Hérold - Zampa

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday March 12 2008

Conductor: William Christie. Production: Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïeff. Sets and costumes: Macha Makeïeff. Zampa: Richard Troxell. Alphonse: Bernard Richter. Camille: Patricia Petibon. Daniel: Léonard Pezzino. Ritta: Doris Lamprecht. Dandolo: Vincent Ordonneau. Les Arts Florissants.

Presumably the chance to see a staged production of Zampa is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Has it ever been recorded in full? The presence of William Christie and Les Arts Florissants on the cast list implied this would be an attempt at a respectful reconstruction of the work. That wasn’t exactly what we got…

The production team was the same as for the baleful staging of Chabrier’s L’Etoile earlier this season, which was so stupidly slapstick that we left at half time. Here they chose to camp the whole thing up, presenting Zampa as a parody of romantic opera, rather than a real one. The result was the same as when directors choose (as they often do) to overplay the comedy in Händel instead of respecting the delicate balance between comic and tragic: the goofing around detracts seriously from the power the dramatic parts have to move. Here, I found it surprising and annoying at first, but in the end, as it’s hardly a “world heritage” masterwork, entertaining enough.

Visually we had the same gaudily-painted, trembling flats and furnishing-fabric costumes as for the Chabrier (for all I know some of them may have been the same). The result was, to put it in a nutshell, Shrek invaded by Pirates of the Caribbean.

Musically it was fairly tough going. Hardly anyone, these days, can sing this kind of stuff, halfway between Rossini and Meyerbeer. It would be interesting to grab a score – though for Zampa that must be hard to do– and see just what the leading singers' ranges are. Patricia Petitbon, though seriously stretched by her role's dramatic requirements, just about pulled through. So, too, did the Swiss tenor Bernard Richter, with a light yet ringing, "small-scale-Rossini" sound, except at the very top, where it fell apart with a gulp. Richard Troxell did not, though he did roll his eyes and twirl his moustache well. Doris Lamprecht confirmed what she demonstrated in Véronique not so many weeks back: that she's a very good comedienne. The comic antics made up for the fact that the part often demanded more agility than she could supply.

William Christie’s fondness for whipping tempi up to a frenzy made it no easier for anyone, the chorus especially. His band sounded ill-at-ease with Hérold's score. Stage and pit were occasionally not together, but above all Christie went so fast at times that the "period" instruments had no time to sound, string detail became a scurry and the singers couldn’t develop a proper note… There were some dodgy moments with cross-rhythms too.

Still, I was glad to get a chance to hear a work so much admired (though not, it seems, by Berlioz) in its day - unlike some of the sourer sort of critics, who doubt it was worth reviving. What surprised me most was how odd Hérold's text-setting was, full of misplaced accents, just like French pop music today.


  1. I entirely agree with your judgment. Were that work the one of a well-known composer, maybe the staff and Jerome Deschamps would have made a real and serious job, taking Zampa for a real romantic opera, full of fantasy but full of drama too, like Verdi or... Shakespeare like to do. Instead, Zampa doesn't know who he is, a big chief or a false bad guy, Ritta a Racine servant (act I) or a Moliere one (act II), and so on. I hope to see it again, played by singers-actors well directed.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Wagner - Lohengrin

Mussorgsky - Boris Godunov (1869)

Berlioz - Benvenuto Cellini