Geez, Louise

As re-imagined here, these are not the prettied-up and
rather charming bohemians favored by Puccini, but rather a French
verismo take on the lower class aspiring bumblingly to bourgeois

The production team chose not to set it at the turn of the century, but
rather to the more drab, workaday mid-twentieth century, to good effect. I am
not sure I remember any set design or more specifically, construction, as
impressive as the colossal creations by Nicky Rieti. Every time the curtain
was raised, another massive, detailed location was revealed to palpable
audience response.

The opening expository scene was played out on sets of stairs wedged in a
narrow vertical space between two low income housing buildings, trimmed in by
masking, and which ascended from stage floor all the way into the flies
above. This gave way to an oppressively realistic interior living/dining room
that was the heroineís ìprison.î Setting the street scene on the
Montmartre Metro platform was a winning and witty invention, especially as it
was visually replaced by the Metro entrance with ìLouiseî departing it on
her way to work. Her dress shop was a massive two level structure. which
allowed the large female chorus ample room for interplay, and provided
excellent opportunities for visual variety. The stage right windows on the
stair landing opened to accommodate the passing parade and allowed
ìJulienî access to appear and take ìLouiseî away.

The librettoís cottage overlooking Paris was replaced here by a
contemporary rooftop structure that gave the lovers plenty of room to romp
during the expansive love duet, and provided a more acidic visual commentary
to counter-balance the sweetness of ìDepuis le jour.î The subsequent
scene in which ìLouiseî is crowned Queen of Montmartre in a mock beauty
pageant was brilliantly set in a public space that appeared to be part music
hall, part political rally, complete with a rudimentary proscenium stage and
runway, and elevated galleries. The piece came full circle with the girl back
in her hellish, mundane ìprisonî with her manipulative parents.

The apt costumes were created by Chantal de La Coste MesseliËre, who
excelled with the colorful opportunities afforded by the ìsubwayî
denizens, as well as the beauty pageant participants and onlookers. The
evocative lighting was by AndrÈ Diot, who unapologetically used follow-spots
to fine effect, witness the isolation of ìLouiseî after her mother
convinces her to return home to her ailing father.

One reason that ìLouiseî may not be more frequently performed is that
Charpentierís score places enormous demands on the two principals who must
convey youthful buoyancy but sing like jugend-Wagnerians. Happily, Paris came
up with a terrific duo in Mireille Delunsch and Gregory Kunde.

Ms. Delunsch does not yet sing much outside of France and she deserves to.
For hers is a very pliant lyric voice with a slight steely edge that not only
meets the introspective demands of the role, but can ride the orchestra on
the dramatic ìmoneyî moments. She does not have a highly distinctive
sound, and the bit of metal might not charm those who have Renee or Beverly
or Victoria irrevocably in their ear, but for my Euro she not only has the
solid technique but also the pleasing stage presence to bring it off.

Mr. Kunde was a revelation to me, for he can not only melt the heart with
his suave legato phrasings, but can also let rip with a gorgeous, generous
outpouring of slightly weighted arching lines at full throttle. Thanks, too.
to his sincere and affecting acting and ever-responsive musicality, this was
the star turn of the night.

That is not to deny ìmotherî and ìfatherî a place in the
firmament. Alain Vernhes and Jane Henschel contributed solid vocalism and
wonderful impersonations of their two unsympathetic, calculating parents.
Even as they were consistently controlling, the two managed to mine every
ounce of nuance out of their parts, and had their pitiable moments.

The large cast of minor soloists all made a fine contribution to the
evening, with an outstanding tenor Luca Lombardo doing memorable double duty
as ìNoctambuleî and ìPope of the Fools.î

AndrÈ Engel was the fine director who created beautiful stage pictures
through logical movements in the large scenes with the massive forces. He was
equally adept at developing the complex character relationships, and
addressing the ever changing dynamics between the four principals. There was
nary a false move over the long evening, and the naturalistic blocking
provided the loving clarity and illumination the piece needs. Only the
expansive movement during the love duet on the roof seemed a but strained.
While it mirrored the orchestral outpourings, it seemed a bit out of
character even for two people in love who have discovered their freedom.

Conductor Patrick Davin struck just the right balance between stage and
pit, and he and his orchestra seemed to revel in every detail and delight in
this unjustly neglected work. If some of the atmospheric scenes amble a bit
(the street people, the dress makers), it is never more so that in ìSuor
Angelica,î say and it is frequently more engaging and touching. In any
case, Davin is a conductor to watch for. Excellent.

Paris Operaís production makes such a strong case for ìLouiseî (if
such proof were needed) that I would hope other companies might take note and
plan a revival so their local patrons can similarly rejoice in its many

James Sohre

image_description=Poster of Louise at the OpÈra-Comique in Paris (1900)
product_title=Above: Poster of Louise at the OpÈra-Comique, Paris (1900)