Massive storm at sea, the village battens down, a ship is dashed onto the rocks. But L’Étranger heads out alone into the surf to save the crew of the shipwreck. . Vita decides that she'd rather risk death with him.. Supernatural spirits: Vita throws an emerald into the storm, and the skies and seas light up virulent green. Peter Grimes? The Flying Dutchman? Even Lohengrin? This opera is contemporary with Pelléas et Melisande and La Mer. It's Vincent D'Indy, his 1903 opera L’Étranger which is still available online on BBC Radio 3 til Thursday. The hyperbole of the plot is matched in the music - sharp rivulets tearing thru masssed tutti, gigantic swells that suggest the power of the ocean or whatever unnatural force is behind it, lyrical passages that suggest the tenderness none of these tortured souls can express.
The performance comes from the Radio France and Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon Festival, recorded July 26. 2010. Fabulous performance, not that I know this music at all, but it's tightly conducted so the tension in the huge surges of sound doesn't dissipate. This suppressed energy reflects the repression in the plot and its cathartic release. Superb cast, too. Ludovic Tézier sings L’Étranger. He has the stamina to sing extremely long arias where the voice is driven, like the character and the music. He's amazing. Listen for him alone if you must, this is how pointedly pungent French singing can be. No need for text, his diction's so clear. (The score is public domain). His voice cracks on the final Adieu! which is fair enough. A mysterious horn calls from afar. Then Cassandre Berthon's Vita throws herself into the fray, frightening long, high legato held heroically. Attends-moi! The orchestra explodes, and the choir intones like spirits of the sea. D'Indy isn't fashionable but this opera ia fabulous, mixing verismo and totally off the wall symbolism. For me a real discovery.