In 1985 the Royal Opera House staged film director john Schlesinger’s production of Der Rosenkavalier to mark the 25th anniversary of Sir Georg Solti’s house debut. It’s an essentially traditional production. We are in 1740s Vienna and both costumes and set are highly elaborate. The opening scene stars one of the largest beds ever seen on an opera stage. That said, it’s well put together. The chemistry between the principals is good and the nonsense at the beginning of Act 3 is deftly handled. There are a number of small touches that help set the tone too. For example, at the beginning of Act 2 fake books are being installed in the Faninal “library”.
Carlos Kleiber didn’t record much despite enjoying something of a cult following as a conductor. In 1994, shortly before his death, he conducted four performances of Der Rosenkavalier at the Wiener Staatsoper; the first of which was recorded. It’s clearly Kleiber’s night. His appearances at the start of each act are greeted with cheers and wild applause. One can only guess at the reception he got afterwards because the curtain calls don’t make it onto the recording. And, yes, it is a masterly conducting performance with fine support for the singers, beautifully shaped lines and an infectious sense of fun.
Today’s summer second thought is the 2004 Salzburg festival production of Purcell’s King Arthur. I really enjoyed this first time around and I think it stands up extremely well to repeat viewing. I pretty much stand by my original review but certain aspects of the production did stand out on repeat viewing. The first thing that struck me is how these English 17th century works are very much a blend of the vulgar and the sublime (one could argue that that is the defining characteristic of English culture; from Chaucer to Trooping the Colour). This production, like Jonathan Kent’s The Fairy Queen, successfully blends the two elements. There’s a really good example at the very end where Michael Schade’s panty strewn rock star “Harvest Home” is followed by a gorgeous and dignifieed “Fairest Isle from Barabara Bonney but there’s lots more; much of reinforced by the sort of special effects that a Restoration audience would have loved. There’s also some real depth in how it’s done. First up I found the Merlin dressed as banker’s wife episode very funny but just that. On rewatching I realised that much more is going on as the scene segs into Merlin explaining to Arthur that everything around him is an illusion.
The heat and humidity of a Toronto summer aren’t especially conducive to dealing with most of what’s in my DVD review pile right now (Wagner chiefly!) and the live music pickings are slim as, Toronto Summer Music Festival aside, music has departed for the land of moose and loon. I thought, therefore, that I might take another look at some old favourites and see how they shape up to a second look. I thought I’d focus on works where I have seen many subsequent productions or, perhaps, on works once seen only on DVD but which I had more recently been able to see live.
In this next episode of our wallow in Met nostalgia we are looking at the 1988 production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. It’s a starry affair with James Levine conducting, Jessye Norman in the title role, James King as Bacchus, Kathleen Battle as Zerbinetta and Tatiana Troyanos as the Komponist. There’s even a bit of luxury casting in the minor roles with Barbara Bonney and Dawn Upshaw among the nymphs. It’s also as old fashioned as one could possibly imagine, being a revival of a production that premiered in 1962. Continue reading
A while ago I had the misfortune to watch a thoroughly misconceived version of Purcell’s King Arthur. I have now had a chance to watch a version from the 2004 Salzburg Festival and it’s a lot better! This production by Jürgen Flimm takes Purcell and Dryden’s work and treats it respectfully but not solemnly. As originally intended, it’s given as a series of scenes spoken by actors interspersed by songs which are sung by five singers who change role as needed. The dialogue is in German but the singing is in English which seems a bit odd at first to an English speaker but one soon gets used to it. Flimm uses Dryden’s text for the most part but interpolates some scenes, notably where Merlin, disguised as an investment banker’s wife, enters via the auditorium and delivers a diatribe about Regietheater and how Salzburg has gone all to Hell. It’s just like being at a typical COC Opera 101. It’s staged in the appropriately baroque Felsenreitschule and the set mirrored the arcades of the building with a brightly painted wooden arcade structure set behind the stage. The orchestra is in a sunken pit in the middle of the stage so the action takes place all around them. There is clearly some heavy duty projection equipment behind the set because the production uses a wide range of, often spectacular, lighting effects.
I’m not a huge fan of French baroque opera but I am a huge fan of Robert Carsen which is why I had a look at the DVD recording of his 2003 Paris Garnier production of Rameau’s Les Boréades. I’m still not a huge fan of French baroque but Carsen certainly makes the most of the work on offer.