Back in 2014 Nikolaus Harnoncourt launched a project to present all three Mozart/da Ponte operas, concert style, on the stage of the Theater an der Wien in a single month. They are now being released on DVD/Blu-ray. The first is Le nozze di Figaro and it comes with a 52 minute documentary by Felix Breisach; Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Between Obsession and Perfection – part 1.
It’s quite unusual for a production to be released twice on video but that’s what has happened with David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Royal Opera House. It was originally released in 2010 with a cast that included Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu. It’s now been released again in a revival directed by Bruno Ravella with a cast headlined by Michael Fabiano, Erwin Schrott and Irina Lungu filmed in 2019.
Agrippina is definitely one of the most interesting of Handel’s early operas. It has very good and very varied music including a ravishing love duet in Act 3 which reminds one of Monteverdi; perhaps not surprisingly since Poppea is one of the characters singing it! The libretto, too, has something of L’incoronazione about it. It’s smart, sexy and utterly cynical which I suppose is about par for an 18th century cardinal. It’s said that Grimani based the character of Claudio, here portrayed as an oversexed buffoon (oace Robert Graves), on his arch enemy Clemens XI. s a bonus in Robert Carsen’s version there’s a rather shocking ending in which Nerone, literally, gets the last laugh.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
Cavalli’s Ercole Amante is an oddity. It was intended as a wedding present from Cardinal Mazarin to Louis XIV but got hijacked by Lully who inserted a bunch of ballets for the king to dance stretching out the piece to something like six hours. It wasn’t a great success. It’s also a very odd story for a piece intended for a royal patron as I explained in reviewing an earlier recording. It’s also in Italian which may make the only French court work to be performed in that language.
There were, of course, many Beethoven 250 events planned for 2020 and few of them happened. One, planned for Vienna, was to stage all three versions of Beethoven’s only opera; Leonore (1805), Fidelio (1806) and the final form that modern audiences mostly know, Fidelio (1814). As far as I know the only one that went ahead was a production of the 1806 version at the Theater an der Wien that was filmed in an empty house and has just got a release on Blu-ray and DVD. Now, it happens that the 1805 Leonore was staged and recorded by Lafayette Opera in New York the year before. So we can look at all three versions and the evolution of the piece despite the Vienna cancellations. For those who want more details on the New York production, it was reviewed by Patrick Dillon in the summer 2020 edition of Opera Canada and there will be a review, by myself, of the recording in a future edition (probably soon).
Once in a while an opera video comes my way that’s so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it. Emma Dante’s production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel; recorded at Teatro dell’opera di Roma in 2019 would be a candidate for the most bonkers of all!
Pietro Antonio Cesti’s 1657 dramma musicale La Dori is a hoot. It seems to prefigure every plot device that will ever be used in opera. A baby sold by bandits who turns out to be a princess. Pirates. A ghost. Mistaken identities. Swapped potions. Men pretending to be women. Women pretending to be men. Love polygons of fiendish complexity. I won’t even attempt to explain the plot because it’s very complex and silly and hardly matters. It took me a half page diagram just to map the relationships between the characters.
There’s obvious irony in a Hungarian directing Wagner’s Lohengrin; even more so when that director sees in Wagner’s Brabant parallels with Orban’s Hungary. It’s quite interesting to see how this plays out in Árpád Schilling’s production recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2018. The first thing to say is that this is an extremely minimalist production with a circle on stage , a curved back wall and not much else, though a bed appears in Act 3. It’s very monochrome; the stage and the characters are all more or less in shades of grey until late in the second act when the Vier Edelknaben (here definitely women) and then the chorus appears in colourful but still eclectically modern, casual outfits. The only real device for telling the story, apart, from the words and music, is the way groups of characters are arranged on stage.
Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.