The recently released recording of Puccini’s Tosca from the Wiener Staatsoper was recorded in 2019 but, as best I can tell, the production, by Margarethe Wallmann, dates back to 1957 and it feels that old. It’s entirely literal and, beyond basic blocking, the singers appear to have been left to their own devices as far as acting goes. It also clearly was not designed with video in mind. Cavaradossi’s execution is quite remarkably unsanguine.
I was beginning to think that I was not reviewing as many video recordings as in the past. It’s actually true but unsurprising since I rarely dip into the back catalogue anymore focussing almost entirely on new issues, which any case have slowed since there has been much less to record. So, yes, I’m down from about 60 per year to 43 in the last twelve months but there’s a twist. Increasingly my video reviews have been appearing in the print edition of Opera Canada. So 8 of the last year’s 43 didn’t appear here. I thought I’d just publish a list, by edition of the magazine, with a one sentence review of each disk in case anybody felt it was worth digging them out. So…
The disc release (Blu-ray and DVD) of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann is actually a 2 for 1. There’s a recording of a performance of the play from the 2020 Salzburg festival plus a 54 minute “docufiction” film about the history of the festival.
The thing that struck me most about the Royal Opera House’s 2018 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre is how lyrical it is. It’s not without excitement in the appropriate places, far from it, but there’s such lovely singing. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is tender and poetic and the combo of Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee as the twin lovers is really good. Throw in a nuanced Wotan from John Lundgren and a typically elegant performance from Sarah Connolly as Fricka and it’s really a pleasure to listen to. Ain Anger is not so lyrical as Hunding but it’s a fine menacing performance. Antonio Pappano and the house orchestra are equally fine.
I guess many opera goers in the English speaking world will have at least a passing acquaintance with Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle but I suspect fewer will have seen Offenbach’s take on Perreault’s rather grim tale. It will probably come as no great surprise that Offenbach’s Barbe-bleue is a somewhat tongue in cheek version of the story of the notorious serial killer.
It’s not often that I’m completely baffled by an opera production but Frank Castorf’s 2018 production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu) at the Bayerische Staatsoper comes pretty close. Since I really can’t explain what’s going on I’ll try to describe the various elements.
A couple of week’s ago I reviewed the recording of the 2020 revival of Richard Jones’ production of La Bohème at Covent Garden. I said in that review that I wanted to get hold of the original first run recording, which I have done, albeit on DVD rather than Blu-ray. Comparing them was really very interesting.
Bizet’s Carmen premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1875. In 2009 it was revived there in a production by Adrian Noble. That production was filmed for TV and has now been released on disk. Having watched it I’m asking myself whether it’s an attempt in some way to “recreate” something similar to the 1875 experience. Alas, there’s nothing in the documentation to help with this question either way but two things intrigued me. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is in the pit which suggests an attempt to get a “period sound”. Secondly, the spoken dialogue is not the version I’m accustomed to and there’s quite a bit more of it. Is this, perhaps, the original 1875 dialogue?
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.