Watching the recently released recording of the 2017 production of Giodarno’s Andrea Chénier from La Scala had me wondering why this piece isn’t done more often. If it had been written by Puccini, and it might well have been, it would get done as often as Tosca, with which it has many similarities. In the conscience stricken revolutionary Gérard it has one of the few multi-dimensional characters in verismo opera and the music, for Chénier in particular, has all the qualities that people listen to Puccini for. I guess perhaps one needs at least a rough understanding of the events of the French revolution to really follow the plot as Giodarno, unlike Puccini, roots his work in actual history but still. Opera fashion is very odd.(*)
I’m usually a bit leery of watching older recordings of 19th century Italian opera. The aesthetic is rarely my thing. But, when I came across a recording of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco directed by Werner Herzog I had to take a look. It was a pretty weird experience. It would hardly have been odder if Klaus Kinski had sung the title role. It’s a production from the Teatro Communale di Bologna and it was recorded in 1990.
La Scala and Riccardo Chailly have embarked on a project to record all the Puccini operas. The first one, recorded in 2015, is Turandot with a new completion of the third act by Berio rather than the usual Alfano version. The director was Nikolaus Lehnhoff with Nina Stemme as Turandot and Aleksandrs Antonenko as Calaf.
The first time I tried to watch Willy Decker’s 2004 production of Verdi’s Don Carlo at De Nederlandse Opera I failed to get past Rolando Villazón in doublet and hose. To anyone familiar with British TV comedy of a certain era the resemblance is just too close and I couldn’t get beyond the idea of Stephen Fry as Felipe II and Miranda Richardson as Elisabetta. This time around I watched the highly illuminating video introduction and read Wily Decker’s useful essay on his production concept before tackling the piece proper. I’m glad I did that and I’m glad I came back to this recording because it is very fine and it was very useful to have Decker and Chailly’s perspectives on the dramaturgy and the music.
Rossini’s La Cenerentola takes almost three hours to tell a very straightforward version of the Cinderella story. Generally directors, despairing of the this, either camp it up (for example the Els Comediants production seen, inter alia, in Houston and Toronto in recent years) or they try to find a few more layers of meaning as in Ponnelle’s film version. Michael Hampe does neither in his 1988 Salzburg production, preferring to tell the story as a straightforward morality tale. I guess if one really loves the music and it’s really well sung this could work but, ultimately, I found it rather dull. Continue reading →