Where’s the Champagne?

It’s really hard to know where to start with Hans Neuenfels’ Die Fledermaus.  It’s a prodcuction that enraged the more conventional patrons when it opened at the Salzburg Festival in 2001.  It even provoked a “false pretences” lawsuit!  There is so much going on that it almost seems to call for a catalogue raisonnée of the various scenes though one fears that would actually be both tedious and unhelpful.  Let’s try instead to explore it thematically.  Neuenfels takes very considerable liberties with the libretto.  A lot of dialogue is cut, a lot is added and numerous non-canonical characters are inserted.  That’s just a start.

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More Iphigénie

The second half of the Amsterdam double bill that opened with Iphigénie en Aulide is, of course, Iphigénie en Tauride.  In this piece the more usual version of the Aulis story, where Diana substitutes a stag for Iphigenia on the altar and whisks the girl off to be her priestess among the savage Scythians of Tauris, is assumed.  So the piece opens with Iphigenia and six other Mycenean priestesses (how they got to Tauris is a mystery) in Diana’s temple at Tauris where their job is to sacrifice any strangers who show up.  Almost at once the capture of two Greeks is announced.  They turn out to Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his sidekick Pylades and the the next 90 minutes turns on Iphigenia failing to sacrifice either of them.

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Iphigénie at last

Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD.  It was staged and recorded as a double bill with Iphigénie en Tauride at De Nederlandse Opera in September 2011 in productions by Pierre Audi.  It’s excellent in just about every respect.  The cast is to die for, the production is interesting and so is the staging in the rather challenging space of The Amsterdam Music Theatre, which also poses problems for the video director.  Backed up, on Blu-ray, by a 1080i picture and DTS-HD-MA sound it’s a pretty compelling package.

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Let us laugh at heaven and earth

Rameau’s Plateé is a comedy in three acts with the obligatory allegorical prologue and lots of ballets.  It tells the story of the bizarrely ugly water nymph Plateé.  In an attempt to calm down Juno who, as usual, is angry at Jupiter’s infidelities, Mercury and the satyr Citheron arrange for Jupiter to pretend to fall in love with and marry Plateé.  Juno arrives during the wedding in a fury but when she sees Plateé she realises the joke and is reconciled with Jupiter.  Plateé returns, distraught, to her swamp.  It’s all really rather cruel but does have a few good jokes.. and lots of ballets.

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La Belle Helène in Paris

When I reviewed the 1997 Zurich production of La Belle Helène about a week ago the commentariat was strong in the belief that I should take a look at the 2000 Paris-Châtelet production.  So I did and they were right.  It’s excellent.  It also reinforced my belief that operetta; English, French or German, works best when it’s taken seriously by which I mean using the best available singer/actors, a good director and a top notch orchestra, chorus and conductor.  All of these are in place in this Paris production. Continue reading

Back to Offenbach

After the hours of discussion about what Lee Blakeney really meant in his COC Les Contes d’Hoffmann a little light relief seemed called for.  Fortuitously I had just got my hands on the 1997 Opéra National de Lyon recording of Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers so I thought that might do the trick.  I was dead right.  The production by Laurent Pelly is an absolute hoot (or, to quote young British mezzo, Emilie Renard “FILTHY!”).  The high speed, somewhat surreal production is brilliantly executed by a predominantly French cast including Natalie Dessay as Eurydice and Laurent Naouri as Jupiter.  There’s so much going on that it would be tedious to provide a full description.  Continue reading