Director's Notes on Chérubin
In my second year as a very young, desperately hopeful, aspiring stage director in the mid-‘80s, I was contracted to be assistant director/stage manager for a series of French operas at Carnegie Hall. It was a hugely lucky break. The operas included Chérubin, at that point in time a very seldom performed piece by Jules Massenet. There were no recordings to study. After the first day of rehearsals, I was in love with this sweet, gentle character study of a young man just coming into his own as a landowner with a very high title (Marquis, second only to a Duke). More importantly, it is a study of a post-adolescent man finally learning to accept responsibility for his actions, both politically and personally.
When we were choosing operatic rep for this year, this piece popped up immediately. It is an opera that is particularly good for young artists. The bulk of the characters are close to the performers’ ages. The older characters are fun, several are a bit over the top so there is an opportunity for the singer-actors to stretch themselves. The love scenes are not salacious but beautiful and sensual, in the true French style. Happily, no one dies or is maimed or suffers a catastrophic loss. The two young lovers who should end up together DO end up together! I can’t remember the last time I did an opera that didn’t have some disaster or other within it. It is a joy.
I have chosen to set the production in the contemporary Spanish countryside. It is still as beautiful and inspiring as it was in the late 18th century. I also think that the opera and its personnel are more relatable and understandable without the barriers of panniers, yards and yards of material, and foot-high powdered wigs. Also, our budget simply couldn’t handle a double-cast production in period costumes (donations are gladly, gratefully and readily accepted!)
One word about Massenet’s Chérubin vs. Mozart’s Cherubino: the stories are similar but there are vast differences. There are many additional characters in the Massenet and it is, in general, a much more “fluffy” interpretation than the Mozart. It is interesting to note that, according to the Beaumarchais trilogy of plays from which the character of Cherubino is born, the day after he goes off to fulfill his commission in the army, he is killed. Imagining that vibrant, loving spirit snuffed out on a battlefield always brings a tear to my eyes. For our (and Massenet’s) purposes, though, I look forward to reveling with Chérubin in the joy and pain of being seventeen for a few hours.