Violanta is one of those works which seem oddly out of place, among other things. It’s a one act opera by the eighteen year old Erich Korngold which premiered in Munich and Vienna in 1916. It hardly needs saying that most eighteen year olds in Europe in 1916 were engaged otherwise than in composing rather overwrought operas about seduction and death in 15th century Venice but there you go.
There are only two video recordings of Giodarno’s Fedora in the catalogue. There’s a classic 1996 recording from the Met and, now, a 2015 production from the Teatro Carlo Fenice in Genoa. The Genoa version, directed by Rosetta Cucchi, attempts to inject some serious ideas into the piece, which the Met production most certainly does not. Whether this is a good idea is questionable for Fedora, even though it contains some good numbers and some great melodies is, dramatically, about as clichéd as it gets. Cucchi attacks this problem in two ways. First, an old version of Loris Ipanov is on stage throughout observing the action and dies at the end. I’m not sure what this adds. Second, at various points a mime/ballet sequence is staged behind the main stage area. This seems like an attempt to link the narrative specifically to WW1 and the death of the Romanovs which seems odd as the ending makes no sense in a post-revolutionary context. So, I’m not sure the idea is sound and I’m not sure the piece would carry the freight even if it were. The rather quirky video direction by Matteo Ricchetti doesn’t help either as it’s often hard to figure out what is going on in total.
One thing the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo is noted for is unarthing Donizetti rarities. The 2016 edition was Rosmonda d’Inghilterra; a dramatically rather slight piece based on the story of Henry II’s mistress, generally known as “The Fair Rosamund”. In the opera version Rosmonda is locked up in a tower by her lover Edegardo who has promised to marry her except he’s really Henry II (Enrico) and Leonora (Eleanor of Aquitaine) is going to have something to say about that. Complicating matters; Enrico’s page Arturo is in love with Rosmonda and her dad, Clifford, is the king’s principal counsellor and not at all happy about his daughter carrying on with a married man. Clifford’s plan to save the family’s honour is to have Arturo take Rosmonda off to Aquitaine and marry her. Rosmonda’s is to retire to a convent (as, apparently, the historical Rosamund did) . Enrico’s is to divorce Leonora (given Enrico’s problems with the church this seems highly implausible but, hey, bel canto) and make Rosmonda his queen. Leonora isn’t having any of this and shows up at the tower and kills Rosmonda. Finito. Along the way there’s lots of very workmanlike Donizetti music which sounds pretty much like most Donizetti operas.
Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea was the “shabby, little shocker” of the 17th century. It’s about lust, obsession, murder and revenge. So, it’s a bit surprising that all too often it comes off as elegant but deadly dull. That’s rather the case with Pierre Luigi Pizzi’s production filmed at the Teatro Real in 2010. Despite having Danielle di Niese, something of a specialist Roman sex kitten, in the title role it’s all rather bloodless. It starts off OK with the gods and goddesses of the prologue being wheeled about on platforms but after that he gets rather static. Sets and costumes are almost unrelieved grey/silver tones (including a rather fetching pair of silver lamé booty shorts for Damigella) although Nerone himself seems to be dressed as a giant black chicken in Act1 (know you of such a bird, Baldrick?). The only real breaks in the (literal) monotony are the bright red robe Ottone borrows from Drusilla for the attempted murder and the sparkly gold outfits that appear for Nerone and Poppea at the end. It’s also rather dark most of the time.
Cavalli’s Il Giasone isn’t a work one sees performed often. It’s a peculiar beast. It’s about Jason and Medea and the Golden Fleece but has few of the elements of the version of the story that everone knows and everybody from Charpentier to Reimann has made into an opera. In Cavalli’s version Giasone has got Isifile, a princess of Lemnos, pregnant with twins and then gone off after the Golden Fleece. In Colchis he spends his time in bed with a mysterious local beauty, much to the disgust of Ercole who thinks he’s gone soft. Eventually Giasone works out that his squeeze is Medea and with her help defeats some monsters and grabs the fleece.
Musically, the 2007 Spoleto Festival recording of Handel’s Ariodate is very good indeed. Unfortunately the production, at least as rendered on DVD, is a bit of a snooze. Director John Pascoe has chosen to set the piece in 1957 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival. The court of the king of Scotland is supposed to evoke the “glamour” of the court of the young Elizabeth II. There is also a partially twisted mirror that is supposed to remind us of the deception and self-deception intrinsic to the plot. I only know this because of the bonus interview with Pascoe as video director Matteo Ricchetti completely ignores it. There’s also a recurrent appearance of an image of Ginevra (Handel having fortuitously stumbled upon le nom juste for a character supposed to remind us of Margaret Windsor) framed by the garter ribbon and motto. Subtle. Continue reading →