Boesmans: Julie

COMPOSERS: Boesmans
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: Boesmans
WORKS: Julie
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 026 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture ratio)
Miss Julie, the monstrous, predatory central character in Strindberg’s play, seems tailor-made for the opera house, and she had already been the subject of two full-scale treatments by Ned Rorem and William Alwyn before Philippe Boesmans’s one-Act opera was first performed at La Monnaie in Brussels in 2005. As well as directing the premiere, Luc Bondy supplied the libretto, and in both roles he remained more or less faithful to Strindberg’s original, just stripping away some of the symbolic detail to lay bare the power struggles, sexual and social, that drive the drama. None of the three protagonists in this below-stairs triangle – the hopelessly timid cook Kristin, uncritically in love with the feckless manservant Jean who in turn is the ready-made victim for the rich, rapacious Julie – emerges with much credit from this unremitting tragedy.

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Boesmans’s score, elegant, economical and well-written for the voices, ratchets up the tension unerringly. The three-dimensional characters draw outstanding performances from the cast: the alluring, statuesque Malena Ernman is an irresistible Julie, while Gary Magee wonderfully suggests Jean’s unprincipled weakness, and Kerstin Avemo makes much of the mouse-like Kristin, the nearest to a sympathetic character in the opera. Bondy’s purely naturalistic production is beautifully filmed with telling use of close-ups; the DVD contains no extras, but the accompanying booklet provides a detailed synopsis and an interview with the composer. Andrew Clements