Every few years the Salzburg Festival replaces the productions of the three Mozart/da Ponte collaborations with new productions. At least in recent years they have entrusted all three to the same director but the “refresh” happens in different years and not always in the same order. I reviewed Claus Guth’s offerings here (Le nozze di Figaro, 2006; Don Giovanni, 2008; Così fan tutte, 2009) and noted the way that certain linking elements developed over the course of the “cycle”. I was interested to see whether the same thing held for the newest iteration by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. All three have now been released on Blu-ray (though due to availability issues I have the Così on DVD) so I thought I should watch them in the order they appeared at the festival and see what transpires. So here we go with Così fan tutte recorded in 2013 in the Haus für Mozart.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt has long been one of my favourite conductors, particularly for pieces that require a strong sense of period. The same goes for the wonderful Zürich Opera House Orchestra who, uniquely as far as I know, can change up their instruments to suit the piece. For Weber’s Der Freischütz, recorded in 1999, they use valveless brass but, as best I can tell, modern woodwinds and it all sounds great especially in the many hunting scenes.
Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is perhaps the most difficult of his major operas to bring off successfully. I dealt with some of the issues in a review of Hans Neuenfel’s production so I won’t repeat myself here. Jérôme Deschamps and Macha Makeïff’s production for the Aix-en-Provence Festival, filmed in 2004, has several interesting features that cast an interesting light on the main characters. The most drastic is the treatment of Osmin. Here he’s rather dignified and far from the fat, brutal, somewhat comic lecher of convention. That side of his character is conveyed by five, mostly silent, sidekicks. These guys are everywhere, portraying both Osmin’s baser nature and the “walls have eyes and ears” aspects of the story. They are made to look rather dim and get some fairly funny business to play with. Next we have Bassa Selim played by a dancer. This makes it easier to portray him as sensitive but not a wimp through the use of extremely virile choreography. Clever! Finally, both Pedrillo and Blondchen are sung by people of colour. That can’t be a coincidence. It certainly puts a very interesting spin on the confrontation between Osmin and Blondchen about how English girls are different from Turks. These ideas are played out against rather dramatically colourful sets and costumes with lots of comic business to make a fast paced and enjoyable romp that makes one think just enough about the underlying meanings.
I’ve been involved in a lot of on-line discussions about various productions; live and DVD, of La clemenza di Tito. Oddly perhaps, none of them have ever referenced the 2005 Zürich recording with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. Today I think I found out why. Basically it’s rather dull, except where it’s unintentionally funny.
It’s really hard to know where to start with Hans Neuenfels’ Die Fledermaus. It’s a prodcuction that enraged the more conventional patrons when it opened at the Salzburg Festival in 2001. It even provoked a “false pretences” lawsuit! There is so much going on that it almost seems to call for a catalogue raisonnée of the various scenes though one fears that would actually be both tedious and unhelpful. Let’s try instead to explore it thematically. Neuenfels takes very considerable liberties with the libretto. A lot of dialogue is cut, a lot is added and numerous non-canonical characters are inserted. That’s just a start.
I confess to having mixed, nay conflicted, feelings about the 2003 Palais Garnier recording of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. On the one hand there is some really good music, idiomatically played and sung by musicians utterly at home in this repertoire, there’s some brilliant dance; both the choreography and the execution, and there is spectacle on a grand scale. On the other hand there’s a nagging sense of cultural appropriation and, perhaps worse, a feeling that the whole thing may just be a giant piss take. Actually in some ways it’s all of the above and if one can get into the spirit of the thing it sort of works.