It’s pure madness!

That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400.  Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.

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Alcina in Aix

Katie Mitchell’s production of Handel ‘s Alcina recorded at Aix-en-Provence in 2015 is extremely interesting.  It’s almost complete with maybe twenty minutes of the ballet music cut.  None of the ballet is actually staged as such.  It’s also a Mitchell special multi-space set (like Written on Skin) with the lower level having Alcina/Morgana’s boudoir, drawing room or whatever at any given moment flanked by two smaller spaces which are the “personal” spaces of the two sisters.  When the ladies withdraw from the public/enchanted space they are replaced by actresses who look decades older.  Only late in the piece as Alcina’s magic fades do the two worlds get confused.  The upper level of the set is taken up with the giant machine that turns Alcina’s victims into taxidermied animals.  The overall aesthetic is upscale modern with lots of actors as very competent servants.

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A baroque rarity

Cavalli’s Il Giasone isn’t a work one sees performed often.  It’s a peculiar beast.  It’s about Jason and Medea and the Golden Fleece but has few of the elements of the version of the story that everone knows and everybody from Charpentier to Reimann has made into an opera.  In Cavalli’s version Giasone has got Isifile, a princess of Lemnos, pregnant with twins and then gone off after the Golden Fleece.  In Colchis he spends his time in bed with a mysterious local beauty, much to the disgust of Ercole who thinks he’s gone soft.  Eventually Giasone works out that his squeeze is Medea and with her help defeats some monsters and grabs the fleece.

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We’ll meet again in a better world

Richard Strauss’ last opera Die Liebe der Danae has a pretty chequered production history.  It was scheduled to premiere at the 1944 Salzburg Festival but that was scuppered when all theatres were closed following the July bomb plot.  A special exception was made for Die Liebe der Danae in that a single, public dress rehearsal was allowed at the conclusion of which Strauss is said to have bid farewell to the Wiener Philharmoniker with the words quoted in the title.  It then remained unperformed until the 1952 festival where it got its true premier followed by productions over the next two years in most major European houses.  After that it pretty much dropped out of the repertoire with occasional performances in Germany but apparently the production recorded at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2011 is only the sixteenth production all told.  It’s a bit hard to see why it has been so neglected.  The music is perfectly good Strauss though maybe it lacks a headline aria of the “Es gibt ein Reich” variety.  Maybe the subject matter was just too frivolous for the immediately post-war world; it’s described as “A Joyful Mythology in Three Acts”.  In any event, I was happy to discover it.

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