What’s Mozart’s Così fan tutte about? I doubt there’s a good answer to that question but one element of what it’s about is artifice. That appears to be Jan Philipp Gloger’s jumping off point for his Royal Opera House production filmed in 2016. I have pages of notes on how the setting changes and who is singing to whom about what at which point in the opera. It starts with the “cast”, in 18th century dress, taking a curtain call during the overture but it soon turns out to be a bit more complex. Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Ferrando and Guglielmo appear in the auditorium in smart modern dress as late comers taking their seats. Soon the boys are on stage in front of the curtain with Don Alphonso (for some reason dressed as a 17th century divine) while the girls hide in embarrassment behind their programmes.
David McVicar chooses to set his production of Die Meistersinger, staged at Glyndebourne in 2011, in the 1820s or thereabouts. It’s an interesting choice as it puts German nationalism in a specifically cultural rather than political context and also rather clearly makes the point that “foreign rule” = “French rule”. That said, he really doesn’t develop any implications from that and what we get is a production typical of recent McVicar efforts. There’s spectacle aplenty and very good character development but he doesn’t seem to have any Big Ideas; for which, no doubt, many people will be grateful. The only place he seems to go a bit overboard is in laying on some fairly heavy German style humour. People who think that slapping waitresses on the bottom is the height of comedic sophistication will probably appreciate it.
Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos is described by him as “eine Opernphantasie”. It certainly isn’t an opera in the conventional sense lacking, as it does, anything resembling a plot. It’s a staged setting of poems by Nietzsche written just before his final descent into madness (if one considers that’s not where he was from the start!). Rihm conceives this as four scenes each dealing with a different “element” in Nietzscean terms. The four are Water, a scene set on a lake; Air, a mountain scene; Intimate Space, a scene in a brothel; and Public Space, set in a town square. So, episodic and linked only by a certain kind of mood and the characters. The weight of the piece is carried by “N”, a baritone role. he interacts variously with a amle guest who doubles as Apollo and a high soprano who doubles as Ariadne. In addition there is a trio of ladies; high soprano, mezzo, contralto, who play various roles from pseudo Rhinemaidens to tarts.