Olivier Py’s production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2015, is quite unusual. Usually opera productions either play the story more or less straight or work with a concept of the director’s that is not obviously contained in the libretto. Py doesn’t rally do either of these. What he does is present the narrative as Wagner wrote it but with visuals that act as a sort of commentary on, rather than a literal depiction of, the action being described. One of the things this does is make the viewer realise just how much Wagner is describing! There is much more tell than show.
My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues. This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon. I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece. Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides. Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time. The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.
Alban Berg’s Wozzeck seems to attract just about every possible treatment from directors other than a straightforwardly literal one. Krzysof Warlikowski’s approach, seen at Dutch National Opera in 2017, is to go back to the original story on which the Büchner play, in its turn the source for the opera, is based. Wrapped around that are several interesting ideas which I can’t fully unpack but which make for a rather creepy but compelling production. Alas, the disk package has nothing to say about the production so, interpretively, one is on one’s own.
I’m a bit surprised that Berlioz’ 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini hasn’t come my way before. It’s got all the operatic elements; romance, politics, murder (and the Pope) etc and some really rather good music. There’s a lovely duet between Cellini and his girl, Teresa, in the first act and Cellini’s aria Sur les monts les plus sauvages is long and demanding in the way that Rossini writes long and demanding tenor arias. The plot maybe has a few holes. One might expect that after the pope has decreed that Cellini will be hanged if he doesn’t finish a statue by nightfall that he might just get on with it rather than running around fighting duels and stuff but there you have it. It’s French opera after all.
Claus Guth’s Salzburg da Ponte cycle is certainly my favourite trifecta and they are right up on my list for top picks for all three operas so I was intrigued to see what he would do with the much less recorded La clemenza di Tito which he directed at Glyndebourne in 2017. Bottom line, I’m not at all convinced by it.
No opera says Glyndebourne like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It opened the first season in 1934 and inaugurated the new theatre in 1994. Michael Grandage’s production which opened in 2012 was, I think, Glyndebourne’s fifth. In any event it’s a fairly traditional affair though with the setting updated to the 1960s (though still set in a palace in Seville and I’ve got a nagging feeling that late Franco era Spain didn’t have much in common with the Haight and Carnaby Street but there you go). The updated setting does allow for some visual gags with ridiculous 1960s dance moves but otherwise it could pretty much be anywhere, anytime. There’s no concept and Grandage’s focus is on the interactions between the characters and the way they can be expressed in a relatively intimate house.
I think I’ve got used to David McVicar productions or, at least, what he’s produced in the last ten years or so. The director’s notes will sound erudite and convey the impression that he’s gained some vital new insight into a well known work. The actual production on stage will be almost entirely conventional with maybe the odd visual flourish but nothing to start the synapses firing. This is very much the case with his 2015 production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail from Glyndebourne. The “big idea” is that Bassa Selim is caught between two worlds; the ‘west” and the “east”. Well duh! This is as revelatory as pointing out that Mimi has TB. This “revelation” is the reason/excuse for presenting the work with dialogues unaltered and uncut. This is very much a mixed blessing. Yes, it does allow some character development that’s otherwise missing but on the other hand it emphasises the fact that without some interesting new angle Entführing is basically dramatically a bit feeble. Is she faithful? How dare he doubt it? Please forgive me. Why should I? Lather, rinse, repeat. Enter Osmin. Hang them. Impale them. Daggers and poison. Over and over.
That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400. Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.
A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
One rather gets the feeling that the 2016 Glyndebourne production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was built around the lady of the house. It makes a lot of sense. There may have been better singers in the role of Rosina but I doubt there has ever been a better mover than Danielle de Niese. She’s matched move for move, eye candy for eye candy by the guys; Björn Burger as Figaro and Taylor Stayton as Almaviva. There’s more mature comedy from the always fantastic Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo and the irrepressible Janis Kelly as Berta.