Respighi’s La campana sommersa is interesting in that it’s one of comparatively few post-Puccini Italian operas to get some sort of traction. It premiered in Hamburg in 1927 and saw quite a few productions between then and 1939 including one at the Met in 1929. Then it pretty much descended into obscurity before being revived in 2016 by a co-pro between Teatro Lirico di Cagliari (where the recording reviewed here was made) and the revived (more or less) NYCO (which used the Cagliari orchestra and chorus but American soloists). It’s based on a symbolist poem by German poet Gerhart Hauptmann and concerns a bell; which has been hoofed into a lake by fauns, a master bell maker who thinks he is the pagan god Balder, a water sprite, Rautendelein, and assorted mortals, elves, witches, fauns and so on. As with all these works no-one lives happily ever after.
I’m never quite sure what I really think about an operetta like Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns. I quite like the music, even if it can be a bit cheesey but I’m put off by the casual cultural appropriation (though it’s not nearly as bad as Puccini!). I’m not sure what the best directorial approach is either. Does one play it for froth? Does one try and mine some deeper meaning? Interestingly Andreas Homoki’s approach for his Zürich production filmed in 2017 is to play it straight and let whatever is there appear or not. It works rather well. It;s a typically lavish Zürich production with lots of colour and movement and he creates some spectacular visual effects. But he also allows for a sinister element to appear in the Chinese scenes. It may be over-interpreting but I think one can see shades of proto-Fascism here. It’s reinforced by the score that really has some rather sinister elements that I hadn’t noticed before. I think there’s even a nod to Siegfried’s Funeral March. All in all, quite interesting without being wildly unconventional.
Claus Guth’s Salzburg da Ponte cycle is certainly my favourite trifecta and they are right up on my list for top picks for all three operas so I was intrigued to see what he would do with the much less recorded La clemenza di Tito which he directed at Glyndebourne in 2017. Bottom line, I’m not at all convinced by it.
No opera says Glyndebourne like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It opened the first season in 1934 and inaugurated the new theatre in 1994. Michael Grandage’s production which opened in 2012 was, I think, Glyndebourne’s fifth. In any event it’s a fairly traditional affair though with the setting updated to the 1960s (though still set in a palace in Seville and I’ve got a nagging feeling that late Franco era Spain didn’t have much in common with the Haight and Carnaby Street but there you go). The updated setting does allow for some visual gags with ridiculous 1960s dance moves but otherwise it could pretty much be anywhere, anytime. There’s no concept and Grandage’s focus is on the interactions between the characters and the way they can be expressed in a relatively intimate house.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, seen at Glyndebourne in 2006, is about as traditional as it gets. The story is straightforwardly told and the settings and costumes are 18th century Naples, or at least some operatic approximation of it. That said, it’s immensely enjoyable and, just occasionally, goes beyond the superficial. The strength lies in the casting and in the director’s decision to allow his young singers to behave like young people. Miah Persson as Fiordiligi and Anke Vondung as Dorabella are close to perfect in their exuberant girlishness. Naturally Vondung gets to be a bit ditzier than the angstier Persson because that’s how the thing is written. Both of them sing extremely well too and there’s nothing lacking in the big solos or duets.
I think I’ve got used to David McVicar productions or, at least, what he’s produced in the last ten years or so. The director’s notes will sound erudite and convey the impression that he’s gained some vital new insight into a well known work. The actual production on stage will be almost entirely conventional with maybe the odd visual flourish but nothing to start the synapses firing. This is very much the case with his 2015 production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail from Glyndebourne. The “big idea” is that Bassa Selim is caught between two worlds; the ‘west” and the “east”. Well duh! This is as revelatory as pointing out that Mimi has TB. This “revelation” is the reason/excuse for presenting the work with dialogues unaltered and uncut. This is very much a mixed blessing. Yes, it does allow some character development that’s otherwise missing but on the other hand it emphasises the fact that without some interesting new angle Entführing is basically dramatically a bit feeble. Is she faithful? How dare he doubt it? Please forgive me. Why should I? Lather, rinse, repeat. Enter Osmin. Hang them. Impale them. Daggers and poison. Over and over.
Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades is a rather odd opera. It’s got some really good music but it’s dramatically a bit of a mess; it’s episodic and the plot contains highly implausible occult elements. The 2016 production at Dutch National Opera was given to Stefan Herheim to direct which is what piqued my interest. There are few directors as capable of applying some radical rethinking to an opera and coming up with something fully coherent. I think he manages it here.