The video recording, made at the Deutsche Oper in 2018, of Korngold’s rarely seen Das Wunder der Heliane is yet another lesson in holding off on making judgements on an opera or production until one has seen the whole thing. I still don’t think it’s a lost masterpiece but I’m feeling a lot less derisive than I was at the end of Act I.
I guess previous times I’ve seen Janáček’s Jenůfa I haven’t really noticed the role that the idea of “bad blood” or inherited depravity plays in the plot but it’s there almost as starkly as in certain works by Zola and Buchan. Perhaps one of the strengths of Christof Loy’s very clean 2014 production for the Deutsche Oper is that it tends to show up such details. It’s certainly a very low key setting. All the action takes place in a plain white room with minimal furnishing. Costuming is modern (sort of); maybe 1950s or so. Sometimes one gets a hint of rather more going on on the edge of the stage but Brian Large’s typically close up video direction makes it hard to be sure. So, at least on disk, it’s all about the characters and their interactions and they are drawn pretty clearly.
At the Christmas 2012 Against the Grain Christmas party I won a mega box set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau goodies which included a couple of DVDs of opera extracts including some footage of him singing the title role in Don Giovanni auf Deutsch. The full recording from which those excerpts were taken has recently been released on DVD. It’s a TV broadcast from the opening of the rebuilt Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1961. It’s the earliest recorded in a theatre, in front of an audience, TV opera broadcast that I have seen. It wasn’t, apparently, broadcast live. The recording was made during the final dress and broadcast the following evening simultaneously with the first performance proper.
In many ways Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots is a typical mid 19th century French grand opéra. It takes a sweeping, epic story; in this case the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and grafts onto it the elements the paying public demanded; spectacle, ballet, showpiece arias etc. The result is unwieldy and, when applied to such grim subject matter, almost grotesque. The 1991 Deutsche Oper production by John Dew (performed in German as Die Hugenotten) takes these disparate elements and works with them; mixing laugh out loud and extremely grim to create a piece of music theatre that is truly disturbing.