Imagine a world where Expressionism had never existed. Imagine a world where Chéreau, Sellars, Brook and Stein had never directed opera. Imagine a world where Vanessa was held to be the greatest American opera of the 20th century, where Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer had never been composed, and where the trappings of period drama were of greater import than the human eternals of lust, boredom, hatred, fantasy and guilt. Formed to showcase repertoire otherwise ignored by British companies, opera-te's production of Tobias Picker's Thérèse Raquin takes its audience into that world.
Handsomely cast and confidently executed, Lee Blakeley's production reads like a calling card for the Met. Naturalistic to an almost reactionary degree, it is the kind of theatre that people who do not regularly go to opera would instantly identify as operatic.
Like Picker's chamber reduction of the original score - a complex infusion of Barber and Poulenc quite beyond the abilities of opera-te's lamentable orchestra - the production and set (by Emma Wee) could have been created in the 1950s. Back then, Blakeley's overwrought stage-sex might have shocking. Thérèse (Isabelle Cals) opens her legs as frequently and joylessly as she does her mouth, and considering the number of climaxes she reaches, she might look a bit happier. Then again, it must be hard to get the housework done if all it takes to reach orgasm is someone nuzzling your navel through several layers of bombazine and whalebone.
After seeing David Pountney's production of The Flying Dutchman, I would hesitate to call Thérèse Raquin bad. Blakeley has done nothing to trash the score or obfuscate the narrative or make his singers look ridiculous or render them inaudible - although conductor Timothy Redmond tried his best on all four counts. But the radicalism and violent momentum of Zola's novel has been fatally diluted, and I don't hold Picker wholly responsible.
Though well sung by Cals, Colin Judson, Nicholas Garrett and Carole Wilson, the characters of Thérèse, Camille, Laurent and Madame Lisette appear to have been given only one adjective apiece: neurotic, weak, cold and needy.
In America, this shorthand characterisation might play well. In London, it just looks lazy.Reuse content