opera notebook

some operas I have seen on video

Charles Gounod, La Nonne Sanglante (1854)
Opéra Comique, Paris, 2018

Here she is, right on schedule
Here she is, right on schedule

La Nonne Sanglante … okay, there's this Montague/Capulet situation simmering in old Bohemia. Peter the Hermit shows up, as he tends to do, and offers a solution: the beauteous Agnès, from one family, will marry the valiant Théobald of the other. The only problem is that Agnès is already in love with Théobald's brother Rodolphe.

Agnès and Rodolphe decide to elope under cover of an old superstition. The Bloody Nun walks at midnight, and people are a bit apprehensive about her, so if they slip away at that hour, nobody will observe them. Rodolphe keeps the date, but instead of Agnès, he meets the Bloody Nun herself. Visibility being low, Rodolphe thinks that the Nun is Agnès, even though Agnès is a soprano and the Bloody Nun, aside from being covered in blood and obviously a zombie, is a mezzo.

Rodolphe pledges his troth to the Bloody Nun. When his brother dies in an offstage battle, Rodolphe would seem to be free to marry Agnès, but he starts behaving oddly because he is in thrall to the Nun. The only way to break free is to kill the guy who originally killed her.

Who would that be? The Nun shows up at a party and reveals that her killer was Rodolphe's father. Faced with the choice between patricide and marriage to a zombie nun, Rodolphe goes a bit off the rails and wishes for death instead. The Nun and the father wrangle a bit, and then there's a brawl for some reason, and the father ends up dead – as he reveals, he has thrown himself on someone's sword (not Rodolphe's) in order to break the plot logjam. Boy gets girl and Dad gets Nun, curtain.

Gounod's music is so lively and dramatic that La Nonne Sanglante must be outside the opera repertoire because of its excessively silly story – though at that, it's no sillier than Il Trovatore. But somehow, Verdi's opera became a standard and Gounod's languished for about 150 years.

A rare revival is preserved in this 2018 video from the Opéra Comique. The singers are wonderful, the spare, greyscale design is very effective, and key scenes, like the second-act confrontation between Rodolphe and the Nun with her attendant zombies, are vividly staged.