It’s a bit hard to believe, but, as far as I can tell, the only available video recording of Cecilia Bartoli singing Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is a 1988 recording made at Schwetzingen when she was 22 years old. It’s pretty typical of Michael Hampe’s productions of that period; traditional, elegant, symmetrical and generally well composed, but nothing terribly insightful. It’s also rather dark and grey in places which taxes the recording technology of the period sorely.
Richard Strauss operas do tend to have somewhat weird plots but perhaps none more so than his early and seldom performed piece Feuersnot. We are in mediaeval Munich on St. John’s Eve when apparently large bonfires and, one suspects, other things, are traditional. The children are gathering firewood and the magician Kunrad is stalking the mayor’s daughter Diemut. To her, apparent at least, disgust and the scandal of the townspeople, he kisses her. She gets her revenge by pretending she’s going to winch him up to her room but leaves him stranded halfway where he is mocked by the other girls. He calls on the spirit of his mentor, an even greater magician, to help him extinguish all the lights and fires in the town. This bit is very Wagnerian because who was mistreated by the people of Munich? And who is his equally mistreated heir? You’ve got it in one right? Anyway, the townspeople rather whimsically persuade Diemut that it’s her maidenly duty to get the lights turned back on. After all, people have sacrificed a lot more than a quick shag to the needs of the energy industry. All it’s missing is a wordly crustacean really.
I’m not a huge bel canto fan so it’s probably no surprise that I had, previous to this DVD, only seen Bellini’s La sonnambula once. That was in Mary Zimmermann’s messy production at the Met which had left me with the impression that it was a rather feeble comedy with formulaic music and not much improved by Zimmermann’s attempts to sex it up. I did wonder if it might be improved by the full on Regie treatment and so I was quite happy to have a chance to see the DVD of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s 2013 Stuttgart production, especially as it had played to significant critical acclaim and won a bunch of awards. I was surprised and impressed. Far from being a cavalcade of extraneous elements (the usual charge levelled at Regie), this production probed the libretto and the source materials in a highly intelligent way to produce something really rather moving. The music is still what it is; tuneful, well crafted but hardly deep, but there you go.