Carlus Padrissa’s (of La fura dels baus) take on Verdi’s La forza del destino for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is nothing if not ambitious. He interprets this rather banal and meandering melodrama as a tale of cosmic inevitability. Leonora and Alvaro are metaphors for two stars, which after an epic journey through time and space, will collide and form a black hole extinguishing each other. FWIW the recording was made in June 2020 under COVID restrictions so the chorus is masked and it sounds as if the theatre is a lot less than full.
It’s not all that often I feel genuinely moved by an opera on video. It’s so much less immersive than experiencing live. There is the occasional one. Both the Berlin Parsifaland the Aix-en-Provence La traviata come to mind. The recently released La traviata from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is another one. It’s an interesting and effective production with a strong cast centred on the searing Violetta of Nadine Sierra.
Verdi’s Falstaff, of course, is a farce so there’s no reason why a director shouldn’t treat it as one but all three of the other productions I’ve seen in the last few years have transposed it to the 1950s and put a spin on it. Sven-Eric Bechtolf, in his production for the 2021 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, just doesn’t do that. It’s a 1590s (ish) setting and it’s played very broad. There are big costumes, big gestures, entrances and exits and characters “hidden in plain view”. It could be Dario Fo or Brian Rix.
Catalani’s La Wally is not much performed outside Italy so I was interested to get my hands on a recording made at the Theater an der Wien in 2021. It’s about what one might expect from an Italian opera of the 1890s; an everyday story of country folk plus murder.
Wagner’s Parsifal both attracts and repels. It has gorgeous music but a problematic plot that, on the surface, is a weird mash up of Christian symbolism, medieval romance and (more than likely) anti-Semitism. With reference to the latter it’s no great surprise that an Israeli conductor taking on the work would want to take an approach that deals with that aspect head on. That’s what Omer Meir Wellber does, with the willing collaboration of director Graham Vick in a production staged and recorded at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in 2020.
Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka is sometimes regarded as Poland’s national opera. It’s one of those mid 19th century works that tries to create some kind of national idiom broadly within the framework of the musical style of the age (the composer was conservatory trained in Berlin). It’s really quite good but rarely performed outside Poland so it’s interesting to look at it, especially in a rather good production by Mariusz Treliński that was given and recorded at Theater an der Wien in 2019.
I’m really not sure what to make of the recent recording of Giodarno’s Siberia made at the Maggi Musicale Fiorentino in 2021. It’s certainly a rather weird experience. It’s partly that it’s a bit of an oddball of an opera, partly Roberto Andò’s production and partly that it was recorded under COVID conditions with the chorus masked and blocking that seems, if rather inconsistently, to be designed for social distancing.
Handel’s Saul gets another “fully staged” treatment in this recording of a Claus Guth production at the Theater an der Wien in 2021. Inevitably it invites comparison with Barrie Kosky’s Glyndebourne version.. They are quite different though each is very enjoyable n its own way. Those not familiar with the piece might find the introduction to the earlier production helpful as I’m not going to repeat the outline of plot etc here.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.