Like many European arts organizations, the Paris Opera announced multiple returns to performance and then canceled them, due to the roller-coaster trajectory of the coronavirus in Europe. It has now emerged from France’s third national lockdown with a blockbuster project — the world premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie’s six-hour opera The Satin Slipper, which will be available for free streaming starting on Sunday, June 13.
The Satin Slipper reopened the Palais Garnier, Paris Opera’s opulent home, on May 21 with a socially distanced audience present. The opera centers on the illicit, unconsummated, and eventually doomed love between Don Rodrigue de Manacor, a Spanish conquistador, and Doña Prouhèze, a married woman. Over the course of the action, the conquistador is sent to America, China, Japan, and Morocco, where he and Prouhèze eventually reunite. The play’s geographical expanse was especially attractive to Dabalvie, who explained in a program note, “I chose to illustrate these various places with instruments typical of their continents, and thus shifting away from a traditional Western orchestra.”
The opera is based on a 1929 play by Paul Claudel, a literary titan of 20th-century France whose work was much influenced by his Christmas-day conversion to Catholicism at age 18. Claudel considered The Satin Slipper to be a closet drama — a play to be read rather than performed — but it was fully staged in 1987. Dabalvie attended one of the 10-hour performances and described the experience. “I felt as if I’d been to the moon, or to Mars!” he told the digital weekly Air Mail. “I was one person going into the theater and another person coming out.”
Dabalvie was named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, one of France’s highest honors, in 2004. His first opera, Gesualdo, premiered in Zürich in 2010, with the Financial Times saying of it, “Gesualdo is a rare thing — a gripping new opera with a great libretto that sounds beautiful. This is a score you could listen to again and again, complex and beguiling.”
The Satin Slipper is the first production under Paris Opera’s new director, Alexander Neef, the soon-to-be ex-artistic director of the Santa Fe Opera. Neef joined the Santa Fe Opera staff prior to the 2019 season; his brief tenure officially ends later this month. The broadcast of The Satin Slipper can be viewed via the Paris Opera’s streaming site, chezsoi.operadeparis.fr. operadeparis.fr