Padmavati, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Tuesday 25 March 2008
When the elephant-headed god Ganesh is flown in near the beginning of Albert Roussel's Hindu opera-ballet Padmâvatî, followed not long after by an elephant bearing the lustful sultan, Alaouddin, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are in for a night at the circus. For conductor Lawrence Foster, the greatest challenge to his authority came from Otello the horse, who stamped his hoof insistently off the beat. A tiger cub made a brief appearance, but the python had thrown a hissy fit, to the alarm of the dancer around whose neck it was coiled, and was quietly laid off.
If the Théâtre du Châtelet was hoping for a spectacle on a scale seldom seen these days, this work – staged only once since its Paris premiere in 1923 – offered endless potential. Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, making his first foray into opera, obliged with a flamboyant production attentive to authentic detail.
The costumes were by Rajesh Pratap Singh, while a couple of dozen dancers from Calcutta provided the lavish court entertainment and balletic sequences.
Following his travels in India, Roussel drew on the true story of Padmâvatî, the 13th-century Queen of Chitor (now Chittaurgarh), who chooses death over dishonour. Instead of surrendering herself to Alaouddin's invading army she kills her own husband, so that she may immolate herself on his funeral pyre. Casting such a figure, the Châtelet clearly opted for experience over looks in the mezzo-soprano Sylvie Brunet. Both she, and the veteran baritone Alain Fondary as Alaouddin, showed resourcefulness in covering the rough patches in their demanding roles. The tenor Yann Beuron, killed off early on, dominated as the Brahmin. With little opportunity for character development, however, the singers were reduced to little more than puppets while the exotic dancing not only put them in the shade but concealed the scantiness of the plot, never mind the subtleties of Roussel's remarkable score.
The real heroes of the evening were the splendid chorus of the Châtelet (trained by Stephen Betteridge) and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, from whom Foster conjured Roussel's striking soundworld.
It seems that we've not heard the last of Bhansali's extravagant take on Padmâvatî. There's talk of this production travelling to Italy later this year, and Bhansali is considering staging it at the actual Chittaurgarh fortess in Rajasthan, as well as a film. I hope the python can be uncoiled for that.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
- 5 Narendra Modi: Indian Prime Minister wears suit with pinstripes that spell his name to meet Barack Obama
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Taylor Swift banned from Triple J Hottest 100: Fans react to epic #Tay4Hottest100 defeat
Mortdecai becomes Johnny Depp's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Last Tango in Halifax, review: Can we ever really move on from Kate?
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'