O namenlose Freude

Katharina Thalbach sets her Fidelio, filmed at Zürich in 2008, somewhere in the early 20th century.  Most of the costuming suggests very early but Don Pizzaro’s suit suggests 20s/30s gangster.  Maybe he’s just fashion forward. The story telling is fairly straightforward and there’s no big concept.  There are a few, smallish, touches.  For example, the prisoners seem to be playing basketball with Don Pizarro’s head in the conclusion.  The sets are literal but evocatively lit and rather effective.

1.quartet Continue reading

Albert Herring

Britten’s Albert Herring is mysteriously under represented in the DVD catalogue.  The work is performed quite often being relatively inexpensive to mount and suitable for smaller venues but the many productions haven’t led to many recordings.  I have only been able to find one and that dates back to 1985 when it was recorded at Glyndebourne.  That’s appropriate enough as that’s the house the piece premiered in in 1947.  At least it’s a  fair and effective representation of the work.  Peter Hall’s production takes few liberties with the libretto and is a rather literal and effective, if necessarily somewhat caricatured,  representation of life in a Suffolk village.  The sets and costumes are evocative; especially the hall of Lady Billows’ house which really evokes a 17th century Great Hall and, as the view through the window tells us, is set in or close to the village, not in an isolated park.  There’s quite a lot of that kind of attention to detail in this production.

1.window Continue reading

Patchy Figaro

There are, I think, eighteen DVD versions of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro currently available so there needs to be something very special about a recording for it to stand out. Unfortunately Stephen Medcalf’s 1994 Glyndebourne production doesn’t really despite having a strong looking cast. It’s a pretty traditional looking production with breeches and crinolines and sets which look a bit like a giant doll’s house. The Personenregie is well thought out and the stage picture often artfully composed. The acting is almost uniformly excellent. It’s a good solid production but with nothing original in the least about it. Continue reading

Fidelio at Glyndebourne 1979

Southern Television’s 1979 Glyndebourne broadcast was Beethoven’s Fidelio. The production by Peter Hall with designs by John Bury is conventional enough though tendencies to exaggerate are clearly creeping in. The chorus of prisoners is almost zombie like and Florestan looks disconcertingly like the legless sea captain from Blackadder II. Apart from that it’s a conventional 1800ish setting where the prison’s a prison, the dungeon’s a dungeon etc. It’s also very literal in that the dungeon is so dark it’s almost impossible to see anything.  Continue reading

Hockney’s Rake

Having watched quite a few opera recordings from the 70s and 80s recently I can well see why David Hockney’s designs for Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Glyndebourne were such a big deal back in the day. They look they were designed by an artist rather than being lifted from an expensive department store furniture catalogue. And, of course, they are still in use. Beyond the design issues, this has a kind of transitional feel as a production. Occasionally some acting breaks out and quite imaginative use is made of the chorus but there is a lot of “park and bark”; perhaps somewhat inevitable on the old, small Glyndebourne stage but very noticeable. It’s hard not to feel that director John Cox could have done a lot more with a neat staging and a talented cast.  Continue reading

Baldrick, you’ld laugh at a Shakespeare comedy

Peter Hall’s 1981 Glyndebourne production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was quite celebrated in its day. How does it wear, thirty years later? The bottom line is it looks and sounds a bit tired.

The production was innovative in its day. The scenery in the forest is inhabited by supers who make it, in a sense, “enchanted” and the lighting is interesting (at least so far as one can tell on the DVD). The problem is it never manages to generate any sense of menace from the world of the Fairies without which, to me at least, Dream (Britten’s version or Shakespeare’s) is insipid. Part of this lies in the old fashioned counter tenor sound of James Bowman and part in the very childlike fairies. As a result the first act starts very slowly and the Hermia (Cynthia Buchan) and Lysander (Ryland Davies) scene fails to spark. The “I swear to thee” duet is really slow and a bit lack lustre. Things do liven up a bit with the entry of Demetrius (Dale Duesing) and Helena (Felicity Lott). All in all Act One is a bit of a snooze.

Act Two is better and the cat fight between Hermia and Helena is funny but there is still little element of menace. Oberon can’t even make “This is thy negligence” threatening and even the scenes with Bottom having an ass’ head don’t really have any bite. The Act Three lovers’ quartet is lively but Act Three really turns on whether the Rude Mechanicals are actually funny. That takes close to a miracle from both director and singers and a miracle just doesn’t happen here. Both Bottom (Curt Applegren) and Flute (Patrick Power) have their moments but it never gels. Throughout it’s fairly static with only Damien Nash’s “cheeky chappy” Puck creating much movement. So, lack of both menace and humour rather undermines some interesting design elements.

Musically this is pretty mixed too. Especially in the first act the orchestral playing seems oddly unfocussed. It’s partly a matter of tempi. Bernard Haitink is eight minutes slower overall compared to the composer’s studio recording for Decca. He also fails to get the rhythmic attack and dynamic range out of the LPO that Britten gets from the LSO. (Part of the problem here may be the soft recorded sound versus John Culshaw’s excellent Decca recording). The overall effect is a bit insipid. The singing is OK but really only Duesing and Lott stand out vocally. Ileana Cotrubas as Tytania is oddly anonymous.

Dave Heather directed for TV and video and it’s a typical early 1980s directed for TV effort. I don’t think the whole stage (and this is the old, small Glyndebourne stage) is visible even once. The picture is 1981 quality too. It’s soft by DVD standards. There is flickering on the subtitles. Don’t watch from too close on a modern TV. The Dolby 2.0 sound is barely average. There’s no real depth and at times the orchestra seems to be muffled. It’s not remotely as good as the sound on the 1966 studio recording. There are English, French and Spanish subtitles, no extras and minimal documentation.

I haven’t seen the only other Dream currently available but it’s a recent Robert Carsen production from Barcelona with Harry Bicket in the pit and David Daniels as Oberon plus video direction is by the excellent Francois Roussillon. I’d certainly advise taking a look at that before buying this one.