Tosca noir

The 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival production of Puccini’s Tosca was directed by Michael Sturminger.  The only Sturminger works I’ve seen before are his rather odd Mozart collaborations with John Malkovich; The Giacomo Variations and The Infernal Comedy so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  The production riffs off film noir and is updated to more or less the present.  It opens with a shoot out between Angelotti and the police  but that lasts only a few seconds and the first act and the first half of the second act are fairly conventional, bar Scarpia on an exercise bike as Act 2 opens.  That said, it’s big and monochromatic and it does have a noir feel.  It starts to get a bit more conceptual around the Scarpia/Tosca confrontation.  It’s an interesting take on Scarpia; perhaps more bureaucrat than psychopath.  The relationship between the two is well drawn and Anja Harteros does a really convincing job of her build up to killing Scarpia including a first class Vissi d’arte sung from some unusual positions.  There’s a hint of what’s to come at the very end of the act when an “I’m not dead yet” Scarpia is seen crawling towards his phone.

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Karajan’s Walküre – 50 years on

To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”.  In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan [1] who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg.  50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing.  I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new.  It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version.  In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.

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Arabella with Fleming and Hampson

Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming teamed up for Strauss’ Arabella at the 2014 Salzburg Osterfestspiel.  The production is directed by Florentine Klepper and it’s set late 19th/early 20th century and is conventional in many ways though there are a few interesting touches.  There may be more than a few but video director Brian Large focusses quite relentlessly on the singers 99% of the time so it’s hard to tell.  I noticed a few things.  The hotel set in Act 1 is multi-room but it’s very rare that we see other than the room the principal action is in so who knows what might have been going on.  There’s a use of body doubles during the Act 2 duet to create a sort of “portrait” of Mandryka and Arabella that broods over the stage for the rest of the act.  The fortune teller reappears with the “trouble” card during the “key” scene.  The whole Fiakermilli episode is difficult to interpret because the video gives such a fragmentary view of it.  There’s certainly a couple of suggestive giant dolls.  Otherwise this scene just comes off as pretty crude and lame.  I suspect that there may be much going on here that isn’t on the video.  This all tends to reinforce the weaknesses of the second half of Act 2 and the start of Act 3 which certainly are not Strauss and von Hofmannsthal’s best work.

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Elegant and subtle Otello

Vincent Brossard’s production of Verdi’s Otello for the 2016 Salzburg Easter Festival is both elegant and subtle; the latter quality being backed up by superb singing and acting from the principals.  In many ways the production is clean and straightforward with a focus on character development but it also makes use of elegant lines and sharply contrasting darks and lights in creating the stage picture.  There’s also a really cool use of mirrors during Già nella notte densa that I can’t quite figure out.

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Kaufmann’s Cav and Pag

Jonas Kaufmann made a double role debut as Turiddu and Canio in the classic verismo double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2015,  The productions were directed by Philipp Stölzl and Christian Thielemann conducted with the Staatskapelle Dresden in the pit.

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