My guess is that Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler is an opera most opera amateurs have heard of but which comparatively few have actually seen. The video release of a 2012 production at Theater an der Wien directed by Keith Warner is therefore very welcome.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is a rather odd opera. It’s set in some sort of idyllic pre-Christian Russia where the tsar is approachable, just and benevolent and the people spend most of their time drinking and having sex. Into this world comes Snow Maiden, the fifteen year old daughter of Winter and Spring. Her parents have various things to do and so decide to park the girl with the local peasantry. Various romantic complications ensue involving a rather nasty, rich merchant Mizguir and the mysterious Lel, who may be a shepherd but likely isn’t mortal either. The mating behaviour of the locals confuses Snow Maiden as she is incapable of falling in love. Eventually Spring grants her that faculty and she gives herself to Mizguir, while really wanting Lel, but the rays of the sun on the first day of summer melt her. The natives ignore her death and get on with singing and dancing.
I guess many opera goers in the English speaking world will have at least a passing acquaintance with Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle but I suspect fewer will have seen Offenbach’s take on Perreault’s rather grim tale. It will probably come as no great surprise that Offenbach’s Barbe-bleue is a somewhat tongue in cheek version of the story of the notorious serial killer.
Strauss’ Elektra, for all its “grand” music, is essentially a rather intimate psychological study of the psyches and relationships of three women. Given this, one might think that the enormous stage of the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg a very odd choice of venue. Krzysztof Warlikowski’s approach to the challenge is bold but almost impossible to do justice to on video. Despite that, what does come across on video is a rather compelling version of the work.
Bizet’s Carmen premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1875. In 2009 it was revived there in a production by Adrian Noble. That production was filmed for TV and has now been released on disk. Having watched it I’m asking myself whether it’s an attempt in some way to “recreate” something similar to the 1875 experience. Alas, there’s nothing in the documentation to help with this question either way but two things intrigued me. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is in the pit which suggests an attempt to get a “period sound”. Secondly, the spoken dialogue is not the version I’m accustomed to and there’s quite a bit more of it. Is this, perhaps, the original 1875 dialogue?
Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s 2014 cycle of the Da Ponte operas continues with Don Giovanni. The recording has much in common with his Le nozze di Figaro, even down to the same essay in the booklet, and I’m not going to repeat what I wrote in that review. If you haven’t read it, I recommend a look before reading the rest of this.
Watching the recently released recording of the 2017 production of Giodarno’s Andrea Chénier from La Scala had me wondering why this piece isn’t done more often. If it had been written by Puccini, and it might well have been, it would get done as often as Tosca, with which it has many similarities. In the conscience stricken revolutionary Gérard it has one of the few multi-dimensional characters in verismo opera and the music, for Chénier in particular, has all the qualities that people listen to Puccini for. I guess perhaps one needs at least a rough understanding of the events of the French revolution to really follow the plot as Giodarno, unlike Puccini, roots his work in actual history but still. Opera fashion is very odd.(*)
It’s quite unusual for a production to be released twice on video but that’s what has happened with David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Royal Opera House. It was originally released in 2010 with a cast that included Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu. It’s now been released again in a revival directed by Bruno Ravella with a cast headlined by Michael Fabiano, Erwin Schrott and Irina Lungu filmed in 2019.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.