Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
Laurent Pelly’s 2017 production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia for the Théatre des Champs Élysée is classic Pelly. The sets and costumes are very simple and essentially monochrome. The sets in fact are constructed from flats painted as music paper. The black, white and grey costumes are more or less modern and pretty nondescript. But, in the classic Pelly manner, the action is fast paced and convincing. There’s lots of synchronised movement and the physical acting and facial expressions are a bit exaggerated. I toyed with the word “cartoonish” but that’s a bit crude if not entirely inaccurate. The overall effect is positive.
I’m rather a fan of the productions on the lake stage at Bregenz. It can be a bit hokey and the productions, though spectacular, aren’t usually particularly deep but they are fun to watch. The 2019 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto might just be the best I’ve seen. It takes spectacular to new heights, it’s got some interesting ideas and the performances are very good indeed.
It’s quite unusual for a production to be released twice on video but that’s what has happened with David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Royal Opera House. It was originally released in 2010 with a cast that included Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu. It’s now been released again in a revival directed by Bruno Ravella with a cast headlined by Michael Fabiano, Erwin Schrott and Irina Lungu filmed in 2019.
Agrippina is definitely one of the most interesting of Handel’s early operas. It has very good and very varied music including a ravishing love duet in Act 3 which reminds one of Monteverdi; perhaps not surprisingly since Poppea is one of the characters singing it! The libretto, too, has something of L’incoronazione about it. It’s smart, sexy and utterly cynical which I suppose is about par for an 18th century cardinal. It’s said that Grimani based the character of Claudio, here portrayed as an oversexed buffoon (oace Robert Graves), on his arch enemy Clemens XI. s a bonus in Robert Carsen’s version there’s a rather shocking ending in which Nerone, literally, gets the last laugh.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
Cavalli’s Ercole Amante is an oddity. It was intended as a wedding present from Cardinal Mazarin to Louis XIV but got hijacked by Lully who inserted a bunch of ballets for the king to dance stretching out the piece to something like six hours. It wasn’t a great success. It’s also a very odd story for a piece intended for a royal patron as I explained in reviewing an earlier recording. It’s also in Italian which may make the only French court work to be performed in that language.
There were, of course, many Beethoven 250 events planned for 2020 and few of them happened. One, planned for Vienna, was to stage all three versions of Beethoven’s only opera; Leonore (1805), Fidelio (1806) and the final form that modern audiences mostly know, Fidelio (1814). As far as I know the only one that went ahead was a production of the 1806 version at the Theater an der Wien that was filmed in an empty house and has just got a release on Blu-ray and DVD. Now, it happens that the 1805 Leonore was staged and recorded by Lafayette Opera in New York the year before. So we can look at all three versions and the evolution of the piece despite the Vienna cancellations. For those who want more details on the New York production, it was reviewed by Patrick Dillon in the summer 2020 edition of Opera Canada and there will be a review, by myself, of the recording in a future edition (probably soon).
Once in a while an opera video comes my way that’s so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it. Emma Dante’s production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel; recorded at Teatro dell’opera di Roma in 2019 would be a candidate for the most bonkers of all!
Pietro Antonio Cesti’s 1657 dramma musicale La Dori is a hoot. It seems to prefigure every plot device that will ever be used in opera. A baby sold by bandits who turns out to be a princess. Pirates. A ghost. Mistaken identities. Swapped potions. Men pretending to be women. Women pretending to be men. Love polygons of fiendish complexity. I won’t even attempt to explain the plot because it’s very complex and silly and hardly matters. It took me a half page diagram just to map the relationships between the characters.