The 2009 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from Madrid’s Teatro Real had me doing a bit of a double take. It’s all pouffy wigs, breeches and heaving bosoms. In fact it’s so traditional that it wouldn’t be out of place in Winnipeg or Omaha but comes as something of a surprise in a major European house. In the “Making of” feature, included as an extra, director Emilio Sagi suggests that the opera is so “perfect” that only a “hyper-realist” approach is appropriate. It’s an interesting idea but “hyper-realist” here turns out to mean a bunch of established opera conventions that bear as much of a relationship to “reality” as, say, a James Bond film does. There is one minor directorial intervention. A air of buxom extras appear in almost every scene. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps they are the Wonderbra of the production as their sole purpose seems to be to uplift the cleavage quotient. For the record, the piece is presented uncut so Basilio and Marcellina get their big arias in the last act. The traditional approach, I know, has its adherents. I’m not one of them. I could have used a few ideas!
Matthias Hartmann’s staging of Carmen for the Opernhaus Zürich recorded in 2008 is starkly simple but very beautiful and provides a perfect vehicle for the considerable talents of Vesselina Kasarova and Jonas Kaufmann. The set consists of a plain backdrop and a raised elliptical disk, reminiscent of a bull ring. A few, very few, props are added as needed. A dog lies asleep at the front of the set (replaced by a cattle skull in the final act).
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.
Robert Carsen’s clean, refined production of Handel’s Semele originated in Aix, was recorded in Zürich and eventually made it’s way to Vienna and Chicago. In many ways it is classic Carsen. It’s elegant and uncluttered, is strong on the detailed Personenregie, has a consistent design concept but isn’t really pushing a concept driven agenda. It’s also quite funny without descending to priapic donkeys. Also there are lots of chairs.
A while ago I had the misfortune to watch a thoroughly misconceived version of Purcell’s King Arthur. I have now had a chance to watch a version from the 2004 Salzburg Festival and it’s a lot better! This production by Jürgen Flimm takes Purcell and Dryden’s work and treats it respectfully but not solemnly. As originally intended, it’s given as a series of scenes spoken by actors interspersed by songs which are sung by five singers who change role as needed. The dialogue is in German but the singing is in English which seems a bit odd at first to an English speaker but one soon gets used to it. Flimm uses Dryden’s text for the most part but interpolates some scenes, notably where Merlin, disguised as an investment banker’s wife, enters via the auditorium and delivers a diatribe about Regietheater and how Salzburg has gone all to Hell. It’s just like being at a typical COC Opera 101. It’s staged in the appropriately baroque Felsenreitschule and the set mirrored the arcades of the building with a brightly painted wooden arcade structure set behind the stage. The orchestra is in a sunken pit in the middle of the stage so the action takes place all around them. There is clearly some heavy duty projection equipment behind the set because the production uses a wide range of, often spectacular, lighting effects.