Minimalist Lohengrin

There’s obvious irony in a Hungarian directing Wagner’s Lohengrin; even more so when that director sees in Wagner’s Brabant parallels with Orban’s Hungary.  It’s quite interesting to see how this plays out in Árpád Schilling’s production recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2018.  The first thing to say is that this is an extremely minimalist production with a circle on stage , a curved back wall and not much else, though a bed appears in Act 3.  It’s very monochrome; the stage and the characters are all more or less in shades of grey until late in the second act when the Vier Edelknaben (here definitely women) and then the chorus appears in colourful but still eclectically modern, casual outfits.  The only real device for telling the story, apart, from the words and music, is the way groups of characters are arranged on stage.

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La nonne sanglante

I guess there are two ways one can approach “Gothic Horror”.  Either one takes its conventions at face value as in, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or one treats it tongue in cheek; Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey of the BBC Dracula from earlier this year.  It’s no surprise that in La nonne sanglante Gounod very much takes things at face value and, equally unsurprisingly chucks in a fair amount of Catholic religiosity complete with the unlikeliest characters wandering off to Heaven at the end.

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The end of all human dignity

Thomas Adès’ latest opera, The Exterminating Angel, is probably his most ambitious and best to date.  It received its US premiere at the Met in 2017 and was broadcast as part of the Met in HD series, subsequently being released on DVD and Blu-ray.  It’s based on the surrealist 1962 Buñuel film.  It’s a very strange plot.  A group of more or less upper class guests attend a dinner after an opera performance.  All the servants except the butler have (inexplicably) left the house.  The guests seem unable to leave the room they are in nor can anyone from outside enter it.  This goes on for days(??) during which the guests accuse each other of various perversions including incest and paedophilia and turn violent while still expressing delicate aristocratic sensibilities like an inability to stir one’s coffee with a teaspoon.  There’s a suicide pact, a bear and several sheep involved before the “spell” to escape the room is discovered.  What happens afterwards is unclear.  (The opera omits the closing scenes of the film).  It’s very weird and quite unsettling; Huis Clos meets Lord of the Flies?

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Duelling tenors

Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide isn’t performed all that often but it has appeared a number of times at the Pesaro Rossini Festival.  In 2018 it got a new production there from the creative team of Opera Atelier with a rather starrier cast than is usual in their Toronto productions followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release.  It’s actually not too hard to see why the piece isn’t done more often despite its many good qualities.  It requires four tenors; at least two of which need to be absolutely top notch Rossinians and a soprano of equal quality.  None of the roles are easy.  It’s also a bit mixed dramatically.  The libretto is a rather convoluted crusader story set in Africa.  Agorante has captured Zoraide and wants to make her no.2 wife.  No.1 wife Zomira is unimpressed.  Ricciardo disguises himself to try and rescue Zoraide.  Zoraide’s father shows up.  Agorante is about to have essentially everyone executed when the crusaders, led by Ernesto, rush in and everybody makes up.  There are some really effective scenes and others that just seem to drag on.  Musically it’s pretty good though.  It’s never less than well crafted and at times; the first half of act 2 especially, there’s some great music including a crackerjack tenor duet, a fantastic display aria for soprano and some really good ensembles.

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Rota double bill

Nino Rota was a composer and academic perhaps best known for his film music. He wrote the scores for all of Fellini’s films and for the first two Godfather movies. He also wrote several operas; most of them comic. Two of his one actors were performed and recorded at the 2017 Reate Festival.

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Tcherniakov’s psychiatric take on Pelléas et Mélisande

How much of Pelléas et Mélisande did Maeterlinck or Debussy intend to be taken literally?  Probably not much and that’s certainly where Dmitri Tcherniakov is coming from in his 2016 production for Opernhaus Zürich.  In this version Golaud is a psychiatrist who has brought his patient; the deeply disturbed Mélisande, to live in the Arkel family home.  It’s a typical Tcherniakov construct in some ways; a multi-generational haut bourgeois family living in some considerable style but where nothing is quite what it seems to be.

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Der Messias

Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart.  The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible.  My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable.  In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson.  The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places.  For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.

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Dark Rusalka from Glyndebourne

Melly Still’s production of Dvorák’s Rusalka, recorded at Glyndebourne in 2019 got rave reviews and, judging by the audience reaction on the recording. was enthusiastically received in the house.  Unfortunately I don’t think it works all that well on video despite some rather stunning stage pictures and generally strong performances.

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Street Scene in Madrid

It’s not easy to figure out how to stage Kurt Weill’s Street Scene.  On the one hand it’s a gritty story of violence and poverty and hopelessness.  On the other hand it’s got classic Broadway elements; romance, glitzy song and dance numbers etc.  It’s also, cleverly and deliberately, musically all over the place with just about every popular American musical style of the period incorporated one way or another.

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Clockwork Cenerentola

Following on from Massenet’s dreamlike, ambiguous Cendrillon I took a look at a fairly recent recording of Rossini’s much more straightforward, if somewhat moralising, opera buffa on the same theme La Cenerentola.  There’s no magic here.  The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s tutor Alidoro who engineers Angelina’s trip to the ball.  There’s no stepmother either but rather a stepfather and it’s unclear what has happened to either of the mothers one imagines must have been involved.

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