Looking at a (perhaps inadequate) sample of video recordings from La Scala I begin to come to the conclusion that there is a pretty strong pattern in what they do well, and not so well. 1800-1920 Italian classics with strong casts in visually attractive but not overly deep productions seems to be the sweet spot. Stray far from this and the wheels tend to come off. Fortunately this week I’ve seen two of the good ones recorded 30 years apart. A couple of days ago I posted a review of the recent I due Foscari and now I’ve jumped in the Tardis to watch a 1986 recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The similarities are striking.
Stéphane Braunschweig’s production of Janáček’s Jenůfa, recorded at Madrid’s Teatro Real, is austere and effective. The sets are almost empty. Mill sails appear from a slot in the floor to suggest the family mill, there’s a cot for the baby in Act 2 and some church benches in Act 3. That’s it. The rest of the “setting” is carried by a very effective lighting plot. I don’t think there are any big ideas here but it’s an effective, straightforward way of telling the story. Braunschweig also makes effective use of the chorus, especially in Act 1.
Robert Carsen’s producton of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová is typically simple and elegant. Recorded at the teatro Real in Madrid it features a flooded stage with a large number of wooden pieces, like palettes, that are rearranged to form the set. At the beginning of Act 1 the pieces form a pathway through the water simulating the banks of the Volga. Later they are rearranged int a square at centre stage to represent the claustrophobic Kabanov house. All this rearrangement is done by the ladies of the chorus who roll around in the water in white shifts. No breaks are needed between scenes, just the intermezzi the composer provided for the purpose. A mirror at the back of the stage reflecting the water and an elegant and effective lighting plot complete the staging.