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.
There’s been a lot of opera related programming broadcast on BBC TV recently. Probably the biggest event was Jonas Kaufmann’s role debut as Otello in the Verdi opera conducted by Antonio Pappano but there’s also been a 90 minute documentary on Kaufmann and a two part series called Lucy Worsley’s Nights at the Opera and a broadcast of Brett Dean’s new Hamlet from Glyndebourne. I haven’t yet watched the Hamlet but here are some thoughts on the other three shows, plus an extra bonus.
I’ve tried several times in the past to watch the DVD recording of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole and never made it past the second scene, which is revolting and, I still think, rather patronising. This time though I made it all the way through and I think, taken as a whole, this is a pretty impressive piece with a clever libretto and some real musical depth. It’s also, in the true and technical sense, a tragedy, and a very operatic one at that.
Daniele Abbado’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, recorded at Covent Garden in 2013 was the vehicle for Placido Domingo taking on yet another Verdi baritone role. It’s set in the 1940’s because, Jews. At least it’s costumed that way because nothing else about the production has any kind of sense of time or place. It’s virtually monochrome and quite abstract. The Temple is represented by a set of upright rectangular blocks which are toppled at the appropriate moment. The idol of Baal is a sort of wire frame that comes apart rather undramatically and so on. There’s also nothing in the direction to suggest any kind of concept. It’s quite straightforward with rather a lot of “park and bark”. There’s some use of video projections behind and above the action but it’s rather hard to figure them out on video as they tend to appear in shot rather fleetingly.
What’s become of David McVicar? His 2015 production of Giodarno’s Andrea Chénier for the Royal Opera House seems typical of his recent work. It looks expensive. It features a starry cast. He flirts with dramatic risk but in the last analysis it comes off as a bit tame and even sloppy. Basically when the principals are at the centre of the drama it’s compelling stuff but when they are not it’s not and there are curious inconsistencies.