There’s a new CD of live recordings from the Salzburg festival of orchestral songs by Wagner and Mahler performed by mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann.
The first set is Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder recorded in 2020. It’s a very listenable account with Garanča in full control and Thielemann, as ever, getting a nuanced and detailed account from the orchestra. Arguably the performance of five of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, recorded earlier this year, is even better. Garanča’s smokey mezzo seems especially well suited to these songs, though heaven knows, there’s stiff competition with many excellent recordings of these pieces by both mezzos and baritones. Again the accompaniment is very apt.
The recording, made in the Großesfestspielhaus, is very clear with good balance between voice and orchestra. Full texts and translations are included. Well worth a listen.
The disc release (Blu-ray and DVD) of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann is actually a 2 for 1. There’s a recording of a performance of the play from the 2020 Salzburg festival plus a 54 minute “docufiction” film about the history of the festival.
Strauss’ Elektra, for all its “grand” music, is essentially a rather intimate psychological study of the psyches and relationships of three women. Given this, one might think that the enormous stage of the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg a very odd choice of venue. Krzysztof Warlikowski’s approach to the challenge is bold but almost impossible to do justice to on video. Despite that, what does come across on video is a rather compelling version of the work.
Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart. The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible. My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable. In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson. The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places. For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.
Sometimes a video recording just seems to have it all and I would put the 2019 Salzburg Festival version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in that category. It’s quite an interesting production but it’s the sheer quality of the music making that puts it in the very top bracket. It’s also technically very good in all departments.
The Salzburg Festival rarely does operetta but in 2019 they decided to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth with a new production of Orphée aux enfers by Barrie Kosky. With Kosky and comedy one sort of knows what to expect but there’s always something very original. Here, in order to get the (German) dialogue as crisp as possible he takes it away from the singers and gives it to a new character; John Styx, played by actor Max Hopp, who not only speaks all the dialogue in an amazingly wide range of voices but also produces all the sound effects. The only other character who speaks is Anne Sofie von Otter as L’Opinion publique and even she is doubled by Hopp. Not that the singers have nothing to do during the dialogues. They pantomime their words, often in quite an exaggerated fashion and to great effect.
Tony Palmer’s 2006 documentary about the Salzburg Festival is over three hours long and uncomfortable to watch in the way the best films are. He combines interviews with performance and other documentary footage to extremely good effect to go beyond telling the “Salzburg story ” to explore fundamental questions of the arts and the state and the very purpose of art.
Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame is a rather odd opera. It’s not just that the main plot turns on a pretty bizarre tale of the supernatural but that it also contains a significant number of big set piece numbers that don’t advance the plot at all; the “military children” in Act 1, the Pastoral in Act 2 and the bizarre “Glory to Catherine” chorus in Act 3 aren’t the only ones. One assumes that they are there so that the composer could interpolate some suitably “Russian” bits because without them it’s just any other opera that happens to be in Russian.
I’ve learned not to dismiss Romeo Castellucci’s work on first watching because it has a nasty habit of starting to make sense on reflection. His 2018 production of Richard Strauss’ Salome for the Salzburg Festival may be a case in point. Castellucci seems determined to destroy any preconceptions we have about the work and Franz Welser-Möst in the pit is a willing accomplice.
The 2018 Salzburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte really pushes the envelope of reenvisioning the piece. Is there anything to say about this piece that hasn’t already been said? Lydia Steier thinks so and goes some considerable way tp making her point. So what’s the big idea here? Essentially the kicking off points are that it’s about (in a sense) a dysfunctional family and it’s a fairy tale. So we open on the dining room of a rather depressing bourgeois Austrian family in the mid 1930s sitting down to dinner. There’s the mother, the father, the grandfather and three boys; all rather formally dressed. A portrait of a bride hangs behind the table. The father has a hissy fit and storms out. The mother, who appears to drink, starts breaking things. The grandfather takes the boys off to the nursery to read them a bedtime story.