Although recorded in 2010 and 2013 and released in Europe in 2016 Barbara Hendricks’ recording of Mahler Lieder on her own Arte Verum label has only recently been released in North America. It’s quite an interesting choice of works. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde are given in the Schoenberg chamber arrangements. The Rückert Lieder come in the piano version.
The performances throughout show considerable artistry but the voice is clearly past its best. There’s some sense of strain, even in the Rückert Lieder and some slightly wobbly intonation. Not, I think, the very best versions available of any of the works but interesting in their own way. The accompaniments by the Swedish Chamber Ensemble conducted by Love Derwinger (who also plays piano) are lovely and delicate though and the whole generously filled disc is very well recorded. The trilingual booklet includes texts and a couple of essays.
Dmitri Tcherniakov is an interesting and controversial director. He’s not afraid to take a very radical approach to a work and that method tends to produce uneven results. At it’s best, as in his Berlin Parsifal, it’s extraordinary and sometimes; his Wozzeckfor example, interesting but perhaps not exactly revelatory, and,again, sometimes; as in his Don Giovanni, polarising. That said he never does anything merely to shock or show off. There’s always a logic to what he does and that’s certainly true of his quite radical version of Verdi’s Il Trovatore filmed at Brussels’ La Monnaie in 2012.
One has to recalibrate when reviewing productions from the lake stage at Bregenz. The challenges for set designer and director are very different from designing/directing in a conventional theatre. There’s an interview with Es Devlin on the disk of the 2017 production of Bizet’s Carmen that explains the issues very well but broadly it’s a question of creating a single, giant set that can be used throughout the opera and which makes a statement that integrates the work with the environment of the Bodensee. The challenge for the director, as well, as the usual ones, is to communicate the characters and story when they are rather dwarfed by the setting. S/he also has to figure out how to fit the lake itself into the story. I think Devlin and director, Kasper Holten, manage this remarkably well.
If I have a beef with Britten’s Death in Venice it’s that it’s a bit cerebral and bloodless, at least as it has come down in the Aldeburgh-Glyndebourne-ENO performing tradition. I think it’s fair to say that in its bloodlessness it mirrors the Thomas Mann novella (and indeed a lot of Mann’s other writing) but, for me, it’s a challenge to engage with the piece and, especially, with Gustav von Aschenbach. So, it was with surprise and growing pleasure that I watched Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for, appropriately enough, Venice’s La Fenice. His take is bold and seems to centre less on Aschenbach’s relationshsip with the Polish boy, Tadziu, and more on the conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian ways of thinking and doing and I think it’s clear that Pizzi is a Dionysian.