It’s a bit hard to believe, but, as far as I can tell, the only available video recording of Cecilia Bartoli singing Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is a 1988 recording made at Schwetzingen when she was 22 years old. It’s pretty typical of Michael Hampe’s productions of that period; traditional, elegant, symmetrical and generally well composed, but nothing terribly insightful. It’s also rather dark and grey in places which taxes the recording technology of the period sorely.
Daniele Abbado’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, recorded at Covent Garden in 2013 was the vehicle for Placido Domingo taking on yet another Verdi baritone role. It’s set in the 1940’s because, Jews. At least it’s costumed that way because nothing else about the production has any kind of sense of time or place. It’s virtually monochrome and quite abstract. The Temple is represented by a set of upright rectangular blocks which are toppled at the appropriate moment. The idol of Baal is a sort of wire frame that comes apart rather undramatically and so on. There’s also nothing in the direction to suggest any kind of concept. It’s quite straightforward with rather a lot of “park and bark”. There’s some use of video projections behind and above the action but it’s rather hard to figure them out on video as they tend to appear in shot rather fleetingly.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for Covent Garden was restaged in 1990 by the Kirov in St. Petersburg with, Tarkovsky by this time no more, Stephen Lawless directing. It being Tarkovsky I had expectations of something really interesting (perhaps a four hour silent opera?) but it’s not really. In fact Tarkovsky seems to have been intimidated by the form or foiled by its technical limitations into producing a lavish but ultimately not very consequential production. The AMOP crowd would thoroughly approve I think.
Phyllida Lloyd’s 2000 BBC film of Britten’s Gloriana, based on her production for Opera North, is quite fascinating. The bonus interviews reveal the utter disdain for films/videos of stage opera productions held by pretty much everyone involved in the project. It’s an interesting perspective to hear in a world where Cinema and streaming HD broadcasts are increasingly common and where Blu-ray/DVD has clearly overtaken CD as the preferred medium for opera recordings. In some ways, of course, it’s because the technology has improved enormously. DVD was still relatively new in 2000 and widescreen, flat screen TVs were yet to come. In any event, this attitude led to the creation of a rather interesting film.
No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD. It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler). It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating. The singing is very good indeed. Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.
Yesterday, Easter Saturday, I got to see the Royal Opera House production of Wagner’s Parsifal. It was broadcast live to many locations of December 18th last year but hasn’t been seen in Toronto until now. It was very much a three act experience. At the end of the first and longest act I thought we were perhaps seeing greatness in the making. Stephen Langridge’s production concept supported by Alison Chitty’s fairly abstract modern designs were making all kinds of sense to me. At centre stage is a white, semi transparent cube serving as both grail shrine and Amfortas’ hospital room. Within it, various aspects of the back story are shown to us and it comes off as a place of knowledge; perhaps of a much deeper kind than has yet been revealed. This impression is reinforced with the unveiling of the Grail late in the act. It is a young, Christ like boy. The grail ceremony involves Amfortas cutting him to release the blood for the ceremony. There’s a lot of blood letting but it makes sense. We are seeing a very wounded and dysfunctional polity.
Verdi’s Macbeth is one of those early works where he seems to be trying to grow out of bel canto but not quite making it. There is some splendidly dramatic music and some that just seems completely incongruous given the subject matter. The witches’ chorus at the beginning of Act 3 is a case in point. That said Phyllida Lloyd’s production for the Royal Opera House takes the piece seriously and does a pretty good job of presenting the drama in a straightforward but visually attractive way.
Martin Kušej’s production of Der fliegender Holländer for De Nederlandse Opera recorded in 2010 is high concept and it’s worth looking at the interviews with the cast and conductor before watching the main event. Certainly the essay in the booklet will do little to prepare you. For Kušej, Daland’s ship is a cruise ship or pleasure yacht full of expensively dressed partygoers. The Dutchman’s “crew” are refugees or desperate economic migrants. The Dutchman himself has made his pile in human trafficking. The framework of the “outsiders” wanting a share of the “insiders'” goodies is the backdrop for the interpersonal drama of Senta, the Dutchman and Erik.
The first time I tried to watch Willy Decker’s 2004 production of Verdi’s Don Carlo at De Nederlandse Opera I failed to get past Rolando Villazón in doublet and hose. To anyone familiar with British TV comedy of a certain era the resemblance is just too close and I couldn’t get beyond the idea of Stephen Fry as Felipe II and Miranda Richardson as Elisabetta. This time around I watched the highly illuminating video introduction and read Wily Decker’s useful essay on his production concept before tackling the piece proper. I’m glad I did that and I’m glad I came back to this recording because it is very fine and it was very useful to have Decker and Chailly’s perspectives on the dramaturgy and the music.