Christmas Eve

Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1894 opera Christmas Eve is based on the Gogol short story The Night Before Christmas which also formed the basis for Tchaikovsky’s The Tsarina’s Slippers.  We are in a small village in Ukraine just before Christmas.  Basically the smith Vakula is in love with Oksana, the beautiful daughter of the rich farmer Chub.  To complicate matters Vakula’s mother, Solokha, is a witch who is (in the words of the subtitles) “having it off” with every prominent male in the village including Chub plus the Devil. Vakula shows up unexpectedly at his mum’s where she has been hiding successive lovers in sacks as the next (unscheduled) one arrives.  Vakula “tidies up” the sacks but then runs into a big party of villagers where the contents of the sacks are revealed (except for the Devil).  Oksana teases Vakula and says she will only marry him if he brings her the Tsarina’s slippers as a Christmas gift.  Vakula vows never to be seen in the village again and sets off with the Devil in his sack.


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Sex and violence

There’s a certain logic in Christof Loy following up his 2019 production of Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with Riccardo Zandonai’s 1914 piece Francesca da Rimini. Both pieces deal with overt, somewhat perverted, sexuality as the means of a woman achieving some sort of agency and both have lush, hyper-romantic scores.  Loy claims his next project will be Shreker’s Der Schatzgräber for the same house so there’s apparently more to come. Continue reading


Weber’s 1823 “Grand-heroic opera” Euryanthe doesn’t get performed very often.  It’s not hard to see why even though Christof Loy’s production for the Theater an der Wien filmed in 2018 has some interesting features.


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Das Wunder der Heliane

The video recording, made at the Deutsche Oper in 2018, of Korngold’s rarely seen Das Wunder der Heliane is yet another lesson in holding off on making judgements on an opera or production until one has seen the whole thing.  I still don’t think it’s a lost masterpiece but I’m feeling a lot less derisive than I was at the end of Act I.


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Gruberova as Lucrezia

Edita Gruberova in recent years has pretty much cut her repertoire down to a handful of bel canto roles; Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux  and the title roles in Anna Bolena, La Straniera, Norma and Lucrezia Borgia.  The last of these was recorded in Munich in 2009 in a production by Christof Loy for the Bayerisches Staatsoper.  It shows that Gruberova still very much at the height of her powers but the production is less satisfactory.


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It’s in the blood

I guess previous times I’ve seen Janáček’s Jenůfa I haven’t really noticed the role that the idea of “bad blood” or inherited depravity plays in the plot but it’s there almost as starkly as in certain works by Zola and Buchan.  Perhaps one of the strengths of Christof Loy’s very clean 2014 production for the Deutsche Oper is that it tends to show up such details.  It’s certainly a very low key setting.  All the action takes place in a plain white room with minimal furnishing.  Costuming is modern (sort of); maybe 1950s or so.  Sometimes one gets a hint of rather more going on on the edge of the stage but Brian Large’s typically close up video direction makes it hard to be sure.  So, at least on disk, it’s all about the characters and their interactions and they are drawn pretty clearly.


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Die Frau ohne Geisterwelt

Christoph Loy, in his 2011 Salzburg production of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, avoids the problem of how to represent the Spirit World by essentially eliminating it.  Instead we get a Konzept based on Böhm’s first recording of the work in Vienna’s Sofiensalle in 1955.  Vienna is still recovering from the war and the hall is unheated and the singers unpaid.  The Empress is rising star Leonie Rysanek and the Nurse is long time favourite Elisabeth Höngen.  They represent the generations separated by the war.  The Emperor is an American singing in Europe for the first time and, crucially, Barak and his wife are a real life married couple.  Initially we see a lot of recording studio action as singers are moved about by actors in this experiment in early stereo.  Then the action, particularly the Barak/Wife interaction slips more and more off stage.  For the finale, we get a sort of celebratory concert in evening dress.  It’s not a bad concept and this cast handles it very well but I fancy it’s a tough introduction to this far from straightforward opera and it does lose the magic of the Spirit World. (In other words I’m glad I saw the Met production before this one.) Continue reading

The raptur’d soul

Christof Loy’s production of Handel’s late oratorio Theodora was a critical and popular success at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and deservedly so.  That said, certain decisions seem a bit perverse.  The G minor organ concerto HWV 310 is interpolated in Part 3, which is fine, but why cut a fine number like “Bane of virtue” in Part 1 or “Whither, Princess,do you Fly?” in Part 3?  There are a bunch of other, rather odd, cuts in Part 3.  Still it doesn’t do serious damage to a fine performance of an interesting production.


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Roberto Devereux

Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux is based (even more loosely than most Donizetti historical operas) on the relationship between Elizabeth the First and the Earl of Essex. Unfortunately for Liz, Essex is in love with the wife of the queen’s bestie; the entirely fictional Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham, whose ducal husband is also Essex’ bestie. Got that? As the opera opens, Essex has been recalled from Ireland to face treason charges but is vigorously defended by Nottingham. Eventually the queen rumbles Essex and agrees to sign his death warrant. By now Nottingham has also figured out what is going on and ties up his wife to stop her delivering the token ring to Elizabeth that will force her to pardon Essex. Essex is executed and the queen goes mad, abdicating in favour of James VI and I (who has been hanging around all along) and then dropping dead from grief. Pretty much par for the Donizetti course really.


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