Fenelon : The Cherry OrchardParis, Palais Garnier,Paris, 2012 (Audio)
Director: Tito Ceccherini
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There is no cherry orchard in composer Philippe Fénelon's new opera "The Cherry Orchard." Instead, in the world-premiere production of Mr. Fénelon's work, based on the revered play by Anton Chekhov, the single set is a strange grotto formed by gnarled gray tree trunks and bare, braided branches overhead. It looks like a malevolent cartoon forest, and it's a bad omen.
Chekhov's play was first performed in 1904, six months before the 44-year-old author died of tuberculosis. It portrays a family of impoverished aristocrats whose beloved estate must be sold; Lopakhin, the newly rich peasant, urges them to sell the cherry orchard to developers, in order to save the house, but they are incapable of action, mired in nostalgic reveries, so he buys the entire estate himself. Written as a bittersweet and sometimes mordant comedy, the play was staged as an elegiac drama by Constantin Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater, with Chekhov's wife Olga Knipper in the central role of Madame Ranevskaya.
The opera made its debut in concert version in December, at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater. The libretto by Russian poet, critic and translator Alexei Parine jumps straight into the play's third act, during a farewell ball, with a prologue, an epilogue and 12 scenes—one highlighting each of the 10 main characters, and two extra for Ranevskaya. In director Georges Lavaudant's staging, aside from the ball's brief polkas and mazurkas—and a ballerina who periodically pirouettes in like a leftover Sugar Plum Fairy—the result is a series of soliloquies, set to music that can't seem to find its way—harsh, sharp, sour, aggressive, with fleeting nods to Tchaikovsky and other composers. Mr. Fénelon's quirky vocal choices have turned the doddering valet Firs into a mezzo-soprano, while the governess Charlotta is written for a bass in drag. There's nothing that could be tagged an aria, and just a lyrical flash or two to give a hint of what might have been.
The all-Russian cast is uniformly excellent, notably sopranos Anna Krainikova as Varya, Elena Kelessidi as Ranevskaya and Ulyana Aleksyuk as Anya.
(Edited from the Wall Street Journal, by Judy Fayard)