A Real Joy
'Le Ventre de Paris',
praised by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
praised by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
I went to Venice for this season's Carnival. However, I did not go to La Fenice where the program featured two blockbusters: L'Elisir d'Amore in the same production that was premiered five years ago (A Real Surprise, 3 November 2010) and the well-known and often staged Don Pasquale. In short, two of Donizetti's light operas most frequently in the repertory.
Instead, I thought it more interesting to go and see (as well as listen to) a semi-staged new production of a short opera based on a number of French operettas as well as popular songs of the nineteenth century: Le Ventre de Paris may deserve attention. There's no connection with Emile Zola's gruesome novel with the same title, apart from an ironic reference that, as in Zola's 1873 novel, food and wine are at the center of the work. In Zola's work, the action takes place in the area of the Paris general food market, built between 1854 and 1870. In this piece conceived by Arnaud Marzorati and Florent Siaud, the set is a late nineteenth century dining room where two couples go just to enjoy food and wine.
The production is one the many products of the Centre de Musique Romantique Française, a fully private undertaking of the Bru Foundation. It was established in 2009 in a Renaissance palazzetto in the center of Venice. Its main purpose is to conduct research on French Romantic Music of the period 1780-1910, and to disseminate it with recordings, festivals and even operatic productions. Not only in Venice but all over Europe — also through monographic festivals.
Le Ventre de Paris starts out from an observation : the importance of food and wine, in French operas and operettas of the period. This has largely to do with differences in the availability of food to the various social classes, as well as to the importance French aristocracy and bourgeoisie have always given to cuisine and high quality wines. In grand-operas, the banquet is often the setting where plots are being developed, whilst, for instance, in Italian melodramas the ballroom has a similar role. In operetta, the situations are of course lighter. However, what a discovery to know that the Imperial composer Gaspare Spontini wrote a Liturgie de la Gournandise ('Liturgy of Gluttony') and that a rather un-Shakespearian passage in Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas includes a praise of good wine as a means to 'dissipate sadness'?
Le Ventre de Paris was produced also as a special gift of the Centre de Musique Romantique Française to the International Expo in Milan (June-October 2015). Thus, after a few performances in Paris in May, it will be staged in Milan in June. In September, it can be seen at the Parisian Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Also a long European tour is foreseen.
Florent Siaud's dramaturgy is quite simple: a dinner party where two couples (the soprano Camille Poul, the mezzo Caroline Meng, the tenor David Ghilardi and the baritone Arnaud Marzorati) meet to have a good time around a banquet table set with a lot of food. There is a small ensemble: Daniel Isoir at the piano, Isabelle Saint-Yves on cello, and Mélanie Flahaut playing bassoon.
The foursome talk (or rather sing) about the pleasure of food and drink, also celebrating the aperitif as a real ceremony. The main course is the central point where different types of meat (ie pork, lamb and beef) compete for their culinary qualities. The dinner also becomes a bit carnal. There is a song to the tapeworm. The conclusion is a prayer to God; if we are meant to pass away, please let us do it when our bellies are full of good food and our palates feel the taste of top wine.
The mosaic is made up of arias, duets, trios and quartets by well known French composers such as Bizet, Thomas, Offenbach and Hervé along with internationally less familiar authors such as Aulagnier, Lecocq, Audran, Ponchon, Bugnot and Hyspa (mostly operetta specialists). Good young voices and lovely instrumental ensemble made the evening a real joy.
Le Ventre de Paris was staged in the palatial Grand School of Saint John the Evangelist in Venice (La Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista, the seat of the Mutual Aid Corporation of Building Arts in the Renaissance) on 10 February 2015. After an hour and fifteen minutes of singing about food and wine, the audience was invited to a French buffet.