The 2013 production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte from Madrid’s Teatro Real is one of German film director Michael Haneke’s comparatively rare forays into opera. Naturally I was expecting a highly conceptual interpretation but, although his vision is far from conventional, Konzept found I not. What I saw was a collection of ideas that didn’t quite cohere for me. Costume and sets are a mix of 18th century modern. We are in Don Alfonso’s inconsistently modernised mansion. There are enormous 18th century paintings and chandeliers but also leatherette banquettes and the Giant Fridge of Booze. The boys and girls wear contemporary party attire, including a rather fetching red dress for Fiordiligi, but Don Alfonso is in full 18th century gard and Despina seems to be dressed as Pierrot. Perhaps it’s some sort of party where some of the guests have decided to do the costume thing and some haven’t? When the boys go off to the army they do so in some sort of distant past opera version of military uniform; wigs and swords.
Berndt Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten was something of a sleeper hit at the 2012 Salzburg festival and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a peculiar work. It’s very episodic and requires massive forces. There are 16 singing and 10 non-singing roles, a 100 piece orchestra, a jazz band and more. At Salzburg the scale was magnified by staging it in the Felsenreitschule, using the full 40m width and enormous height of the stage. I’ve included some full stage shots in the screen caps to give an idea of how huge this all is. They can be expanded to full size Blu-ray caps (roughly three times the size of the image in the review).
Christof Loy’s production of Handel’s late oratorio Theodora was a critical and popular success at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and deservedly so. That said, certain decisions seem a bit perverse. The G minor organ concerto HWV 310 is interpolated in Part 3, which is fine, but why cut a fine number like “Bane of virtue” in Part 1 or “Whither, Princess,do you Fly?” in Part 3? There are a bunch of other, rather odd, cuts in Part 3. Still it doesn’t do serious damage to a fine performance of an interesting production.
It’s a rare and valuable experience when a performance makes one reconsider a perhaps overly familiar work. That’s the effect that Claus Guth’s 2009 staging of Handel’s Messiah had on me. I don’t think that there is any piece I’m more familiar with than Messiah. I feel like I’ve known it all my life. I’ve sung it. I own a vocal score (rare indeed for me!). I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard it. And yet here it came up entirely fresh and had me thinking about it in completely new ways.
It’s perhaps odd that somebody like me, who got into Janáček’s music as a teenager, should have taken so long to discover his operas but I’m so glad I did. The latest discovery is Věk Makropulos in a 2011 recording from the Groβes Festspielhaus in Salzburg with Angela Denoke as the 337 year old diva Emilia Marty. It’s a strange work dramatically; a sort of fantastic detective story. Apparently it’s based on a comedy (by Karel Čapek, the guy who coined the modern meaning of “robot”) though how it got from a comedy to the opera is a bit of a mystery. It’s weird, compelling and creepy but not at all funny. It also has a terrific score. Continue reading