Rossini’s Le Comte Ory was written for Paris so it’s appropriate that there should be a recording from the Opéra Comique. It’s directed by Denis Podalydès who chooses to set it around the time of the opera’s creation (1828) with the “crusader” element replaced by the French conquest of Algeria. The sets and costumes are pretty conventional with a heavy emphasis on religious symbolism; some of it rather awry. There’s also a heavy element of sexual frustration. The comedy is all very much there but it’s not too slapstick and there’s none of the annoying cheesiness of Bartlett Sher’s New York version. It all feels very French.
Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve is often credited with being the first true Spanish opera. It’s certainly one of very few works in that language one might encounter in an opera house. It’s hard to see why it’s not performed more often. It’s a dramatic story about the tragic love affair of a gtpsy girl and a wealthy young man and the music is a blend of verismo and flamenco. The orchestration is quite exciting and the Spanish influenced vocal lines are very easy on the ear. It really ought to have a rather wide appeal.
Calixto Bieito’s 2002 production of Don Giovanni from Barcelona’s Liceu theatre is a drink and drug fuelled nightmare. The general atmosphere will be familiar enough to anybody who has been around the “entertainment district” of a large city around chucking out time. Besides chemical stimulants and a great deal of enthusiastic bonking there’s also lots of violence, some of it quite disturbing, and buckets of blood but, as far as I could tell, only one rape. It’s bold and never dull but I think it stretches the libretto to its very limits and perhaps beyond.