Luscious voices lift remake of Zola’s scandalous ‘Therese Raquin’
Seduction, murder and scandal — these essential elements for a thrilling opera are in the mix for the Chicago Opera Theater’s production of “Thérèse Raquin” this week at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The opera rests beautifully on the luscious voices of its small cast and its modern and minimalist stage setup.
“Thérèse Raquin” is based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel of the same title, which was considered outrageously scandalous in its day. The opera, composed by Tobias Picker in 2001, may seem a little less risque in today’s modern age, but still has a bite when considering a lustful storyline in one of the highest forms of art.
The story is divided into two acts. There’s Thérèse, a seemingly boring character at the start of the opera. She’s trapped by a confining marriage to her cousin, Camille. Camille’s friend, Laurent, does Camille a favor by painting his portrait, and that’s when Laurent and Thérèse’s secret relationship becomes obvious.
When alone, the two speak of their desire to be together and realize that the only person in their way is Camille. As part of the lovers’ master plan, Thérèse, Laurent and Camille walk along the banks of the Seine and rent a boat. Knowing that Camille can’t swim, Laurent pushes him off, while Thérèse watches in a mix of agony and pleasure. In the second act, the narrative becomes complicated when Camille’s ghost comes to haunt the lovers. From there, things get messy as everyone is driven to madness.
The elements of seduction, murder and scandal in “Thérèse Raquin” are what led Tobias Picker to compose the opera. “It’s about the human condition in an extreme form,” Picker said. “It has emotions in it that everybody can identify with, characters we can see as ourselves.”
“Thérèse Raquin” is alluring, but it’s the music that makes it better. Lyrical yet punctuated with emotion, the orchestra and singers flawlessly moved in sync.
“The music helps us understand how everything falls apart, how the characters descend into madness,” said Andreas Mitisek, general director of the Chicago Opera Theater and conductor of “Thérèse Raquin.”
Although it’s sung in English, words were hard to grasp because of the lush vibrato in the singers’ voices. Supertitles are available on the monitor above the stage.
Students shouldn’t be afraid of the opera, Mitisek said. “Just get in there, fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a great story,” he said. “The singing actors will take care of everything else. It’s a great thriller.”
The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St. Student tickets are $15; others range from $35 to $125.