Offenbach’s La Périchole is one of his less often performed works and I think I can see why. It really isn’t as good as La Belle Hélène or Orphée aux Enfers but it has its moment and in the completely mad, over the top, utterly French treatment it got at the Opéra Comique in 2022 it’s really quite enjoyable.
La Vie Parisienne isn’t my favourite work by Offenbach by a long shot. The plot is absurd and the music, while not without wit (for example Bobinet;’s entrance in Act 5 is signalled by the Commendatore’s theme from Don Giovanni) and invention, mostly sounds like stuff one has heard before. I was intrigued though by a recent production in Paris that used an attempt to reconstruct the score as Offenbach and his librettists Meilhac and Halévy might have wished it in1866. As it happened a combination of censorship and the inability/reluctance of the cast (singing actors rather than opera singers) to tackle the more challenging music led to cuts throughout the rehearsal process and the virtual evisceration of acts 4 and 5. Now scholars at that most interesting organisation the Palazetto Bru Zane have gone back to the autograph materials used in that first run to try and reconstruct a “complete” version.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel is a pretty weird opera. It’s a satire on Nicholas II’s performance as tsar written just after the disastrous 1905 war with Japan and due to entirely unsurprising trouble with the censors it wasn’t performed in the composer’s life time. As you may imagine, a production of it by Barrie Kosky doesn’t make it any less weird. Kosky’s production was recorded at Opéra de Lyon in May 2021 and there are still some COVID artefacts. The chorus, for instance, is masked. But mostly it feels like a “normal” production.
Bizet’s Carmen premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1875. In 2009 it was revived there in a production by Adrian Noble. That production was filmed for TV and has now been released on disk. Having watched it I’m asking myself whether it’s an attempt in some way to “recreate” something similar to the 1875 experience. Alas, there’s nothing in the documentation to help with this question either way but two things intrigued me. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is in the pit which suggests an attempt to get a “period sound”. Secondly, the spoken dialogue is not the version I’m accustomed to and there’s quite a bit more of it. Is this, perhaps, the original 1875 dialogue?
Laurent Pelly’s 2017 production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia for the Théatre des Champs Élysée is classic Pelly. The sets and costumes are very simple and essentially monochrome. The sets in fact are constructed from flats painted as music paper. The black, white and grey costumes are more or less modern and pretty nondescript. But, in the classic Pelly manner, the action is fast paced and convincing. There’s lots of synchronised movement and the physical acting and facial expressions are a bit exaggerated. I toyed with the word “cartoonish” but that’s a bit crude if not entirely inaccurate. The overall effect is positive.
Robert Carsen’s productions of the classic pairing of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, filmed at Dutch National Opera in 2019, are an attempt to extend the meta-theatricality of the former to the latter. To this end he reverses the normal order which allows the prologue of Pagliacci to apply to both works and elements of the Pagliacci to be extended in Cavalleria Rusticana.
John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has been around since 1728 and is revived with some regularity but has never quite made into the opera canon. The latest incarnation is a version heavily rewritten by Robert Carsen and Ian Burton with a musical concept by William Christie. It first saw light at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in 2018 before touring extensively.
Agrippina is definitely one of the most interesting of Handel’s early operas. It has very good and very varied music including a ravishing love duet in Act 3 which reminds one of Monteverdi; perhaps not surprisingly since Poppea is one of the characters singing it! The libretto, too, has something of L’incoronazione about it. It’s smart, sexy and utterly cynical which I suppose is about par for an 18th century cardinal. It’s said that Grimani based the character of Claudio, here portrayed as an oversexed buffoon (oace Robert Graves), on his arch enemy Clemens XI. s a bonus in Robert Carsen’s version there’s a rather shocking ending in which Nerone, literally, gets the last laugh.
Cavalli’s Ercole Amante is an oddity. It was intended as a wedding present from Cardinal Mazarin to Louis XIV but got hijacked by Lully who inserted a bunch of ballets for the king to dance stretching out the piece to something like six hours. It wasn’t a great success. It’s also a very odd story for a piece intended for a royal patron as I explained in reviewing an earlier recording. It’s also in Italian which may make the only French court work to be performed in that language.