We've been to plenty of opera in sacred spaces. Now for the profane.
Last week in the Bernese Jura region of French-speaking Switzerland, way up north where late June evening lows predicate dignity (via a Chanel mini leather jacket), OC left miasma-wreathed Milan for gluttony, absinthe, silence, precision and early curfews. And painfully good hair days, thanks to abated humidity.
While exploring the arcadian little towns, castles and battlement walls on three blue lakes -- Morat, Neuchâtel and Bienne -- cities described by natives as being evocative (color wise) of butter or slate or beaver tail, we dropped a few days into Moutier to take in the city's Festival Stand'été, a two-week festival of jazz, opera, folk and theater (Mumenschanz!?)
Sure, the big Swiss cities flush with CHF can get the big names and bigger egos (in fact, we followed-up our French Swiss tour with a bit of luxury casting at the Zuercher Festspiele, reviews forthcoming), but we wanted to check out the smaller, younger, cheekier festivals in grit-free air and guilt-free fondue.
So off to Moutier, founded by St-Germain around 640AD, to visit friends and take-in a classic (but snipped) Giulio Cesare with the Orchestre Musique Des Lumières, flogged into Haendelian submission by conductor Facundo Agudin in stoic effort that ran a bit heavy on legato but was brightened up by harpsichord.
Tickets in hand, we rolled up to the club, but the club was a wooden barn with ambitions, a former shooting range and livestock shelter during inclement weather. At 8pm, Act I in medias res, an adjacent church's bells pealed through the venue, an incongruous mix of the countryside and Baroque opera, bird semaphore and crepuscular insect songs passing through light-leaking slats. There was magic here. Or maybe we were high on crisp, thin mountain air. Whatevs. During the second act intermission, festival organizers dropped fleece blankets onto chairs as the mountain winds slid through wood into the musty (we're just gonna say it), livestocky air (this city girl isn't nimble with country adjectives). Blankets at the operahouse? F**k yeah. Fastball up & in, slider low & away. The only thing missing was s'mores.
Confronted with the venue's rustic challenges, director Vincent Scalbert and his creative team gave it their best DIY glamour, via video projections such as falling snow or careening butterflies, quite atmospheric but it exorcised the libretto's noble, heroic undercurrents. The young cast (frankly none of whom aside from Lisandro Abadie's skillful, firm Cesare were stylized Haendelian singers nor counter-tenors for this edition) made up in passion for what they lacked in style: Hot-blooded Italian soprano, Raffaella Milanesi was a ravashing Cleopatra (we'd like to see her as an uncomplicated Puccini heroine or in Verdi's lighter lyric roles), Carine Séchaye brought fits of Sesto hysteria and Mélodie Ruvio gave a prim, proper Cornelia.
The festival closed today with a recital by hometown hero, Swiss-Italian pianist Olivier Cavé in Johann Sebastian Bach tracks from his new CD "Nel gusto Italiano", the same delirious ones we heard him play on an enchanted January night at La Fenice, Venice -- not that Haendel in a barn was any less enchanting...