My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues. This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon. I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece. Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides. Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time. The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.
I’m not, in the normal run of things, a huge fan of obscure bel canto operas. A very long list of them languish in obscurity for very good reasons. So, my hopes were not all that high when I stuck the 2015 Glyndebourne recording of Donizetti’s Poliuto in the player. I was wrong. This is probably the best martyrdom opera from Glyndebourne since Peter Sellars’ production of Theodora in 1998.
That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400. Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.
I’ve been taking another look at the Glyndebourne production of Berg’s Lulu that I first reviewed in April 2011. I think a reappraisal is in order. It’s a 1996 production directed by Graham Vick with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schäfer in the title role. When it first appeared it got rave reviews with Gramophone awards and the like.
One rather gets the feeling that the 2016 Glyndebourne production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was built around the lady of the house. It makes a lot of sense. There may have been better singers in the role of Rosina but I doubt there has ever been a better mover than Danielle de Niese. She’s matched move for move, eye candy for eye candy by the guys; Björn Burger as Figaro and Taylor Stayton as Almaviva. There’s more mature comedy from the always fantastic Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo and the irrepressible Janis Kelly as Berta.
David Hockney and John Cox’s production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress first saw the light of day at Glyndebourne in 1975 and there’s a video of it from back then. It’s been revived umpteen times since, all with Cox directing rather than an overawed revival director. It was done again in 2010, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting, recorded and issued on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s fascinating.
Richard Jones chose to set his 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff in Windsor in 1946. I suspect it’s driven by similar reasoning to Robert Carsen’s 1950s production. Falstaff plays out very nicely as a conflict between an older order of things and a more thrusting kind of bourgeoisie and 1940s/50s England works well for that. The “just after the war” setting also allows Jones to present Fenton as a G.I. which adds another twist to Ford’s distrust of him. Although the jumping off point for Jones and Carsen is the same the results are quite different. Jones seems to be operating in the traditions of English farce, à la Brian Rix, or maybe Carry on films,which works pretty well. Falstaff is a farce rather than a comedy of manners. So, besides the obligatory entrances and exits, couples caught in flagrante etc we also get a certain geometric precision in the blocking that borders on choreography. In Act 1 Scene 2, for instance, the ladies rather military perambulation in a garden of very precisely aligned cabbages is doubled up by Brownies and a rowing four countermarching.
Katherina Thoma not unreasonably chooses to set her 2013 Glyndebourne production of Ariadne auf Naxos in a country house in the south of England (though I suppose equating the Christies with a rather boorish Viennese bourgeois might be thought a touch unkind). She also chooses to set it in 1940 which sets us up for an almost Marxian dialectic not just between high art and low art but between art and life; especially where life and death are concerned.
In 2012 Glyndebourne staged an interesting and contrasting double bill of Ravel one-acters in productions by Laurent Pelly. The first was L’heure espagnole. It’s a sort of Feydeau farce set to music. The plot is classic bedroom farce with the twist that most of the doors the lovers come in or out of belong to clocks. Concepción is the bored wife of a nerdy clockmaker. She’s not overly impressed by her two lovers; a prolix poet and a smug banker, who show up while hubby is out doing the municipal clocks. She’s much more taken by the slightly simple but very muscular muleteer who spends most of his time lugging lover infested clocks up and down stairs for her. Pelly wisely takes the piece at face value and brings off a mad cap forty five minutes timed to the split second.
Cecilia and Bryn at Glyndebourne is the DVD recording of a concert from 1999 featuring two of those singers who prove you don’t have to be dead skinny to be a great singer and have a commanding stage presence. It’s great fun, focussing on the lighter end of the repertoire for the most part. It’s mostly Mozart with some Rossini, Donizetti, Haydn and Handel thrown in. There are a couple of overtures and a few arias but the greatest pleasure comes in the duets. For the second time in a week I got to see Lá ci darem la mano sung by singers of extremely contrasting heights and where else is one going to see Mr. Terfel and Ms. Bartoli sing the Pa-pa-pa-pa duet from Die Zauberflöte. As ever Ceci’s coloratura is a thing of wonder and Bryn is no slouch. The accompaniment is ably provided by Myung-Whun Chung and the London Philharmonic. It’s the perfect antidote to a week of watching Wozzeck.