The 2016 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from La Scala had me really puzzled after three acts. There’s nothing to help with the production in either the booklet or on the disk so I went looking on line. According to the Financial Times, Frederic Wake-Walker’s production replaced a much revered version by Girgio Strehler and is a sort of homage to him filled with references to other of his productions.
David Pountney is rarely afraid of taking risks in pursuit of an idea and that seems to be what’s going on in his 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production of Verdi’s La forza del destino. The basic concept seems to be to draw as much distinction as possible between the piece’s predominantly dark tone while making the ‘scherzo’ like elements as mad as possible. And occasionally mixing up the two to create deliberate confusion. To this end he uses a lot of moving set elements and projections; often fuzzily superimposed on stage action. Preziosilla and the camp followers are hot pants clad cowgirls. The full effect is seen in the Act 3 “orgy” where hospital patients, some on drips etc, interact with cow girls and a marching band while giant fuzzy B&W projections of WW2 armour play on the scrim. It’s really busy and takes some decoding.
For quite some time I have wondered whether it’s possible to reinterpret Puccini’s Tosca or whether the specificity as to time and place in the libretto makes it effectively impossible? Indeed I had never even seen it tried. All this despite the many and obvious anachronisms in the libretto. All the Toscas I had seen were clearly set in Rome in that one week in 1800 (or at least the implausible version of it that’s contained in the libretto)! Phillip Himmelmann’s production for the 2017 Baden-Baden Easter Festival breaks the mould in giving it a contemporary, or perhaps near future, setting.
Vincent Brossard’s production of Verdi’s Otello for the 2016 Salzburg Easter Festival is both elegant and subtle; the latter quality being backed up by superb singing and acting from the principals. In many ways the production is clean and straightforward with a focus on character development but it also makes use of elegant lines and sharply contrasting darks and lights in creating the stage picture. There’s also a really cool use of mirrors during Già nella notte densa that I can’t quite figure out.
Verdi loved Shakespeare and tried to reflect the psychological depth of his characters in the operas he based on the bard. You really wouldn’t know that watching the 2008 Salzburg Festival production of Otello. There’s a lot to like in both production and performance but the emotionally monochromatic performance of the title role by Aleksandrs Antonenko, who can do every mood from fairly grumpy to furious, and the moustache twirling Jago of Carlos Álvarez rather reduce the piece to pathologically jealous nutter with anger management problem kills wife.
I suppose in some ways Bellini’s I Puritani is the perfect bel canto opera. It has lots of great tunes, a wicked coloratura soprano part and an utterly ridiculous plot (my comments on the plot can be found in my review of the Met/Netrebko recording) and, of course, a mad scene. In this recording from Barcelona’s Liceu the soprano role of Elvira is taken by Edita Gruberova, surely one of the greatest ever in this genre. At 54 she doesn’t look ideal for the young bride to be but she can act and she gives a master class in bel canto style. What she has to yield to Netrebko in terms of looks and physical commitment she makes up for in sheer technical prowess.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore really is a peculiar piece. It’s a bit of a musical hybrid with huge, rousing choruses interspersed with bel canto arias which I suppose is fairly typical of middle period Verdi. It has a truly silly plot (perhaps based on Blackadder’s lost novel) with gypsies, dead babies and improbable coincidences galore. It’s also notoriously hard to cast with five very demanding roles combining a need for flawless bel canto technique with lots of power. David McVicar’s production at the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast in HD in April 2011 and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD. I saw the HD broadcast and enjoyed it enough to buy the Blu-ray.