I requested a review copy of the Blu-ray release of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence when it came out in December. There was a bit of a hiatus in supplies from them which resumed again recently but when several packages arrived without the Benjamin piece I decided I was out of luck so I wrote a review based on a copy of the BBC’s broadcast of the work. That was two days ago. Today the Blu-ray arrived! I’ve watched enough of it to convince myself that I only need to make minior changes to the review which I have done. The revised review is here.
George Benjamin’s latest opera Lessons in Love and Violence debuted at Covent Garden last year. It was broadcast on the BBC and is still available on the web from Arte and has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is based on the Blu-ray version.
Gluck’s Orfeo/Orphée is one of those works where things get a bit complicated because an Italian and a French version wre produced and then all kinds of mash ups of the two versions. It’s a bit like Don Carlo/Don Carlos or Guglielmo Tell/Guillaume Tell. The original Orfeo ed Euridice, which premiered in Vienna is quite short and has Orfeo written for a castrato. The Paris version spreads the piece out over three acts, adds both new vocal music and lots more dance music and has Orphée written for haut-contre. Today, when people do the French version they usually cut some of the new music and us the higher Orphée music; casting either a mezzo or a counter-tenor. This is true of both recordings (Paris 2000 and Munich 2003) which have come my way in the past.
To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”. In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan  who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg. 50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing. I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new. It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version. In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is an interesting take on the Cinderella story. There are a lot of references in the libretto, especially in acts 3 and 4, to suggest that it’s all really a dream. So maybe it’s not unreasonable for Barbara Mundel and Olga Motta in their 2017 Freiburg production to riff of that and give us elements that don’t, at first blush, make sense. Dreams are like that. It would also explain why, in many scenes, Lucette seems to be more of a spectator than a participant.
I guess Verdi’s Nabucco is even more closely associated with the Risorgimento than his other works so it’s not perhaps surprising that, for his 2017 production for Verona, Arnaud Bernard made the connection explicit. We are in Milan during the Five Days. La Scala; which does duty as the Temple, the Hanging Gardens and itself, stands in the middle of the huge performance space of the Arena di Verona. Italian and Austrian soldiers, including cavalry, ride around the arena or clamber over the terraces. It’s wild and spectacular but it’s more than that.
Stefano Poda’s production of Turandot (he is also responsible for the sets, costumes and lighting) for Teatro Regio Torino, recorded in early 2018, is one of the most visually effective productions of this (or perhaps any opera) that I’ve seen. I don’t know whether it makes “sense” (but I’m also not sure that any Turandot does) and, if it does, I doubt one would be able to unpack it in a single viewing because there’s a lot going on (but see comment at the end).