THIERRY ESCAICH (b.1965): Claude.
Catalogue Number: 05Q084
Label: Bel Air Classiques
Description: Robert Badinter, the former French Minister of Justice who campaigned successfully for the abolition of the death penalty in France, adapted the didactic novella 'Claude Gueux' by Victor Hugo into the libretto for this opera. A passionate indictment of the tendency for the lower socio-economic echelons of society to be disproportionately imprisoned and condemned to death, which neither appears to be an exclusively French nor an entirely historical problem, Hugo's pleas for social justice could almost be a blueprint for Badinter's own crusading efforts as lawyer and politician. Claude is a worker in the silk trade, who is arrested for joining protests against the machines that, in reforming the industry, rob the workers of their livelihood. He is sent to prison, where he is rescued from despair by a young convict, Albin, who shares first food and then a life-affirming passionate relationship with him (the character's frailty rendered with great effectiveness as a countertenor rôle). This comes to the attention of the despotic director of the prison, who has Albin removed as an arbitrary exercise of power and cruelty to Claude. He contemptuously ignores Claude's entreaties for Albin's return; Claude gives him one last chance and then kills him and attempts suicide. He survives, but is condemned to the guillotine. This updating of a topically relevant romantic-era story is ideally matched in Escaich's sumptuously tonal score, conforming to the conventions of grand opera without being limited by them, adding a contemporary rhythmic and harmonic flavor to a traditional idiom. His frequent recourse to ostinato-driven rhythmic insistence is highly effective, as the symbol of the machine is used throughout as a visual metaphor for the crushing effect of the system on the powerless individual; the prison set is a huge geometric mechanism, and the prisoners' enforced work is portrayed as mechanically repetitive. The vocal writing is powerful, idiomatic and strongly characterized. Jean-Sébastien Bou, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Laurent Alvaro (baritones), Rodrigo Ferreira (countertenor), Orchestra, Choir and Children's Choir of the Opéra de Lyon; Jérémie Rhorer. 16:9 widescreen. NTSC region 0. PCM Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. 97 min + 26 min. bonus.