Offenbach’s La Périchole is one of his less often performed works and I think I can see why. It really isn’t as good as La Belle Hélène or Orphée aux Enfers but it has its moment and in the completely mad, over the top, utterly French treatment it got at the Opéra Comique in 2022 it’s really quite enjoyable.
I don’t often get deeply emotionally affected by an opera video. Generally it’s less immersive than a live performance in a way that diminishes emotion. That wasn’t my experience though with the 2022 recording of Handel’s Theodora from the Royal Opera. Admittedly Theodora is an opera I can get very emotionally involved in but Katie Mitchell’s production really did get to me.
La Vie Parisienne isn’t my favourite work by Offenbach by a long shot. The plot is absurd and the music, while not without wit (for example Bobinet;’s entrance in Act 5 is signalled by the Commendatore’s theme from Don Giovanni) and invention, mostly sounds like stuff one has heard before. I was intrigued though by a recent production in Paris that used an attempt to reconstruct the score as Offenbach and his librettists Meilhac and Halévy might have wished it in1866. As it happened a combination of censorship and the inability/reluctance of the cast (singing actors rather than opera singers) to tackle the more challenging music led to cuts throughout the rehearsal process and the virtual evisceration of acts 4 and 5. Now scholars at that most interesting organisation the Palazetto Bru Zane have gone back to the autograph materials used in that first run to try and reconstruct a “complete” version.
Eine Winterreise is a show conceived and created by Christof Loy and presented and recorded at Theater Basel in 2022. What it’s not is Schubert’s Winterreise. with or without staging. Loy describes it as a “kaleidoscopic” look at Schubert’s life through his music. So the show is a compendium of Schubert’s vocal and instrumental music with a bit of spoken text. It runs about 100 minutes but only 24 or so are music from Winterreise, of which only six of the twenty-four songs are included.
The recent recording of New Zealand Opera’s production of Handel’s Semele is unusual in several ways. First, the basis of the film is a performance in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland which leads to rather disturbing (depending on your taste I suppose) juxtapositions such as Jupiter and Semele on a bed in front of the High Altar making out like rabid weasels. The setting also makes it very hard to film because the audience is sitting in the pews and the action happens in various places in and around the audience which makes it nigh impossible for the film director to show us what the live audience saw.
Carlus Padrissa’s (of La fura dels baus) take on Verdi’s La forza del destino for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is nothing if not ambitious. He interprets this rather banal and meandering melodrama as a tale of cosmic inevitability. Leonora and Alvaro are metaphors for two stars, which after an epic journey through time and space, will collide and form a black hole extinguishing each other. FWIW the recording was made in June 2020 under COVID restrictions so the chorus is masked and it sounds as if the theatre is a lot less than full.
The 2019 production from the Opernstudio der Bayerischen Staatsoper (basically their young artists programme) was a bit unusual. Director Axel Ranisch created a kind of mash up of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Stravinsky’s very short opera Mavra. Iolanta is about a blind princess who doesn’t realise she is blind. It’s only when she meets her future husband, a French count Vaudémont, that she realises this. Her father the king employs a Moorish doctor to try and cure her, which fails, but believing that if she doesn’t pretend to be sighted her suitor will be executed she fakes it and is given to him in marriage. He alone realises she is still blind and puts out his own eyes in sympathy (this is pretty hard to watch!). In the process they both realise that God’s creation is much greater than human eyes can perceive.
Yggdrasil is a new record by the Norwegian women’s choir Cantus conducted by Tove Ramlo-Ystad. There are eleven works on the record by various composers and all inspired, more or less loosely. by the idea of the World Ash Tree of Norse legend. Sometimes they are a fairly literal telling of some episode from myth, other times they explore broader ideas around a tree that lasts for a long time, but not for ever, and contains within it its own destruction and the seed of its rebirth. So, themes of humanity and Earth’s place in the Cosmos, the destructiveness of war, greed and climate change all have their place.
Oliver Mears’ production of Verdi’s Rigoletto recorded at Covent Garden in 2021 looks and feels like the work of a British theatre director. There’s nothing particularly weird about it. The Personenregie is careful and precise and the emphasis is on text and story telling. The opera house element perhaps comes into play in the rather impressive visuals including an extremely dramatic storm scene.