I’ve just been listening to Revive; a new recital disk from Elina Garanča. It marks her move into more dramatic territory as she enters her fifth decade. It also says quite a lot about how she wants to develop her career. There’s a very personal introductory essay titled Strong Women in Moments of Weakness and it seems to me that she’s looking to find her place in the 19th century French/Italian romantic/verismo repertoire as opposed to, say, Strauss or Wagner. Certainly the pieces on the disk represent roles like Eboli, Didon, Delila and Hérodiade, as well as some more obscure stuff like Musette from the Leoncavallo La Bohème and Anne from Saint-Saëns Henry VIII.
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.
The heat and humidity of a Toronto summer aren’t especially conducive to dealing with most of what’s in my DVD review pile right now (Wagner chiefly!) and the live music pickings are slim as, Toronto Summer Music Festival aside, music has departed for the land of moose and loon. I thought, therefore, that I might take another look at some old favourites and see how they shape up to a second look. I thought I’d focus on works where I have seen many subsequent productions or, perhaps, on works once seen only on DVD but which I had more recently been able to see live.
After a less than satisfactory introduction to Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in a MetHD broadcast last year it was with some trepidation that I approached the DVD version recorded at the Wiener Staatsoper and also starring Anna Netrebko. I need not have worried because it’s very good indeed. It has a stronger cast, Eric Genovese’s relatively simple production trumps David McVicar’s overstuffed effort and Evelino Pido doesn’t try and make the orchestra sound like it’s playing Wagner. The sound on the DVD is also way better than it was on that broadcast.
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.
Second thoughts on this production posted July 20th, 2013.
Original 2011 review
Some time ago, Shezan from LiveJournal pointed me towards the 2003 Salzburg Festival production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. This is not a work I know at all well and previous efforts to watch it without sub-titles failed miserably. Now I’ve had a chance to watch the DVD. I can do the musical part of the review very quickly. It’s virtually flawless. All six principals (Michael Schade – Tito, Dorothea Roschmann – Vitellia, Vesselina Kasarova – Sesto, Elina Garanca – Annio, Barbara Bonney – Servilia, Luca Pisaroni – Publio) sing exceedingly well and Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the pit coaxes a thoroughly satisfying performance out of the orchestra. What I’m less sure of is what to make of Martin Kusej’s production. He uses the arches of the Felsenreitschule to create a three level heavily compartmentalized area which frames centre stage. Sometimes the compartments are used effectively for the various plotting and overhearing bits of the drama; fair enough. At others they are used to frame tableau that no doubt mean something to Kusej but which escaped me. For example, during the overture, Tito rushes around the set making the odd phone call while very young boys in underpants stand to attention in the various archways. Similarly in the final scene the active stage area is surrounded by a repeated motif of a man and a woman in formal dress with a table with a young boy (again in underpants) draped across it as if for a human sacrifice. I had similar problems with some of the Personenregie. Is Tito supposed to be mad? Certainly many of his arm and facial gestures suggest so and they contrast oddly with his classically stylish singing. My guess is that much more of this kind of thing was going on but Brian Large’s (who else?) direction for video was almost all in close up, often super close up. Maybe he couldn’t figure out what was going on either so decided to ignore it. This was one DVD release that could have used an interview with the director or at least some documentation.
Technically, this TDK release is very good. It’s spread across two disks and has a very good 16:9 picture and choice of LPCM stereo, Dolby 5.1 or DTS sound. The sound balance has the voices fairly far forward but not annoyingly so. The second disk has (at least my copy has) trailers for other TDK Salzburg releases including a 1962 Ariadne and a really freaky Turandot. Definitely worth a quick look!