Verdi loved Shakespeare and tried to reflect the psychological depth of his characters in the operas he based on the bard. You really wouldn’t know that watching the 2008 Salzburg Festival production of Otello. There’s a lot to like in both production and performance but the emotionally monochromatic performance of the title role by Aleksandrs Antonenko, who can do every mood from fairly grumpy to furious, and the moustache twirling Jago of Carlos Álvarez rather reduce the piece to pathologically jealous nutter with anger management problem kills wife.
Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick has been successful in a way few contemporary operas are. Since its Dallas premiere in 2010 it has been given in Adelaide, Calgary, San Diego and, most recently, San Francisco where it was recorded in 2012. It’s not hard to see why it has been a success. The subject is dramatic and has been skilfully compressed into a little over two hours by librettist Gene Scheer and the score steers the fine line between accessibility and triviality. Add to that a visually appealing production and it’s a winning package.
David Alden chooses to set his production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, currently playing at Canadian Opera, in Victorian Scotland in a rather decayed country house. It’s all set up as classic Gothic schtick. The angle is that Lucia herself is very young and is being sexually abused by her brother Enrico. OK, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a better solution than the idea that women are all just inherently unstable and liable to go from shrinking violet to shrieking murderess at the drop of a forged letter. So, it’s an interesting idea but it poses real problems about the nature of her relationship with her “fiance” Edgardo. If he’s the hero of this thing what is he doing having a clandestine relationship with a girl who’s not yet out of the schoolroom? (We can tell this by how she’s dressed). This is a major Victorian taboo. Respectable men don’t go after girls until they are “out”. Are we then to see Edgardo as as a big a cad as Enrico? Maybe. The trouble with that concept is then why do we care what happens to him? Edgardo kills himself. Goodbye paedophile creep. So what! So bottom line, I can take the groping and the creepiness that some critics have complained about but I wonder what Alden is really trying to tell us about the piece.