After an acclaimed Parsifal that is now part of the Metropolitan Opera’s repertoire, François Girard tackles another Wagner piece de resistance, Lohengrin. You should know that this production was created at the Bolshoi in February 2022, at the very moment when the Russians invaded Ukraine.
The Quebec director’s view of this work is now offered to music lovers at the Met, an audience that is not afraid of the German composer’s exuberance, let alone the length of the work (nearly five hours, two intermissions included ).
I attended the performance on March 21. My chauvinistic side was triple flattered since Serge Lamothe, faithful collaborator of François Girard, acts as a playwright. And then also because Yannick Nézet-Séguin is at the desk for the duration of the performances.
The Met’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Director, whose devotees call him “their Yannick” (you should hear the cries and applause rising to a crescendo through the intermissions), carried this monumental opera with all the genius knows him.
Lohengrin, a romantic work par excellence, is said to be a “master’s opera”. Whoever is at the desk does not make this adage lie.
It must be said that in addition to having singers and musicians of high caliber in front of him, the conductor is entitled to scenic scenes of breathtaking beauty. From the first bars of the Prelude, we discover a huge platform that completely covers the middle of the stage by advancing towards the audience (note that the Met stage is gigantic). A large opening reveals the immensity of space.
We are in poetry and mythology up to our necks. The magic happens in seconds.
This idea is taken up differently in the second and third acts. It is in this place which has no time and where plant elements abound (are we on the surface of the Earth or in its depths?) that the characters deliver this story of impossible love, revenge and reverie.
This libretto by Wagner is far from my favorite of his work. The story of this princess, accused of the murder of her brother and cleared of her crime by a noble knight who arrives on a gondola pulled by a swan, is high-sounding. Thank goodness François Girard left the swan to rot in the cellars of the Met. He went one better by creating a visual landscape that enhances the sumptuousness of this musical drama.
The staging of François Girard, without displeasing the purists, is full of symbols and ingenious finds that avoid bling-bling. Thus, all the members of the choir (I do not tell you how they appear to the public), as well as the dancers, wear loose tunics which, when deployed, can make various colors appear (red, green, white ). The effects are striking.
Tamara Wilson plays Elsa and Piotr Beczala plays Lohengrin. In the world of opera, everyone knows that this character, held by a tenor, is very demanding.
There are three performances left in Lohengrin (March 25 and 28, April 1). This production would then return regularly in Met seasons over the next few years.
François Girard, present every night, is already preparing for his next challenge: to remount The Flying Dutchman with a new team of singers. Its staging (created in Quebec during the summer of 2019) was little seen by Met audiences when it was presented in February 2020. A vessel named COVID-19 stopped everything. This other work by Wagner will be presented from May 30 to June 10.
With this new production, it is clear that the Quebec director is now a staple of the Met. It is also impressive to see the names of those who have mounted Lohengrin since 1966, the year the “new Met” opened: Wieland Wagner, August Everding, Robert Wilson… In 2023, the name of François Girard is added to this prestigious list. That says it all.
He slowly walked towards us. He smiled shyly, shook hands, and answered a few questions. Especially mine, me the incorrigible talker. I imagined Mikhail Baryshnikov very tall and also, very naively, like in the days of his great ballet roles, during the Balanchine period.
The man is rather of average stature. This dance legend, who still retains his charisma, is now 75 years old. His friends Laurie Anderson and Diana Krall will remind him of this during a big show that will take place next June in New York. The former star dancer was exhausted after the performance he had just given.
The man who made history by seeking political asylum in 1974, during a Bolshoi tour of Canada, is featured in The Hunting Gun, a theatrical performance based on the novel by Japanese author Yasushi Inoue and directed by François Girard.
Every night since March 16, Mikhail Baryshnikov has shared the stage with Japanese actress Miki Nakatani at the art center that bears his name on 37th Street in New York’s Hudson Yards. This story, as beautiful as it is heartbreaking, is that of three women, the daughter, the wife and the lover, who read a letter intended for a man. Meanwhile, the man silently handles a shotgun.
For 1 hour 45 minutes, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who has devoted his entire life to movement and velocity, performs extremely slow gestures while his partner brilliantly delivers Inoue’s magnificent text.
“I think I was drawn to the limits that were available to me,” Mikhail Baryshnikov told me the day after the performance. I move on a tiny platform behind a curtain and there is no space to move. Since I don’t have a text to say, it requires body language that must express intense emotion. I have never done anything like this before. »
This project comes at the right time in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s career. If he can no longer perform great throws as before, the artist still wants to vibrate on a stage.
There is no doubt that Mikhail Baryshnikov is an artist with a capital A. He does nothing and says nothing at random. With him, everything is thought out, felt, matured. It is not surprising that he finds himself working today with François Girard, whose films he already knew. And it’s also no wonder he’s paired with Miki Nakatani, who I met before the show.
The latter, who offered this show in 2011 in Montreal (after Marie Brassard) and in Tokyo with Rodrigue Proteau, slips into her three characters every night with impressive preparation. When I walked into her dressing room, she was listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, music that prepares her “to die.”
Initially, François Girard offered Miki Nakatani to play one of the three women. It was she who had the idea of taking on the three characters. This results in an outstanding performance. Rarely have I seen a performer achieve such a multi-interpretation. In a fraction of a second, the voice, intonation, gesture and flow change completely as she passes from one character to another.
A huge Japanese film and television star, Miki Nakatani tries to distance herself from the fiery reactions of her admirers. “What’s important to me is to play well. When we created the play in 2011, I knew very little about theatre. I learned that when you’re on a stage, especially with this show, you have nothing around you. You are naked. So you feel like you have nothing left to lose. »
Miki Nakatani loves working with François Girard, whom she describes as an “obsessive perfectionist”. “She’s right and sometimes I have to hide that aspect of my personality,” said the concerned. But what I like about Japan is that everyone is like me. I feel like home,” he adds with a laugh.
The story between this work and François Girard is given a new lease of life thanks to this series of performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. “Wajdi Mouawad put this book in my hands and told me it was a movie. I said it was more of a play,” recalls the director.
This decision was the right one. Let’s hope now that we will one day be able to see this show again in Montreal. Discussions are ongoing.