Gluck’s Orfeo/Orphée is one of those works where things get a bit complicated because an Italian and a French version wre produced and then all kinds of mash ups of the two versions. It’s a bit like Don Carlo/Don Carlos or Guglielmo Tell/Guillaume Tell. The original Orfeo ed Euridice, which premiered in Vienna is quite short and has Orfeo written for a castrato. The Paris version spreads the piece out over three acts, adds both new vocal music and lots more dance music and has Orphée written for haut-contre. Today, when people do the French version they usually cut some of the new music and us the higher Orphée music; casting either a mezzo or a counter-tenor. This is true of both recordings (Paris 2000 and Munich 2003) which have come my way in the past.
To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”. In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan  who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg. 50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing. I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new. It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version. In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is an interesting take on the Cinderella story. There are a lot of references in the libretto, especially in acts 3 and 4, to suggest that it’s all really a dream. So maybe it’s not unreasonable for Barbara Mundel and Olga Motta in their 2017 Freiburg production to riff of that and give us elements that don’t, at first blush, make sense. Dreams are like that. It would also explain why, in many scenes, Lucette seems to be more of a spectator than a participant.
I rather like recordings from the Macerata Festival where the performances take place in the enormous amphitheatre of the Arena Sferisterio. Bellini’s Norma is a good choice for such as setting and the 2016 production directed by Luigi di Gangi and Ugo Giacomazzi makes good use of the space. It also uses string. The sets are stringy. The very scruffy Gauls wear shapeless tunics with lots of string over them. The slightly smarter Romans also wear string. And everybody plays with string. There are more strings than in the Princeton Physics Department. There’s lots of face paint too. The production also makes use of a spectacular multi-coloured lighting plot but, apart from the visuals, is pretty conventional and straightforward.
Verdi’s sixth opera, I due Foscari, is probably not well known to many readers so a brief description may be in order. It’s a rather grim tale of injustice and revenge. Francesco Foscari is the aged Doge of Venice. His son, Jacopo, has been stitched up by the family rival Jacopo Loredano and exiled to Crete. He returns to try and clear his name but is fitted up again. This time for the murder of one Donato. Despite torture he refuses to confess and is sentenced to return to exile in Crete. The first three quarters of the opera is mostly either father or son bemoaning their fate (Francesco has already lost three sons. Lady Bracknell would be unimpressed) or Lucrezia, Jacopo’s wife, pleading for mercy to anyone who will listen. Then there’s a final scene where Francesco receives proof of his son’s innocence, closely followed by news of his death, closely followed by news that the Council and Senate are sacking him. Loredano gloats. Foscari dies. Structurally it’s very much a “numbers” opera with a succession of short scenes mostly featuring various combinations of the three Foscaris and the chorus. There are a lot of quite sophisticated ensemble pieces as well as a couple of solo arias for each of the principals. It’s musically rather distinguished in fact. The three Foscari roles are big sings. Nobody else has much to do.
The catalogue is full of La Bohèmes from regional houses sung by serviceable casts. The version recorded at the Teatro Regio Torino in 2016 is another. My reason for wanting to look at it is because the production was directed by Àlex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus and I hoped it would prove as insightful as Stefan Herheim’s Oslo production. It doesn’t really. He gives the piece a fairly gritty modern setting but I don’t think it speaks to our modern insecurities the way Herheim does. Rather it plays pretty much as a gritty 19th century setting, which is, admittedly, vastly preferable to Zeffischenk excess or ne0-Broadway tweeness.
I’m ambiguous about Italian regional houses in general but what I’ve seen of the Teatro Regio Torino has impressed. They have a fine orchestra and a chorus that can sing and act and they are not afraid to take risks. All of that is very much in evidence on their recording of Gounod’s Faust made in 2015. The production is designed, directed and choreographed by Stefano Poda and, like rather a lot of his work, it’s long on big architectural statements and large scale stage pictures.