Met To Perform A Monumental Operatic Masterpiece By French Composer Olivier Messiaen
The great french composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) wrote many quirky masterpieces based on his singular fusion of devout Catholic faith and mysticism , birdsong , and Buddhist and Hindu philosophy , but wrote only one opera , which had its world premiere at the Paris opera in 1983 . And what an opera ! The opera is called St. Francois D'Assise ( Saint francis of Assisi ) , a natiural subject for a devout catholic composer .
But it is no ordinary opera . It is a vast an dauntingly complex work calling for a huge orchestra and chorus which lasst about four hours and is extremely static froma dramatic viewpoint , and the role of St. Francis, sung by a bass baritone, is one of the longest and most diffiuclt in opera . Naturally , the opera has had relatively few productions in the last 30 years, nor is it ever likely to become as popular as such staples of the operatic repertoire as La Boheme,Carmen and Aida .
Recently, the Metropolitan opera has released plans for upcoming repertoire in the next few seasons, and lo and behold, the Messiaen opera will receive a production in 2017 . This is extraordinary news , and the outstanding African-American bass Eric Owen, whose protrayal of the evil Nibelung dwarf Alberich in the Met's new Ring cycle has received considerable critical acclaim , will take on the formidable demands of the role of St. Francis.
The San Francisco opera did the Americna premiere of St. Francis several years ago, and there have been a number of concert performances ,some of only extended excerpts, , but this will be the New York stage premiere . The Belgian opera manager Gerard Mortier ,who resigned as general manager of the New York City opera a few years ago before taking over because of lack of siufficient funds for his ambitious plans for the company was plaaning to do the opera in New York, but his vision was thwarted . But the Met, which has far greater resources an dmoney, should be able to do justice to the huge work .
One problem however, may be the many conservative members of the Met''s audience, who are extremely reluctant to hear challenging rare operas , and who may find the work baffling and leave early , as they sometimes do with th emore esoteric works of the operatic repertoire . Let''s hope the opera will not play to sparse audiences ! The production will certainly not be cheap .
ther ehave been two CD recordings of St. Francis, a live one from the Paris premiere ocnducted by Seiji Ozawa, a longtime champion of Messiaen's music but now ailing , and one on Deitsche grammophon based on a production at the Salzburg fesitval conducted by another notable Messiaen specialist, Japanese-American conductor Kent Nagano . These may not be easy to find, but are well worth ooking for, and there is a DVD of a production from the Netherlands opera in Amsterdam . If you don't mind a musicla challenge, give these a try ! The opera may grow on you, as it did with me from the two CD recordings. I haven't seen the DVD , but hope to soon .