Les Nuits d’ete

Stage Direction

SONG CYCLE | Les Nuits d’ete – Staged performance

music > H. Berlioz | text > T. Gautier | First staged performance at the Royal Opera House | Villanelle + Au Cemitiere > Pablo Bemsch | Le Spectre de la rose + Absence > Hanna Hipp | Absence + L’Ile Inconnu > Susana Gaspar | Conductor > Volker Krafft | Orchestra > Southbank Sinfonia | Designer > Shophie Mosberger | Lighting > Warren Letton | Performance recorded by Opera Rara for future release | London UK | 2011

Backdrop Image: © ROH / Richard H Smith 2011 | Hanna Hipp & ZhengZhong Zhou

 > Director’s Note

Les nuits d’ete? Why the need to stage a perfect piece that lives in itself? – This was my first thought, immediately associated with a second, the image of a plastic surgeon with delicate surgery tweezers trying to recompose someone’s already perfect face. However, hearing different versions of the work made me realise that being perfect, as it is, it is also ductile and very plastic. On a summer night, as I was wrapt in insomnia, re-listening to the songs, I observed my second pillow waiting to be held and comforted, on top of an ordinary mattress that endures birth, life and death. This song cycle is not about love or nature, but about ourselves, about leaving and staying, about how we selfishly feel the absence of someone that inevitably has to depart. 


“The Jette Parker Young Artists double bill (…) featured romance, mystique and sumptuous singing. It has its inelegant features but the latest offering from the Royal Opera House’s emerging artists team brought imagination and wit to the programme, difficult to stage though it must surely have been. (…)

Les Nuits d’été, Berlioz’s sublime song cycle woven from threads of absence and longing, was perhaps more affecting. (…) The new set (a stage strewn with mattresses) and choreography, was spellbinding. Each song unfolded with the clothes of a lost loved one spot-lit against the back curtain, and used the old mattresses to symbolise the place of private grievance for each mourner. The effect was to add a sensual intimacy to the first orchestral song cycle ever written, based on six Gautier poems. (…) For the final song, L’île inconnu, Susana Gaspar was the lost lover positively floating around her mattress and assembling it into a fantasy ship with a gossamer sail, riding on cut-out waves under puppet-like clouds. What stayed with us was the consistency and emotion in Gaspar and Bemsch’s voices, the outstanding acting on display and the tangeable sense of love and loss which characterised the action. Director Pedro Ribeiro succeeded in impressing upon his audience the beauty and pain of death, life and love and judging by this performance, most of these artists all have the potential to produce something special on the main stage.”

> Katy S Austin | Bachtrack

“There is a moment when the best have been winnowed out, the hard work has been done and the magic is about to begin. That is the moment captured in the ROH Young Artists Week. With the possible exception of brain surgeons, opera singers have the longest, toughest apprenticeship of the skilled professions. The competition is ferocious. The human voice is fallible – there are good days and bad days and if pushed too far, it can break. It takes battlefield courage to actually get yourself out there onstage in front of an audience, full of critical eyes and ears, expecting the best and merciless if this is not given to them. It does not get any easier when, if you are very lucky, you rise to become a superstar since you now have to compete against yourself and your own, and the audience’s expectations of you. Why do they do it? Last night, watching the young stars of the future, gave an answer in the exhilaration and joy that they clearly felt in doing something very well and making something beautiful. The young artists selected for the Jette Parker programme at the Royal Opera House are an international group of outstanding professionals at the start of their careers, usually including ten singers, a répétiteur and a director. (…)

At first sight, the set of Les nuits d’été looks like a squat, with mattresses of all sizes, alone, piled up to four deep, covered with flimsy sheets, crowded onto the stage. It becomes apparent that Ribeiro and Mosberger have placed Berlioz’s haunting song cycle in that hinterland between dreams and sleep, where all the barriers are down and ghosts and losses that lie just below the surface rise up to claim us. Visions of lost loves like the dried out husks of discarded bodies appear in the darkness behind the singers. It was the perfect showcase for three outstanding singers and I will remember for a long time Pablo Bemsch singing of lost love, Susana Gaspar sailing her mattress boat into dark waters towards the unknown island and, above all, Hanna Hip breaking my heart with le Spectre dela Roseand Absence. These are the stars of the future”

> Crispin Wellbeloved | Global News Box

“For those with an inquisitive ear for new upcoming talent on the operatic scene, the introductory Meet the Jette Parker Young Artists Week is an obligatory calendar event. (…) The centrepiece of this autumn’s week-long offering at the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio is an intriguing double-bill of Berlioz’s song-cycle Les Nuits d’été and Massenet’s Le Portrait de Manon. (…) Pedro Ribeiro has the unenviable task of directing Berlioz’s song-cycle which almost defies any kind of dramatic staging. (…) Hanna Hipp certainly makes her mark with a beautifully controlled rendition of the most celebrated song “Le Spectre de la Rose”, which in turn proves the most sensitive piece of staging.”

> Richard Russell | Whats On Stage ****

“Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été is a song cycle, and even in the 1856 orchestral transcription heard here, doesn’t transfer easily to the stage. In theory, there’s no reason why not, and the undercurrent of dream unifies the group of songs. The balance was good, making a case for mixed voices. Berlioz sanctioned this, but it’s usually impractical in recital. Another good reason for paying attention to Young Artists Events, where repertoire is often approached in interesting ways.”

> Anne Ozorio | Opera Today

” The Jette Parker Young Artists were sounding in good health in this unusual double-bill. (…) Direction and design were much more elaborate for the first (…) staging I’ve ever seen of Berlioz’s song-cycle Les Nuits d’été (six settings of poems by Gautier), with heaps of grubby old mattresses arranged on the stage like graves, with one of the singers vanishing into her mattress (…) a modern-gothic, ghostly atmosphere that emphasised the melancholy of the songs (…) The staging was visually powerful (…)”

> Peter Reed | Classical Source