I guess there are two ways one can approach “Gothic Horror”. Either one takes its conventions at face value as in, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or one treats it tongue in cheek; Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey of the BBC Dracula from earlier this year. It’s no surprise that in La nonne sanglante Gounod very much takes things at face value and, equally unsurprisingly chucks in a fair amount of Catholic religiosity complete with the unlikeliest characters wandering off to Heaven at the end.
Most people probably know Adolphe Adam as thecomposer of the music for the ballet Giselle but he was more than that. He was also a scholar who worked hard to study and revive the work of Rameau and other pre-Revolution composers. So, when tasked with composing a piece for the Opéra Comique he chose to combine elements that had produced previous “hits”; a vocationally based plot, a love story and so on with a Louis XV setting that allowed him to include pastiche Baroque. The result was Le postillon de Lonjumeau; a work that had much success across Europe during the mid 19th century (Wagner conducted it in Riga) but which had long disappeared from the repertory when the Opéra Comique revived it in 2019. Denise Wendel-Poray reviewed it in the Summer 2019 issue of Opera Canada and it has now been released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira is a rarity for a whole host of reasons. There’s no definitive edition. Many of the extant scores have much easier versions of the main arias for the tenor titular character. Quite a bit of the music was reused for Il barbiere di Siviglia, often in ways that seem quite odd after hearing it in its original context. Finally, the plot is a bit thin. Not that that usually worries bel canto aficianados.
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.
Ciro in Babilonia is an early work by Rossini composed for the lenten season when only works on biblical/religious themes were permitted. This doesn’t really fit that description. Sure, the story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall gets a brief look in but it’s almost interpolated in the story, from Herodotus, of Cyrus’ capture, together with wife and child, by Belshazzar. It’s a tale of arrogant kingship, religious faith and marital devotion. Typical opera seria stuff really. It’s a bit thin plot-wise though which probably explains its relegation to obscurity. This first modern production was created at Caramoor, then translated to the Rossini festival at Pesaro, where it was recorded in 2012.