Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville’s Titon et l’Aurore is another member of that rather long list of operas that were well received in their day and then totally disappeared from the rep. It’s interesting as an example of what was happening on the French opera stage between the retirement of Rameau and the revolution (it premiered in 1753) and because it played an important role in the “querelle des bouffons”.
L’occasione fa il ladro is a rather typical early Rossini piece (he was only nineteen when he wrote it). The plot is extremely silly but it’s quite short (90 minutes) and the music is tuneful and well crafted. To cut a short story even shorter, Count Alberto is off to collect his bride, Berenice, who he has never seen. On the way his luggage gets mixed up with that of the chancer Don Parmenione, who decides t take the opportunity to grab the bride for himself. Meanwhile Berenice has swapped places with her maid Ernestina so she can check Alberto out at a safe distance. Inevitably confusion ensues but it all ends happily with Alberto paired off with Berenice and Parmenio with Ernestina, who, of course, is not really a maid at all.
The recently released recording of Puccini’s Tosca from the Wiener Staatsoper was recorded in 2019 but, as best I can tell, the production, by Margarethe Wallmann, dates back to 1957 and it feels that old. It’s entirely literal and, beyond basic blocking, the singers appear to have been left to their own devices as far as acting goes. It also clearly was not designed with video in mind. Cavaradossi’s execution is quite remarkably unsanguine.
I was beginning to think that I was not reviewing as many video recordings as in the past. It’s actually true but unsurprising since I rarely dip into the back catalogue anymore focussing almost entirely on new issues, which any case have slowed since there has been much less to record. So, yes, I’m down from about 60 per year to 43 in the last twelve months but there’s a twist. Increasingly my video reviews have been appearing in the print edition of Opera Canada. So 8 of the last year’s 43 didn’t appear here. I thought I’d just publish a list, by edition of the magazine, with a one sentence review of each disk in case anybody felt it was worth digging them out. So…
The disc release (Blu-ray and DVD) of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann is actually a 2 for 1. There’s a recording of a performance of the play from the 2020 Salzburg festival plus a 54 minute “docufiction” film about the history of the festival.
The thing that struck me most about the Royal Opera House’s 2018 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre is how lyrical it is. It’s not without excitement in the appropriate places, far from it, but there’s such lovely singing. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is tender and poetic and the combo of Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee as the twin lovers is really good. Throw in a nuanced Wotan from John Lundgren and a typically elegant performance from Sarah Connolly as Fricka and it’s really a pleasure to listen to. Ain Anger is not so lyrical as Hunding but it’s a fine menacing performance. Antonio Pappano and the house orchestra are equally fine.
My guess is that Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler is an opera most opera amateurs have heard of but which comparatively few have actually seen. The video release of a 2012 production at Theater an der Wien directed by Keith Warner is therefore very welcome.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is a rather odd opera. It’s set in some sort of idyllic pre-Christian Russia where the tsar is approachable, just and benevolent and the people spend most of their time drinking and having sex. Into this world comes Snow Maiden, the fifteen year old daughter of Winter and Spring. Her parents have various things to do and so decide to park the girl with the local peasantry. Various romantic complications ensue involving a rather nasty, rich merchant Mizguir and the mysterious Lel, who may be a shepherd but likely isn’t mortal either. The mating behaviour of the locals confuses Snow Maiden as she is incapable of falling in love. Eventually Spring grants her that faculty and she gives herself to Mizguir, while really wanting Lel, but the rays of the sun on the first day of summer melt her. The natives ignore her death and get on with singing and dancing.
I guess many opera goers in the English speaking world will have at least a passing acquaintance with Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle but I suspect fewer will have seen Offenbach’s take on Perreault’s rather grim tale. It will probably come as no great surprise that Offenbach’s Barbe-bleue is a somewhat tongue in cheek version of the story of the notorious serial killer.
It’s not often that I’m completely baffled by an opera production but Frank Castorf’s 2018 production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu) at the Bayerische Staatsoper comes pretty close. Since I really can’t explain what’s going on I’ll try to describe the various elements.