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.
In 2015 the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Verdi’s Otello directed by Bartlett Sher. It was broadcast in the Met in HD series and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s a bit hard to judge the production on video because of the video direction. I don’t think there are any big ideas but it’s decorative enough with arrangements and rearrangements of plexiglass wall/rooms and some effective video projections for things like the storm scene. Only Act 4 breaks the mould with a sparse stage with just a bed and a few chairs. I strongly suspect though from the occasional wide angle shot that there was a lot more going on visually than one sees on the video. Costumes are 19th centuryish and quite decorative.
Carl Heinrich Graun isn’t exactly a household name today but he was court composer to the extremely musical Frederick the Great who was fond of both his flute and the opera when he wasn’t too busy being beastly to the Austrians. Anyway, Graun composed a ton of opera and based on the arias on this disk it’s surprising that they are almost completely neglected. The only Graun opera I have seen is Montezuma which got a video recording in Bayreuth about thirty five years ago so I was quite keen to see what else he had done.
La Scala and Riccardo Chailly have embarked on a project to record all the Puccini operas. The first one, recorded in 2015, is Turandot with a new completion of the third act by Berio rather than the usual Alfano version. The director was Nikolaus Lehnhoff with Nina Stemme as Turandot and Aleksandrs Antonenko as Calaf.
Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci are not only a commonly coupled pair of operas but pretty much define the genre we call verismo. It’s a curious genre in a lot of ways. Musically it defines a style, brought to its highest state by Puccini, that is a sort of Fukuyama-esque “end of opera” after which everything is, for a section of the opera audience, modern, inaccessible and frightening. It’s also dramatically an attempt to get away from stories from myth and history and root the drama in “stories of everyday folk”. Which is fine, I suppose, if one believes the only things “everyday folk” care about are female constancy and the more pagan end of Catholicism for these stories tend to be a touch unsubtle; “she done him wrong so he killed her” (and her dog and he probably crashed her truck too). It’s actually quite ironic that Puccini, held up as the arch exponent of verismo, rarely actually goes down this path. Il Tabarro perhaps, maybe Suor Angelica, at a stretch Tosca but in large part his material is drawn from the usual well of opera plots. So Cav and Pag is interesting as almost pure verismo.
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.
Puccini’s Il Trittico is a collection of three one act operas designed to be performed on a single evening. They rarely are. Perhaps this is because performing all three makes for a rather long evening (and for a huge cast) or maybe it’s because two of the three aren’t all that great. In any event, while most opera goers will likely have seen the comedy Gianni Schicchi, most will likely not have seen the two tragedies that precede it; Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica. However, all three works were performed as a triple bill at the Royal Opera House in 2011. The show was broadcast by the BBC and is available on Blu-ray and DVD. All three pieces were directed by Richard Jones and Anthony Pappano conducted.