Ambitious Parsifal

Wagner’s Parsifal both attracts and repels.  It has gorgeous music but a problematic plot that, on the surface, is a weird mash up of Christian symbolism, medieval romance and (more than likely) anti-Semitism.  With reference to the latter it’s no great surprise that an Israeli conductor taking on the work would want to take an approach that deals with that aspect head on.  That’s what Omer Meir Wellber does, with the willing collaboration of director Graham Vick in a production staged and recorded at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in 2020.

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Misfortunes of War

The basic premise of Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo, recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2019, seems to be that Idomeneo and Elettra are so damaged by their experiences that they must yield limelight and power to Idamante and Ilia.  It’s an interesting idea though one wonders why Ilia is considered to be less traumatized given that her parents and siblings have been slaughtered and her home razed to the ground.  What’s really weird though is that Holten seems to show no sympathy for Idomeneo or Elettra.  Not only are they haunted throughout by particularly grizzly corpses but at the end Elettra goes down to Hades; a trench in the stage inhabited by said grizzly corpses, but she’s followed by Idomeneo.  He is visibly disintegrating mentally in Act 3 and by the time of his resignation speech the crowd is actually laughing at him then, as he goes to embrace Idamante he is intercepted by two men who hustle him off to the grizzly trench.  I’m not sure what Holten is getting at here but, for me, it undermines the sense of resolution that the music implies, as well as its essential humanity.

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Intense Jenůfa

Janáček’s Jenůfa was staged and recorded at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in 2021 under COVID conditions.  There’s no audience and the chorus members, in black, are distributed all around the auditorium.  Even without a live audience it’s extremely dramatic and intense.

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In a mental hospital?

Not so long ago I reviewed a production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and described it as “so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it.”.  So what to say about one that I found even less satisfying?  First, for plot details check out the earlier review.  Now for this version directed by Andrea Breth and filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2021 without an audience but with no other obvious concessions to COVID.

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Halka

Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka is sometimes regarded as Poland’s national opera.  It’s one of those mid 19th century works that tries to create some kind of national idiom broadly within the framework of the musical style of the age (the composer was conservatory trained in Berlin).  It’s really quite good but rarely performed outside Poland so it’s interesting to look at it, especially in a rather good production by Mariusz Treliński that was given and recorded at Theater an der Wien in 2019.

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Siberia… with Stalin… and COVID

I’m really not sure what to make of the recent recording of Giodarno’s Siberia made at the Maggi Musicale Fiorentino in 2021.  It’s certainly a rather weird experience. It’s partly that it’s a bit of an oddball of an opera, partly Roberto Andò’s production and partly that it was recorded under COVID conditions with the chorus masked and blocking that seems, if rather inconsistently, to be designed for social distancing.

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Saul in Vienna

Handel’s Saul gets another “fully staged” treatment in this recording of a Claus Guth production at the Theater an der Wien in 2021.  Inevitably it invites comparison with Barrie Kosky’s Glyndebourne version.. They are quite different though each is very enjoyable n its own way. Those not familiar with the piece might find the introduction to the earlier production helpful as I’m not going to repeat the outline of plot etc here.

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Hoffmann in Hamburg

The 2021 recording of Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann from the Staatsoper Hamburg is fairly straightforward but it’s visually interesting and musically excellent.  I don’t think Daniele Finzi Pascas’ production has a “concept” as such.  It’s still about three imaginary women who make up Hoffmann’s dream woman and he still ultimately rejects even her in favour of Art.  Each of the five acts is given as different and distinctive look and feel though the use of mirrors and aerial doubles is a recurrent theme.  It’s worth noting up front that Olga Peretyatko sings all four ladies.

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A metatheatrical Tannhäuser

The more I see of Tobias Kratzer’s work the more impressed I get.  Here we look at his 2019 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Bayreuth.  It’s the kind of production that traditionalists get off on hating and there were boos at curtain call though they were absolutely drowned out by a storm of applause and stomping.  Personally, I found it insightful, at times very funny, and deeply, deeply moving.

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Harnoncourt 3 – Così fan tutte

Well it took me a while to get hold of a copy of the third of the Harnoncourt Mozart/da Ponte operas.  It is, of course, Così fan tutte and like the previous two operas is semi-staged at the Theater an der Wien.  Also like the previous two there’s about an hour documentary which in this case consists almost entirely of rehearsal footage.  It’s well worth watching though there is some obvious overlap with the previous two and most of what I would say about it I already did in my review of Le nozze di Figaro which I recommend reading along with this one.

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