It’s not often that I’m completely baffled by an opera production but Frank Castorf’s 2018 production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu) at the Bayerische Staatsoper comes pretty close. Since I really can’t explain what’s going on I’ll try to describe the various elements.
Back in 2014 Nikolaus Harnoncourt launched a project to present all three Mozart/da Ponte operas, concert style, on the stage of the Theater an der Wien in a single month. They are now being released on DVD/Blu-ray. The first is Le nozze di Figaro and it comes with a 52 minute documentary by Felix Breisach; Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Between Obsession and Perfection – part 1.
Aribert Reimann’s Lear is a pretty good example of how to create a thoroughly modern opera within a thoroughly traditional framework. It’s a classic story of course. Here librettist Claus Henneberg has taken the classic German translationof the Shakespeare play and condensed it in a highly intelligent fashion; retaining all the emotional drama while sacrificing some fairly peripheral narrative. Reimann’s score is modern though not strictly twelve tone. He creates a distinct musical voice for each character; speech/Sprechstimme for the Fool, weird coloratura for General etc. This is reinforced by many of the characters having a tone row that serves as a sort of leitmotiv. Atonality and quarter tones are used for varying effects from the violence of the Blasted Heath scene; apparently inspired by the composer’s experience, as a nine year old, of the bombing of Potsdam, to the shimmering, ethereal quarter tones of Lear’s final monologue. For anyone with even a vague tolerance for “modern” music it’s a fascinating listen.
The Tcherniakov Don Giovanni that I just finished watching on Blu-ray is a Canadian Opera Company co-production so, sooner or later, it should end up in Toronto. That will be interesting. There’s a very conservative streak in the Toronto audience and, especially, among the critics for the major newspapers. These are people who are disturbed by Robert Carsen and go apopleptic over Chris Alden. It will be most interesting to see what the reaction is to something like Tcherniakov’s interpretation, even though it’s not that radical by European standards.
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni recorded at the 2010 Aix-en-Provence festival is full on Regie. He takes the characters and story of Mozart/DaPonte and recasts them quite radically. Zerlina is Donna Anna’s daughter. Donna Elvira, Donna Anna’s cousin, is married to Don Giovanni. Leporello is a family member too. The sense is of one extended, conventional, bourgeois family in which Don Giovanni is a fatally disruptive intrusion. Tcherniakov changes the time line too. Instead of taking place over a 24 hour period the story plays out over many weeks.
In 2009 Claus Guth wrapped up his Da Ponte cycle for Salzburg with Cosí fan tutte. I really like his Le Nozze di Figaro and after seeing this Così I’ll certainly be seeking out the Don Giovanni too.
This production was staged in the Haus für Mozart and uses a single set. It’s the girls’ apartment; a very expensive looking two level loft with a broad staircase that recalls the Figaro. The setting is contemporary and it opens on the aftermath of what appears to have been a rather good party. The men are preparing to leave when Don Alfonso issues his challenge. It’s the edgiest version of the scene I’ve watched with quite an undertone of violence. This is clearly not going to be a light comedy. By Una bella serenata the characteristic feathers of the Figaro have appeared. The edginess continues throughout the first act with many deft touches, especially a power cut staging of Come Scoglio. When the “Albanians” appear there is only the most perfunctory effort at disguise. No slapstick moustaches here. Continue reading →