the pure belcantist tradition.
Let’s summarize: a widow, the rich Countess Béatrice de Tende married Filippo Visconti, a tyrant whose mistress, Agnese, is secretly in love with the young troubadour Orombello. Out of jealousy, she convinces Filippo that his wife is cheating on him with the latter. Filippo has them both arrested, before subjecting them in turn to torture and condemning them to the gallows. Saint and martyr, Beatrice will have forgiven Agnese for her treachery before going under the ax.
The American director Peter Sellars, as usual, chooses to transpose this atrocious drama to contemporary times. We must refer to the program to understand the intention behind it, summarized in an introductory text from his pen. Beatrice, idealistic and committed, “ funds social services and youth programs » thanks to her fortune, while Filippo, her husband, terrifying autocrat and sickly jealous, “ represses young leaders of the rising generation “. The pot of roses: “ Agnese gives Filipo Beatrice’s computer, filled with photos of Beatrice and Orombello that can be exploited in the media and in court to support a charge of adultery “. While the people are only waiting for the signal from a Beatrice chastely in love with Orombello to rise up, Filippo overhears their conversation: “ the guilty couple is immediately arrested for adultery “. In the second act, the executioners transformed Orombello into a swollen, bloody vegetable, limping on a crutch and trembling before ending up in a wheelchair: the tortured man confessed under torture, but “ he suddenly begins to shout to the whole Court that she [Beatrice] is innocent “. Beatrice, who has become blind from being beaten, in a blood-stained tunic, handcuffed, will forgive Agnese for having trapped them. At the end, solid shovels in hand, “ guards bury Orombello’s corpse “. Beatrice, having sung “ to a god of peace and forgiveness ”, went under arms.
Also read: The magic wands of an enchanting storyteller
Signed by George Tsypin, the decor transposes the Binasco castle into a sort of bright green metal mesh cage representing an Italian garden-labyrinth, where the henchmen, at one point, will be busy with pruning shears, and on the wall side from which the small staff will conscientiously mop the floor, fabrics stuck on long rods… Visually, it is rather very ugly. In the second act (the green changed to red by the miracle of the lighting engineer) one of these cut groves, in the center of the stage, serves as the court’s office. The tyrant’s sycophants (him in a royal blue jacket) wear anthracite black leather outfits, the security service in black uniforms does not miss an opportunity to point the menacing Kalashnikovs at “everything that moves” – a way of speaking, because the singers, from one end of the opera to the other, will remain desperately static, as if incapable of moving at all. Exit the video, old signature of the Californian star, and obligatory cream pie of any contemporary management… Sellars nevertheless gives in to all the clichés of updating, in a superlative bad taste.
Well, at least… musically
If this first Parisian production of Beatrice di Tenda is saved, it is by these immortal arias, duets or trios, all sublimely sung. The choirs of the Paris Opera are not to be outdone. At the cost of very slight delays at first, they sound magnificent. At the baton, the British conductor Mark Wigglesworth, at a tempo that seems quite slow, which magnifies the expressiveness of the orchestra. In the title role, the American soprano Tamara Wilson, whom many have already applauded very recently here in Turandot, appears as at ease as in Puccini, both imperial in the most formidable high notes and delicate in the legato phrasing and in the dizzying rolls of the score. The Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey, who sang Verdi a lot, does wonders in the role of the sinister Filippo Visconti. As for the two Pati brothers, tenors born in Samoa, Pene in Orombello and Amitai in the supporting role of the friend Anichino, they display their twin talents without fail. Only the mezzo Theresa Kronthaler, who we discover at the Paris Opera, noticeably lacks transmitting power, in the rare arias entrusted to the character of Agnese de Maino.
We wonder why the extraordinary pages of Beatrice di Tenda haven’t passed the ramp for so long. It is explained to us, in the program, that the version proposed here restores the opera as close as possible to the original, from Bellini’s autograph score, including his repentances and recommendations for execution: justice is done – in less musically.
Beatrice di Tenda. Opera seria in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini (1833). Director: Mark Wigglesworth. Director: Peter Sellars. Orchestra and choirs of the Paris Opera. With Quinn Kelsey, Tamara Wilson, Theresa Kronthaler, Pene Pati, Amital Pati, Taesung Lee.
Opéra-Bastille on February 13, 15, 23, 28, March 2 and 7, 7:30 p.m. February 18, 2:30 p.m. Duration: approximately 3h20
Causeur lives only through its readers, this is the only guarantee of its independence.
To support us, buy Causeur on newsstands or subscribe !