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La Juive

Opera Orchestra of New York
Eve Queler, conductor

Performers listed below.

Have you seen ”The Player,” director Robert Altman’s brilliant Hollywood satire? If so, you may remember a scene where the title character, a movie mogul played by Tim Robbins, tells mysterious girlfriend Greta Sacchi what elements are necessary for a successful film. He says the recipe for a box office smash is, “suspense, violence, laughter, hope, heart, nudity, sex, and happy endings. Especially happpy endings.”

Now if you think about it, that recipe also applies to opera, particularly to what’s become known as “Grand Opera” -- a 19th-century concoction that is pretty much analogous to the modern, Hollywood “blockbuster.” OK, nudity isn’t an everyday thing in the opera house. But the rest of that recipe is, almost, dead-on: Nearly all Grand Operas have “laughter” - if only a little - and ample doses of “suspense, violence, hope, heart and sex.” In fact, about the only one of those Hollywood ingredients that’s generally missing from a “Grand Opera” is - the happy ending. Opera-goers don’t seem to need those.

It’s hard to say whether opera lovers are more “sophisticated” than movie buffs, or just more bloodthirsty. In any case, your typical, romantic “Grand Opera” lets the passion and the violence carry right through to the end - when, more often than not, a lot of folks wind up dead. Think about it. How often do we come away from an opera invigorated, and grinning from ear to ear, having just watched people being hung, stabbed, beheaded, poisoned, or burned alive? It might take a legion of shrinks to figure that one out. Or maybe, just a handful of opera composers. From Donizetti, to Bellini, to Puccini, to Meyerbeer, composers seem to have concluded long ago that opera lovers like to leave the theater having just watched someone else suffer a grisly fate.

With this week’s opera, ”La Juive,” Jacques Halevy demonstrates that he knew that as well as anyone. In this opera, the deadly conflict is an ugly one, as well, between Christians and Jews - oppressors and the oppressed. In the end, realistically, the oppressors win. Maybe Halevy, whose own parents were Jewish, felt that this story, presented to a Paris audience in 1835, had to end that way to be successful. Because in “La Juive,” rather disturbingly, the only folks who wind up happy are the ones whose bigotry caused all the bloodshed in the first place.

Of course, all this ugliness and carnage happens amidst some truly beautiful music. And you can hear it this week when Steve Curwood presents Halevy’s LA JUIVE on NPR WORLD OF OPERA. The performance is by Opera Orchestra of New York, from Carnegie Hall.

Join Lou Santacroce for NPR’s AT THE OPERA, for a preview 30 minutes before curtain time.

Hasmik Papian (Rachel); Francisco Casanova (Eleazar); Olga Makarina (Eudoxie); Jean-Luc Viala (Leopold); Paul Plishka (Cardinal Brogni); Grant Youngblood (Ruggiero)


  • Opera Orchestra of New York
  • Carnegie Hall
  • AT THE OPERA, from NPR

    Coming Up:
    Benvenuto Cellini
    by Hector Berlioz
    Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Rotterdam Philharmonic; Valery Gergiev, conductor. Broadcast October 2nd.

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