Der Prinz von Homburg is a 1960 opera by Hans Werner Henze setting a libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann based on an 1811 play by Heinrich von Kleist. The essential context is Henze and Bachmann’s rejection of German militarism and authoritarianism that they believed was being built back into the new German Federal Republic. It has been enjoying something of a revival in the last few years, perhaps as a result of the resurgence of the Fascist/nationalist right, with multiple productions in Germany including one in Stuttgart in 2019 which was recorded for video.
I guess Verdi’s Nabucco is even more closely associated with the Risorgimento than his other works so it’s not perhaps surprising that, for his 2017 production for Verona, Arnaud Bernard made the connection explicit. We are in Milan during the Five Days. La Scala; which does duty as the Temple, the Hanging Gardens and itself, stands in the middle of the huge performance space of the Arena di Verona. Italian and Austrian soldiers, including cavalry, ride around the arena or clamber over the terraces. It’s wild and spectacular but it’s more than that.
Dmitri Tcherniakov is an interesting and controversial director. He’s not afraid to take a very radical approach to a work and that method tends to produce uneven results. At it’s best, as in his Berlin Parsifal, it’s extraordinary and sometimes; his Wozzeckfor example, interesting but perhaps not exactly revelatory, and,again, sometimes; as in his Don Giovanni, polarising. That said he never does anything merely to shock or show off. There’s always a logic to what he does and that’s certainly true of his quite radical version of Verdi’s Il Trovatore filmed at Brussels’ La Monnaie in 2012.
I’m not really sure that it’s a good idea to take Rameau too seriously, especially a work like Les Indes galantes but that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui does in his production for the 2016 Münchner Opernfestspiel. As written, the piece has five separate parts; an allegorical prelude and four scènes, each telling a love story in an “exotic” setting; Turkey, Peru, Persia, among les sauvages of North America. It’s a spectacle but it uses the exotic settings to poke fun at certain aspects of Western culture in Rameau’s usual irreverent way. There’s no linking narrative and the characters in each scène (the goddesses Amour and Bellona aside) only appear once.
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…
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 production of Wagner’s Parsifal recorded at the Staatsoper in Berlin in 2015 left me emotionally drained as I don’t think I’ve ever been after watching a recording. I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience this live. The combination of the production, exceptional singing and acting and Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is quite exceptional. It’s not going to be easy to unpack it all coherently but here goes…
Where better to record a production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette than in the spectacular Arena at Verona? The productio, dircted by Francesco Micheli with sets by Eduardo Sanchi and costumes by Silvia Aymonino, is as spectacular as the setting and also quite weird in a space opera sort of way, The characters wear huge collars and are colour coded; Yellow for the Montagues, red for Paris and his entourage and blue for the Capulets. Only the non-feuding characters escape this schema notably, of course, the two lovers and Friar Lawrence. There are also lots of colourful cage like structures that character pop in and out of or sing from and a huge chorus and crowd of supers flow all over the vast space. It’s amazing to look at and actually suits a straightforward telling of the story quite well.
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.
Even by the standards of bel canto comedies Donizetti’s Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali is insubstantial fluff. It’s basically a farce about a no hope opera troupe failing miserably to rehearse an opera in the face of prima donnaish Prima Donna, her overprotective husband, a flaky German tenor and the overbearing mother of the Seconda Donna (played by a man, natch). Half of the jokes turn on cast members singing badly and the rest on standard opera clichés. None of them are particularly funny. The music is a bit non descript too. The best bits are when the Prima Donna and the tenor inexplicably decide to sing Rossini and Mozart in the middle of a rehearsal.
The 2010 La Fura dels Baus Madrid production of Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is much the best version of the piece I’ve seen on DVD. The production starts and ends on a rubbish dump and the dump and its people, curiously reminiscent of the vegetarian terrorists in Delicatessen, are present pretty much all the time. It doesn’t pull any punches and tackles Brecht’s characteristically unsubtle parody of commodity capitalism straight on and without sentimentality or apology. Perhaps the most effective scene is the sort of “orgy by Frederick Taylor” that accompanies Second comes the loving match in Act 2 but there are lots of telling moments from the widow Begbick first appearing from a derelict fridge to the pyre of mattresses on which Jim is executed. Curiously perhaps the piece is given in Michael Feingold’s English translation but it’s a very good translation and little or nothing is lost.