To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”. In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan  who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg. 50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing. I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new. It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version. In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.
Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming teamed up for Strauss’ Arabella at the 2014 Salzburg Osterfestspiel. The production is directed by Florentine Klepper and it’s set late 19th/early 20th century and is conventional in many ways though there are a few interesting touches. There may be more than a few but video director Brian Large focusses quite relentlessly on the singers 99% of the time so it’s hard to tell. I noticed a few things. The hotel set in Act 1 is multi-room but it’s very rare that we see other than the room the principal action is in so who knows what might have been going on. There’s a use of body doubles during the Act 2 duet to create a sort of “portrait” of Mandryka and Arabella that broods over the stage for the rest of the act. The fortune teller reappears with the “trouble” card during the “key” scene. The whole Fiakermilli episode is difficult to interpret because the video gives such a fragmentary view of it. There’s certainly a couple of suggestive giant dolls. Otherwise this scene just comes off as pretty crude and lame. I suspect that there may be much going on here that isn’t on the video. This all tends to reinforce the weaknesses of the second half of Act 2 and the start of Act 3 which certainly are not Strauss and von Hofmannsthal’s best work.
The 2016 Salzburg recording of Gounod’s Faust is challenging. Perhaps the nine pages of the booklet given over to a concept discussion with the directors should have given me sufficient warning that this was not going to be Faust à la Met. It’s not. It’s extremely complex and I’m not sure I fully understand it or whether all the ideas work but I did find it fascinating visually and dramatically, and musically it’s top notch. That said, traditionalists can save themselves a trip to the ER by walking away now.
Richard Strauss’ Die Liebe der Danae is one of his least performed operas so it’s not very familiar to most opera goers. I wrote about its performance history and provided a plot summary in my review of a 2011 recording at the Deutsche Oper, which is the only video recording besides the 2016 Salzburg one which forms the subject of this post.
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.
Once in a while one comes across a disk that sounds like it could be interesting but turns out to be a bit of a bust. That was certainly my experience with the recording of Mozart’s Davide penitente recorded in Salzburg during Mozart Week in 2015. On the face of it using the Felsenreitschule for something like its original purpose isn’t such a bad idea and the idea of choreographed horse “ballet” to a Mozart cantata is quite intriguing. On the face of it…
Not too many CDs of new opera recordings, at least of mainstream repertoire, come my way these days. Studio recordings have become rare and the usual medium is a video recording, itself a spin off from a live broadcast; TV, cinema or web, of a live performance. This makes sense to me. Just listening to an opera has always seemed a second best. Anyway, that’s all by way of saying that I was a bit surprised to find myself listening to a CD edition of a live recording of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut from the 2016 Salzburg Festival. How did this recording happen you ask? The answer is on the box, where Anna Netrebko in the title role, gets top billing, even over the composer.