Monochrome Nabucco

Daniele Abbado’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, recorded at Covent Garden in 2013 was the vehicle for Placido Domingo taking on yet another Verdi baritone role.  It’s set in the 1940’s because, Jews.  At least it’s costumed that way because nothing else about the production has any kind of sense of time or place.  It’s virtually monochrome and quite abstract.  The Temple is represented by a set of upright rectangular blocks which are toppled at the appropriate moment.  The idol of Baal is a sort of wire frame that comes apart rather undramatically and so on.  There’s also nothing in the direction to suggest any kind of concept.  It’s quite straightforward with rather a lot of “park and bark”.  There’s some use of video projections behind and above the action but it’s rather hard to figure them out on video as they tend to appear in shot rather fleetingly.


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revive-300x300I’ve just been listening to Revive; a new recital disk from Elina Garanča.  It marks her move into more dramatic territory as she enters her fifth decade.  It also says quite a lot about how she wants to develop her career.  There’s a very personal introductory essay titled Strong Women in Moments of Weakness and it seems to me that she’s looking to find her place in the 19th century French/Italian romantic/verismo repertoire as opposed to, say, Strauss or Wagner.  Certainly the pieces on the disk represent roles like Eboli, Didon, Delila and Hérodiade, as well as some more obscure stuff like Musette from the Leoncavallo La Bohème and Anne from Saint-Saëns Henry VIII.

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The way by swan

No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD.  It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler).  It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating.  The singing is very good indeed.  Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.

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Traditional Wozzeck from Vienna

1.doctorThe 1987 recording of Berg’s Wozzeck from the Vienna State Opera is a bit of a mixed bag.  Claudio Abbado’s reading of the score is incredibly intense and powerful and he gets great support from the orchestra,  There’s also some very good singing.  Dramatically it’s a bit of a mixed bag and the DVD production isn’t particularly good.  Continue reading

Frock Opera

Giordano’s Fedora is a sort of apotheosis of the 19th century Italian opera.  It’s a melodramatic love story in an aristocratic Russian setting.  There is murder and suicide and plots and a dead mother and brother.  The music is dramatic, even bombastic, when the mood suits but finds time to give showpiece arias for the principals.  There is not a single idea in libretto or score that could give anyone an uncomfortable thought.  The Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 production by Beppe di Tomasi builds on this by playing it dead straight and setting it in a series of suitably opulent settings complete with extravagant frocks.  The cherry on the already rather rich cake is casting Placido Domingo as Loris Ipanoff and Mirella Freni as Fedora Romazoff.  I imagine it’s many people’s idea of the perfect night at the opera   In it’s way it’s the polar opposite of, say, Bieito’s WozzeckContinue reading

Cartoonish barbiere

So following on from Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s last film we now turn to one of his earliest, a 1972 version of Rossini’s Il barbieri di Siviglia.  It’s based on his production for La Scala but is, as usual with Ponelle, studio recorded and shot in the studio with lip synching.  It’s not an especially interesting production but it does have a starry cast including Hermann Prey in the title role.  Continue reading

Ponelle’s Cenerentola

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film version of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito over at The Earworm so I thought it would be a good time to dig out his La Scala production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.  They have a lot in common; an obsession with statuary and heavy focus on verticality that makes the picture often seem taller than it is wide are just two.  The Rossini, despite being filmed at La Scala is very filmic.  It’s much more like a movie than a video recording of a staged performance.  Continue reading

Battle of the basses

Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina may be the most depressing opera ever written. It’s a catalogue of executions, murders, betrayals and mass executions that are no doubt designed to show the extreme purity of the Russian soul. I’m glad I’m not Russian. It’s also a rather beautiful score, though how much that’s due to Mussorgsky who didn’t complete and didn’t orchestrate it is, I suppose, anyone’s guess. In the version I watched; a 1989 performance from the Wiener Staatsoper, the ending is by Stravinsky and the orchestration by Shostakovich.

So what is Khovanshchina all about? It’s set early in the reign of Peter the Great and is ‘about’ the struggle between modernization, here represented by Shaklovity (bass); some sort of court apparatchnik, Prince Ivan Khovansky (bass); boyar and leader of the Streltsy (a sort of police force made up of permanently drunk thugs) and Dosifei (bass); leader of the Old Believers (a bunch of religious nutcases). Khovansky wants to overthrow the Tsar and put his worthless son Prince Andrei (tenor) on the throne. Dosifei doesn’t like the Tsar much either but has no time for the philandering Khovanskys either. There’s a subplot involving Marfa (mezzo) who was formerly betrothed to Andrei and is also a soothsayer and, apparently a witch, Andrei and Andrei’s latest infatuation, a German Lutheran called Emma (soprano). Shaklovity has Khovansky senior murdered following a rather curious scene in which scantily clad Persian slave girls ‘dance’ for him. I say ‘dance’ but it’s more a soft core lesbian sex scene with BDSM overtones. The Streltsy are captured and are set to be executed but are reprieved for no apparent reason. The Tsar sends troops to slaughter the Old Believers but they get their retaliation in first and commit mass suicide in a sort of Jamestown moment. Cheerful stuff!

Alfred Kirchner’s production is pretty straightforward. Sets are somewhat abstracted but costumes are period except, bizarrely, for the Tsar’s guards who look they parachuted in from the 1920s. The choruses are well directed and the immolation scene is pretty atmospheric. There’s a recurring pyramid of skulls motif that seems not inappropriate. The singing is more than adequate. The three basses; Nicolai Ghiaurov (Ivan Khovansky), Paata Burchuladze (Dosifey) and Anatoli Kocherga (Shaklovity) are all more than adequate. The only character I could bring myself to care about, Marfa, is very well sung by Ludmila Semtschuk. Claudio Abbado does a fine job in the pit backed up by the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera.

Video direction is by Brian Large and, despite that, I had some hope after the first scene where we actually get to see the set occasionally. My hopes were soon dashed by a series of relentless and often inappropriate close ups. When there’s a dance number involving three quite good and very good looking dancers focussing on the elderly gent who is slavering over them is just perverse. In the immolation scene the camera work reaches unprecedented levels of ponceyness with dissolves, superpositions, weird angles and strange close ups. It’s truly horrible.

Technically, this is a pretty basic package. The picture is average DVD quality 4:3 not helped by large, bright yellow subtitles (English only) that often obscure the most important part of the frame. Sound is decent Dolby 2.0. There are no extras and documentation is limited to an English track listing.