Carl Nielsen’s operas don’t get performed much outside his native Denmark so it’s no surprise that the only video recording of his 1902 opera Saul og David was recorded in Copenhagen. The libretto is a fairly straightforward telling of the familiar story of Saul, David, Goliath, Samuel and so on. The music is very much of its time. It’s bold and lyrical; perhaps reminiscent of Strauss in a conventional mood or, perhaps, Elgar. There are some really good choruses and David and Michal get a gorgeous duet in Act 3.
In Kasper Holten’s production, recorded at Royal Danish Opera in 2009, Tannhäuser is a poet torn between family and the conventional world of the Landgraf’s court and his creative processes symbolized by Venus and Venusberg. There are numerous visual clues that perhaps we are even supposed to identify Tannhäuser with Wagner himself. Far from being a young man, this Tannhäuser is middle aged, married to Eizabeth and has a son. He has withdrawn into a psychological world of his own and Venus, his muse, and Venusberg are in his imagination. Only after death is he recognized as a genius. Of the rest, how much is supposed to be external and how much internal to Tannhäuser’s imagination is a bit hard to grasp. If nothing else it goes some way to making the sixty year old Stig Andersen as Tannhäuser and the equally mature Susanne Resmark as Venus almost believable. The 1900ish setting works quite well for the sexually repressed court of the Landgraf von Thüringen though a chorus of pilgrims returning from Rome in full evening dress is a bit of a jar. The concept is quite interesting but really probably stretches further than the libretto can accommodate. This Venus isn’t remotely credible as a goddess of love and the matronly Elisabeth singing about being a pure, young maiden is just odd.
Bartlett Sher’s concept for his production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a theatre within a theatre setting with scruffy bewigged footmen types operating old fashioned stage machinery. Throw in costume design that seems to cross the slutty middle ages with My Little Pony and one gets a production that would probably appeal to the average seven year old girl. Fortunately the singing and acting is really rather fine with splendid vocal contributions from Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau well backed up by the likes of Stéphane Degout and Susanne Resmark and it’s Maurizio Benini and the Met orchestra so no problems there either. To be honest they are hamming it up for all its worth but that doesn’t seem unreasonable in this very silly piece. The second act trio which features some mind boggling gender bending with the three principals swapping partners faster than Liz Taylor swapped husbands is hilarious.