Intense, if a bit weird, Onegin

Mariusz Treliński’s Eugene Onegin originated in Warsaw but was filmed in Valencia.  It’s distinctly on the Regietheater end of the spectrum but it’s intense and oddly compelling.  The sets are spare and almost abstract.  A silent character, O***, is interpolated.  he’s a sort of Commendatore’s ghost who comments on the action and interacts with characters at key moments; with Tatiana during the letter scene and with Lensky before the duel for example.  A lot of action takes place in front of the pit, usually simultaneously with action further back on stage making for quite complex (and hard to film) visuals.

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Born to the anvil, not the hammer

Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve is often credited with being the first true Spanish opera.  It’s certainly one of very few works in that language one might encounter in an opera house.  It’s hard to see why it’s not performed more often.  It’s a dramatic story about the tragic love affair of a gtpsy girl and a wealthy young man and the music is a blend of verismo and flamenco.  The orchestration is quite exciting and the Spanish influenced vocal lines are very easy on the ear.  It really ought to have a rather wide appeal.

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Chen Kaige does Turandot

Zubin Mehta seems to be making a habit of teaming up with Chinese film directors to stage Turandot.  This time the director is Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and he chose Liu King and Chen Tong Xun to do the sets and costumes.  The production in question took place at Valencia’s I Festival del Mediterrani in 2008.  It’s actually in an opera house rather than on location in the Forbidden City but this production ends up having a rather similar look and feel to Zhang Yimou’s earlier one.

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Alfano’s Cyrano with Domingo and Radvanovsky

It’s hard to think of a play that would make a better basis for an opera libretto than Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.  Henri Cain’s adaptation is rather good; somewhat simplifying and tightening up the plot in a similar manner to that later taken by Britten and Pears with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a shame Franco Alfano’s music doesn’t really rise to the same heights.  It has its moments, especially later in the opera, but much of the time it’s dull and impressionistic; more like a film soundtrack than an opera score.  I guess the lesson is that one just can’t do verismo while trying to avoid vulgarity and excessive melodrama.  It also has to be said that much of the time the music seems to be fighting the natural rhythm of the words rather than supporting it.  What the music does have is Alfano’s trademark torturing of his singers, especially the principal four roles of Cyrano, Roxane, Christian and De Guiche.

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