[Met Performance] CID:247420
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Esclarmonde {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/19/1976.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debuts: Clifford Grant, Lotfi Mansouri
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 19, 1976
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild for the production funds

Metropolitan Opera Premiere

ESCLARMONDE {1}
Jules Massenet--Alfred Blau/Louis Ferdinand de Gramont

Esclarmonde.............Joan Sutherland
Roland..................Giacomo Aragall
Parséïs.................Huguette Tourangeau
Emperor Phorcas.........Clifford Grant [Debut]
Cléomer.................John Macurdy
Bishop of Blois.........Louis Quilico
Énéas...................John Carpenter
Saracen Envoy...........Nico Castel
Byzantine Herald........Paul Franke

Conductor...............Richard Bonynge

Production..............Lotfi Mansouri [Debut]
Designer................Beni Montresor
Choreographer...........Norbert Vesak

Esclarmonde received ten performances this season.

[This production was borrowed from the San Francisco Opera.]

Review of Thor Eckert Jr. in the 12/13/1976 Christian Science Monitor:

The Metropolitan Opera's first two new productions of the season ["Esclarmonde" and "Lohengrin"] are musical and dramatic triumphs.

The little-known Massenet extravaganza "Esclarmonde" is a stunning vehicle for Joan Sutherland...The American love affair with French opera has been limited to "Manon," "Faust," "Romeo et Juliette," and a paltry handful of others. "Esclarmonde" is vintage French grand opera, written for Sibyl Sanderson of the three-octave range. Miss Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, have revived it - the Met uses the production first seen in San Francisco. Designer Beni Montresor has put all the scenes on scrim drops that, when properly lit, become a castle, a room, a verdant glade, etc. When back-lit they "disappear," are raised and replaced. Montresor's pastel fantasy world sets exactly the right visual tone for the Massenet score.

Is this music from the muse that nurtured "Manon?" Can all that exotic, neo-Straussian richness be from the man most people tend to dismiss after "Manon?" One does not emerge from "Esclarmonde" humming a tune, nor do any principals have a major, show-stopping aria, but the sense of unity, of opera as a totality - not to mention a melodic-atmospheric scene painting of surprising vividness - must make us reconsider the composer.

Mr. Bonynge conducts one of the greatest performances of his career. The orchestra pit is several feet higher than usual - and the orchestra sounds gorgeous for it. Bonynge melds, and blends the sounds perfectly. He has a magnificent cast to help him out.

Miss Sutherland is ravishing vocally. The lowest tones create some problems, the very top lacks ease, but the upper-middle voice is so haunting, so resonant and communicative - there is no sound like it today. "Esclarmonde" is another triumph for her.

Giacomo Aragall is handsome, virile, and the voice - when it does not cloud over - rings brightly and appealingly. Huguette Tourangeau impressed anew in her small role; Louis Quilico's baritone sounded tired and insecure; newcomer Clifford Grant possesses a rich, resonant bass - a striking addition to the roster. John Carpenter, new to the Met this season, has a promising tenor and when he ceases to be so self-conscious, he will fit in on stage.

Debuting director Lotfi Manousri knows just the style that makes this sort of evening click, and he gives it the plus-perfect treatment - stunning posing, groupings, majestic motions, always the right movement at the right time.



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