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.
To quote an opera by a rather different composer; “it is a curious story”. It’s the 1810s and in Edinburgh one George Thomson (not the one who became a European commissioner!) had a cunning plan to get various composers to do settings of Welsh, Scottish and Irish folksongs for the domestic amateur music making market. One of the composers he engaged was Beethoven (Haydn and Weber were also involved at various times) and a selection of the songs he produced are recorded on a recently issued Naxos disk.
Cavalli’s Il Giasone isn’t a work one sees performed often. It’s a peculiar beast. It’s about Jason and Medea and the Golden Fleece but has few of the elements of the version of the story that everone knows and everybody from Charpentier to Reimann has made into an opera. In Cavalli’s version Giasone has got Isifile, a princess of Lemnos, pregnant with twins and then gone off after the Golden Fleece. In Colchis he spends his time in bed with a mysterious local beauty, much to the disgust of Ercole who thinks he’s gone soft. Eventually Giasone works out that his squeeze is Medea and with her help defeats some monsters and grabs the fleece.