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.
Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.
Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart. The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible. My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable. In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson. The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places. For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.
Sometimes a video recording just seems to have it all and I would put the 2019 Salzburg Festival version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in that category. It’s quite an interesting production but it’s the sheer quality of the music making that puts it in the very top bracket. It’s also technically very good in all departments.