The 2009 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from Madrid’s Teatro Real had me doing a bit of a double take. It’s all pouffy wigs, breeches and heaving bosoms. In fact it’s so traditional that it wouldn’t be out of place in Winnipeg or Omaha but comes as something of a surprise in a major European house. In the “Making of” feature, included as an extra, director Emilio Sagi suggests that the opera is so “perfect” that only a “hyper-realist” approach is appropriate. It’s an interesting idea but “hyper-realist” here turns out to mean a bunch of established opera conventions that bear as much of a relationship to “reality” as, say, a James Bond film does. There is one minor directorial intervention. A air of buxom extras appear in almost every scene. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps they are the Wonderbra of the production as their sole purpose seems to be to uplift the cleavage quotient. For the record, the piece is presented uncut so Basilio and Marcellina get their big arias in the last act. The traditional approach, I know, has its adherents. I’m not one of them. I could have used a few ideas!
It’s nearly five years since I saw the MetHD broadcast of Carmen with Alagna and Garanča. I remember being quite impressed at the time. Watching it again on Blu-ray I came away with a less favourable impression. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s not. It just feels a bit lacklustre in a very crowded field. Let’s start with the positives. Elina Garanča is a very good Carmen. She sings superbly and grows into the role dramatically as the work progresses. She’s also a very good dancer and the production exploits that. In fact dance is used very well throughout with specialist dancers used to stage a sort of prologue to each act as well as the obvious places being reinforced with “real” dancers. As always, the Met doesn’t stint on this element and the dancers used are first rate.
Today’s MetHD broadcast was Mozart’s last, and arguably best, opera La Clemenza di Tito. J-P Ponnelle’s production has been around for a while and offers nothing to offend traditionalists. There’s not a baked potato, muscle suit or child sacrifice in sight. The set, maybe more Italian Renaissance than Imperial Rome is elegant, undistracting and very singer friendly. The costumes are a rather eclectic mix of late 17th century and Republican Rome with a bit of Lady Capulet thrown in but only the black number with the big panniers that Vitellia gets in Act 2 would excite much comment. Direction then focuses rather on the characters and their relationships.
Being an opera lover would probably be easier if I liked Puccini more, given how much air, DVD and stage time his works get, but I really struggle with him. I think it’s that concepts like “subtlety”, “elegance”, “verisimilitude” and “cultural sensitivity” completely passed him by. In an Italian setting his bombast and melodrama are somewhat made up for by the catchy tunes but move him to China or Japan or the United States and my ability to override my reality chip fails me. Which is a long winded way of saying Turandot is not my favourite opera.