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.
Second thoughts on this production posted July 20th, 2013.
Original 2011 review
Some time ago, Shezan from LiveJournal pointed me towards the 2003 Salzburg Festival production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. This is not a work I know at all well and previous efforts to watch it without sub-titles failed miserably. Now I’ve had a chance to watch the DVD. I can do the musical part of the review very quickly. It’s virtually flawless. All six principals (Michael Schade – Tito, Dorothea Roschmann – Vitellia, Vesselina Kasarova – Sesto, Elina Garanca – Annio, Barbara Bonney – Servilia, Luca Pisaroni – Publio) sing exceedingly well and Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the pit coaxes a thoroughly satisfying performance out of the orchestra. What I’m less sure of is what to make of Martin Kusej’s production. He uses the arches of the Felsenreitschule to create a three level heavily compartmentalized area which frames centre stage. Sometimes the compartments are used effectively for the various plotting and overhearing bits of the drama; fair enough. At others they are used to frame tableau that no doubt mean something to Kusej but which escaped me. For example, during the overture, Tito rushes around the set making the odd phone call while very young boys in underpants stand to attention in the various archways. Similarly in the final scene the active stage area is surrounded by a repeated motif of a man and a woman in formal dress with a table with a young boy (again in underpants) draped across it as if for a human sacrifice. I had similar problems with some of the Personenregie. Is Tito supposed to be mad? Certainly many of his arm and facial gestures suggest so and they contrast oddly with his classically stylish singing. My guess is that much more of this kind of thing was going on but Brian Large’s (who else?) direction for video was almost all in close up, often super close up. Maybe he couldn’t figure out what was going on either so decided to ignore it. This was one DVD release that could have used an interview with the director or at least some documentation.
Technically, this TDK release is very good. It’s spread across two disks and has a very good 16:9 picture and choice of LPCM stereo, Dolby 5.1 or DTS sound. The sound balance has the voices fairly far forward but not annoyingly so. The second disk has (at least my copy has) trailers for other TDK Salzburg releases including a 1962 Ariadne and a really freaky Turandot. Definitely worth a quick look!