Boesmans: Julie

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Cypres
WORKS: Julie
PERFORMER: Garry Magee, Malena Ernman, Kerstin Avemo; La Monnaie CO/Kazushi Ono
Strindberg’s fiercely expressionist play Miss Julie makes such a perfect basis for an intense, chamber-sized musical drama, it’s a wonder no one has thought of setting it before. This operatic version has a libretto by theatre director Luc Bondy and a score by the Belgian composer Philippe Boesmans. The whole drama takes place in the kitchen of a great house, where Jean, valet to the Count, is torn between two women. He’s engaged to the cook Kristin, to whom he feels a respectable sort of love; towards Julie, the Count’s daughter, he feels something altogether darker and more scandalous. Their strangely sado-masochistic passion, complicated by the difference in class, takes centre-stage, while Kristin hovers helplessly on the fringes.


Boesmans’ score fits the drama very well, exuding an atmosphere of depraved lushness not far from Berg’s Lulu. When Julie orders Jean to ‘Kiss my boots’, the orchestra shudders and twitters pleasurably in response. The recording captures the over-ripe, vibraphone-and-bass-flute coloured orchestration to perfection. The performances are well characterised; Garry Magee’s Jean has an appropriate nasal sharpness (though his German pronunciation is a bit odd) which seems always on the edge of a self-pitying whine. Kerstin Avemo’s Kristin is clear and candid, Malena Ernman’s Julie is richly intense and with a threateningly dark edge. Kazushi Ono and the chamber orchestra of La Monnaie (Brussels’ opera house) bring out the sultry, twilit heat of Boesmans’ score. If the climax seems underpowered that may be Boesmans’ fault rather than theirs. Ivan Hewett