What went wrong with the production of Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict, as rendered recently at Paris' Opéra Comique? Frankly, we at the Department of the Foreign Person at the Théâtre are still scratching our head, and with good reason: we have a mosquito bite. Meanwhile, we are trying to figure out what went wrong with the show.
This was a production that left us a bit troubled, for a reason we find difficult to admit to ourselves. That's because this reason is: puppets. This department finds itself very much in conflict over this, inasmuch as puppets are one of our primary Areas of Professional Interest, which means it is one of those things you can tick on an application alongside Communications, or at least it WOULD be if anybody actually believed it was an Area of Professional Interest, and that we are not just a little arrested weenie who likes playing with dolls. We will have you know, for the record, that it is an ENTIRELY viable Area of Professional Interest, especially for us little arrested weenies who like playing with dolls. So there.
But back to the production. Now don't get us wrong: we are infinitely grateful that puppetry is so highly esteemed in France. However, this is no excuse for outfitting opera singers as hideous Guignol marionnettes, their faces immobilized under approximately ten tons of makeup (each), their eyes unblinking black holes. In fact, this department never looked directly at their eyes, for fear of turning to stone.
And we have not yet mentioned: the hopping. These estimable performers (and again, don't get us wrong; they were) had been directed to HOP everywhere, we guess to evoke the jerky motions of real marionnettes on strings, the result being that they were obliged at all times to skitter around the stage, then jump, like this: tiktiktiktiktikHUNH!!!! Now this department does not wish to make unjust generalizations, but, how shall we put this? Opera singers are not generally small persons; therefore, as a Concerned Foreigner, we would like to suggest (are you listening, French government?) that federal measures be put in place to prevent opera singers from EVER jumping in any way, shape, or form, thus avoiding unnecessary tragedy and seismic action. Thank you for listening.
Of course, as we have noted, these were first-class performers. They did everything in their power to overcome the production's flaws, to keep the spotlight squarely on their powerful voices, their formidable presences.* And in the end, everything turns out happily, with the celebrated dénouement** in which Béatrice and Bénédict declare their love, and the audience hopes fervently that they (Béatrice and Bénédict) will never breed and people the world with hideous marionnette-children.
Naturally, we realize we are leaving ourself open to argument here, so if someone at the Opéra would like to debate these matters, we say, in our best French, "Bring it on, bébé." After all, they have a right: we didn't even pay for our ticket; it was a gift. Although, if you consider the four euros we had to pay for the experience of a can of Orangina at the interval, we'd argue we are more than even.
* We didn't say it WORKED.
** Literally, "tiktiktiktiktikHUNH!!!!"
©2010 Nicola McEldowney