This DVD of Halévy's Clari (1828) comes with something I've never associated with opera before: a comic book. This is apparently essential to the production which is called a photo-novel. Another first for me is an opera plot about internet dating. The comic book skips over some parts of the story. We'll see.
It starts off with Oliver Widmer cursing out the orchestra. This is good.
Cecilia Bartoli's attraction to Clari is based on the fact that the opera was written for Maria Malibran and forms part of the Maria project. As with most opera lovers, I am only familiar with La Juive of Halévy's works, and was unprepared for the fully bel canto style of the opera.
Rather like Pinkerton, the hero declares that the demands of honor mean nothing to him. Hmmm.
The comic book that comes with Clari tells us that we are "in a beautiful but poor country far away," a country that looks a lot like Switzerland, where the production takes place.
Clari with her new lover whom she met on the internet and who does not offer to marry her is reminded of home, has a nervous breakdown and ends up in the hospital. They do a fascinating job of integrating the "Willow Song" from Rossini's Otello into the second act. Clari, in despair, sees a hypodermic, shoots herself up with perhaps morphine, and sings the aria while on an extended high, thus turning the aria into a mad scene. This is apparently what Malibran sang in this same place in the opera.
Papa sits back at home watching football on tv with his pet pig and complaining loudly. First Clari and then her Duke, very well sung by John Osborn, show up at the old farm house and resolve the problem with the help of a suitcase full of money for papa. Another aria, this time by Halévy himself, is inserted for Cecilia. The score contained only the words.
Let's be clear: this opera would not be a suitable vehicle for either Maria Malibran or Cecilia Bartoli without these two aria additions. It is, perhaps, not ideal to be reminded here of what true genius actually sounds like, but both arias are suitable to their contexts. Something that cannot be said for the Mozart that appeared suddenly in the middle of Nina.
The opera ends with a stage full of lovely cows. I am almost tempted to call it the original verismo opera. It is a special event for a special person. She stands at the end next to Oliver holding her roses and smiling. The pictures will be hard to forget. Perhaps it is love that makes it work.