Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (Our Lady's Juggler)

It's telling that Le Jongleur de Notre Dame has not been performed by a professional company in this country in 70 years, prior to the current production at Central City Opera. However, it's not Jules Massenet's dynamic, melodic score or Maurice Léna's well-crafted libretto, which is the difficulty.

Rather, the scarcity of notable arias, the lack of female leads, and the overall brevity of the piece have worked against its acceptance. However, this is not to say that the story is lacking in any way—on the contrary, it is heartfelt and honest—only that certain elements which draw audiences are absent.

Photo of Gaetan Laperriere (The Prior), Jon Garrison (Jean), and Eduardo Chama (Boniface)
(Left to right)
Gaetan Laperriere
(The Prior),
Jon Garrison
(Jean), and
Eduardo Chama
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
In addition, the orthodox Catholic message may present some difficulty for the growing population of so-called Christians who believe that their education or wealth indicate a special relationship with the deity. They will be soberly reminded that the original message of their prophet equated holiness with humility and poverty.

Director Ken Cazan is right in tune with this message, employing a sparse staging that supports the internal beauty of the work. The impressionistic images, in the manner of Monet, and the use of parallel lighting techniques are striking, but add no special insights by their reference to this period.

Photo of Jon Garrison as Jean le Jongleur
Jon Garrison as
Jean le Jongleur
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Jon Garrison is a sympathetic Jean the Juggler, though his age and physical maturity work against the libretto which calls for a younger, underfed man. Eduardo Chama as Boniface the cook, provides the fireworks for the evening with his robust aria in praise of the simple sage plant (which hid Jesus and Mary from Herod's henchmen). Gaetan Laperriere contributes strong work as the Prior.

The staging of the "miracle" ending is a bit clumsy, but has the potential, both dramatically and artistically, to deliver the timeless message, given some small changes. The Festival Orchestra, led by J. David Jackson, brings full expression to Massenet's inspiring score.

Central City Opera's production of Le Jongleur de Notre Dame runs in repertory with The Tales of Hoffmann and The Student Prince through August 6th. 303-292-6700.

Bob Bows


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