Rodgers & Hammerstein - The Sound of Music

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Wednesday December 30 2009.

Conductor: Kevin Farrell. Production: Emilio Sagi. Sets: Daniel Bianco. Choreography: Sarah Miles. Costumes: Jesús Ruiz. Lighting: Caetano Vilela. Maria Rainer: Sylvia Schwartz. Captain Georg von Trapp: Rod Gilfry. Mother Abbess: Kim Criswell. The Baroness Elsa Schraeder: Christine Arand. Max Detweiler: Laurent Alvaro. Rolf Gruber: James McOran-Campbell. Liesl Von Trapp: Carin Gilfry. Orchestre Pasdeloup. Châtelet Chorus.

There isn't a strong tradition of musicals in Paris (apart from awful "Pop Idol" type ones) so this was the first stage production of The Sound of Music in France and possibly the best performance, here, of any musical I've seen. I was told, last night, that some American visitors have claimed it would have been ten times better on Broadway. Maybe they didn't get the best cast; and maybe it wouldn't have been ten times better (it couldn't be) but just ten times different: this is a wholly European production, dealing with the work as an opera would be dealt with.

Not, however, in any "Eurotrash" way. It might have been set in Afghanistan, but wasn't. When we took our seats we were faced with an impressive painting (in fact, as we would soon see, a gauze) of a magnificent, blue, snow-capped mountain. The nuns became visible through it, and it eventually rose to reveal in full what would be a single basic set: on each side, two baroque portals and cornices painted in the blue-and-white "mountain" motif, serving equally well as convent walls and the Captain's house. Flagstones on the stage apron gave way to grass (so the house, in interior scenes, was carpeted with it) rising to the distant horizon and a blue sky, and Maria's bedroom with its famous curtains or a wall of French doors descended when needed, as did a whole bunch of big chandeliers for the ball, though it took place outside. So did the wedding, the whole lawn covered by Maria's giant, white train. For the festival concert, a grand "opera curtain" gauze was lowered, and it was a chilling moment, in a city that hasn't forgotten it was occupied in the last war, when Nazi guards and officers appeared in spotlights around the auditorium to keep an eye on proceedings. The family hid, in the convent garden, under a Nazi flag as vast as Maria's train that disappeared down a hole as the final chorus rang out. Costumes were all excellent under flattering, peaches-and-cream lighting.

The audience loved it, and rightly so. The cast was very strong indeed, starting with the excellent Sylvia Schwartz, whose voice was rounder and a good deal more interesting than Julie Andrews' and whose look was a good deal more feminine. Rod [sic] Gilfrey scowled at the end as if not satisfied with his performance, but he was fine, and Kim Criswell was unmistakeably Kim Criswell, though now a touch short-winded. I must put in a special word for Laurent Alvaro; if I don't, his friends, some of whom I know, will complain. It was good to have the full orchestra Pasdeloup in the pit and a pity Kevin Farrell didn't push for some less placid tempi: we might have got out for dinner earlier.

Overall a very entertaining evening, much more so than Dialogues des Carmélites would have been, albeit both end with the protagonists getting what they deserve.

Here, Maestro Wenarto sings "Climb Every Mountain".


  1. This is Rod Gilfry. I scowled mightily at the end of that performance, but not because I was unsatisfied with my performance or anyone else's. It was because there were several people (5?) in the audience taking pictures all through the performance, and while I don't mind being photographed, (even though cameras are forbidden) each time they would take a photo, an extremely bright, red light would shine toward the stage! The flashes were turn off, but the red lights (either the auto-focus or red-eye feature of these cameras) were extremely bright. This was EXTREMELY distracting and compromised my performance. I even sang the wrong words and cut off too soon in one of the ensembles of the "concert scene" because I was completely thrown off by the bright, red lights! I was scowling at the stupid people who were taking the pictures, (especially one in the second row on my far left) hoping they would notice (but none of them did). My wife (in the audience) scolded me for my scowl, until I told her what was going on.

  2. I don't usually reply to comments as it seems the best policy to avoid getting drawn into fruitless discussions, but in this case it's only polite to say thank you for going to the trouble of explaining - quite unnecessarily when you must have far better things to do! It always surprises me anyone finds this blog as I do nothing to publicise it except among acquaintances. I see I must take care what I write!


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