Campy Clemenza

1.sestovitelliaBesides the production of La Clemenza di Tito still in repertory at the Met, Jean-Pierre Ponelle also made a film of the piece.  It was shot among the ruins of ancient Rome in 1980 and is one of those lip synched opera films popular in that era.  The forces involved are eclectic.  James Levine conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor with mainly American soloists.  Continue reading

Dusty Capriccio

The 1993 San Francisco Opera production of Strauss’ Capriccio is about as literal a take on the work as one could imagine.  Stephen Lawless’ production sticks to the stage directions as laid down with an almost fetishistic fidelity.  This is backed up by highly decorated costumes and sets firmly placed in a slightly over elaborated 1775.  The traditionalists dream?  I suppose so if one thinks that Strauss and Krauss meant the work to be taken literally.  I don’t.  This is an opera about an opera about opera.  It begs to be deconstructed and the time and circumstances of its composition tend to reinforce the idea that all is not as it seems.  To take it at face value is actually a bit absurd but that’s what happens here and the result is rather dull and unsatisfying. Continue reading

Kathleen Battle steals the show again

In this next episode of our wallow in Met nostalgia we  are looking at the 1988 production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.  It’s a starry affair with James Levine conducting, Jessye Norman in the title role, James King as Bacchus, Kathleen Battle as Zerbinetta and Tatiana Troyanos as the Komponist.  There’s even a bit of luxury casting in the minor roles with Barbara Bonney and Dawn Upshaw among the nymphs.  It’s also as old fashioned as one could possibly imagine, being a revival of a production that premiered in 1962. Continue reading

Joan Sutherland in Toronto

It’s a pet peeve of mine that, alone among state funded TV broadcasters in the industrialised world, CBC doesn’t broadcast opera on TV. There are many other reasons why the CBC is a national embarrassment but this one rankles. That said, there have been a couple of CBC broadcasts over the years and they did make it to DVD. These include a 1981 Canadian Opera Company performance of Bellini’s Norma with Joan Sutherland. It’s a great big pile of steaming whale dreck. The production, by Lotfi Mansouri, looks more like it was done in 1881. The Gauls have helmets with horns on. Sutherland seems to be dressed as the Statue of Liberty and the tenor playing Pollione (Francisco Ortiz) looks like Stephen Fry as the Roman centurion in Black Adder Back and Forth. Add to that it’s pretty much park and bark as far as blocking goes.

Sutherland is on poor form. She has no lower register to speak of and she gets about as much drama out of the music as a doorpost. Whether her powers were in serious decline at this point or she was just having an off night I can’t tell but it’s pretty sad. Ortiz is dreadful. He’s often below the note and seems to be using every trick in the tenor playbook to approximate his music. Bonynge’s conducting is deadly dull. The only part of the music making worthy of note is Tatiana Troyanos as Adalgisa. She’s very good indeed.

Technically the DVD is at least as bad as the performance. It’s recorded in mono (mono, in 1981!) and the sound is muddy and badly balanced. At some points the chorus is completely inaudible. Of course, some of this maybe the lousy O’Keefe Centre acoustics but I think it’s mostly just bad engineering. The picture is very poor quality too. There are hard coded English subtitles. This is one to avoid.

“Thanks” to Lydia at Definitely the Opera for drawing this to my attention!