Only the Sound Remains is a chamber opera by Kaija Sariaho based on two Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenellosa and Ezra Pound. The piece was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016 by Dutch National Opera, where it was recorded. It’s a co-pro with Teatro Real, Finnish National Opera and the COC so Toronto audiences will likely get a look at it eventually. Which is good because it’s really hard to figure out much of it from the video recording. As he so often does, Peter Sellars directs for both stage and camera and while I like his stage work here I find his video direction quite annoying, especially in the first piece.
Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury will make her company debut as Violetta at De Nederlandse Opera tonight, replacing Marina Poplavskaya. It’s that Willy Decker production that’s been seen everywhere. Might be worth a look for anyone planning to be in Toronto in the fall as Joyce will sing both Mimi and Musetta in the upcoming La Bohème at COC (though not in the same performances, she’s leaving that to Placido Domingo).
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.
I’m not sure whether it was director Pierre Audi’s intention or a lack of chemistry between the principals but the 1994 Amsterdam production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, while extremely elegant, lacks gut punch. The stage has been extended to mostly cover the pit leaving the band (only seventeen musicians) in a triangular space cut into the extended stage. Much use is made of a staircase into the pit for entrances and exits. The large stage area is sparsely furnished with objects suggesting, rather than being, rocks, furniture etc. The costumes, by Emi Wada, are odd indeed ranging from a nurse who appears to be wearing sculpture to a Seneca who wears what looks like an old bedspread that the cat has used as a scratchy toy. Within this fairly artificial and abstract concept Audi manoeuvers his singers in complex ways (or at least he seems to when the video director lets us see) supported by a complex and atmospheric lighting plot. It really ought to be terrific but it just doesn’t get there. Continue reading →