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.
Giordano’s Fedora is a sort of apotheosis of the 19th century Italian opera. It’s a melodramatic love story in an aristocratic Russian setting. There is murder and suicide and plots and a dead mother and brother. The music is dramatic, even bombastic, when the mood suits but finds time to give showpiece arias for the principals. There is not a single idea in libretto or score that could give anyone an uncomfortable thought. The Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 production by Beppe di Tomasi builds on this by playing it dead straight and setting it in a series of suitably opulent settings complete with extravagant frocks. The cherry on the already rather rich cake is casting Placido Domingo as Loris Ipanoff and Mirella Freni as Fedora Romazoff. I imagine it’s many people’s idea of the perfect night at the opera In it’s way it’s the polar opposite of, say, Bieito’s Wozzeck. Continue reading