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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes a video recording just seems to have it all and I would put the 2019 Salzburg Festival version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in that category. It’s quite an interesting production but it’s the sheer quality of the music making that puts it in the very top bracket. It’s also technically very good in all departments.
Violanta is one of those works which seem oddly out of place, among other things. It’s a one act opera by the eighteen year old Erich Korngold which premiered in Munich and Vienna in 1916. It hardly needs saying that most eighteen year olds in Europe in 1916 were engaged otherwise than in composing rather overwrought operas about seduction and death in 15th century Venice but there you go.
The Salzburg Festival rarely does operetta but in 2019 they decided to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth with a new production of Orphée aux enfers by Barrie Kosky. With Kosky and comedy one sort of knows what to expect but there’s always something very original. Here, in order to get the (German) dialogue as crisp as possible he takes it away from the singers and gives it to a new character; John Styx, played by actor Max Hopp, who not only speaks all the dialogue in an amazingly wide range of voices but also produces all the sound effects. The only other character who speaks is Anne Sofie von Otter as L’Opinion publique and even she is doubled by Hopp. Not that the singers have nothing to do during the dialogues. They pantomime their words, often in quite an exaggerated fashion and to great effect.
Robert Wilson’s take on Turandot is interesting. It’s symbolic, even ritualistic and it’s perhaps best seen as a performance of a performance. It’s certainly not in any way naturalistic. Throughout the characters are “abstracted” by colour scheme in costume and make up and they move in highly stylized patterns. This is especially apparent in Act 3 where when Liù dies nothing happens. She just stands in a pose. She and Timur then walk back and forth across the stage a few times before slowly processing into the wings. It’s the same with the final scene with Calaf and Turandot. They never even touch each other which makes Calaf’s rather lurid description of what he’s going to do to Turandot seem even rapier than usual. The words and the music (the IMHO overblown Alfano completion) seem at odds but maybe make sense in a ritualistic way. The approach does make for some very striking stage pictures though.
Stefano Landi’s Lamorte d’Orfeo of 1619 is interesting for several reasons. It’s one of relatively few operas from this early in the history of the art form that we have enough information on to perform. It was also written in and for Rome so it reflects the clerical influences of that environment rather than the more secular Venice of Monteverdi. It’s also an unusual take on the Orfeo legend. It takes off from where Monteverdi and many others leave off. Euridice is dead, for good this time, and the opera deals with the balance of Orfeo’s life. Briefly, he is heartbroken and renounces Pleasure; including wine and women. He compounds this by not inviting Bacco to a birthday celebration attended by most of the other gods. Bacco and his female followers are not pleased. Orfeo is torn to pieces by the Maenads. Orfeo is quite OK with this because now he will be united with Euridice but Charon refuses to take him; a demi-god, across the Styx. Mercury fetches Euridice from the Elysian Fields but she has drunk from Lethe and doesn’t recognise him. She’s quite clear that she wants nothing to do with this so-called Orfeo. Giove makes it up to Orfeo (who also drinks the water of Lethe and forgets Euridice) by making him into a constellation and all the gods rejoice. (for consistency’s sake I’ve used the Italianised versions of the Roman versions of the various Greek characters in the same way as the libretto).
For probably the first time in almost 200 years the 1809 original version of Gaspare Spontini’s Fernand Cortez ou la conquête de Mexique got a theatrical run last October. It was at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in a new edition by Paolo Petazzi where it was recorded for video release. There’s tons to unpack here because few people will be familiar with the work and if they are it will likely be in the very different 1817 version. It’s also a far from straightforward production.