The starting point for Peter Mussbach’s 2003 production of La Traviata for the Aix-en-Provence festival is his knowledge, as one trained as a medical doctor, of the effects of TB on a person’s appearance. He argues that the disease produces a strange kind of beauty with the skin translucent and pale. So, here Mireille Delunsch, as Violetta, wears a white dress, a platinum wig and very pale powder throughout while everyone else is dressed in black. Couple this with a high contrast and highly dramatic lighting plot and very sparse sets and you have the essence of the “look”. The blocking and Personenregie reinforces this with Violetta often appearing to be an ethereal, not quite solid, presence surrounded by a rather coarse material world.
Klaus Michael Grüber’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, recorded at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2000, is both stylish and stylised. The stage and costume designs, by Gilles Aillaud and Rudy Sabounghi, are extremely elegant and, at times, very beautiful. The Seneca scenes at the beginning of Act 2, set in a sort of lemon grove, are especially effective as ai the use of painterly backdrops looking like Greek vase paintings reinterpreted by a fauviste. The director complements the designs with a somewhat formalised acting style that fits rather well. He also makes some changes to the narrative to tighten up the drama, dispensing with Ottavia’s nurse and ending with Pur tí miro, rather than Poppea’s coronation. Coupled with excellent acting performances it’s a straightforward but effective way to tell the story.
It’s really hard to know where to start with Hans Neuenfels’ Die Fledermaus. It’s a prodcuction that enraged the more conventional patrons when it opened at the Salzburg Festival in 2001. It even provoked a “false pretences” lawsuit! There is so much going on that it almost seems to call for a catalogue raisonnée of the various scenes though one fears that would actually be both tedious and unhelpful. Let’s try instead to explore it thematically. Neuenfels takes very considerable liberties with the libretto. A lot of dialogue is cut, a lot is added and numerous non-canonical characters are inserted. That’s just a start.
The second half of the Amsterdam double bill that opened with Iphigénie en Aulide is, of course, Iphigénie en Tauride. In this piece the more usual version of the Aulis story, where Diana substitutes a stag for Iphigenia on the altar and whisks the girl off to be her priestess among the savage Scythians of Tauris, is assumed. So the piece opens with Iphigenia and six other Mycenean priestesses (how they got to Tauris is a mystery) in Diana’s temple at Tauris where their job is to sacrifice any strangers who show up. Almost at once the capture of two Greeks is announced. They turn out to Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his sidekick Pylades and the the next 90 minutes turns on Iphigenia failing to sacrifice either of them.
Rameau’s Plateé is a comedy in three acts with the obligatory allegorical prologue and lots of ballets. It tells the story of the bizarrely ugly water nymph Plateé. In an attempt to calm down Juno who, as usual, is angry at Jupiter’s infidelities, Mercury and the satyr Citheron arrange for Jupiter to pretend to fall in love with and marry Plateé. Juno arrives during the wedding in a fury but when she sees Plateé she realises the joke and is reconciled with Jupiter. Plateé returns, distraught, to her swamp. It’s all really rather cruel but does have a few good jokes.. and lots of ballets.