Oliver Mears’ production of Verdi’s Rigoletto recorded at Covent Garden in 2021 looks and feels like the work of a British theatre director. There’s nothing particularly weird about it. The Personenregie is careful and precise and the emphasis is on text and story telling. The opera house element perhaps comes into play in the rather impressive visuals including an extremely dramatic storm scene.
This year’s fall offering from UoT Opera is three short comic operas presented at the MacMillan Theatre in productions by Michael Patrick Albano. The first is Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Züruck; a twelve minute musical joke which manages to send up a lot of operatic conventions in a very short time. It’s a musical and dramatic palindrome. A man discovers his wife has a lover and shoots her. The paramedics arrive and attempt to revive her. In this staging this includes a giant syringe and no prizes for guessing where that goes. The remorseful husband shoots himself. An angel (Ben Done) appears and explains that the usual laws of physics don’t apply in opera and the entire plot and score is replayed backwards. It was played effectively deadpan by Cassandra Amorim and Lyndon Ladeur while Jordana Goddard, as the elderly deaf aunt, sat through the whole thing entirely oblivious. Good fun.
Continuing my exploration of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies I’ve been listening to a 1992 recording of a couple of very different pieces inspired by Orkney. The first is Black Pentecost from 1979. It’s somewhere between an orchestral song cycle and a symphony inspired by the threat to start mining uranium ore on Orkney (which also produced the very lovely piano piece Farewell to Stromness). It’s a four movement work for orchestra, mezzo-soprano and baritone and it’s uncompromisingly modern in idiom. The text depicts environmental destruction and decay and “the Controller”s increasingly strident justification of it as necessary to “human progress”. It begins with orchestral music evocative of the unspoiled landscape but becomes increasingly tougher with menacing brass and percussion and screechy vocals from the baritone before collapsing into a matter of fact description of environmental degradation.
A couple of week’s ago I reviewed the recording of the 2020 revival of Richard Jones’ production of La Bohème at Covent Garden. I said in that review that I wanted to get hold of the original first run recording, which I have done, albeit on DVD rather than Blu-ray. Comparing them was really very interesting.
Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
Anthony Dean Griffey and Warren Jones’ TSMF recital at Walter Hall last night was an all English language affair with offerings from both sides of the pond. IT kicked off with Frank Bridge’s Three Songs for voice, viola and piano with the viola part played on the cello by David Heiss. These might better be billed as for “Viola, piano and voice” as the viola part is much, much more interesting than the vocal line. Really it felt more like a piece of chamber music that happened to include a vocalist. Heiss played beautifully as did Jones and Griffey did what was to be done with the vocal line.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
The 1994 recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera Resurrection, previously released on Collins has now been re-released on the Naxos label. It’s a hugely ambitious and somewhat confusing work; even harder to get to grips with on CD than it might be with visuals. It’s an anarchic parody of establishment figures and attitudes executed via a pastiche of multiple musical styles.
I’ve tried several times in the past to watch the DVD recording of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole and never made it past the second scene, which is revolting and, I still think, rather patronising. This time though I made it all the way through and I think, taken as a whole, this is a pretty impressive piece with a clever libretto and some real musical depth. It’s also, in the true and technical sense, a tragedy, and a very operatic one at that.
What are we to make of Handel’s Ariodante? The plot centres on the notion that female chastity is the be all and end all of life. It’s not a notion that would find much support in 21st century Toronto, even among a Sunday afternoon audience at the Four Seasons Centre. Ginevra, princess of Scotland and heir to the king, is betrothed to Ariodante. Ariodante has a rival, Polinesso who is loved in a besotted kind of way by Ginevra’s maid, Dalinda. Polinesso claims to have slept with Ginevra and offers to prove it to Ariodante. He drugs Ginevra and gets Dalinda to put on Ginevra’s clothes and invite him into her room. Ariodante disappears, apparently having committed suicide in a fit of despair. On the flimsiest of evidence Ginevra, who has no idea what happened, is condemned to death. Her accusers, including her father, don’t even bother to ask who the man in her room was. Polinesso tries to remove the now inconvenient Dalinda from the scene but fails and when Ariodante shows up again she spills the beans. Polinesso is killed by Ariodante’s brother in a duel but not before confessing. All is forgiven and everyone carries on as if nothing in the least traumatising just happened. So, what to do with this?
Richard Jones chose to set his 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff in Windsor in 1946. I suspect it’s driven by similar reasoning to Robert Carsen’s 1950s production. Falstaff plays out very nicely as a conflict between an older order of things and a more thrusting kind of bourgeoisie and 1940s/50s England works well for that. The “just after the war” setting also allows Jones to present Fenton as a G.I. which adds another twist to Ford’s distrust of him. Although the jumping off point for Jones and Carsen is the same the results are quite different. Jones seems to be operating in the traditions of English farce, à la Brian Rix, or maybe Carry on films,which works pretty well. Falstaff is a farce rather than a comedy of manners. So, besides the obligatory entrances and exits, couples caught in flagrante etc we also get a certain geometric precision in the blocking that borders on choreography. In Act 1 Scene 2, for instance, the ladies rather military perambulation in a garden of very precisely aligned cabbages is doubled up by Brownies and a rowing four countermarching.