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.
The 2018 Salzburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte really pushes the envelope of reenvisioning the piece. Is there anything to say about this piece that hasn’t already been said? Lydia Steier thinks so and goes some considerable way tp making her point. So what’s the big idea here? Essentially the kicking off points are that it’s about (in a sense) a dysfunctional family and it’s a fairy tale. So we open on the dining room of a rather depressing bourgeois Austrian family in the mid 1930s sitting down to dinner. There’s the mother, the father, the grandfather and three boys; all rather formally dressed. A portrait of a bride hangs behind the table. The father has a hissy fit and storms out. The mother, who appears to drink, starts breaking things. The grandfather takes the boys off to the nursery to read them a bedtime story.
Nicola Vaccaj was a contemporary of Rossini and composer of numerous operas of which only his 1825 work Giulietta e Romeo survives. It was produced and recorded at the Festivale della Valle d’Itria in 2018 on the outdoor stage of the Palazzo Ducale in Martina Franca. Giulietta e Romeo, like Bellini’s work on the same subject, is based on earlier material rather than the Shakespeare play and it’s quite different apart from the basic faked death and dual suicide at the end. Here we are less concerned with two young lovers. There’s more broad-scale political stuff. Romeo commands the Ghibelline army that is besieging the Guelfs (including the Capulets) in Verona. He has already killed Giulietta’s brother in battle and the lovers have known each other for some time. So Romeo is rather more than a boy though still sung by a mezzo. The themes are more about bereavement and revenge than young love. The conflict is more than a quarrel between two urban dynasties.
The 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival production of Puccini’s Tosca was directed by Michael Sturminger. The only Sturminger works I’ve seen before are his rather odd Mozart collaborations with John Malkovich; The Giacomo Variations and The Infernal Comedy so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The production riffs off film noir and is updated to more or less the present. It opens with a shoot out between Angelotti and the police but that lasts only a few seconds and the first act and the first half of the second act are fairly conventional, bar Scarpia on an exercise bike as Act 2 opens. That said, it’s big and monochromatic and it does have a noir feel. It starts to get a bit more conceptual around the Scarpia/Tosca confrontation. It’s an interesting take on Scarpia; perhaps more bureaucrat than psychopath. The relationship between the two is well drawn and Anja Harteros does a really convincing job of her build up to killing Scarpia including a first class Vissi d’arte sung from some unusual positions. There’s a hint of what’s to come at the very end of the act when an “I’m not dead yet” Scarpia is seen crawling towards his phone.
Alban Berg’s Wozzeck seems to attract just about every possible treatment from directors other than a straightforwardly literal one. Krzysof Warlikowski’s approach, seen at Dutch National Opera in 2017, is to go back to the original story on which the Büchner play, in its turn the source for the opera, is based. Wrapped around that are several interesting ideas which I can’t fully unpack but which make for a rather creepy but compelling production. Alas, the disk package has nothing to say about the production so, interpretively, one is on one’s own.
I requested a review copy of the Blu-ray release of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence when it came out in December. There was a bit of a hiatus in supplies from them which resumed again recently but when several packages arrived without the Benjamin piece I decided I was out of luck so I wrote a review based on a copy of the BBC’s broadcast of the work. That was two days ago. Today the Blu-ray arrived! I’ve watched enough of it to convince myself that I only need to make minior changes to the review which I have done. The revised review is here.
George Benjamin’s latest opera Lessons in Love and Violence debuted at Covent Garden last year. It was broadcast on the BBC and is still available on the web from Arte and has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is based on the Blu-ray version.