At the Paris Opera, a Biblical Tale Told With Rothko and Children | Modern Society of USA

At the Paris Opera, a Biblical Tale Told With Rothko and Children

At the Paris Opera, a Biblical Tale Told With Rothko and Children

PARIS — You can’t always expect to understand the work of Romeo Castellucci. But you’re sure to be awed by its beauty.

Especially when the Italian director — really, a polymathic theatrical artist — stages opera. His productions are rich in symbols and enigmas; each movement leads to a picture-perfect tableau. A “Moses und Aron” at the Paris Opera in 2015 dealt almost entirely in stark contrasts of black and white. “Salome,” at the Salzburg Festival last summer, placed its antiheroine in a pool of milk, serenading the severed head of a horse.

Mr. Castellucci’s latest project, Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” (“The First Homicide”), which continues at the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier through Feb. 23, is tame by comparison: relatively direct, yet still striking.

“It’s a portrait of Cain,” Mr. Castellucci said of Scarlatti’s 1707 oratorio, an account of the Cain and Abel story, in an interview under the ornate chandeliers of the Garnier’s grand foyer. “But it’s really about innocence.”

To that end, during the oratorio’s second part Mr. Castellucci removes the singers from the stage, placing them in the orchestra pit and nearby boxes, and replaces them with children miming the roles onstage. A story of jealousy and murder, in his telling, becomes one of rediscovering lost innocence, of adults in search of their youthful doppelgängers.

Spoiler alert: They are found, eventually. But not before a journey abounding in imaginative stage magic — with layers of lighting and scrims, Mr. Castellucci conjures vast Rothko canvases that have the soft seamlessness of a James Turrell — reaches its end. Here is some of the production’s arresting imagery.

For the scene in which Eve learns she will be a mother, Mr. Castellucci thought of the Annunciation — the angel Gabriel delivering the news to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. So he turned to “Annunciation With St. Margaret and St. Ansanus,” an Italian Gothic triptych by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi that now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.

But he turned it upside down. As Eve sings of her coming motherhood, the massive altarpiece is lowered, slowly, above her head. “It’s a kind of guillotine,” Mr. Castellucci said. “A menace.”

It’s difficult to keep track of how many scrims are in play at any given moment during the production. They seem to be constantly in motion: rising, falling, accompanied now and then by luminous rods and rotating objects obscured to the point of fuzziness.

At one point, a shapeless mound is inflated, eventually assuming the humanoid form of God. He is larger than life, appearing to exist in an ethereal void separate from Adam, Eve and their children. At the foot of the stage, he is more humbly presented, and sung, by the countertenor Benno Schachtner.

Part I of “Il Primo Omicidio” exists in a surreal landscape. (Those Rothko homages, by the way, are from Mr. Castellucci’s interpretations of the painter’s color fields as landscapes.) Part II is more grounded. Literally. The curtain rises to reveal tall grasses and rocks. But the vista is still otherworldly; the night sky at the back of the stage feels extremely close, like the views of outer space from the tiny planets of “The Little Prince.”

The switch from adult singers to children happens the moment Cain murders Abel. “We are in the domain of childhood,” Mr. Castellucci said. “It is a childish mythology.”

Before the final scene of the production, in which the adult Adam and Eve rediscover their lost child doubles, Mr. Castellucci poignantly meditates on the afterlives of Cain and Abel.

For a brief moment, Abel rises from the dead and is recognized before he walks offstage alone and, we’re meant to feel, forgotten. Cain, shamed yet also crowned, is passed around a group of children in modern dress.

In the shuffle, Cain moves offstage as well. He’s replaced by a crudely shaped stuffed version of himself that is also passed around and sent offstage. By the end, the children are playing with a ball that still bears some resemblance to Cain: the lower half the same shade of brown as his pants, the middle and top the color of his skin and crown.

So Cain lives on. With each generation he is increasingly abstracted, but the power of his cautionary tale remains.

Source link