The Golden Cockerel

Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel is a pretty weird opera.  It’s a satire on Nicholas II’s performance as tsar written just after the disastrous 1905 war with Japan and due to entirely unsurprising trouble with the censors it wasn’t performed in the composer’s life time.  As you may imagine, a production of it by Barrie Kosky doesn’t make it any less weird.  Kosky’s production was recorded at Opéra de Lyon in May 2021 and there are still some COVID artefacts.  The chorus, for instance, is masked.  But mostly it feels like a “normal” production.

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Virtue not blood

Scarlatti’s Griselda is based on a story from the Decameron.  Gualtiero, king of Sicily, has married Griselda, a shepherdess.  The people are upset that the king has married beneath him and are getting stroppy.  Gualtiero sets out to prove Griselda a worthy consort by testing her constancy.  He repudiates Griselda and sends her back to shepherding while arranging to marry an Apulian princess Constanza, who both he and Corrado, duke of Apulia, know to be his daughter by Griselda.  It’s complicated by one Ottone who is infatuated by Griselda and Roberto, son of Corrado, who is in love with Costanza, who returns his feelings.  Griselda is put through various humiliating trials in which she repeatedly shows her devotion to Gualtiero.  Eventually the people recognise her virtue and all is restored.  One notable thing, unlike his predecessor Cavalli, Scarlatti doesn’t inject any incongruous or comic passages into the opera.  It’s all deadpan serious.

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In this vale of tears

In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list.  I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have.  It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.

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Tcherniakov’s Holländer

Dmitri Tcherniakov directed Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth in 2021 where it was recorded.  It’s no surprise given (a)Tcherniakov and (b)Bayreuth that it’s not a straightforward production.  I’m not sure I have fully unpacked it and there isn’t anything in the disk package to help (just the usual essay telling the reader what he/she/they already know/s).

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Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Poppea

In 2017 Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and a rather distinguished group of specialist baroque singers toured semi-staged versions of the three main Monteverdi operas, which were also recorded for video. Being a bit skeptical about the idea of videoing semi-staged performances I decided to take a look at L’incoronazione di Poppea (because it’s my favourite of the three) before committing to the trio. Bottom line, despite some stylish singing, good acting and excellent playing I can’t really see the point. There are good fully staged versions of all three operas available on video and, for me, especially watching at home, it’s hard for a semi-staged version to fully engage my attention.

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Falstaff as farce

Verdi’s Falstaff, of course, is a farce so there’s no reason why a director shouldn’t treat it as one but all three of the other productions I’ve seen in the last few years have transposed it to the 1950s and put a spin on it.  Sven-Eric Bechtolf, in his production for the 2021 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, just doesn’t do that.  It’s a 1590s (ish) setting and it’s played very broad.  There are big costumes, big gestures, entrances and exits and characters “hidden in plain view”.  It could be Dario Fo or Brian Rix.

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600

It’s taken from late October 2018 to move from 500 video recordings in the archive to 600.  So that’s 2-3 recordings per month which sounds about right.  It’s slower than in the past for two reasons.  There just isn’t as much historic material I haven’t already seen and the rate of new releases, unsurprisingly, slowed down quite a bit during the pandemic.

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Make Brabant Great Again

Yuval Sharon’s Lohengrin in 2018 at the Bayreuth Festival was the first production there by an American director and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are echoes of contemporary events in the US in the show.  Specifically Sharon’s Brabant is a conformist theocracy in which society has regressed technologically.  Some of the action takes place in and around a prominently placed disused electrical installation of some kind.  The Brabanters are cowardly and subservient, initially to Telramund and then, equally, to Lohengrin.  The advent of a charismatic leader. does not necessarily equate to liberation or full citizenship.  Sharon also claims in his director’s notes that the real dissenter is Ortrud and that it is her actions that liberate Elsa and Gottfried.  Whether the staging supports this is, I think, questionable.

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The Passenger revisited

Something over three years ago I wrote a review of the video of the 2010 Bregenz Festival production of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger. There’s now been a second fully staged production, at Graz, recorded in 2021 (without an audience i think but otherwise no obvious COVID concessions). The Bregenz review contains a whole lot of information on the performance history of the piece as well as a plot summary so I’ll not repeat that. Having a quick look at it before reading on will likely make the rest of this post more comprehensible.

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La Wally

Catalani’s La Wally is not much performed outside Italy so I was interested to get my hands on a recording made at the Theater an der Wien in 2021.  It’s about what one might expect from an Italian opera of the 1890s; an everyday story of country folk plus murder.

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