Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
I’m ambiguous about Italian regional houses in general but what I’ve seen of the Teatro Regio Torino has impressed. They have a fine orchestra and a chorus that can sing and act and they are not afraid to take risks. All of that is very much in evidence on their recording of Gounod’s Faust made in 2015. The production is designed, directed and choreographed by Stefano Poda and, like rather a lot of his work, it’s long on big architectural statements and large scale stage pictures.
There’s a lot to like in the COC’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata that opened at The Four Seasons Centre last night. Arin Arbus’ production; a co-production with Chicago Lyric Opera and Houston Grand Opera avoids the cloying sentimentality of many productions of this piece and, without being in any way gratuitous, deals very directly with the world Verdi wanted us to see; a world of hypocrisy, sex for sale and early, pointless death.
Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Berg’s Lulu (it’s the three act version with the Cerha completion) recorded at Brussel’s La Monnaie in 2012 is so stuffed full of symbolism it’s really hard to fully unpack. There’s a sense that Lulu represents Everywoman, for some rather twisted definition of “woman”. She’s Lilith. She’s Pandora. She’s the Black Swan and the White Swan. She’s lost or corrupted childhood and she’s love gone wrong. Maybe she’s even the phantom of Berg’s estranged daughter. All these symbols recur again and again in various combinations. In fact, on DVD, it’s pretty much impossible to keep track of them.
There are a couple of biggies coming up next week. On October 7th and 8th the amazingly talented and apparently fearless Barbara Hannigan is singing with and conducting the TSO. For all I know she’ll be tap dancing and doing hand stands as well. It’s her conducting debut with this orchestra. The programme features works by Nono, Haydn, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky. 8pm Roy Thomson Hall.
Gounod’s Mireille is a bit of a rarity and with good reason. It’s got everything that modern audiences find hard to take in 19th century French opera. It’s revoltingly wholesome with a bit of the supernatural, some patriarchal nastiness and a whole lot of Catholic schmaltz thrown in culminating in a final scene where the dying heroine (of course the heroine dies!) is carried off to heaven by angels while everybody else is suitably pious. It also has some pretty good tunes and a fiendishly difficult soprano lead part.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Phillippe Béziat’s documentary traviata et nous, about the making of the 2011 Aix festival La Traviata. I’ve now had a chance to watch the DVD of the finished product and it’s superb. Forget those Traviatas in which a star soprano simpers vacuously across an overstuffed set, this is compelling drama. François Sivadier’s production is dark, dangerous and incredibly moving. Natalie Dessay’s Violetta is a terrifyingly intense portrait of a woman who knows from the beginning she is dying in “this desert which is known to men as Paris”. There is no further need for heavy symbolism to remind us of the centrality of death to the piece which makes an interesting contrast with Willy Decker’s famous production.
traviata et nous is a documentary by Philippe Béziat about the creation of the 2011 Aix Festival production of Verdi’s La Traviata. The stars are stage director Jean-François Sivadier and his leading lady, Natalie Dessay. It’s two hours long and is much more insightful than the average “making of” bonus feature. This really gets inside the heads of the director and the performers (we see a fair bit of Charles Castronovo and Ludovic Tézier as well as Dessay) as they begin to understand and then elaborate on the director’s ideas. Dessay comes across, as one would expect from her performances, as an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful and hard working person. Sivadier too is très sympa; worlds removed from the caricature of a German Regie director ruthlessly imposing his ideas on libretto and performers alike. I found it interesting that when Sivadier is working with Dessay or Tézier French is spoken but at pretty much all other times the working language, even in a French house like Aix, is English.