Midnight Marschallin

In 1985 the Royal Opera House staged film director john Schlesinger’s production of Der Rosenkavalier to mark the 25th anniversary of Sir Georg Solti’s house debut.  It’s an essentially traditional production.  We are in 1740s Vienna and both costumes and set are highly elaborate.  The opening scene stars one of the largest beds ever seen on an opera stage.  That said, it’s well put together.  The chemistry between the principals is good and the nonsense at the beginning of Act 3 is deftly handled.  There are a number of small touches that help set the tone too.  For example, at the beginning of Act 2 fake books are being installed in the Faninal “library”.

1.marschallin and octavian Continue reading

Campy Clemenza

1.sestovitelliaBesides the production of La Clemenza di Tito still in repertory at the Met, Jean-Pierre Ponelle also made a film of the piece.  It was shot among the ruins of ancient Rome in 1980 and is one of those lip synched opera films popular in that era.  The forces involved are eclectic.  James Levine conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor with mainly American soloists.  Continue reading

A fistful of tenors

I put Rossini’s comedies in the category of “guilty pleasures”. They are silly, trivial, lack real human emotion and are musically pretty trite but they are frothy and fun and sometimes even funny. Rossini’s tragedies on the other hand are just that, tragedies. Ermione is no exception. The plot is emotionally beyond credibility, despite being (or perhaps because of) being based on Racine without managing to descend into the unintended humour of, say, Armida. The music is more suited to a comedy and so all that’s left is visual spectacle, vocal virtuosity and a lot of opportunities for the leading lady to chew the scenery. That, ultimately, is probably what it’s about. It was written for Isabella Gilbran. Presumably she coerced Rossini into providing a vehicle for her to display her talents as a tragedienne. Otherwise the whole thing is inexplicable.

The production given at Glyndebourne in 1995 has a lot going for it. Anna Catarina Antonacci sings the title role, the majestic Diana Montague sings Andromache and Andrew Davis is in the pit. There are also four tenors, which is plenty though not quite in the Armida class. They all seem to be less than about five foot six tall which given that the bass role is sung by the lofty Gwynne Howells looks decidedly odd. Director Graham Vick sets the work in an opera house in the mid 19th century but for reasons obscure everything is tilted at odd angles. It looks like a wedding cake gone badly wrong. Blocking is all very basic, partly at least because Antonacci’s gowns have enough train to seriously inhibit movement. It’s basically park and bark with the odd swoon.

As a musical performance I can’t fault it. Antonacci, Montague, Howells, Jorge Lopez-Yanez (who plays King Pyrrhus) are all near perfect. Antonacci in particular runs through the whole arsenal of Rossinian fireworks with consummate ease. The other roles are never less than competent. Andrew Davis does his level best to breathe some life into the score but there’s really not much he can do about the jolly little tunes that keep popping out of the woodwinds at the least opportune moments.

Humphrey Burton video directs. It was originally filmed for Channel 4 and opens with the obligatory Glyndebourne sheep shots. It is very much a 1995 production for the small screen so lots and lots of close close ups. So many of these are of Antonacci’s cleavage that one wonders whether a dedicated boob cam was employed. Given the original motivation for the opera this may be a case of Historically Informed Videography. The disc package is typically basic Kultur label; 4:3 barely DVD standard picture, Dolby 2.0 sound, no extras. There are subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and (oddly) Portuguese. The only documentation is a chapter listing.

One for the Rossini completist only.