I’ve learned not to dismiss Romeo Castellucci’s work on first watching because it has a nasty habit of starting to make sense on reflection. His 2018 production of Richard Strauss’ Salome for the Salzburg Festival may be a case in point. Castellucci seems determined to destroy any preconceptions we have about the work and Franz Welser-Möst in the pit is a willing accomplice.
Samuel Barber’s Vanessa doesn’t get performed much and the recently released recording of the 2018 Glyndebourne production is the only video version available. It’s pretty interesting, if perplexing at times, and I’m not as convinced as many of the people interviewed in the “extras” portion of the disk that this is an “under-rated masterpiece”.
The video recording, made at the Deutsche Oper in 2018, of Korngold’s rarely seen Das Wunder der Heliane is yet another lesson in holding off on making judgements on an opera or production until one has seen the whole thing. I still don’t think it’s a lost masterpiece but I’m feeling a lot less derisive than I was at the end of Act I.
The 2018 Salzburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte really pushes the envelope of reenvisioning the piece. Is there anything to say about this piece that hasn’t already been said? Lydia Steier thinks so and goes some considerable way tp making her point. So what’s the big idea here? Essentially the kicking off points are that it’s about (in a sense) a dysfunctional family and it’s a fairy tale. So we open on the dining room of a rather depressing bourgeois Austrian family in the mid 1930s sitting down to dinner. There’s the mother, the father, the grandfather and three boys; all rather formally dressed. A portrait of a bride hangs behind the table. The father has a hissy fit and storms out. The mother, who appears to drink, starts breaking things. The grandfather takes the boys off to the nursery to read them a bedtime story.
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory was written for Paris so it’s appropriate that there should be a recording from the Opéra Comique. It’s directed by Denis Podalydès who chooses to set it around the time of the opera’s creation (1828) with the “crusader” element replaced by the French conquest of Algeria. The sets and costumes are pretty conventional with a heavy emphasis on religious symbolism; some of it rather awry. There’s also a heavy element of sexual frustration. The comedy is all very much there but it’s not too slapstick and there’s none of the annoying cheesiness of Bartlett Sher’s New York version. It all feels very French.
Cavalli’s Il Giasone is a bit of a rarity but perhaps, like the rest of his opus, it’s getting more attention than it used to. The latest video recording of it was made at the Grand Theâte Genève in 2017. There’s a summary of the rather convoluted plot in my review of an earlier version from Vlaamse Opera. Oddly in this version Isifile’s final aria omits the weird section about her cold dead breasts.
Nicola Vaccaj was a contemporary of Rossini and composer of numerous operas of which only his 1825 work Giulietta e Romeo survives. It was produced and recorded at the Festivale della Valle d’Itria in 2018 on the outdoor stage of the Palazzo Ducale in Martina Franca. Giulietta e Romeo, like Bellini’s work on the same subject, is based on earlier material rather than the Shakespeare play and it’s quite different apart from the basic faked death and dual suicide at the end. Here we are less concerned with two young lovers. There’s more broad-scale political stuff. Romeo commands the Ghibelline army that is besieging the Guelfs (including the Capulets) in Verona. He has already killed Giulietta’s brother in battle and the lovers have known each other for some time. So Romeo is rather more than a boy though still sung by a mezzo. The themes are more about bereavement and revenge than young love. The conflict is more than a quarrel between two urban dynasties.