Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades is a rather odd opera. It’s got some really good music but it’s dramatically a bit of a mess; it’s episodic and the plot contains highly implausible occult elements. The 2016 production at Dutch National Opera was given to Stefan Herheim to direct which is what piqued my interest. There are few directors as capable of applying some radical rethinking to an opera and coming up with something fully coherent. I think he manages it here.
It’s a curious fact that two of the three most popular operas; Verdi’s La Traviata and Puccini’s La Bohème, are about women dying from tuberculosis. It’s also curious that they are almost always presented as frothy escapist fantasies in which Death makes his appearance only in the tear jerking finale. It’s very curious because Death stalks the libretto of both operas, albeit usually well hidden behind brocade, champagne and Christmas decorations. In 2005, at Salzburg, Willy Decker broke with convention and made Death an explicit actor in La Traviata creating the famous red dress production that has even been seen at that bastion of conservatism the Metropolitan Opera. In 2012 Stefan Herheim did something similar for La Bohème in Oslo.
I’m just back from being in the audience for a live event that featured Stefan Herheim, in Oslo, and Atom Egoyan, in Toronto, discussing and answering questions about their respective productions of Strauss’ Salome. It was set up with a live satellite link between the two cities which worked rather well. The event also featured two rather dry academic presentations about the productions and productions of Salome in general. This bit went on for nearly an hour and a half and reminded me of why one takes notes at university. It’s because if you don’t this stuff goes in one ear and out the other.
This Sunday afternoon (in Toronto) and evening (in Oslo) Brent Bambury of the CBC will interview Atom Egoyan (in Toronto) and Stefan Herheim (in Oslo) about their respective approaches to Richard Strauss’ Salome. The Egoyan version is just finishing up a run at COC (my impressions here) while Herheim’s version, previously seen in Salzburg, opens at Den Norske Opera & Ballett on Saturday. There will be live audiences in both cities connected by videolink. Details for Toronto are under the cut.
Until very recently one of the few good restaurant options within easy walking distance of the COC offices and the Kitten Kondo (since only a couple of hundred metres separate them) was a pretty decent locavore resto called Veritas. I’ve seen COC General director Alexander Neef in there more than once. Alas Veritas is no more. It has been replaced by what looks to be a hideously trendy and overpriced bar called the Pacific Junction Hotel. What’s a bit disturbing though is that this doubles the number of eateries in the ‘hood with Stiegl on tap (the other being the rather good, but also overly trendy , breakfast/brunch spot Le Petit Dejeuner. Stiegl is, par excellence, the beer of Regie. If beer features in a production by a controversial European director one can pretty much guarantee it will be Stiegl. Is this an omen? The 2012/13 COC season has Atom Egoyan, Peter Sellars, Robert Carsen and the Alden brothers directing 6 of 7 productions (surely enough to induce apoplexy in the National Post‘s Kaptainis). Are the hop leaves predicting a further shift away from the Lotfi Mansouri aesthetic? With this much Stiegl around can Herheim or Bieito be far behind?