I’ve been looking really hard for a video recording of Tristan und Isolde that I felt I could recommend because, frankly, nothing is worse than a badly executed Tristan as those who suffered through the Met HD broadcast a few years ago will know. In the 2007 La Scala recording I have found one I feel confident about. Is it perfect? No. A perfect Tristan is probably beyond mere mortals. I’m never sure whether I find it more astonishing that anyone can sing this music or that a composer might have imagined that he could find people who could. That said, the La Scala recording is very close to an ideal Gesamtkunstwerk.
There is, finally, a recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes on Blu-ray. It’s a Richard Jones production with a largely British cast, recorded at La Scala in 2012. The sound and picture quality are first rate. Unfortunately the production and performances aren’t so much.
Richard Jones has chosen to set the piece in the 1980s and to portray the inhabitants of the Borough as a sort of inbred hive mind fuelled by prejudice, alcohol and drugs. Actually it’s not a bad concept but it comes off as exaggerated with cast and chorus repeatedly making more or less coordinated middle aged disco moves. He also portrays the nieces as the sort of permanently stoned bubble heads one wants to avoid on the last train home. There are some neat touches. The Moot Hall, The Boar and Grimes’ hut are all formed by box like spaces that are tilted and rotated to good effect. The lighting is effective too. Unusually for a modern production Jones doesn’t provide any staging for the interludes, leaving the theatre dark with the curtain down. Overall, it’s a production I’d want to take a second look at but I suspect it’s just painted too broadly to be really effective.
It will come as no secret to regular readers that I am something of a Peter Grimes completist. Until recently this blog was probably the only place one could find detailed reviews of all the available video recordings of that great work. Now the recent La Scala production has been released on Blu-ray and I am no longer complete. Fear not though, the disk is in the mail as they say and the divine order will shortly be restored.
In other Grimes news, the Aldeburgh Festival is staging the work on the beach. The estimable Chris Gillett, Horace Adams both there and at La Scala, is blogging about it in his usual inimitable style. In some ways I really wish I could go but I know that coast. Even on a good day the wind will freeze one’s soft bits off. Definitely a challenging place to perform or even watch opera. It’s also just off the A12 and I still have the after effects of 24 stitches on my face from a rather unfortunate encounter on that highway in my youth. I shall patiently await Ben Heppner, Alan Held, Ileana Montalbetti et al at the Four Seasons Centre in the fall.
I was somewhat underwhelmed by my first encounter with Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. Watching this recording of a 2004 La Scala production by Robert Carsen really opened my eyes. It’s the conducting that makes it I think, Riccardo Muti seems to find much more in the score than Jan Latham-Koenig. There are passages of great meditative beauty interspersed with quite shocking violence, all within an essentially tonal framework. It’s very striking. He’s helped by the sound on the DVD which is exceptionally vivid and three dimensional, even using the LPCM stereo option, though the Dolby 5.1 track is even better.
Even by the standards of bel canto comedies Donizetti’s Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali is insubstantial fluff. It’s basically a farce about a no hope opera troupe failing miserably to rehearse an opera in the face of prima donnaish Prima Donna, her overprotective husband, a flaky German tenor and the overbearing mother of the Seconda Donna (played by a man, natch). Half of the jokes turn on cast members singing badly and the rest on standard opera clichés. None of them are particularly funny. The music is a bit non descript too. The best bits are when the Prima Donna and the tenor inexplicably decide to sing Rossini and Mozart in the middle of a rehearsal.
The 2007 recording of Verdi’s La Traviata from Milan’s Teattro alla Scala is extremely traditional but very satisfying. Liliana Cavani’s production is set in the mid 19th century with entirely conventional sets and costumes (with the obligatory cleavage) and nothing in the direction that adds up to an original concept or idea. Act 1 is set in a glitzy ballroom. Act 2 scene 1 takes us to a slightly odd sort of country house bedsit with billiard table In Act 2 scene 2 we are back with the glitz with actual gypsies and bare chested matadors. Act 3 is set in a suitably dark invalid’s bedroom. Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta goes from ballgown to nightdress to ballgown to nightdress while maintaining Ange levels of, you guessed it, cleavage. The guys are all in evening dress or operetta dress uniforms. It’s all pretty and doesn’t distract from the music.
So following on from Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s last film we now turn to one of his earliest, a 1972 version of Rossini’s Il barbieri di Siviglia. It’s based on his production for La Scala but is, as usual with Ponelle, studio recorded and shot in the studio with lip synching. It’s not an especially interesting production but it does have a starry cast including Hermann Prey in the title role. Continue reading
There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film version of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito over at The Earworm so I thought it would be a good time to dig out his La Scala production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. They have a lot in common; an obsession with statuary and heavy focus on verticality that makes the picture often seem taller than it is wide are just two. The Rossini, despite being filmed at La Scala is very filmic. It’s much more like a movie than a video recording of a staged performance. Continue reading
Mid period Verdi in a highly traditional La Scala production isn’t usually my cup of tea but I thought that if the usually excellent Opus Arte label thought the thing was worth a reissue it might be worth watching. With caveats, it was, even for someone who is as allergic to this kind of production as myself.
This 2000 La Scala recording of Puccini’s Tosca is straightforward and rather good. It’s a revival of Luca Ronconi’s 1996 production which I’m somewhat astonished to read was regarded as controversial. Sure, the sets are sort of fractured and feature some weird angles but everything else seems to be “by the book” down to the smallest details like the candlesticks and cross. Regietheatre this isn’t. In this performance the acting is OK, if tending to the “stand and wave your arms about” default Italian mode. The stand out exception is Leo Nucci’s Scarpia. He doesn’t have the physical presence to be brutal in the way that, say, Bryn Terfel can be but he manages to project a very nasty securocrat indeed. This is a Scarpia who would be good at making Powerpoint presentations to his bosses detailing how many women and children his unmanned drones had killed today.