I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
Vincent Brossard’s production of Verdi’s Otello for the 2016 Salzburg Easter Festival is both elegant and subtle; the latter quality being backed up by superb singing and acting from the principals. In many ways the production is clean and straightforward with a focus on character development but it also makes use of elegant lines and sharply contrasting darks and lights in creating the stage picture. There’s also a really cool use of mirrors during Già nella notte densa that I can’t quite figure out.
Schubert could write great melodies and he had a real affinity for the voice so one might expect him to have been successful when he turned his hand to opera. He wasn’t with Fierrabras which wasn’t performed until decades after his death and has been revived seldom since, most recently at Salzburg in 2014 where it was recorded. It’s easy to see why. The libretto is awful and even if the music were really amazing, which it isn’t but more of that later, I doubt it would have made much impact.
In the booklet accompanying David McVicar’s production of Le nozze di Figaro, recorded at the Royal Opera house in 2006, there’s an essay by the director in which he raises all kinds of questions about the rise of the bourgeoisie, the nature of revolution and romantic conceptions of love. He even appears to draw a parallel between Joseph II and Tony Blair. Then he declines to explain how he has embodied all these ideas on the stage and challenges us to “Watch, listen, participate”. Well I did and I’m none the wiser. What I see her is an essentially traditional approach; transferred cosmetically to 1830s France but so what? It’s darker than some Figaro’s but not nearly as dark as, say, Guth. Curiously, the main “extra” on the disks “Stage directions encoded in the music” tees this up much more clearly than the essay.
Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003. It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once. There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos. Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production. The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly. In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun. In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site. They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective. The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.
The 2003 Royal Opera House recording of Die Zauberflöte has a terrific cast and it has Sir Colin Davis conducting. The production is by David McVicar and it’s one of those that make one wonder how he ever got a “bad boy” reputation. It’s perfectly straightforward though rather dark (emotionally and physically) and has a vaguely 18th century vibe. In places it seems a bit minimalist, as if the director couldn’t really be bothered with things like the Trials. The interview material rather suggests that McVicar was a bit overawed by doing Mozart with the great Sir Colin and tried very hard to match his rather old fashioned theatrical sensibilities.
Claus Guth’s 2008 Salzburg production of Don Giovanni divided the critics along entirely predictable lines. It’s a very unusual treatment of Don Giovanni but the concept is stuck to with real consistency and it works to create a compelling piece of music theatre. The treatment on video too is not straightforward and, in a sense, the DVD/Blu-ray version is as much the work of Brian Large as it is of Claus Guth.
The problem with reviewing Doris Dörrie’s 2002 Berlin production of Così fan tutte is that pretty much everything that can be said about it already has been. It’s like trying to write about Willy Decker’s “red dress” Traviata. So I’ll try and be brief and to the point. On the surface the idea is a bit outlandish. Mozart and da Ponte’s satire about sexual fidelity is updated to the 1970s though to me, who grew up in the 70s, it seems much more like the 60s. That said, it works. It’s lively, funny, musically top notch and the presentation on DVD is very decent.
I’ve watched the Blu-ray version of the 2006 Salzburg production of Le Nozze di Figaro a few times now but sitting through it with notepad at the ready made me realise how much I hadn’t seen on the previous viewings. My notes are copious. I usually take a couple of pages or so. This time I covered four pages and it could easily have been more. You have been warned.
Some time ago, Shezan from LiveJournal pointed me towards the 2003 Salzburg Festival production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. This is not a work I know at all well and previous efforts to watch it without sub-titles failed miserably. Now I’ve had a chance to watch the DVD. I can do the musical part of the review very quickly. It’s virtually flawless. All six principals (Michael Schade – Tito, Dorothea Roschmann – Vitellia, Vesselina Kasarova – Sesto, Elina Garanca – Annio, Barbara Bonney – Servilia, Luca Pisaroni – Publio) sing exceedingly well and Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the pit coaxes a thoroughly satisfying performance out of the orchestra. What I’m less sure of is what to make of Martin Kusej’s production. He uses the arches of the Felsenreitschule to create a three level heavily compartmentalized area which frames centre stage. Sometimes the compartments are used effectively for the various plotting and overhearing bits of the drama; fair enough. At others they are used to frame tableau that no doubt mean something to Kusej but which escaped me. For example, during the overture, Tito rushes around the set making the odd phone call while very young boys in underpants stand to attention in the various archways. Similarly in the final scene the active stage area is surrounded by a repeated motif of a man and a woman in formal dress with a table with a young boy (again in underpants) draped across it as if for a human sacrifice. I had similar problems with some of the Personenregie. Is Tito supposed to be mad? Certainly many of his arm and facial gestures suggest so and they contrast oddly with his classically stylish singing. My guess is that much more of this kind of thing was going on but Brian Large’s (who else?) direction for video was almost all in close up, often super close up. Maybe he couldn’t figure out what was going on either so decided to ignore it. This was one DVD release that could have used an interview with the director or at least some documentation.
Technically, this TDK release is very good. It’s spread across two disks and has a very good 16:9 picture and choice of LPCM stereo, Dolby 5.1 or DTS sound. The sound balance has the voices fairly far forward but not annoyingly so. The second disk has (at least my copy has) trailers for other TDK Salzburg releases including a 1962 Ariadne and a really freaky Turandot. Definitely worth a quick look!