Pietro Antonio Cesti’s 1657 dramma musicale La Dori is a hoot. It seems to prefigure every plot device that will ever be used in opera. A baby sold by bandits who turns out to be a princess. Pirates. A ghost. Mistaken identities. Swapped potions. Men pretending to be women. Women pretending to be men. Love polygons of fiendish complexity. I won’t even attempt to explain the plot because it’s very complex and silly and hardly matters. It took me a half page diagram just to map the relationships between the characters.
There’s obvious irony in a Hungarian directing Wagner’s Lohengrin; even more so when that director sees in Wagner’s Brabant parallels with Orban’s Hungary. It’s quite interesting to see how this plays out in Árpád Schilling’s production recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2018. The first thing to say is that this is an extremely minimalist production with a circle on stage , a curved back wall and not much else, though a bed appears in Act 3. It’s very monochrome; the stage and the characters are all more or less in shades of grey until late in the second act when the Vier Edelknaben (here definitely women) and then the chorus appears in colourful but still eclectically modern, casual outfits. The only real device for telling the story, apart, from the words and music, is the way groups of characters are arranged on stage.
Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.
Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide isn’t performed all that often but it has appeared a number of times at the Pesaro Rossini Festival. In 2018 it got a new production there from the creative team of Opera Atelier with a rather starrier cast than is usual in their Toronto productions followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release. It’s actually not too hard to see why the piece isn’t done more often despite its many good qualities. It requires four tenors; at least two of which need to be absolutely top notch Rossinians and a soprano of equal quality. None of the roles are easy. It’s also a bit mixed dramatically. The libretto is a rather convoluted crusader story set in Africa. Agorante has captured Zoraide and wants to make her no.2 wife. No.1 wife Zomira is unimpressed. Ricciardo disguises himself to try and rescue Zoraide. Zoraide’s father shows up. Agorante is about to have essentially everyone executed when the crusaders, led by Ernesto, rush in and everybody makes up. There are some really effective scenes and others that just seem to drag on. Musically it’s pretty good though. It’s never less than well crafted and at times; the first half of act 2 especially, there’s some great music including a crackerjack tenor duet, a fantastic display aria for soprano and some really good ensembles.
Der Prinz von Homburg is a 1960 opera by Hans Werner Henze setting a libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann based on an 1811 play by Heinrich von Kleist. The essential context is Henze and Bachmann’s rejection of German militarism and authoritarianism that they believed was being built back into the new German Federal Republic. It has been enjoying something of a revival in the last few years, perhaps as a result of the resurgence of the Fascist/nationalist right, with multiple productions in Germany including one in Stuttgart in 2019 which was recorded for video.
Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart. The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible. My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable. In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson. The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places. For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.
Melly Still’s production of Dvorák’s Rusalka, recorded at Glyndebourne in 2019 got rave reviews and, judging by the audience reaction on the recording. was enthusiastically received in the house. Unfortunately I don’t think it works all that well on video despite some rather stunning stage pictures and generally strong performances.
It’s not easy to figure out how to stage Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. On the one hand it’s a gritty story of violence and poverty and hopelessness. On the other hand it’s got classic Broadway elements; romance, glitzy song and dance numbers etc. It’s also, cleverly and deliberately, musically all over the place with just about every popular American musical style of the period incorporated one way or another.
Following on from Massenet’s dreamlike, ambiguous Cendrillon I took a look at a fairly recent recording of Rossini’s much more straightforward, if somewhat moralising, opera buffa on the same theme La Cenerentola. There’s no magic here. The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s tutor Alidoro who engineers Angelina’s trip to the ball. There’s no stepmother either but rather a stepfather and it’s unclear what has happened to either of the mothers one imagines must have been involved.
The libretto of Massenet’s Cendrillon is much more ambiguous than Rossini’s straightforward La Cenerentola and given that we all “know” the Cinderella story exploiting those ambiguities is likely to prove attractive to a director. Fiona Shaw, whose Glyndebourne production was revived in 2019 under the revival direction of Fiona Dunn, finds rather more than. most.