This audience at the Opéra Bastille in Paris turned out to be highly enthusiastic, rewarding all four of the lead singers in Verdi’s Troubadour with bravos and prolonged applause after their main arias. There’s a special word for this in German, Szenenapplaus (literally ‘scene applause’ but I don’t know of a special word for it in English or French). Some conservative Germans disapprove of Szenenapplaus on the grounds that in interrupts the flow of the music and the drama. The singers like it, however, and some of them have strong opinions about which cities or countries have the most responsive audiences.
For Sondra Radvanovsky, the Canadian soprano who sang the role of Leonora, I imagine Paris must be high up on the list, because the applause she received several times was so loud, prolonged and ecstatic (once even with rhythmic clapping) that even I started to find it a bit much. The rule in this situation is that the singer has to stay in character and just freeze and wait, not bow or respond to the applause.
In an interview (in English) made at the Bastille Opera, she said the public in Paris is “extremely knowledgeable. They really let you know, good or bad,” how your performance was, “and I appreciate that.”
The role of Count Luna was sung by Želiko Lučić, who spent ten years in the Frankfurt Opera ensemble and now sings the big dramatic baritone roles at major opera houses all over the world. During his time in Frankfurt he came twice as the featured guest to my opera appreciation courses Opern-Gespräche (in German) and Frankfurt OperaTalk (in English).
Želiko Lučić was one of three baritones who took turns singing the role of Count Luna on the lakefront stage in Bregenz, Austria, in the summers of 2005 and 2006, and Sondra Radvanovsky was one of the sopranos who took turns singing Leonora.
All you loyal readers of my post Verdi’s Troubadour in Bregenz might recall that in Bregenz the opera was played in and on a huge stage set that “looked like cross between a medieval castle and a huge modern oil refinery.” Since Bregenz is one of the few opera venues where photography is allowed during the performance, I was able to show how the story unfolded in this setting.
The stage set at the Bastille Opera was more abstract, consisting mainly of two rows of large square prisms that could be raised or lowered in various ways. At first I found them irritating because they were sticking up out of the floor in such a way that they looked like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it didn’t seem appropriate to me. While the Gypsies (Roma) in Verdi’s Troubadour would certainly qualify as an oppressed minority, I don’t think it would be right to equate them with the Jews, and the production did not attempt to do so.
In any case, the scene changed during the course of the evening as the square prisms either were lowered completely into the floor so only their square tops were visible, or they were raised into the air high above the stage so their square holes could serve as foxholes or trenches for the soldiers (dressed in blue WW1 uniforms for Count Luna’s troops and brown for Manrico’s rebels) while they were waiting to go into battle.
Once there was a strangely emotive scene where the chorus was singing about a soul (Manrico’s) that was about to die and ascend into heaven, as one of the square prisms slowly rose into the air above the stage.
And one time (every stage manager’s nightmare) it happened that one of the prisms was being lowered but didn’t quite find its hole, so it was leaning sideways while the rest of the prisms disappeared into the floor. The problem was quickly remedied, however, by someone manipulating the four cables from above.
The back of the stage was completely spanned by a large metal mirror which had the effect of doubling the number of soldiers that were visible, so it looked as though Count Luna had a huge army under his command (though I could also see the orchestra conductor sometimes at the bottom of the mirror).
The stage director for this production was Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus) and the set designer was Alfons Flores — the same team that had done the production of Arthur Honegger’s Jean d’Arc au bûcher at the Frankfurt Opera the year before.
My photos in this post are from 2007 and 2018. I wrote the text in 2018.
See also: Guided tour of the Opéra Bastille.