Unusually, the Theater and der Wien’s 2011 production of Handel’s Rodelinda features a father and son team. Philippe Harnoncourt directs and Nikolaus conducts. It’s an interesting production with great acting, very decent singing and the always excellent Concentus Musicus Wien in the pit. Continue reading
Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie; libretto by Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischolberger after Früken Julie by August Strindberg, is unremittingly bleak. In fact, if it lasted much longer than its 75 minutes I could well imagine audience members cutting their throats long before the title character. That said, it’s pretty compelling stuff. It’s a tight drama about a young aristocratic woman kicking against the constraints of her privileged life aided and abetted by her father’s rather spineless valet Jean; a suitable occupation as he is one of nature’s lackeys. The only likeable character is Jean’s young fiancée Kristin, a cook in the household. Buried in this simple melodramatic plot of lust, betrayal and suicide are all kinds of ideas about heredity, social class and behaviour. Broadly speaking the message is “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” and woe betide you if your plebeian mother married above herself.
Here’s another fine example of how well Handel’s oratorios can work when staged. It’s a recording of Hercules made at Paris’ Palais Garnier in 2004. The staging is by Luc Bondy and William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are joined by a youngish cast of extremely good singers. It’s compelling stuff. I think what, for me, makes the oratorios much more interesting than most of Handel’s opera seria is structural. The operas tend to alternate recit and da capo aria with maybe a duet or chorus to close an act but they are pretty predictable. In the oratorios Handel makes much more use of ensembles and the chorus and, for me, that’s vastly preferable.
Deborah Warner’s entry point to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is the, almost certainly apocryphal, story about it premiering in a girls’ boarding school. At various points in the action we get a chorus of schoolgirls in modernish uniforms commenting silently on the action. They are on stage during the overture, are seen in dance class during some of the dance music and queue up for the Sailor’s autograph. It’s quite touching and adds to the pathos of the basic, simple, tragic story. Warner also adds a prologue (the original is lost). In Warner’s version Fiona Shaw declaims, and acts out, poems by Ovid/Ted Hughes, TS Eliot and WB Yeats. These additions aside the piece is presented fairly straightforwardly in a sort of “stage 18th century” aesthetic. The witch scenes are quite well handled with Hilary Summers as a quite statuesque sorceress backed up by fairly diminutive (and, for witches, quite cute) Céline Ricci and Ana Quintans. Their first appearance is quite restrained but they go to town quite effectively in their second appearance.
There’s lots to like in the 2003 Glyndebourne recording of Die Fledermaus. Let’s start with Stephen Lawless’ production. It’s attractively designed, quite slick and has a few good new gags without going overboard. The sets are designed with striking diagonals and staircases and gantries. Rotation is used both as a device to change the setting and as an element in the scene composition. The overall effect is that the scene changes from drawing room to a sort of “gilded cage” for Orlofsky’s party – which opens out to create space for the action – to a prison with minimum disruption to us or the action. Spots are used to create stagey effects and at one point Jurowski in the pit ostentatiously upstages the actors on stage. Lawless never lets us forget this is a “show”. Continue reading