She was long stamped "best French mezzo-soprano" but for ten years, Karine Deshayes sings with happiness the roles of dramatic soprano. After Rossini's Armida and Bellini's Norma, in Aix-en-Provence last summer, here she is these days as a Valentine of the Huguenots. Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, created in 1836, was a dazzling success at the time, to the point of remaining, until the middle of the 20th century, a safe bet for the great opera houses.
So why is this vibrant fresco whose love story at the time of Saint-Barthélemy has nothing to envy to Queen Margot any more than rarely? The beautiful production of the Opéra de Marseille could well revive a fashion, which Karine Deshayes ardently wishes. "Meyerbeer, I'm a fan!" "says the singer who will return to Marseille at the start of the school year to sing another opera by the composer, L'Africaine.
Le Point: Why is Les Huguenots edited so little?
Karine Deshayes: It's a long opera, with a very busy stage, lots of soloists and choristers... You need a big orchestra pit. Even here in Marseille, some musicians play from the baskets because there is no room for everyone down there! And you have to find many singers of the same level. At the creation, there were the seven stars of the moment on the Huguenots poster, including the Falcon (Cornélie Falcon, great dramatic soprano of the 19th century, editor's note) in the role of Valentine. Meyerbeer was also the first to use the bass clarinet, the viola d'amore… And he inspired many composers thereafter.
You know Meyerbeer particularly well…
I admire him very much, and this opera in particular. By a strangeness of life, I have attended more Huguenots than the Marriage of Figaro! I sang Urbain le page three times, a mezzo role, in Madrid, Strasbourg and Paris. And last year, I took on the role of Valentine at the Monnaie de Bruxelles. I am very happy to find this character again at the Opéra de Marseille.
She is a heroine of exceptional strength!
There are several historical figures in Les Huguenots, notably Marguerite de Navarre. Conversely, Valentine is an invention of the librettist Eugène Scribe, a true lyrical heroine, a very complete character. She betrays her father, she betrays her camp, she changes her religion for love, an impossible Romeo and Juliet love... What a trajectory! As a mezzo, I sang funny little boys for a long time, or even Rosine from the Barber of Seville and Cenerentola. My specialty was to laugh and make people laugh… Now I like to die on stage.
When did you feel your voice was evolving enough to take on new repertoire?
Around the years 2016-2017. Previously, I had refused to sing Valentine, precisely, because I did not feel ready. But my voice has widened and I have more and more ease in the treble. It's a chance, because you can't at all predict where the voice will go when you start.
You like to discover works. In June, you will sing a totally unknown opera, Fausto by Louise Bertin...
We live in an exciting time because there is a real spotlight on female composers. And on all sides, we discover remarkable talents. I have just recorded a CD of melodies written by Adèle Hugo, Victor Hugo's wife, with the Besançon orchestra. As for Louise Bertin, I knew her name because Hector Berlioz dedicated his Summer Nights to her. Which is still impressive! In fact, she was both a poet and a composer. This 1831 Fausto, written in Italian, is amazing, with a Faust sung by a woman. The love duets made me think of a work from the same period, Les Capulets et les Montagues by Bellini.
“The Huguenots” by Giacomo Meyerbeer – June 3-11 – Director: José Miguel Pérez-Sierra. Director: Louis Désiré. With Karine Deshayes, Florina Ile, Eleonore Pancrazi, Enea Scala, Marc Barrard, Nicolas Courjal. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra de Marseille. opera.marseille.fr
“Fausto” by Louise Bertin – June 20 at 7:30 p.m. – at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Orchestra: Les Talens Lyriques. Direction: Christophe Rousset. With Karine Deshayes, Karina Gauvin, Ante Jerkunica, Nico Darmanin.