The 2016 Salzburg recording of Gounod’s Faust is challenging. Perhaps the nine pages of the booklet given over to a concept discussion with the directors should have given me sufficient warning that this was not going to be Faust à la Met. It’s not. It’s extremely complex and I’m not sure I fully understand it or whether all the ideas work but I did find it fascinating visually and dramatically, and musically it’s top notch. That said, traditionalists can save themselves a trip to the ER by walking away now.
I’m ambiguous about Italian regional houses in general but what I’ve seen of the Teatro Regio Torino has impressed. They have a fine orchestra and a chorus that can sing and act and they are not afraid to take risks. All of that is very much in evidence on their recording of Gounod’s Faust made in 2015. The production is designed, directed and choreographed by Stefano Poda and, like rather a lot of his work, it’s long on big architectural statements and large scale stage pictures.
Boito’s Mefistofele is a rather odd work. It’s truer to the original Goethe than other operatic versions of the Faust legend which means it’s very episodic and focuses on the Faust/Mefistofele relationship rather than on Margherita. In fact she’s dead with an act and an epilogue still to go. It’s hard to categorize musically too. Some parts are rather bombastic, vulgar even, yet at other times we seem to be drifting into bel canto territory. So it’s a bit uneven; listenable enough but not very memorable.
Earlier this year the Metropolitan opera staged Borodin’s Prince Igor for the first time in nearly a hundred years with an HD broadcast and a DVD/Blu-ray release to boot. It’s an odd work. It’s quite long; a prologue and three acts running over three hours and it’s very episodic. The prologue takes place in Ptivl; the principality of which I gor is prince. He’s about to lead his army against the invading Polovtsians. There are dark omens. The next thing we see, as Act 1 opens, is that Igor is defeated and a captive of Khan Konchak who’s daughter is now in love with Igor’s son. It’s all just happened. Cue lots of exotic Polovtsiania. In Act 2 we are back in Ptivl where Galitsky is making trouble for his sister, Igor’s wife, who has been left as Regent. Mostly the trouble seems to be drunken partying and when the Polovtsian army arrives at the gates the brother, Galitsky, drops dead. In Act 3 the city has been sacked and everybody is kind of mooning around in the rubble until a pretty depressed Igor shows up and implores the other Russian princes to get off their arses and do something (unspecified). All the important stuff happens off stage and there really isn’t any resolution. There is some great music though.
Today’s Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” broadcast was Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. I was not overly impressed although whether this was a result of issues associated with the broadcast or what was happening in the house I’m not entirely sure. One issue was that, again, the cinema was forcing its sound system well past the point at which it could consistently and accurately reproduce music. It may be OK for car chases and explosions but they need to throttle the volume back for the opera broadcasts. I’m guessing that they could drop the sound 6dB and still be louder than it would sound in the house. Driving the speakers and amps at 25% of the pressure level they are currently flogging them at would surely reduce the harmonic distortion. This was particularly an issue because this was very “heavy” Donizetti. I don’t know the work well enough to know whether it has to be done this way but the Met cast large voices in almost all the major roles and Marco Amiliato in the pit seemed to be demanding a very loud and strident sound from the orchestra. It was quite dramatic but emphatically not bel canto; more like forte shouto really. The only singer who sounded idiomatic to me was Tamara Mumford as the page, Smeaton. It did get better after the interval and the big duet between Anna (Anna Netrebko) and Giovanna Seymour (Ekaterina Gubanova) was really quite affecting. Also as far as I could tell Netrebko was singing really well in the “mad scene” (which really isn’t all that mad as these things go) but unfortunately the person in the seat behind me was having extremely audible “gastric distress” and both the lemur and I were having the hardest time not dissolving into giggles during perhaps the most solemn part of the opera. And I thought the coughing at the Four Seasons Centre was bad.