Thomas Adès’ latest opera, The Exterminating Angel, is probably his most ambitious and best to date. It received its US premiere at the Met in 2017 and was broadcast as part of the Met in HD series, subsequently being released on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s based on the surrealist 1962 Buñuel film. It’s a very strange plot. A group of more or less upper class guests attend a dinner after an opera performance. All the servants except the butler have (inexplicably) left the house. The guests seem unable to leave the room they are in nor can anyone from outside enter it. This goes on for days(??) during which the guests accuse each other of various perversions including incest and paedophilia and turn violent while still expressing delicate aristocratic sensibilities like an inability to stir one’s coffee with a teaspoon. There’s a suicide pact, a bear and several sheep involved before the “spell” to escape the room is discovered. What happens afterwards is unclear. (The opera omits the closing scenes of the film). It’s very weird and quite unsettling; Huis Clos meets Lord of the Flies?
Melly Still’s production of Dvorák’s Rusalka, recorded at Glyndebourne in 2019 got rave reviews and, judging by the audience reaction on the recording. was enthusiastically received in the house. Unfortunately I don’t think it works all that well on video despite some rather stunning stage pictures and generally strong performances.
No opera says Glyndebourne like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It opened the first season in 1934 and inaugurated the new theatre in 1994. Michael Grandage’s production which opened in 2012 was, I think, Glyndebourne’s fifth. In any event it’s a fairly traditional affair though with the setting updated to the 1960s (though still set in a palace in Seville and I’ve got a nagging feeling that late Franco era Spain didn’t have much in common with the Haight and Carnaby Street but there you go). The updated setting does allow for some visual gags with ridiculous 1960s dance moves but otherwise it could pretty much be anywhere, anytime. There’s no concept and Grandage’s focus is on the interactions between the characters and the way they can be expressed in a relatively intimate house.
I think I’ve got used to David McVicar productions or, at least, what he’s produced in the last ten years or so. The director’s notes will sound erudite and convey the impression that he’s gained some vital new insight into a well known work. The actual production on stage will be almost entirely conventional with maybe the odd visual flourish but nothing to start the synapses firing. This is very much the case with his 2015 production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail from Glyndebourne. The “big idea” is that Bassa Selim is caught between two worlds; the ‘west” and the “east”. Well duh! This is as revelatory as pointing out that Mimi has TB. This “revelation” is the reason/excuse for presenting the work with dialogues unaltered and uncut. This is very much a mixed blessing. Yes, it does allow some character development that’s otherwise missing but on the other hand it emphasises the fact that without some interesting new angle Entführing is basically dramatically a bit feeble. Is she faithful? How dare he doubt it? Please forgive me. Why should I? Lather, rinse, repeat. Enter Osmin. Hang them. Impale them. Daggers and poison. Over and over.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland premiered at the BayerischeStaatsoper in 2007 in a production by Achim Freyer. It’s a curious work. It cleaves fairly closely to Carroll but the beginning and ending are altered to make it clear this is all a dream. In between those two short scenes we get all the familiar stuff; Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, Tea Party, Croquet Lawn, Trial etc. It’s all staged on a steeply raked stage with a sort of set of “advent calendar” openings. Lines of light are used to suggest scale changes and the characters (almost) all wear mesh masks and have puppet selves too. It’s a look that won costume designer Nina Weitzner an award. Everybody seems to be wearing an aerial wire and there’s a fair bit of flying about. It looks, on the face of it, visually inventive and psychologically convincing.
I managed to get my hands on the DVD of the Gianni Schicchi that formed the second half of the evening’s entertainment with The Miserly Knight that I reviewed yesterday (Glyndebourne 2004). It’s the same creative team of Jurowski and Arden and they reinforce the end on a corpse, start on a corpse symmetry by using the aerialist Matilda Leyser as the corpse in Schicchi. Both Jurowski and Arden stress the dark side of the work in interviews but to be honest it comes off here more as a madcap comedy. Perhaps that was inevitable when following the very dark and enigmatic Rachmaninov piece. It’s set around the time of the work’s composition and a unit set with balcony and bed and a cupboard to stuff the body in serve throughout. It’s workmanlike and effective. The blocking is very precise and effective. After all there are at least eight characters on stage throughout this piece. Arden moves and groups them with precision and my only beef is that (surprise) we miss much of her careful work because of closeupitis.
The performances are excellent. Alessandro Corbelli is superb in the title role confirming my opinion of him as one of the great comic baritones. The acid aunt Zita is wonderfully played by the seemingly timeless Felicity Palmer and the rest of the family back her up strongly with excellent ensemble work. Sally Matthews as Lauretta and Massimo Giordano as Rinuccio are the romantic interest and they are both good. Matthews manages a version of O mio babbino caro that is lovely to listen to and spectacularly insincere. She also acts very well and looks the part. Giodarno has a lovely Italianate tenor voice, acts well and is also most pleasant to listen to. Jurowski handles the score well building to some impressive climaxes where required, for example in the scene where the family are imagining all the good things the monks will get to eat from Buoso’s legacy.
The video direction isn’t as egregious here as in the Rachmaninov but it’s still annoying. The scene where Schicchi is preparing to impersonate Buoso is particularly irritating. Technical details and standard of execution are the same as for the Rachmaninov. The interviews with Jurowski, Arden and Corbelli are also equally good. I could listen to Jurowski talk about music and its relationships to other art forms and social developments for a long, long time. Just a reminder that this is also available as a double bill with the Rachmaninov on Blu-ray as well as separately on DVD.
It will be interesting to see how this compares to the upcoming COC production which will be paired with the very dark Eine florentinische Tragödie by Zemlinsky from Wilde’s play. It has a starry cast, Sir Andrew Davis conducting and Catherine Malfitano directing so we may be in for a treat.