In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list. I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have. It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.
It’s becoming a bit of a habit. The Royal Opera has released a video recording of the 2019 revival of Kaspar Holten’s 2014 production of Don Giovanni directed by Jack Furness and conducted by Helmut Haenchen. I’ve already reviewed both the DVD and the cinema broadcast of the 2014 production so saying much about the production would be superfluous. Suffice to say it’s one of the better Don Giovannis available on disk.
Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
It’s quite unusual for a production to be released twice on video but that’s what has happened with David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Royal Opera House. It was originally released in 2010 with a cast that included Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu. It’s now been released again in a revival directed by Bruno Ravella with a cast headlined by Michael Fabiano, Erwin Schrott and Irina Lungu filmed in 2019.
The Royal Opera House Covent Garden has started posting very high quality full length opera and ballet videos on its Youtube channel. So far there’s the 2012 production of Britten’s Gloriana, a 2010 Così fan tutte which, as far as I can tell, is not available on DVD and Handel’s Acis and Galatea directed and choreographed by Wayne McGregor which is definitely worth a look. There’s also several ballet productions.
Oper Frankfurt has also been posting Lieder recitals “zu Hause” though so far none of their contingent of Canadians has featured.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore is always pretty grim. It’s hard to lighten up an opera with multiple executions, suicide and babies being barbecued. David Bösch in his Covent Garden production (remounted and recorded in 2017 with Julia Burbach directing), probably wisely, doesn’t even try. This is as grim as Grimsby on a wet Sunday in February with extra gratuitous violence. The setting is some roughly contemporary civil war. The Conte di Luna’s troops are a scruffy lot but they have a pretty cool looking tank. The gypsies are a bit gayer though Azucena’s caravan is disturbingly plastered with baby dolls reflecting her obsession. It’s all quite dark. Really only Leonora (and her maid) stand out as they wear white in contrast to the greys of pretty much everyone else. The story is told straightforwardly enough and the sets and costumes do provide some kind of moral differentiation between the two camps with Leonora sort of standing above and apart from the violence.
George Benjamin’s latest opera Lessons in Love and Violence debuted at Covent Garden last year. It was broadcast on the BBC and is still available on the web from Arte and has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is based on the Blu-ray version.
Karel Szymanowski’s 1924 opera Król Roger is surely the only opera in Polish in anything like the standard rep. Maybe that’s one reason it’s not performed all that often because it’s really rather good and Kasper Holten’s 2015 production at Covent Garden makes a pretty good case for it. The story is set in 12th century Sicily, though as we shall see , that really doesn’t matter. The Church is complaining to the king about a heretical prophet, the Shepherd, who is leading people astray with a strange doctrine of Love and Nature. Roger’s queen is much taken with the Shepherd and helps protect him. The king, who is clearly battling demons rooted in a bloody past, vacillates. Eventually he’s persuaded and the opera closes with Roger singing an ecstatic hymn to the rising sun.
What’s Mozart’s Così fan tutte about? I doubt there’s a good answer to that question but one element of what it’s about is artifice. That appears to be Jan Philipp Gloger’s jumping off point for his Royal Opera House production filmed in 2016. I have pages of notes on how the setting changes and who is singing to whom about what at which point in the opera. It starts with the “cast”, in 18th century dress, taking a curtain call during the overture but it soon turns out to be a bit more complex. Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Ferrando and Guglielmo appear in the auditorium in smart modern dress as late comers taking their seats. Soon the boys are on stage in front of the curtain with Don Alphonso (for some reason dressed as a 17th century divine) while the girls hide in embarrassment behind their programmes.
The recording of Bellini’s Norma made at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2016 is about as good as video recordings of opera go. It has it all; a well thought through and well executed production concept, very fine musical values, great acting, judicious camera work and top notch sound and picture. It doesn’t get much better.