How much of Pelléas et Mélisande did Maeterlinck or Debussy intend to be taken literally? Probably not much and that’s certainly where Dmitri Tcherniakov is coming from in his 2016 production for Opernhaus Zürich. In this version Golaud is a psychiatrist who has brought his patient; the deeply disturbed Mélisande, to live in the Arkel family home. It’s a typical Tcherniakov construct in some ways; a multi-generational haut bourgeois family living in some considerable style but where nothing is quite what it seems to be.
Last night Dmitri Tcherniakov’s much anticipated production of Don Giovanni opened at the Four Seasons Centre. The production is basically a known quantity. This is its fourth run overall and it was recorded for TV and DVD in Aix-en-Provence; which is a lengthy way of saying that nobody should have been very surprised by what they saw last night. Inevitably some were. Rereading my review of the DVD I find I have nothing much to add to what I said there about the first act and the overall concept so I’m going to pretty much going to repeat it here.
New Yorkers will get a chance to see Zhang Huan’s somewhat controversial production of Handel’s Semele at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March. The COC is touring the production, seen in Toronto in 2012, with the wonderful Jane Archibald again taking the title role. The supporting cast is, on paper at least, more than a match for the one seen at COC. Colin Ainsworth is the god Jupiter, and Welsh contralto Hilary Summers portrays both Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, and Ino, Semele’s sister. Katherine Whyte playsJuno’s messenger, Iris and Kyle Ketelsen sings both Semele’s father, Cadmus, and the god of sleep, Somnus. Athamas will be sung by Lawrence Zazzo. Christopher Moulds conducts with the COC Orchestra and Chorus.
The Tcherniakov Don Giovanni that I just finished watching on Blu-ray is a Canadian Opera Company co-production so, sooner or later, it should end up in Toronto. That will be interesting. There’s a very conservative streak in the Toronto audience and, especially, among the critics for the major newspapers. These are people who are disturbed by Robert Carsen and go apopleptic over Chris Alden. It will be most interesting to see what the reaction is to something like Tcherniakov’s interpretation, even though it’s not that radical by European standards.
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni recorded at the 2010 Aix-en-Provence festival is full on Regie. He takes the characters and story of Mozart/DaPonte and recasts them quite radically. Zerlina is Donna Anna’s daughter. Donna Elvira, Donna Anna’s cousin, is married to Don Giovanni. Leporello is a family member too. The sense is of one extended, conventional, bourgeois family in which Don Giovanni is a fatally disruptive intrusion. Tcherniakov changes the time line too. Instead of taking place over a 24 hour period the story plays out over many weeks.
Don Giovanni is one of the most fascinating operas in part because it can be reinterpreted in so many different ways. There’s also the tension between a story with elements of murder, rape, revenge and damnation and broad humour. It’s tricky to find a balance. There’s also a decision to be made between a concept based production and a more laissez faire approach. Francesca Zambello’s production for the Royal Opera House, recorded in 2008 doesn’t really have a concept and sort of goes with the flow mixing very broad humour with lots of Catholic kitsch and some flamboyant stage effects. As a production I find it distinctly underwhelming.
Last night we saw Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s not my favourite opera by a long shot and reviews had been pretty mixed so expectations weren’t particularly high. Those expectations were, however, exceeded.
Cenerentola is a version of the Cinderella story and was cobbled together in a hurry for its first performance. It has all the emotional depth of a Disney Princess movie but it does have some reasonable comedy and some very singable music. The director, Joan Font, and designer, Joan Guillén, have taken the work at face value, created sets and costumes that look like something out of a children’s colouring book and upped the comedy, most notably by the introduction of six (non-singing) mice who provide a sort of physical commentary on the action while doubling as handy prop movers. The colour palette is very bright and reinforced by the lighting plot.
Critics have criticised this approach as lacking emotional depth and character development but, really, is there any to be found in this piece? I rather doubt it. Within the parameters that have been set the blocking and physical acting is remarkably good. There are a couple of places where characters seem to stranded uncomfortably far upstage for too long leading to some audibility problems but nothing grave. The ugly sisters (Rihab Chaieb and Ileana Montalbetti) camped it up better than I might have expected and veteran comedians like Brett Polegato and Donato di Stefano had a field day.
The singing was fine, sometimes very fine. Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro and Elizabeth DeShong in the title role were quite excellent. Both sang beautifully and accurately as befits bel canto. Larry tossed off high notes with ease and Elizabeth’s coloratura was most assured. All the others were well up to their roles. The all male chorus was as good as ever. Anne Larlee accompanied the recitatives on the fortepiano and was her usual sympathetic self. Leonardo Vordoni in the pit took some sections perhaps more slowly than some others but at least that provided a bit of light and shade. There’s enough “breathless Rossini” in this score to sink a battleship.
So, all in all, an enjoyable production of a work that I think is rather over-rated. I don’t care whether I ever see Cenerentola again but I’m glad I went last night.
Should you go see it? Well tickets for the last three shows go as low as $20 (use discount code “RBA”) but the same is true for Ariadne auf Naxos which is also currently in repertoire and is a much more interesting opera. The Ariadne cast is stellar and Sir Andrew Davies is conducting. Hell, for $20 per show you can see both.
Today it’s off to the cinema to see the Met’s Die Walküre followed by sabotabby’s birthday bash at Vegan Valhalla.