Minimalist Lohengrin

There’s obvious irony in a Hungarian directing Wagner’s Lohengrin; even more so when that director sees in Wagner’s Brabant parallels with Orban’s Hungary.  It’s quite interesting to see how this plays out in Árpád Schilling’s production recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2018.  The first thing to say is that this is an extremely minimalist production with a circle on stage , a curved back wall and not much else, though a bed appears in Act 3.  It’s very monochrome; the stage and the characters are all more or less in shades of grey until late in the second act when the Vier Edelknaben (here definitely women) and then the chorus appears in colourful but still eclectically modern, casual outfits.  The only real device for telling the story, apart, from the words and music, is the way groups of characters are arranged on stage.

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Der Freischütz in Dresden

At first blush Axel Köhler’s 2015 production of Weber’s Der Freischütz for Dresden’s Semperoper seems entirely traditional but as it unfolds it reveals some real depth that pretty much restores the sense of horror that the original audience felt.  It’s set in an indeterminate time period in the aftermath of war.  The first act looks quite conventional but there’s a very tense air to it with both sexuality and violence just below, and occasionally above, the surface.  The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by our first look at Georg Zeppenfeld who is a very fine and rather plastic Kaspar.  There are echoes here of his König Heinrich in Bayreuth.

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Abstract Fidelio

Fidelio is an interesting piece.  The music is great and it has a powerful, very straightforward, plot.  There are no convoluted subplots here.  But there is a lot of spoken dialogue which slows things down.  Is it necessary?  Claus Guth doesn’t think so and in his 2015 Salzburg production he replaces the dialogue with ambient noise and also doubles up Leonora and Don Pizarro with silent actor “shadows”; the former using sign language in the manner of the narrator character in Guth’s Messiah.  It works remarkably well.  The ambient noise sections are quite disturbing and the “shadows” add some depth, especially the frantic signing in the final scene.  Perhaps worth noting that the “noise” contains a lot of very low bass and precise spatial location.  It may need a pretty good sound system to have the intended effect.

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The Scrapheap of Capitalism

The 2010 La Fura dels Baus Madrid production of Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is much the best version of the piece I’ve seen on DVD.  The production starts and ends on a rubbish dump and the dump and its people, curiously reminiscent of the vegetarian terrorists in Delicatessen, are present pretty much all the time.  It doesn’t pull any punches and tackles Brecht’s characteristically unsubtle parody of commodity capitalism straight on and without sentimentality or apology.  Perhaps the most effective scene is the sort of “orgy by Frederick Taylor” that accompanies Second comes the loving match in Act 2 but there are lots of telling moments from the widow Begbick first appearing from a derelict fridge to the pyre of mattresses on which Jim is executed.  Curiously perhaps the piece is given in Michael Feingold’s English translation but it’s a very good translation and little or nothing is lost.

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Very satisfying double bill

Last night I saw the Canadian Opera Company’s double bill of Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  I had a pretty good idea what to expect having attended the dress rehearsal a couple of weeks ago.  I said then that I thought that there was something in this show for everyone, even the most traditionalist, and I would still hold to that view if I hadn’t read the very silly review by Arthur Kaptainis in the National Post.  Apparently there are people who can’t cope with a simple change of time setting and there are editors who let them write for real newspapers.  It’s very puzzling.  So let’s just say something for anyone with a smidgeon of imagination or dramatic instinct. Continue reading

They shoot horses don’t they?

Just back from the HD broadcast of the Met’s Götterdãmmerung.

Musically, I was really quite impressed. I thought Luisi’s take on the score was original, valid and enjoyable. His tempi were generally quite quick and there was a taut, sinewy quality to the strings that really brought out the shape of the music. No romantic wallowing here! I really liked the Gibichungs; Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune, Iain Paterson’s Gunther and, especially, Hans-Peter König’s Hagen. All were well sung and characterful. Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried and Deb Voigt as Brünnhilde were really exciting in the Act 1 love duet and Deb nailed the Immolation scene, almost managing to overcome the staging. So much for the music, what about the production?

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