Less than the sum of its parts

Ken Russell’s 1985 production of Gounod’s Faust at the Wiener Staatsoper makes an uneven and somewhat unsatisfying DVD.  The music making is fine, sometimes very fine, and the production has some very interesting and effective scenes but the overall concept doesn’t quite work.  Add to that quirky video direction and a picture quality that’s not good even by 1985 standards and the package as a whole just doesn’t quite make it.  It’s a shame as this is more interesting than most opera productions of the period.  Continue reading

Assassinio nella Cattedrale

I’ve often wondered what happened to Italian opera after Puccini because nothing much has ever come my way.  That is until today when I got my hands on a DVD of Pizzetti’s 1958 piece, Assassinio nella Cattedrale which is closely based on the Eliot play.  Murder in the Cathedral is, when one thinks about it and how Eliot uses the chorus, a really good basis for an opera libretto.  The libretto sticks pretty close to the play and Pizzetti provides a tense, dramatic score which brings out the underlying fear and tension in the Eliot.  Just occasionally, and very effectively, he becomes more openly lyrical, as in Becket’s acceptance of his impending martyrdom, but mostly it’s pretty high energy.  That said, Pizzetti seems to be quite a conservative composer and the music is essentially tonal and easy to grasp.  One curiosity I noted is that in the lead up to Becket’s death he interweaves the men’s chorus singing the Dies Irae with the forebodings of the women’s chorus and the setting of the Dies Irae he uses is the same as in Bergman’s Seventh Seal which came out the year before.

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Cool and refined Barbiere

Emilio Sagi’s 2005 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is incredibly elegant and restrained. It looks like something by Robert Carsen.  The sets are all constructed and transformed in full view and just about everything is black and white until the final scene.  There is a lot of background action and commentary from a talented group of dancers who give a very Spanish feel to the piece.  The final scene bursts into vivid, even loud, colour and the finale is just gorgeous to look at. The direction of the actors is well thought out too though they do seem to sing from on top of furniture a lot of the time.

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Scintillating Il Turco in Italy from Zurich

I don’t suppose anybody watches a Rossini comedy for profundity or great insights into human nature but there’s no denying that done well they can be great fun.  This 2002 performance of Il Turco in Italia from the Opernhaus Zürich certainly manages to be that.

The basic plot is predictably silly and full of stock characters; gypsies, flirty young wife, dim older husband, lecherous Turk etc. but wrapped around this is the idea of a poet who is recording what he is seeing as the basis for a new play while, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, trying to influence the action to meet his needs.  It’s quite clever and often very funny.

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