Katharina Thalbach sets her Fidelio, filmed at Zürich in 2008, somewhere in the early 20th century. Most of the costuming suggests very early but Don Pizzaro’s suit suggests 20s/30s gangster. Maybe he’s just fashion forward. The story telling is fairly straightforward and there’s no big concept. There are a few, smallish, touches. For example, the prisoners seem to be playing basketball with Don Pizarro’s head in the conclusion. The sets are literal but evocatively lit and rather effective.
After seeing Peter Sellars on Monday night I decided that (a) I had to see Ben Heppner as Tristan and (b) I couldn’t wait until next Friday when I have tickets to see Michael Baba in the role. So, I skipped out of the office yesterday morning and with a little help (thanks Sergey!) scored a standing room ticket for last night’s opening. (At $12 for nearly five hours music this was a remarkable bargain!). I’m back at my desk on five hours sleep and I’m still in shock. This will go down in legend.
I’d only seen Tristan und Isolde once before, in a disastrous MetHD broadcast, which had been so irritating that the music left little impression. Other times I’d attempted it on DVD I couldn’t get past the nothinghappensness of it. Last night I finally got it. In Sellars’ production not much happens on stage. The singers, in non descript monochrome outfits, come and go or stand around in square light spots. They gesture in characteristically Sellarian fashion but it’s almost classic “park and bark”. But, and it’s a huge but, behind them there is a giant screen on which videos by Bill Viola play more or less continuously and through them he evokes time and place and we see the inner journeys of the characters. It’s really hard to describe but it works brilliantly. To counterpoint the long meditative sections, when there is action it often happens off stage. The chorus sing off stage from various parts of the house and characters, too, appear on the orchestra apron or high up in the Rings. These action moments are often accompanied by lighting that encompasses the auditorium and implicates us in the action (but not the dark inner journey of Tristan and Isolde). It’s great. (1)
I don’t think Richard Strauss’ Elektra is an easy opera to stage. The story is straightforward and really well known and the opera is constructed largely as a series of dialogues so designing visual and dramatic elements that enhance the drama is a real challenge. In his 2005 production for the Opernhaus Zürich Martin Kušej tries hard to do so but rather comes up short. Fortunately his detailed direction of the singers is effective and pretty much makes up for the “Kušej bingo card” elements of the production.
After a week of nostalgia wallowing in ancient “productions” from the met and the COC it’s back to Regietheater with a vengeance for the 100th DVD review on this blog. The subject is Martin Kušej’s Salzburg production of Don Giovanni which premiered in 2002 but was recorded in 2006 as part of the M22 project.
For a start there’s nothing giocoso about this dramma. It’s a very bleak and complex production with lots of ideas; some of which work and some of which are more problematic, and it’s provoked more discussion at the Kitten Kondo than just about any other recording we’ve watched recently. Rather than write a 3000 word review I’m going to write a normal length review and follow it up with one or more posts on aspects of the production that seem particularly worth exploring. Continue reading