Hell’s Fury(*) is a two man show about Hanns Eisler conceived and created by Tim Albery. It’s focussed on his time in the United States and, somewhat, on his return to the DDR. It combines songs from the Hollywood Songbook (poems by Brecht and others set by Eisler), dialogue and projections to tell the story of Eisler’s arrival in Hollywood, his work in the US, his deportation as a result of the “work” of the House Un-American Activities Committee and his return to the GDR and struggles to come to terms with the Stalinist culturecrats leading ultimately to drink, depression and death.
The Met’s abridged version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in English, got an HD broadcast in 2006 and a subsequent DVD release. It’s Julie Taymor’s production and it’s visually spectacular with giant sets, loads of very effective puppets and very good dancers (I wish every opera company used dance as effectively as the Met. Too expensive I guess). It’s more something one might expect to see at Bregenz than at the Four Seasons Centre. Costuming is sometimes a bit weird. The Three Ladies have removable heads and the chorus of priests look like origami angels but it’s never less than interesting visually. There’s nothing about the cuts (it comes in at about an hour and threequarters) that changes the plot in any way that makes it obviously kid friendly beyond being shorter and there’s no attempt to make it anything other than a pretty fairy tale. If one wants a Flute with deep meaning this isn’t it.
Boito’s Mefistofele is a rather odd work. It’s truer to the original Goethe than other operatic versions of the Faust legend which means it’s very episodic and focuses on the Faust/Mefistofele relationship rather than on Margherita. In fact she’s dead with an act and an epilogue still to go. It’s hard to categorize musically too. Some parts are rather bombastic, vulgar even, yet at other times we seem to be drifting into bel canto territory. So it’s a bit uneven; listenable enough but not very memorable.
Robert Lepage’s 1993 double bill production of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung was the iconic director’s first foray into opera and it has been argued tht it put the COC “on the map” as a serious international opera company. It was revived last night with François Racine directing.
In an age of co-productions many opera productions are seen in multiple houses. Some of them we get to see in multiple guises. For example I’ve seen Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni on DVD and will be seeing it live later this season in Toronto. Spmething that’s been fermenting in my brain for a while now is why the same production can get a drastically different reception in different places. The piece that first made me think about this was Chris Alden’s Die Fledermaus. This was generally well received in Toronto (more perhaps by my friends and acquaintances than the print media but that’s par for the course) but universally panned in London when it played at ENO. Bryan’s interesting comments about the Carsen Falstaff kicked off the train of thought again and made me want to put some tentative thoughts into writing.
A recording featuring Deb Voigt and Natalie Dessay, both high on my list of singers I’d like to party with, obviously has to be seen. They feature in a 2003 recording of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Met. It’s a Moshinsky production, directed for this run by Laurie Feldman. It’s pretty traditional in most respects though there are some interesting touches in the second act. We are squarely in the house of the richest man in Vienna c. 1750. No Konzept here. In fact, the first act is traditional too in that the acting is broad, going on coarse grained. Dessay brings a touch of distinction, managing to effectively portray the more vulnerable side of Zerbinetta. Voigt too is very fine, and very much with the overall mood, as a completely over the top stroppy diva. She’s definitely playing for laughs. Susanne Mentzner’s Composer and Wolgang Brendel’s Music Master are both quite competent but suffer a bit from the pantomime acting the director appears to want.
Dieter Dorn’s production of Tristan und Isolde for the Metropolitan Opera is one of the most interesting from a design point of view that I have seen from the Met. If only the direction of and acting of the principals in this recording (made in either 1999 or 2001; sources differ) was up to the same standard!
Surprisingly perhaps I started out liking this 1986 recording of Lohengrin from the Metropolitan Opera quite a lot. It’s a very traditional, literal and 70s/80s dark production but the orchestra and chorus are great, the P-regie seems pretty well thought out and the singing in the opening scenes is great. Unfortunately it really rather goes downhill once Elsa, Lohengrin and Ortrud make their appearances.
A series of blog posts discussing time, perceptions of time and historically informed performance (HIP) plus seeing Opera Atelier’s Der Freischütz got me thinking along some curiously convergent lines and arriving at the conclusion that HIP isn’t and can’t be what it is often purported to be; a fairly faithful attempt to reproduce a work as it would have been seen by its first viewers or “as the composer intended” or something like that. Not, of course, that even if it was, we would see and hear it as the original audience did but that perhaps is a topic for another day.