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.
The 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival production of Puccini’s Tosca was directed by Michael Sturminger. The only Sturminger works I’ve seen before are his rather odd Mozart collaborations with John Malkovich; The Giacomo Variations and The Infernal Comedy so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The production riffs off film noir and is updated to more or less the present. It opens with a shoot out between Angelotti and the police but that lasts only a few seconds and the first act and the first half of the second act are fairly conventional, bar Scarpia on an exercise bike as Act 2 opens. That said, it’s big and monochromatic and it does have a noir feel. It starts to get a bit more conceptual around the Scarpia/Tosca confrontation. It’s an interesting take on Scarpia; perhaps more bureaucrat than psychopath. The relationship between the two is well drawn and Anja Harteros does a really convincing job of her build up to killing Scarpia including a first class Vissi d’arte sung from some unusual positions. There’s a hint of what’s to come at the very end of the act when an “I’m not dead yet” Scarpia is seen crawling towards his phone.
I’ve been impressed by Jonathan Dove’s art songs so I was glad to be able to take a look at one of his operas. It’s The Adventures of Pinocchio and it was recorded in a production by Opera North at Sadlers Wells in 2008. I feel a bit ambivalent about it. I really like the music but I’m not hugely engaged by the libretto. I think this is largely because of the subject matter so it may come off better for someone else.
Ekstasis is a multi-media collaboration between Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière. There are six pieces on the Blu-ray disk. Three were written by Saariaho with the visual elements added later by her husband. The Barrière works were conceived from the outset as multi-media pieces.
The three Saariaho pieces come first. There’s Nocturne for solo violin which is the only piece that doesn’t include electronics. It’s played by Allisa Neige Barrière and is a kind of meditation for extended violin techniques. The video element is the violinist sort of semi superposed on a rippling pond. It’s typical of all the visuals. An image, often the player, is combined with another image, often, as here, of a landscape element. The images merge and flicker in a sort of kaleidoscopic way.