Rossini’s rarely performed opera seria Maometto II opened at the Four Seasons Centre last night in a production by David Alden and with substantially the same cast as when it played in Santa Fe on 2012. This is the restored Maometto in the edition prepared by Hans Schellevis in an attempt to get as close to Rossini’s initial Naples score as possible. So, no happy ending and all the complexity of Rossini’s original design.
This just in from frequent Operaramblings commenter and COC Adult Education Programs Manager Gianmarco Segato. The COC is launching Opera Insights, a series of free adult education events linked to the productions of the 2015/16 season. It’s a pretty broad range of programming ranging from scholarly discussions on reconstructing the score of Maometto II and the history of the ball gown to Traviata singalongs and Carmen themed dance lessons. Participants include composers Barbara Monk-Feldman and Norbert Palej, conductors Johannes Debus, Harry Bicket and Sandra Horst and singers like Christine Goerke plus, inevitably, lots of academics (we love them really we do). Looks like a lot of fun. The events are all free but are ticketed. Full details can be found here.
There’s a unit set; some marble flags, a few broken columns surrounding a “fire pit”. Even this is stripped down for much of Act 2 which takes place on the stage apron in front of a plain curtain. There are five singers, a chorus and an orchestra. That, plus Peter Sellars, is all it takes to produce an extraordinary piece of music drama.
I’m never quite sure what to expect from David Alden. Some things are predictable; striking images, bold colours and a degree of vulgarity, but beyond that it’s hard to be sure. Sometimes he seems to be trying to be deep (his Lucia for example), sometimes more kitschy (Rinaldo) and there’s always a slight undercurrent of him thumbing his nose at the audience. His production of L’incoronazione di Poppea at Barcelona’s Liceu is a curious combination of all these things and I think it works pretty well.
Robert Carsen’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is as visually striking as any of his productions. It’s also one that’s done the rounds, playing in Aix and Lyon before being recorded by a strong cast at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2005. The challenge with Dream is to create visual worlds for the Fairies and the Mortals that are different but work together. Carsen and his usual design team do this very well in this case. The Fairies are given striking green and blue costumes with red gloves. The mortals mostly run to white and cream and gold and they seem to spend a lot of time in their underwear. The lighting, as always with Carsen, forms an important part of the overall design. Carsen completists will also notice certain other characteristic touches like starkly arranged furniture.
Today’s MetHD broadcast was Mozart’s last, and arguably best, opera La Clemenza di Tito. J-P Ponnelle’s production has been around for a while and offers nothing to offend traditionalists. There’s not a baked potato, muscle suit or child sacrifice in sight. The set, maybe more Italian Renaissance than Imperial Rome is elegant, undistracting and very singer friendly. The costumes are a rather eclectic mix of late 17th century and Republican Rome with a bit of Lady Capulet thrown in but only the black number with the big panniers that Vitellia gets in Act 2 would excite much comment. Direction then focuses rather on the characters and their relationships.
I really don’t know how many operas there are more or less based on Tasso’s story of the Christian knight Rinaldo and the Muslim sorceress Armida. Certainly there are versions by Rossini and Lully which I’ve seen. Then there’s Handel’s Rinaldo which I watched in David Alden’s production for the Bayerischer Staatsoper in 2001. Alden at least manages to avoid obvious Monty Python and the Holy Grail references which is more than either the Metropolitan Opera and Opera Atelier managed with the Rossini and the Lully. In fact Alden manages to avoid all the usual cliches of both Handel in general and this piece in particular though at the expense of giving us a version that is quite hard to interpret. The action is moved to maybe the 1950s to judge by the costumes and the Christians are decidedly wimpy and ostentatiously pious (except for the Rinaldo of David Daniels). Crucifixes, surplices and bibles crop up at odd times and in the final scene the Christian army is a line of Jesus statuettes of the kind one can pick up at Honest Ed’s or one’s friendly neighbourhood Catholic tat store. The Muslims are much earthier and in Act 1 Argante (Egilis Silins) seems to terrify the Christian trio of Goffredo (David Walker), Almirena (Deborah York)and Eustazio (Axel Köhler). Also Noëmi Nadelmann’s very sexy Armida is much earthier than Deborah York’s rather etiolated persona. Note that by casting Goffredo as a countertenor we end up with four countertenors which is more than I’ve seen on stage at one time for sure.
Whatever the overall concept, Alden does pretty much what Handel did with the original production; give us a succession of arresting visual images and effects and some very funny moments. There’s probably more flesh on display too than Handel could have got away with in 1711. There is, as the cliche would have it, never a dull moment with giant dolls dropping their pants, an army of aliens, severed limbs and a David Lynch like giant face. It all puts considerable demands on the athletic and acting abilities of the cast and here Nadelmann has the toughest time and does really, really well. Her physical acting and timing are excellent and she’s not at all hard on the eye which helps. Everybody else is pretty good too. David Daniels face, as he gets felt up by both the girls, is a picture.
Musically, the stand out is David Daniels. No surprise really. Here he sings stylishly throughout and delivers a really lovely “cara sposa, amante cara”. Nadelmann gets full marks for being accurate and musical even while acting her head off. She sings “Furie terribili!” with Argante’s head clasped between her thighs! At least for “Lascia ch’io pianga” York is stationary though in quite an awkward pose. I think she sounds a bit over challenged by some of the high passage work in act 1 but she seems to improve as things progress. As the one low voice on show Silins is a good contrast. I’ve heard more agile bass-baritones in Handel but his fairly bluff reading is appropriate to the way the part is portrayed here. Harry Bicket directs the Bavarian State Orchestra and plays continuo. No worries there.
Brian Large directed for the small screen and does his usual thing of giving us lots of close ups which is a shame as there is lots going on that we miss and it’s obvious that Alden and his designer, Paul Steinberg, have put a lot of thought into the overall composition of scenes which is mostly lost on the DVD. The DVD itself is pretty basic. It’s on the Kultur label in North America though it originated as a Euroarts release in Europe. Kultur have stuck the original two DVDs onto a single disc and while they have included the useful documentary essay Handel, the Entertainer it means the only sound option is Dolby 2.0 and the only subtitles are English. The picture (16:9 anamorphic) and sound quality is perfectly OK but not stunning. The only documentation is a chapter listing.