I’m really not sure what to make of Jürgen Flimm’s 2004 production of Fidelio for the Zürich Opera House. It’s not offensive and it doesn’t really get in the way of the story but it seems quite devoid of originality beyond mixing styles in a way one might describe as anachronistic if one could figure out when synchronistic would be. Rocco wears a sort of frock coat with, apparently, goatskin pants, Marzellina’s dress looks probably 20th century, bolt action magazine fed rifles are apparently muzzle loaded and metal cartridge cases filled by hand. Then to cap it off when Don Fernando shows up he looks like he’s stepped straight out of a Zeffirelli production of Der Rosenkavalier. So “nul points” for coherence. For once one rather appreciates that so much of the action takes place in the dark.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt has long been one of my favourite conductors, particularly for pieces that require a strong sense of period. The same goes for the wonderful Zürich Opera House Orchestra who, uniquely as far as I know, can change up their instruments to suit the piece. For Weber’s Der Freischütz, recorded in 1999, they use valveless brass but, as best I can tell, modern woodwinds and it all sounds great especially in the many hunting scenes.
The most obvious feature of Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s Pelléas et Mélisande is the use of dummies to double up the characters. Much of the time these doubles are lying around or being pushed around the set wheelchairs by the singers. Most of the time the singers address themselves to one of the dummies even when the “real” version of the person they are addressing is on stage. I guess it’s designed to create a kind of emotional distancing or dehumanising that does seem in keeping with the piece and, when the convention is broken, ie; characters interact directly, that seems to heighten the drama at that point.
This is another of those Arthaus Blu-ray disks that’s sold at a silly cheap price as a carrier for two hours of trailers from the Arthaus catalogue. That said, it’s very high quality indeed. GIlbert Deflo’s production is, in the end, quite conventional though with careful and effective Personenregie. He does trick us a bit at the start. The scene opens with what is, apparently, a rather louche 16th century court entertainment/orgy. There are bare breasted women and dancers of both sexes dressed as Satanic imps. Everyone is in period costume including Rigoletto with jester hat, bells etc. The scene is, perhaps, what we expect. The “ladies” are very receptive to the duke’s advances. The men are resentful but not actively so. Then in comes Monterone in mid 19th century dress to denounce the proceedings and we, perhaps slowly, realise that this is a costume party. From there on there’s nothing very tricksy. The story gets told effectively and straightforwardly. We have been pulled, effortlessly, from the time of the libretto to the time of first performance and the parallels are drawn.