There’s a new recording out of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen recorded at the Deutsche Oper Berlin last year. Now the DOB claims a special relationship with the music of Wagner (the “Winter Bayreuth”) and it is, of course, in Berlin which adds an unavoidable dimension to the performance history there. It has also had, for more than twenty years, Götz Friedrich’s famous production in its repertoire. So, a new Ring at DOB is a big thing. Given that, what I want to do in terms of engaging with the recording is to bookend reviews of the four videos of the operas in the usual fashion with two general pieces; one laying out my expectations based on the “bonus” material in the boxed set and the booklets, and one as a sort of final conclusion having watched the whole thing. This post is, of course, the first of those.
Fuoco Sacro is a film by Jan Schmidt-Garre. It’s subtitled “A Search for the Sacred Fire of Song” and was inspired by Schmidt-Garre’s passion for Italian singing of a slightly earlier era rekindled when he heard Ermonela Jaho on his car radio. This led him to explore how certain singers create something more than “just singing”. In the film he does this by following the lives of three singers; all women (he clearly doesn’t believe that men have this elusive “sacred fire”) and all very different. They are Ermonela Jaho (of course), Barbara Hannigan and Asmik Grigorian. Now these are all singers about whom I have strong opinions and that may colour my view of the film. You have been warned. What follows concentrates on what I think the film tells us about its three principals. The film does this more by show than tell with lots of performance and rehearsal footage as well as interviews.
In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list. I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have. It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.
Dmitri Tcherniakov directed Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth in 2021 where it was recorded. It’s no surprise given (a)Tcherniakov and (b)Bayreuth that it’s not a straightforward production. I’m not sure I have fully unpacked it and there isn’t anything in the disk package to help (just the usual essay telling the reader what he/she/they already know/s).
Verdi’s Falstaff, of course, is a farce so there’s no reason why a director shouldn’t treat it as one but all three of the other productions I’ve seen in the last few years have transposed it to the 1950s and put a spin on it. Sven-Eric Bechtolf, in his production for the 2021 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, just doesn’t do that. It’s a 1590s (ish) setting and it’s played very broad. There are big costumes, big gestures, entrances and exits and characters “hidden in plain view”. It could be Dario Fo or Brian Rix.
It’s taken from late October 2018 to move from 500 video recordings in the archive to 600. So that’s 2-3 recordings per month which sounds about right. It’s slower than in the past for two reasons. There just isn’t as much historic material I haven’t already seen and the rate of new releases, unsurprisingly, slowed down quite a bit during the pandemic.
Yuval Sharon’s Lohengrin in 2018 at the Bayreuth Festival was the first production there by an American director and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are echoes of contemporary events in the US in the show. Specifically Sharon’s Brabant is a conformist theocracy in which society has regressed technologically. Some of the action takes place in and around a prominently placed disused electrical installation of some kind. The Brabanters are cowardly and subservient, initially to Telramund and then, equally, to Lohengrin. The advent of a charismatic leader. does not necessarily equate to liberation or full citizenship. Sharon also claims in his director’s notes that the real dissenter is Ortrud and that it is her actions that liberate Elsa and Gottfried. Whether the staging supports this is, I think, questionable.
John Neumeier’s production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, recorded at Lyric Opera in Chicago (also seen in Neumeier’s home house of Staatsoper Hamburg and scheduled for this year’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival with the same principals) is quite unusual. Neumeier designed sets, costumes and lighting and served as both director and choreography. It’s very much his work. It’s also the Paris version rather than the Vienna (Italian) version more usually seen. Orphée is sung by a tenor and there’s a lot of ballet which extends the opera to three acts spread over two hours; maybe half an hour longer than an average production. Neumeier also chooses to give the story a modern frame. Orphée is a choreographer, Amour his assistant and Eurydice his prima ballerina as well as wife. The piece opens with a ballet rehearsal during the Overture. Orphée and Eurydice have a flaming row, She storms out and is hit by a car. At the end Eurydice, or her ghost, shows up during another rehearsal. The ending is in fact very unclear. As is the purpose of the frame. Is all the action supposed to be a dream or a trip? I couldn’t tell and it really didn’t seem to add anything.
The more I see of Tobias Kratzer’s work the more impressed I get. Here we look at his 2019 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Bayreuth. It’s the kind of production that traditionalists get off on hating and there were boos at curtain call though they were absolutely drowned out by a storm of applause and stomping. Personally, I found it insightful, at times very funny, and deeply, deeply moving.
Well it took me a while to get hold of a copy of the third of the Harnoncourt Mozart/da Ponte operas. It is, of course, Così fan tutte and like the previous two operas is semi-staged at the Theater an der Wien. Also like the previous two there’s about an hour documentary which in this case consists almost entirely of rehearsal footage. It’s well worth watching though there is some obvious overlap with the previous two and most of what I would say about it I already did in my review of Le nozze di Figaro which I recommend reading along with this one.