Best of 2014

Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year.  It was a pretty good year overall.  On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs.  The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC.  It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant.  Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts.  Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl.  Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production.  I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.

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Woman on the edge

A few weeks ago I reviewed Phillippe Béziat’s documentary traviata et nous, about the making of the 2011 Aix festival La Traviata.  I’ve now had a chance to watch the DVD of the finished product and it’s superb.  Forget those Traviatas in which a star soprano simpers vacuously across an overstuffed set, this is compelling drama.  François Sivadier’s production is dark, dangerous and incredibly moving.  Natalie Dessay’s Violetta is a terrifyingly intense portrait of a woman who knows from the beginning she is dying in “this desert which is known to men as Paris”.  There is no further need for heavy symbolism to remind us of the centrality of death to the piece which makes an interesting contrast with Willy Decker’s famous production.

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traviata et nous

traviata et nous is a documentary by Philippe Béziat about the creation of the 2011 Aix Festival production of Verdi’s La Traviata.  The stars are stage director Jean-François Sivadier and his leading lady, Natalie Dessay.  It’s two hours long and is much more insightful than the average “making of” bonus feature.  This really gets inside the heads of the director and the performers (we see a fair bit of Charles Castronovo and Ludovic Tézier as well as Dessay) as they begin to understand and then elaborate on the director’s ideas.  Dessay comes across, as one would expect from her performances, as an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful and hard working person.  Sivadier too is très sympa; worlds removed from the caricature of a German Regie director ruthlessly imposing his ideas on libretto and performers alike.  I found it interesting that when Sivadier is working with Dessay or Tézier  French is spoken but at pretty much all other times the working language, even in a French house like Aix, is English.

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Existence is futile

I think my good luck run with Offenbach just ran out.  I really didn’t enjoy the 1991 Opéra National de Lyon production of La Vie Parisienne.  The productions of La Belle Helène and Orphée aux Enfers which I reviewed last week were very much performances by operatic forces letting their hair down; comparable, perhaps, to ENO doing Gilbert and Sullivan. The Lyon La Vie Parisienne seems to come out of an entirely different performing tradition. Continue reading