Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC. I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience. The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps. It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches. It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce. There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim. He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck. Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute. Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble. Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected. Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive. Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.
Last night was the “event” at which the COC brass and guests, with a bit of help from Brent Bambury, announced the upcoming season to a packed house of subscribers and friends. What struck me was how much news was packed in. It was far more than the usual schedule presentation with announcements of several major new projects. But first the season. Continue reading →
Claus Guth’s 2006 production of Ariadne auf Naxos recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2006 is a compelling piece of theatre. It’s one of those Regietheater pieces that combines a workable concept with compelling Personenregie to create a whole that’s extremely illuminating. The entire Vorspiel is played out, in modern dress, in front of a grey curtain. We get an immediate idea of how Guth is going to explore/exploit metatheatricality as soon as the Haushofmeister appears. He’s played by none other than Zürich Intendant Alexander Pereira. Who is calling the shots? This is reinforced when he drops the bombshell that the opera seria must be combined with Zerbinetta’s farce. This speech is delivered by Pereira from among his guests in the Intendant’s box. It’s very clever. But there’s so much more going on during the Vorspiel. The Komponist is getting seriously deranged; perhaps even more so after he begins his infatuation with Zerbinetta. There’s a moment when it looks like a love triangle is being set up. The diva just gives one look that suggests that she’s got her eyes on the Komponist. It’s a typical moment. A look, a gesture, seems to convey so much. It all concludes with the deranged Komponist shooting himself.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-bleue is a setting of a libretto by the symbolist poet and playwright Maeterlinck. It’s roughly contemporary with both Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Strauss’ Salome. It shows. It really is a product of a particular fin de siècle world view. Like Debussy’s piece, Ariane is loosely based on a folk tale. In this case it’s the gory story of Duke Bluebeard and his six wives but here it’s curiously etiolated. It’s as if Maeterlinck is reacting to the ultra-realism of, say, Zola, by retreating into a strange inner world. It’s not even the troubled inner world of Freud or Jung either. It’s colourless (and we’ll come back to that). All this is reinforced by Maeterlinck’s style of telling rather than showing. Much of what “action” there is takes place off stage and is narrated by the on stage characters. Both words and music are used to fill in the gaps.
Claus Guth’s 2008 Salzburg production of Don Giovanni divided the critics along entirely predictable lines. It’s a very unusual treatment of Don Giovanni but the concept is stuck to with real consistency and it works to create a compelling piece of music theatre. The treatment on video too is not straightforward and, in a sense, the DVD/Blu-ray version is as much the work of Brian Large as it is of Claus Guth.
It’s a rare and valuable experience when a performance makes one reconsider a perhaps overly familiar work. That’s the effect that Claus Guth’s 2009 staging of Handel’s Messiah had on me. I don’t think that there is any piece I’m more familiar with than Messiah. I feel like I’ve known it all my life. I’ve sung it. I own a vocal score (rare indeed for me!). I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard it. And yet here it came up entirely fresh and had me thinking about it in completely new ways.
Claus Guth’s 2001 Zürich production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride is, rather surprisingly, the only video recording of the work currently available. Fortunately it’s a very decent production much preferable to the Met’s over-stuffed overly literal version but not, I think, to be preferred over Robert Carsen’s stark and elegant version seen in Toronto, Washington and elsewhere. The Zürich performance, led by William Christie, is very good but it’s rather let down by the video direction and the production for DVD.