We must admit that the name of Franz Schreker is not the first that comes to mind for many music lovers when asked about the composers of the 20th century that they appreciate the most.
And we can hardly imagine today the resounding success that his operas met with, in particular The Treasure Seeker which the Opéra du Rhin is currently putting back into the spotlight after decades of neglect – even in the Germanic world. However, this work created in 1920 in Frankfurt aroused such enthusiasm that it had more than 350 performances until 1932, before its author was banished by the Nazi regime (his father was of Jewish origin) and died of a heart attack in 1934.
A lush orchestra
Born in 1878 in Monaco, the musician spent his youth in Vienna and made a name for himself from his second lyrical work, The Distant Sound, in 1912. However, its French premiere did not take place until a hundred years later and, already, at the Opéra du Rhin… Franz Schreker belongs to this post-Wagnerian generation who finds within the orchestra an ocean of bewitching sounds or tumultuous. In The Treasure Seeker, the instrumental textures, no doubt more than the somewhat “expected” harmonies, greatly contribute to the bewitchment. They evoke the iridescent mists and vapors sung by the minstrel Elis: “…Distant islands, marvelous havens of a happiness that is not of this world. Sweet and delicate perfumes envelop me, gently lull me into dreams…”
Under the direction of Marko Letonja, the Orchester philharmonique de Strasbourg was clearly seduced by this atmospheric score, its brilliance and its voluptuous undulations. A touch of additional abandon to the sensuality of the timbres – which will surely come over the performances – and the pit will deserve all the praise.
A belated redemption
Before coming to the plateau, deserving but unequal, it is appropriate to summarize the action of the treasure hunter, characterized by a “disreputable” female heroine. In an imaginary (or undetermined) country, the beautiful and venal Els shamelessly plays her ascendancy over men to conquer splendid jewels, stolen from the queen. Even if it means killing the intruders. When the poet and singer Elis appears, whose lute has the power to vibrate near treasures, the young woman finally imagines a radiant future, flooded with wealth and love. But reality catches up with her and redemption will come too late.
Combining realism and fantasy, violence and aspiration for a better world, passion – including a sumptuous love scene entrusted to the orchestra – and cynicism, the opera proves to be demanding for its performers, especially for the two main roles. The devastating Els must have a full-bodied soprano, capable of great flights in the treble as well as biting in the medium. Solid, Helena Juntunen impresses with her vocal and scenic commitment, assets which, however, do not compensate for the harshness of the timbre as soon as the voice unfolds in the many nuances. strong. Elis finds in Thomas Blondelle a refined interpreter with a warm but unfortunately limited voice when Schreker asks for his heroic valour. Hence the frequent drops in intensity that undermine his eloquence.
A very human jester
Without possessing an exceptional voice, the tenor Paul Schweinester proves to be the most convincing, the most moving, the most musical. As the king’s jester, between sarcasm and melancholy, leaping melodies and nostalgic cantilenas, the artist highlights the subtlety of an elusive, trivial and profound character, inside and outside the action. Wearing his red cap, which he takes off when reality no longer lends itself to laughter, this lucid spirit opens and closes the opera, inviting the spectator to meditate on what he has just heard and seen.
Even if, in Christof Loy’s staging, said spectator did not see much that was moving or original. The unique setting, a vast salon with elegantly lit dark walls, does little to unravel the intricacies of the plot, while a number of extras (first and foremost the queen, stripped of her cherished jewels but terribly agitated) go and come so far as to weary the most patient attention. The protagonists are hardly better served by this stirring direction of actors which makes movement its alpha and omega. The most flexible and charismatic do well, their less slender colleagues pay the price. And the listener to return to the orchestral magic, to seek there and find his happiness there.