Purcell’s King Arthur contains some wonderful music but it also poses real staging issues. How much of the play that the music supports does one include? How to contextualise the unfamiliar version of the King Arthur story? How to deal with the rather crude nationalism? Sven-Eric Bechtolf and Julian Crouch come up with a very interesting approach for their 2017 production at the Staatsoper Berlin.
This recording of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro was made in 2004 and released on DVD, which won a Grammy. It’s now been remastered and released on Blu-ray. It was recorded at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty. The production is visually attractive and well thought out but not concept driven in any way. The sets are largely made up of 16th century paintings while the costumes are the operatic version of the 17th or maybe 18th century; low necklines, full skirts, breeches etc. There are a few interesting touches. Act 3 is set in the count’s curio room with dead reptiles, skulls and so on and it seems somehow to provoke extreme nostalgia in the countess during Dove sono. For the most part it’s a highly competent, well paced effort though with nothing new or different to say.
Haydn’s Orlando Paladino is a “heroic comedy” based, of course, on Ariosto. In this version Angelica, queen of Cathay, and her lover Medoro have fled to a remote castle to get away from Orlando who is in love, of course, with Angelica. There’s a shepherd and shepherdess, a sorceress, a squire and Rodomonte, the king of Barbary thrown into the mix and various misadventures ensue until the sorceress, Alcina, dips Orlando into the waters of Lethe causing him to forget being in love with Angelica and it all ends happily. There are also a bunch of non-singing characters who, I think represent the “dangerous” people of this remote country. For reasons I haven’t quite fathomed they include a bishop and a bearded air hostess.
Handel’s Belshazzar, written as an oratorio, was staged at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2008. It works really well as a stage work. The plot is straightforward but dramatic. Impious Babylonian king Belshazzar is being besieged by the virtuous Cyrus of Persia. Babylon is impregnable but a combination of Babylonian impiety and divine intervention on behalf of Cyrus(*) leads to Cyrus’ capture of the city, the death of Belshazzar and, almost incidentally, the liberation of the Jews.