Cher Public

Not pretty or safe or easy

La Cieca hears that the Théâtre du Châtelet will continue its series of Stephen Sondheim productions with Passion, set to star Natalie Dessay (as Fosca, bien sûr!) and Lambert Wilson, with Fanny Ardant directing. Said Sternstunde will reportedly transpire in March 2016.

  • pirelli

    I wonder if they’ll raise the keys of Fosca’s songs. (Sondheim originally had a more soprano-ish voice in mind, from what I’ve read, and then reconceived the role lower when they decided to cast Donna Murphy.)

    Musically speaking (from hearing it on the radio), the Chatelet’s Into The Woods was a gigantic mess, way way oversung from the first “I weeeeeesh” onwards, with little regard for any crispness or meaning in the text. Passion‘s score is, vocally speaking, even more a case of “prima la parole” -- I love the score, but the vocal music is very specifically text-driven, rather than with melodies that soar for the primary sake of soaring melodies. I tend to think it’s not a great choice for many opera companies because of that (and also because of the huge amount of dialogue involved). So we shall see…

    • steveac10

      I wonder if any Sondheim sanctioned alternate lines/new keys exist from when Racette did it in Minnesota a few years back?

      • pirelli

        I didn’t even know Racette had done the role. Interesting.

        Sondheim would not have to approve of new keys. Transpositions in theatre scores are very common (and not a big deal at all, though some people like to make scandals out of it) -- it’s more an issue of having the time (and ideally, money) to create the new scores and orchestra parts. But, new lyrics should be only done with his permission, and new dialogue would likewise have to be approved by Lapine.

        • aulus agerius

          Yes, and William Burden sang the other lead. I’d love to have seen that -- but I didn’t have my travelin’ shoes yet by then.

        • Ilka Saro

          Transposing is the first thing I thought of, and seems very reasonable to me. The question would be how high to transpose, and how it would affect the overall musical. Although Passion isn’t strictly durchkomponiert (sp?) there are extended continuous passages.

          As I recall, Fosca’s role in the original key goes down to an F below middle C. Ulrica territory! To transpose adequately for Dessay’s voice is not a question of half steps or single steps. Just guessing. But I am sure the result will be worth it.

          I love Passion. I don’t think it’s to the taste of the public generally, but it’s a terrific piece and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s attractive to opera singers.

          • There is also the possibility of using puntature, i.e., small rewrites to the vocal line so that the key remains the same but the artist is singing different notes in the chord, or, when necessary, a phrase or part of a phrase an octave higher than notated. The standard vocal score of Carmen, for example, includes a number of such puntature to make the role more suitable for a soprano.

            • Ilka Saro

              Good point! (No pun intended.) All the same, the tessitura of the role might still be lower than Dessay is comfortable with.

              I have enjoyed Dessay tremendously over the years, but I have also been irked by her habit of sometimes singing so lightly that there is no resonance in the tone. I think miking is a good remedy for that, and possibly also for addressing problems of tessitura in Fosca’s written keys. All the same, I think her part will probably get kicked up a few steps.

            • pirelli

              There’s one place in the Act IV duet where 2 options are offered for Carmen to sing, options that are a 3rd apart (“Laisse-moi, Don Jose, je ne te suivrai pas”) -- but there are no “puntature” somehow, at least in the Schirmer score -- both options are printed in large notes, as if Carmen were supposed to be singing in harmony with herself. Given the dramatic, almost “psycho” feel of the music at that point, sometimes I think Jose could be hallucinating and seeing TWO Carmens, or even a double-headed Carmen, singing in 3rds with herself. (Might be fun for a film version sometime.) ;-)

              And yes, the score not only has a lot of “small note” options, but also suggests places where Carmen might switch lines with one of the other women. Similar to what happens when you have a soprano Rosina in Barbiere -- originally Berta is given some of the higher parts, but depending on the singers, they may switch in the big ensembles.

          • pirelli

            “Although Passion isn’t strictly durchkomponiert (sp?) there are extended continuous passages.”

            True, but it’s also quite amazing what kinds of wizardry can go on behind the scenes. I don’t think it would be too touch to find ways of transitioning to new keys in much of Passion -- but I can think of things I’ve heard where songs actually get transposed mid-song, even.

            One was “Poor Wand’ring One” as done by Ronstadt in the Papp Pirates (along with her part in the Act II “Foeman” ensemble). Perhaps the big surprise for everyone was that she had those high notes and the agility. But clearly her middle range (the lower head voice) was shot. So they found ways to effect transpositions during the song so that the main tune was lower, and out of the weak middle range, but that the high passages could be in the original key.

            The other was Robert Goulet, as Emile in a tour of South Pacific in the late 80’s. His first time through “Some Enchanted Evening” was in the original key (C), but he didn’t go for the interpolated E at the end, staying on a C. Ok, fine. But there’s a certain showiness in going that extra third up -- so when the song was now in Bb at the end of the act, I wasn’t surprised -- figuring he’d go for the climactic interpolated D. . But then -- and I wish I could remember precisely how they did it -- they managed to move the song yet a step lower right before the “once you have found her” section -- so that he was now singing in Ab -- and that same C he ended with the first time now “appeared” to be showier as the high third at the end of the song. Quite sneaky, if you ask me. But also very smart, I have to admit.

            So, keeping the musical flow of Passion shouldn’t be that hard at all, comparatively. ;-)

  • messa di voce

    “Fanny Ardant directing”

    Shades of Callas directing Vespri.

    • Yes, I believe this constitutes what the French like to call “dix kilos de diva dans un sac de cinq kilos.”

  • alejandro

    Well, that should be interesting. She’ll act the shit out of it, but I wish she’d do Sunday in the Park with George. She’d be an amazing Dot.

    • Baritenor

      Maybe 20 years ago.

  • opera-cake

    ” with Fanny Ardant directing. ”

    She directed Véronique (an opera by André Messager) at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2008, and it was truly dreadful. That level of incompetence and kitsch is difficult to forget.

    She should keep acting, keep pronouncing all “é”s and “er”s as “ai”s and it will all be good for her.

    Letting her direct on a big stage — while so many talented directors are waiting to be given a job — is a disrespectful to directors, to theater and finally to the public.

    • opera-cake

      “A” disrespectful. Man! :)

    • manou

      This affected pronunciation of Ardant’s has always driven me up the wall.

    • I feared the worst (as I so often do) but in the end didn’t find that Véronique that bad.

      • “Chatons Pauline Viardot”, in which Ardant actually talked, was much more trying, I thought.

  • tiger1

    When Sir Thomas Allen sang Sweeney Todd at ROH, it was obvious (I saw it live) that the part was maybe one or two steps too low for him (although he was, nevertheless, great). When he later mentioned it to Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Sondheim asked why transpositions had not simply been done. So I am sure he would have no issue with some adaptions for Ms Dessay.

    • pirelli

      The real problem, of course, would be the sheer amount of music to be transposed, and what would also need to be done if duets or ensembles needed to be moved as well (for instance, the Act II “Johanna” Quartet might have possibly lied low for Allen, but they could only raise the key if it were comfortable for the Anthony and possibly the 2 women as well). “A Little Priest” lies pretty low, but movng it up would only work if the Mrs. Lovett could also do a higher key. And so on. The licensed materials do provide “Epiphany” a whole step higher (as done for George Hearn, I believe) and also there are 2 choices of keys for Anthony’s solo version of “Johanna.” On the filmed version of the original tour (with Lansbury and Hearn), Betsy Joslyn, who had moved up to the role of Johanna from her original spot in the ensemble, sings “Green Finch” a step higher than usual -- which seems like an odd choice, but maybe the lower parts of the song sat better for her there?

      Sondheim has gone on record to suggest transposing -- particularly pieces that might lie too high, such as “Later” in A Little Night Music and Zangara’s number, “How I Saved Roosevelt” from Assassins.

      • Uninvolved Bystander

        Why am I not surprised that pirelli knows so much about “Sweeney Todd”?

        • manou

          Maybe it’s been a Good year for him.

          • pirelli

            “Maybe it’s been a Good year for him.”

            That’s a rather tired joke, my dear. ;-)

            • manou

              …and also a little flat.

        • pirelli

          Ha! Well, I’ve been a fan of the piece for a long time, but I also was musical director for a production of it back in the fall.

      • Baritenor

        In Betsy Joslyn’s case, it’s not just “Green Finch” but the entire scene that has been transposed up a step. Presumedly this is done for the benefit of Chris Groendaal, who was more of a tenor than a baritone at the time and would probably have found the original key of “Ah Miss” and “Johanna” a little too low for comfort. It’s definitely to Joslyn’s detriment, but he sounds great.

        The lowest parts of Sweeney’s role (Barber and His Wife, The Johanna Quartet) were definetly uncomfortable for Allen. I’m curious to see how Gerald Finley does in SF this fall.

        • pirelli

          I’m not so sure it was done for Groenendaal instead of Joslyn. It would have been easy enough, surely, to find a way to get from the original key of “Johanna” to the raised key of “Ah, Miss” had it just been about him, rather than committing to having to transpose yet another song (and of course remember it was all manuscript back then -- no Finale to do the work for us, lol.)

          Perhaps, if she wanted “Green Finch” up AND he wanted “Johanna” up (and curiously the higher key is coincidentally the one in the rental materials -- though it’s in the lower Garber key in the published score) the staff decided “Ah Miss” might as well go up a step too.

          Of course, we’re all guessing…;-)

          • pirelli

            Oops -- I meant “to get from the original key of ‘Green Finch’ to the raised key of ‘Ah, Miss.'”

        • armerjacquino

          As a tenor who has sung Antony, I can confirm that ‘Johanna’ is all but impossible to sing in less than two voices. Trying to equalise the registers on ‘I feel you’ and ‘I was half convinced’ etc is how you spend ALL your time with the MD.

          The Johanna quartet, on the other hand, is a joy to sing. All those crunchy harmonies with Todd, right in the middle of the voice. If you can sing at all, that number will make you sound like a champ.

  • Melot’s Younger Brother

    Has anyone heard Dessay recently? She’s scheduled for an LA Philharmonic concert in April and I’m wondering is she’s still up to singing “selections from Giulio Cesare.”

    • armerjacquino

      She may not sing staged opera any more but she’s keeping busy:

      Apr 15 Concert NoRole Clermont-Ferrand
      Apr 15 Concert Soprano Los Angeles(Phil) C: Haïm;
      Apr 15 Recital Soprano Massy
      Mar 15 Recital La Coruna(Palacio)
      Feb 15 Concert soprano Paris(CE) C: Haïm / J Malgoire;
      Feb 15 Recital soprano Versailles
      Jan 15 Recital Soprano Genève(Opera)
      Jan 15 Recital soprano Bordeaux
      Nov 14 Concert soprano Paris(CE) C: Haïm;
      Nov 14 Concert

  • Natalie sings the works of Michel Legrand. I think she acquits herself quite well and is learning how to work with the “microphone”. I don’t see it as a stretch at all for her to take on the role of Fosca.(I own this CD and play it from time to time. Much better than Dark Hope.)


    • pirelli

      “Much better than Dark Hope.”

      Most things are. ;-)

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