Opera Noir

Tobias Picker's suspenseful new opera is ready-made for the big screen

Picker's dissonant, suspenseful score creates a dark mood reminiscent of how film noir directors use shadow to portend doom. Conductor Graeme Jenkins and the Dallas Opera Orchestra adeptly negotiate the drama's peaks and valleys. Occasional scenes in Act 1 sound flawed when melodies blare so loudly they muffle the singers. In spite of this, music from the pit offers striking counterpoint to arias and ensembles.

Zambello's artful staging is evident during suspenseful scenes. To simulate Camille's drowning, her crew raises the boat holding Camille, Laurent and Thérèse halfway to the ceiling. When Camille falls overboard, a see-through curtain appears, serving as an underwater tableau painted with discarded junk and detritus littering the river bottom.

Although the director's uneven, distorted props in Act 2 mirror the couple's guilt-ridden perspective, the sets appear too abstract. Zambello's rendering of Madame Raquin's home in the first act is more effective. Her use of special effects with water is clever, heightening the aura of guilt surrounding the couple's actions. In one, water runs above Thérèse's head while she dreams of Camille's drowning.

Laurent (Richard Bernstein) and Thérèse (Sara Fulgoni) conspire to off her husband in a drowning "accident."
George Landis/The Dallas Opera
Laurent (Richard Bernstein) and Thérèse (Sara Fulgoni) conspire to off her husband in a drowning "accident."

Picker's new work is full of the makings of good opera--solid performances, a salacious plot, carefully timed intrigue and a compelling score that offers a frightening portrait of Thérèse herself. Its realism is as disturbing as Hitchcock's best.

But inside the opera house, audiences aren't always eager for reality. They yearn for tuneful arias and unlikely epic tales about heroes and heroines who fall from grace. Thérèse Raquin is neither a heroine nor the opposite. That she does kill herself in a plea for her mother-in-law's forgiveness is noble. But at heart she remains pathetic, a weak soul whose passions moved her to commit an awful murder.

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