Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker is a well known, rather avant garde Belgian choreographer and not, perhaps, the obvious choice to direct an opera production but that’s the assignment she took at Opéra nationale de Paris in 2017 with Mozart’s Così fan tutte which was recorded at the Palais Garner. Her approach is to double each of the six characters with a dancer and develop an elaborate, largely abstract and severely modern choreography for all twelve players though, naturally enough, with the more technical dance elements going to the dancers. The choreography, as is apparently often the case with De Keersmaeker is explicitly geometric. The stage is marked with circles and other geometric figures which inform or constrain the choreography. Much of the time this results in a lot of running round in circles or standing in semicircles swaying backwards and forwards. Indeed right up to Ah, guarda, sorella that’s pretty much all that happens though as things hot up emotionally the dancers get more to do with most of the big arias being paired with a dance solo and so on.
If I had been languishing in obscurity for 250 years like Joseph Bodin de Boismortier I think I’d rather stay that way than be rescued by Hervé Niquet and the French “comedy” duo Dino and Shirley (Corinne and Gilles Benizio). To be fair their take on Boismortier’s 1743 ballet-comédie Don Quichotte chez la duchesse isn’t nearly as bad as their previous brutal murder of Purcell’s King Arthur but it’s really weird and patchy. It’s rather hard to describe in fact. It’s a sort of mash up of farce, commedia, slapstick and pastiche in which bits of baroque opera occasionally break out. It’s also staged as meta theatre with the stage interacting with the pit and Niquet himself ending up in the action.
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.
Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse is in many ways it’s a classic opera seria. The good guy roles are written for castrati but the baddies here too go to high voices; a castrato and a tenor. But what sets this apart is that it was written for Rome where it premiered in 1730. At that time women were not allowed on stage in the Papal States so the two female roles were played by castrati en travesti. In recreating it in 2012, l’opéra national de Lorraine chose to cast all five castrati roles with countertenors, producing a cast like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard.