La Juive

Halévy
La Juive [Concert Performance]

Rachel – Marina Poplavskaya
Eléazar – Dennis O’Neill
Eudoxie – Nicole Cabell
Brogni – Alastair Miles
Léopold – Dario Schmunck
Ruggiero – Joachim Seipp
Albert – Matthew Rose
Town Crier – Charbel Mattar
First Citizen – John Morrissey
Second Citizen – Christopher Lackner
Officer – Neil Gillespie
Hangman – Brian Secombe

Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Daniel Oren


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 21 September, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This was a very impressive concert performance of “La Juive”, conducted intensely by Daniel Oren who brought out the drama, tension and variety in Halévy’s music, with good contributions from the orchestra and an outstanding performance from the chorus, whose hushed singing was delectable, whose attack in loud passages was thrilling. Praise is owed to the choral singers and chorus-master Renato Balsadonna.

The opera was cut to three hours’ duration. If even that seems long, there were no sighs of restiveness among the audience. Nor was there a weak link in the cast. Indeed, the main five soloists were in excellent form, As Léopold, posing as a Jew under the name Samuel, the Argentinean tenor Dario Schmunck tackled the high tessitura successfully in full voice, a voice that was much more than a mere tenorino, possessing something of a bite that enabled it to be heard in ensembles.

Léopold, actually a prince, is in love with Rachel, the Jewess of the title, though he is married to Princess Eudoxie, sung here by the lyric soprano Nicole Cabell, winner of the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World, I was told that her quiet singing on her first appearance was not heard clearly by some of the audience upstairs, but she opened up more after the interval to reveal an easily produced sound that flowed smoothly both in cantilena and in the coloratura of her big aria.

“La Juive” is an opera of religious bigotry, with Cardinal Brogni representing the intolerance of the Roman Catholic Church and Eléazar the dogmatic Jew who cries, “Maudits soient les Chrétiens” (“Accursed be the Christians”). As Brogni, Alistair Miles brought a good vocal line to “Si la rigueur”, even if the voice lacked some lushness on low notes. It is a role which he has undertaken quite often, and he convincingly conveyed the cardinal’s rigidity. He was at his best as Brogni fulminates and curses in Act Four and, contrastingly, in the gentle little duet with Rachel.

Opposed to Brogni is Eléazar, extremely well taken by Dennis O’Neill, who interspersed the venom-spewing with some thoughtful, considered singing. “Dieu de nos pères”, for example, was given a beautifully sung opening by O’Neill and Marina Poplavskaya. He has always had an attractive tone at reduced volume, displayed in this scene and in the first few lines of “Rachel, quand du Seigneur”, the most famous piece in the score, with its lovely introduction for winds over pizzicato strings, O’Neill inflecred those lines with remorse (and some delicious head-notes), quietly, introspectively, before allowing Eléazar’s anger to take over. This was an intelligent interpretation.

That leaves the Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya as the eponymous Rachel. Let me say now that she was terrific, absolutely terrific. The voice is of a very fine quality, a lirico spinto with a gleam to it, and she made it do just what she wanted. The aria “Il va venir” was glorious. Sung with much feeling (I don’t mean crude emoting), it contained subtle nuances, delightful shading and intelligent phrasing. In the ensuing duet with Léopold, she showed that power was hers too: the voice so well placed and supported. In “Dieu de nos pères”, mentioned above, her half-voice was a steady stream of silvery sound set against the sotto voce chorus. Although this was a concert performance (the second of two), she reacted to the situation and the words of the others. If she does not have a successful career, the gods are unjust … and deaf.

Whether or not you were at either performance (the first was two days earlier), you may wish to listen to the BBC broadcast on 11th November.

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