The 2021 production, by Keith Warner, of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto at the Theater an der Wien uses Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre as a framing device. Sometimes the action is clearly the actors, producers, cigarette girls etc involved in the screening of a silent German movie version of “Caesar and Cleopatra”. Other times they are performing the action of the film/opera. Sometimes the cinema screen shows clips from the movie. Other times it shows pictures of the characters on stage. For example, at the beginning of Act 2 Tolomeo, whose other persona is some kind of sleazy mafioso movie exec, is shooting up. There’s a B&W picture of him on the screen that slowly changes to bright colours and then becomes more and more a depiction of a pretty heavy trip.
Not so long ago I reviewed a production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and described it as “so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it.”. So what to say about one that I found even less satisfying? First, for plot details check out the earlier review. Now for this version directed by Andrea Breth and filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2021 without an audience but with no other obvious concessions to COVID.
At first blush Axel Köhler’s 2015 production of Weber’s Der Freischütz for Dresden’s Semperoper seems entirely traditional but as it unfolds it reveals some real depth that pretty much restores the sense of horror that the original audience felt. It’s set in an indeterminate time period in the aftermath of war. The first act looks quite conventional but there’s a very tense air to it with both sexuality and violence just below, and occasionally above, the surface. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by our first look at Georg Zeppenfeld who is a very fine and rather plastic Kaspar. There are echoes here of his König Heinrich in Bayreuth.
Richard Strauss operas do tend to have somewhat weird plots but perhaps none more so than his early and seldom performed piece Feuersnot. We are in mediaeval Munich on St. John’s Eve when apparently large bonfires and, one suspects, other things, are traditional. The children are gathering firewood and the magician Kunrad is stalking the mayor’s daughter Diemut. To her, apparent at least, disgust and the scandal of the townspeople, he kisses her. She gets her revenge by pretending she’s going to winch him up to her room but leaves him stranded halfway where he is mocked by the other girls. He calls on the spirit of his mentor, an even greater magician, to help him extinguish all the lights and fires in the town. This bit is very Wagnerian because who was mistreated by the people of Munich? And who is his equally mistreated heir? You’ve got it in one right? Anyway, the townspeople rather whimsically persuade Diemut that it’s her maidenly duty to get the lights turned back on. After all, people have sacrificed a lot more than a quick shag to the needs of the energy industry. All it’s missing is a wordly crustacean really.