FRANKENSTEIN Comes to La Monnaie

By: Feb. 08, 2019

The disappointment was palpable when midway through the 2015-16 season it became clear that the world premiere of Frankenstein would not go ahead as planned because the set and the special effects were too exacting technically for the temporary infrastructure at Tour & Taxis. Partly because of the many film adaptations, Mary Shelley's modern myth about an idealistic, but arrogant scientist and his 'Creature' still clearly fires the collective imagination, and the expectations of Mark Grey's opera of the same name were running high. However, three seasons later La Monnaie is now more than ready to bring this production to life. All eyes are on the Polish-Lebanese conductor Bassem Akiki and the Spanish director lex Oll .

The idea of creating an opera to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus came up in a conversation between that Spanish director and co-founder of the artistic collective La Fura dels Baus, and the director of La Monnaie Peter de Caluwe. Interpellated by the technological and scientific developments of her time and their unforeseeable consequences for man and society, Shelley wrote her own 'what if' scenario. Frankenstein touches on essential philosophical and ethical questions which, transposed to the present day, apply equally to creative experiments in biotechnology, genetics, information science and medicine.

To say that this story came out of the twentieth century greatly modified and stereotypical, is almost an understatement. The successful, 1931 Hollywood adaptation starring Boris Karloff borrowed the sets and costumes from the Dracula filming of the same year, thus searing into the collective memory forever the image of a lethargic monster, brought to life by a mad scientist in a Gothic castle. In their twenty-first century opera, Mark Grey and lex Oll return to the source, which they see as highly topical. At a time of atom bombs, genetic engineering, artificial bioselection and social media, the gap between our ability to invent and our inability to understand could be even greater than in Shelley's time. The need is greater than ever to experience a moral and emotional awareness in parallel with what we have just created.

Grey and Oll asked librettist J lia Canosa i Serra to turn the novel into a stage play and to update Shelley's poetic English. The opera Frankenstein is set in an unspecified future. Several scientists discover a creature frozen into the ice fields of the North Pole. One of them, Dr Walton, takes the lead in bringing him back to life in a bold experiment. Encouraged by their success, the scientists go a step further. Gradually the 'Creature' returns to consciousness. Snatches from a murky past surface and, with the help of high-tech equipment, the scientists also succeed in visualising those mental images. Thus, the crucial scenes from what took place so many years ago (in Mary Shelley's novel) manifest themselves in flashbacks. At the centre is the strained triangle between Victor, Elizabeth and the Creature, which is derailed the moment Victor chooses the security and intimacy of his romantic relationship, something that will always be denied his creation.

For the American composer and sound designer Mark Grey the world premiere of his first full-length opera at La Monnaie is something of a homecoming. Back in 1991 he worked in Brussels as the right-handman of fellow countryman John Adams on the creation of the latter's opera The Death of Klinghoffer. Grey's musical writing is based on a very inventive 'recomposition' of diverse musical material. Though as yet less well-known in Europe, on the other side of the Atlantic, Mark Grey can pride himself on an impressive track record, initially as sound designer for artists like Adams, Steve Reich and Philip Glass but, since his debut with the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall, also as a composer.

From the start of this production Mark Grey worked closely with the co-inspirer of the project, lex Oll . Those who saw his production of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre (2009) or Enescu's Oedipe (2011) at La Monnaie, know that the Spanish director likes to explore the fine line between humanity and monstrosity. Together with his permanent team from La Fura dels Baus Alfons Flores for the monumental sets, Lluc Castells for the costumes and Franc Aleu for the video and helped by the cutting-edge video and sound technologies for which the celebrated Spanish-Catalan collective is famous, he is now staging another immersive, total experience. The dramaturgy of this production is in the hands of librettist J lia Canosa i Serra and responsibility for the lighting concept lies with Urs Sch nebaum, at La Monnaie in February 2018 with Sasha Waltz' Kreatur.

Musically, we are counting on the contemporary music expertise and curiosity of Bassem Akiki. The young Polish-Lebanese conductor, in 2016 nominated for an International Opera Award in the Best Young Conductor category, has already conducted contemporary works at La Monnaie, including Med lla, To Be Sung, Matsukaze and in June 2018 Orfeo & Majnun, but also Sweeney Todd and Madama Butterfly. He is once again directing La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the latter put through its paces by chorus master Martino Faggiani.
In terms of the singers, we looked for personalities who could inspire both the composition and the direction. The cast list includes many artists who have already given noteworthy performances at La Monnaie.

These include the two American baritones Scott Hendricks and Andrew Schroeder, playing Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton respectively. The former we know as a singer with superb acting skills proven in (among other things) the title role of Macbeth (Verdi), as Jokanaan (Salome, Strauss), Il Conte di Luna (Il Trovatore, Verdi), Giorgio Germont (La Traviata, Verdi) and, more recently, the demon barber in Sweeney Todd (Sondheim) and Tonio (Pagliacci, Leoncavallo). He has a strong bond with composer Mark Grey and previously created the baritone part in Grey's Navajo oratorio Enemy Slayer.

At La Monnaie Andrew Schroeder has sung Roi Arthus (Chausson), Agamemnon in Iphig nie en Aulide (Gluck), the title role in Enescu's Oedipe and recently also the role of Revirnik/the Forester in Foxie! The Cunning Little Vixen (Jan c ek).

In the latter production the German soprano Eleonore Marguerre sang the role of the Fox. We will now be seeing her in a romantic role as Elizabeth, Victor Frankenstein's fianc e.
After his Mozart roles Tamino (Die Zauberfl te) and Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) and his opera in concert interpretation of Il Conte d'Almaviva (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Paisiello), the Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu is now embodying the tragic, androgynous Creature.

Justine, his first victim's au pair, is sung by the Belgian soprano Hendrickje Van Kerckhove. Often a guest at La Monnaie, in December 2017 she excelled as Soeur Constance in Dialogues des Carm lites (Poulenc).

Frankenstein's best friend Henry Clerval is performed by the British tenor Christopher Gillett. He sang in the premi re of A King Riding (Klaas de Vries) and La Stellidaura Vendicante (Provenzale), but he is best remembered for the mala fide Beadle Bamford, one of the victims in Sweeney Todd. Once again, it looks unlikely he will make it to the end of the performance.
The German baritone Stephan Loges takes on the roles of Blind Man and Father. It is his first appearance at La Monnaie in more than ten years, after his successful interpretations of Papageno (Die Zauberfl te) in 2007 and of Wolfram von Eschenbach in Jan Fabre's production of Tannh user in 2004 (Wagner). Lastly, his British colleague William Dazeley will sing the Prosecutor.

Conductor Bassem Akiki
Original idea & stage direction lex Oll
Sets Alfons Flores
Costumes Lluc Castells
Lighting Urs Sch nebaum
Artistic collaborator Susana Gomez
Dramaturgy lex Oll , J lia Canosa i Serra & Mark Grey
Chorus master Martino Faggiani

Victor Frankenstein Scott Hendricks
Creature Topi Lehtipuu
Elizabeth Eleonore Marguerre
Dr. Walton Andrew Schroeder
Henry Christopher Gillett
Blind Man / Father Stephan Loges
Justine Hendrickje Van Kerckhove
Prosecutor William Dazeley


Opening night: 8 March 2019 20:00
12, 14, 15, 19 & 20 March 2019 20:00
10 & 17 March 2019 15:00
FRANKENSTEIN Comes to La Monnaie