I’m rarely disappointed by a Pierre Audi production and his Tristan und Isolde for Teatro dell’opera di Roma, recorded in 2016, was far from that. It’s a bit of a slow burn but then so, really, is the work itself. It’s starkly simple. The sets contain few elements and no fuss. Costuming is almost drab but the direction of the singers is compelling and it builds to a brilliant staging of the Liebestod with Isolde silhouetted, motionless in a kind of frame and absolutely nothing happening which, paradoxically, is riveting.
Stefano Landi’s Lamorte d’Orfeo of 1619 is interesting for several reasons. It’s one of relatively few operas from this early in the history of the art form that we have enough information on to perform. It was also written in and for Rome so it reflects the clerical influences of that environment rather than the more secular Venice of Monteverdi. It’s also an unusual take on the Orfeo legend. It takes off from where Monteverdi and many others leave off. Euridice is dead, for good this time, and the opera deals with the balance of Orfeo’s life. Briefly, he is heartbroken and renounces Pleasure; including wine and women. He compounds this by not inviting Bacco to a birthday celebration attended by most of the other gods. Bacco and his female followers are not pleased. Orfeo is torn to pieces by the Maenads. Orfeo is quite OK with this because now he will be united with Euridice but Charon refuses to take him; a demi-god, across the Styx. Mercury fetches Euridice from the Elysian Fields but she has drunk from Lethe and doesn’t recognise him. She’s quite clear that she wants nothing to do with this so-called Orfeo. Giove makes it up to Orfeo (who also drinks the water of Lethe and forgets Euridice) by making him into a constellation and all the gods rejoice. (for consistency’s sake I’ve used the Italianised versions of the Roman versions of the various Greek characters in the same way as the libretto).
The casting for Philip Boesmans’ chamber opera Julie, to be staged by Soundstrams and Canadian Stage in November has been announced. The title role will be sung by London, Ontario mezzo Lucia Cervoni. I’ve not seen her but judging by reviews she seems to be very much in the same space; physically and vocally, as Malena Ernman who premiered the role. Jean, her feckless lover, well be sung by Clarence Frazer. He’s been on terrific form lately and seems a good pick, though it’s a rather thankless role. The toughest sing in the piece is probably Christine, Jean’s fiancée and a servant in the household. This goes to Ottawa’s Sharleen Joynt. She really impressed me as Zerlina in Against the Grain’s #UncleJohn and I’m really intrigued to see what she does with a high coloratura role which is, I believe, her normal turf. Continue reading →
Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos is described by him as “eine Opernphantasie”. It certainly isn’t an opera in the conventional sense lacking, as it does, anything resembling a plot. It’s a staged setting of poems by Nietzsche written just before his final descent into madness (if one considers that’s not where he was from the start!). Rihm conceives this as four scenes each dealing with a different “element” in Nietzscean terms. The four are Water, a scene set on a lake; Air, a mountain scene; Intimate Space, a scene in a brothel; and Public Space, set in a town square. So, episodic and linked only by a certain kind of mood and the characters. The weight of the piece is carried by “N”, a baritone role. he interacts variously with a amle guest who doubles as Apollo and a high soprano who doubles as Ariadne. In addition there is a trio of ladies; high soprano, mezzo, contralto, who play various roles from pseudo Rhinemaidens to tarts.
The second half of the Amsterdam double bill that opened with Iphigénie en Aulide is, of course, Iphigénie en Tauride. In this piece the more usual version of the Aulis story, where Diana substitutes a stag for Iphigenia on the altar and whisks the girl off to be her priestess among the savage Scythians of Tauris, is assumed. So the piece opens with Iphigenia and six other Mycenean priestesses (how they got to Tauris is a mystery) in Diana’s temple at Tauris where their job is to sacrifice any strangers who show up. Almost at once the capture of two Greeks is announced. They turn out to Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his sidekick Pylades and the the next 90 minutes turns on Iphigenia failing to sacrifice either of them.
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD. It was staged and recorded as a double bill with Iphigénie en Tauride at De Nederlandse Opera in September 2011 in productions by Pierre Audi. It’s excellent in just about every respect. The cast is to die for, the production is interesting and so is the staging in the rather challenging space of The Amsterdam Music Theatre, which also poses problems for the video director. Backed up, on Blu-ray, by a 1080i picture and DTS-HD-MA sound it’s a pretty compelling package.
Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is based, like so many operas, on an episode in Ariosto’s work of the same name. In this case it relates the events that take place during Orlandos stay on the enchanted island of the sorceress Alcina. There are two love triangles, enchantments and Orlando goes mad before order is restored, the island is disenchanted and Alcina, as befits a woman who gets uppity in an eighteenth century opera, is restored to her rightful place in the Outer Darkness. Structurally it’s pretty typical of the period with a lot of showy arias in a variety of forms plus a couple of decent choruses.
Rameau’s Castor et Pollux is a tragédie lyrique in five acts. It’s a mythology based libretto which, ultimately, celebrates the fraternal love of the twins who rise to immortality while rather callously discarding the female human love interest. Pierre Audi’s 2008 production for De Nederlandse Opera nods both to the baroque and to the mythological by staging the work in a rather abstract Sci-Fi sort of way but with moving sets and Fx that suggest, rather than reproduce, the stagecraft of the baroque.
Tan Dun’s Marco Polo is hugely ambitious. He uses Marco Polo’s legendary journey as a metaphor for Space and Time. He fuses a range of Western musical styles with Chinese, Tibetan and Indian instruments and vocal styles. Although most of the work is sung in English there are sections in Italian and Chinese and other bits in a sort of random polyglot. The cast includes a range of real, allegorical and psychological figures. Marco and Polo are in fact two characters; one representing action and the external and the other the psychological and internal. Kublai Khan, Dante, Shakespeare, Sheherazada and Mahler put in appearances and much of the narrative is carried by a Chinese opera singer playing the part of Rustichello; “the questioner”. To be honest, despite having read the booklet, watched Reiner Moritz’s “Making of” documentary and studied the chart below, most of the time I had no idea what was actually happening. It’s really all too abstract and involved to really work as music drama.
Rameau’s Zoroastre is a tragédie lyrique in five acts. It’s basically a story of love, power and revenge coupled with a metaphysical struggle between Good and Evil. It has a seriously convoluted plot involving demons, incantations, good and evil spirits, a magical talisman book and human sacrifice. Watching the illustrated synopsis on the disk is strongly recommended! Being the baroque French beast that it is this work also has lots of ballets. Pierre Audi’s production was staged and filmed at the court theatre at Drottningholm and is a sort of almost, but not quite, HIP concept, somewhat akin to Robert Carsen’s production of Les Boréades.