Marks out of ten for product management: zero. Here we have an audio recording of an opera sung in French with no libretto (not even on the web) and no synopsis in the booklet, but instead a sycophantic three-page biography of the composer in laughable English that refers to the aforementioned opera in the future tense, ‘to be created in 2015’ (it opened in Lausanne in November 2014). Good start, Claves.
To be frank, reviewing Michaël Levinas’s Le petit prince with only an 18-year-old scraped French A level and Wikipedia’s plot summary of the admittedly very famous book on which it is based posed quite a headache. It would have been far harder if the principal singers on this live recording of the opera’s transfer to Paris in February 2015 didn’t enunciate with such clarity.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s semi-autobiographical novella tells of a pilot crashing to earth, whereupon he meets the titular prince. The two share various experiences and encounters through which they seek internal peace and some understanding of the world. The ultimate message is, apparently, enshrined in the fox’s observation that ‘one sees clearly only with the heart’. Much of the book’s resonance and reputation comes from its concealing of complex existential questions within riddle and symbolism. Converting that into an opera for children is anything but child’s play.
To my semi-adult ears, which are admittedly unable to draw any solid parallels between text and music beyond the obvious, Levinas’s score is intriguing, evocative, original and frequently beautiful. Its highly coloured recitative style might be compared to Francesco Cavalli’s, and the voices are pitted against vivid writing for ensemble founded squarely on modernist techniques (often atonal, hints of spectralism, lots of clustering and microtonalism, some knowing stylistic pastiche and some absurdist tendencies). Two keyboardists superimpose the above with overlapping broken chords from a prescribed harmonic grid. The vocal writing has clarity at its heart and is exceptionally delivered here, particularly by Jeanne Crousaud in the title-role. But an opera for children? In that regard, it’s Levinas who could do with coming down to earth.
Article's source: Gramophone UK, by, Andrew Mellor, November 2017
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