About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network


Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



A Treasure Resurrected

06/16/2024 -  & June 20, 23, 28, July 6, 11, 14, 2024
Fromental Halévy: La Juive
John Osborn (Eléazar), Ambur Braid (Rachel), Monika Buczkowska (Eudoxie), Gerard Schneider (Léopold), Simon Lim (Le Cardinal de Brogni), Sebastian Geyer (Ruggiero), Danylo Matvienko (Albert)
Chor der Oper Frankfurt, Tilman Michael (Chorus master), Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester, Henrik Nánási (Conductor)
Tatjana Gürnaca (stage director), Klaus Grünberg (sets, lighting), Anne Kuhn (lighting assistant), Silke Willrett (costumes), Nadja Krüger (videography)

S. Lim, J. Osborn (© Monika Rittershaus)

I was delighted to finally see Halévy’s La Juive, a work that is quite rarely performed. French 19th Century grand opera has been out of fashion for almost a century, in part due to changing tastes and the huge expense involved. The final constraint is in assembling a cast up to the task. In the latter mission, Oper Frankfurt was beyond successful.

American tenor John Osborn is the goldsmith Eléazar, and undoubtedly the motivation for many to fill the theatre. Osborn is a vocal phenomenon who astounds both in bel canto and nineteenth century French opera. In addition, his diction is exemplary. Rarely have I heard a non‑native speaker enunciate French so well. He was able to convey Eléazar’s piety, anger, paternal love and tormented soul. Persecution and living among people who reject and despise one definitely takes its toll. His rendition of the opera’s most popular aria, the Act V aria “ Rachel, quand du Seigneur,” was not merely beautifully sung, it was also immensely moving.

Almost as brilliant was Austrian-Australian lyric tenor Gerard Schneider. Sweet toned and dashing on stage, he was convincing as the love interest of Rachel, Eléazar’s daughter. His lighter tenor contrasted well with Osborn’s heftier voice, especially where both tenors sang.

Canadian soprano Ambur Braid was an outstanding Rachel, a role that is both vocally and dramatically demanding. Initially hesitant and somewhat dull, Braid caught fire once she sang her Act II aria “Il va venir”. From then on, there was no stopping her. Her duet with Léopold, “Lorsqu’à toi, je me suis donnée,” was brilliant. In the final two acts, she was extremely affecting and showed a refreshingly new facet of the character. No longer defiant, she succumbed to remorse and despair, except towards the very end, when Eléazar suggests saving herself through conversion to Christianity. Ambur Braid’s French was also laudable. Not only could one understand every word, but her ease with the language afforded her the confidence to explore her talents as an actress.

Light lyric Polish soprano Monika Buczkowska was too light for the role of Euxodie. Her timbre was pleasant and her diction adequate, but she did not operate at the level of Osborn or Braid. Nonetheless, the Frankfurt public seemed quite delighted with her, especially her aria “Assez longtemps la crainte... Tandis qu’il sommeille, je l’ai revu”, which she sang quite tenderly. Endowed with great stage presence, she was miscast by the director to interpret Eudoxie, the niece of the Holy Roman Emperor, as the nouveau riche wife of a dubious “businessman.” Whether it was the vulgar outfit or the cigarette holder, the character was simply not believable.

South Korean bass Simon Lim was the Cardinal de Brogni. He was able to convey the clergyman’s humanity despite his odious antipathy towards Eléazar. His noble deep voice was in part responsible for this difficult task. His excellent acting took care of the rest.

Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási was impressive, leading the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester with panache and style. This music could easily sound drab in lesser hands. Nánási knew his score inside out and provided support to his singers and their demanding parts. Really marvelous to witness.

The sets were more hideous than one could imagine. One unchanged, ugly set, intended to convey the walls of Konstanz’s cathedral, was what we were expected to stare at during the opera’s five acts, whether the town square, the goldsmith’s atelier and abode, Eudoxie and Leopold’s palace or Rachel’s and Eléazar prison cell. Not even a school production could get away with such static banality. If grand opera is to be reduced to this dismal state, then concert versions would be a welcome alternative.

The costumes didn’t fare much better. Most were drab contemporary horrors, especially those worn by the crowd. Eléazar was dressed in a black suit, somewhat reminiscent of Orthodox Jewish garb. Rachel was dressed as Bizet’s Carmen, in a yellow skirt and a provocatively-tied green shirt, unlikely attire in the 15th Century, or in any epoch, for a member of a minority wishing to blend in. Leopold, Cardinal de Brogni and Konstanz’s Bürgermeister Ruggiero were dressed in fifteenth century garb. Other than saving on expenses, dressing the crowd in contemporary dress is possibly the director’s way of stating that hate is ever‑present.

One laudable device was the grand finale: Rachel is led to the top of the cathedral, from which her effigy is thrown into lake Konstanz. This certainly had an effect, with audible gasps from the audience.

All five main characters in La Juive are flawed. There is no idealized romantic self‑abnegating hero or heroine. Eléazar’s hatred of Cardinal de Brogni outweighs his love for his daughter Rachel and leads to her death. Rachel’s fury at her lover Samuel, who turns out to be Christian Prince Léopold, spouse of Eudoxie, leads to her death. Léopold is a womanizing impostor who feigned being a Jew to seduce Rachel. Eudoxie’s jealousy led to her presenting Rachel as a whore to embarrass her cheating husband. The result of the uncomfortable situation was Rachel’s denunciation of Léopold during the ceremony commemorating the returning hero who had crushed the rebellious Hussites. Due to this denouncement of having carnal knowledge with a Jewess, both Léopold and Rachel are condemned to death. Cardinal de Brogni, now a broken man in search of his long‑lost daughter, had unjustly condemned to death Eléazar’s two sons in his younger days when he was magistrate of a tribunal.

The role of the director is to make the public empathize with these five characters, despite their flaws. Unfortunately, German director Tatjana Gürnaca failed miserably in this mission. One appreciated the singers for their valiant efforts and for the opera’s beautiful arias, duets and ensembles. However, dramatically, one could at best feel sorry for them. La Juive, a remarkable opera with much delightful music, deserves better. If we were to close our eyes, vocally we could say it was a work brilliantly served by this production.

Ossama el Naggar



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com