The Devil it is

Boito’s Mefistofele is a rather odd work.  It’s truer to the original Goethe than other operatic versions of the Faust legend which means it’s very episodic and focuses on the Faust/Mefistofele relationship rather than on Margherita.  In fact she’s dead with an act and an epilogue still to go.  It’s hard to categorize musically too.  Some parts are rather bombastic, vulgar even, yet at other times we seem to be drifting into bel canto territory.  So it’s a bit uneven; listenable enough but not very memorable.


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Catholic kitsch

Don Giovanni is one of the most fascinating operas in part because it can be reinterpreted in so many different ways.  There’s also the tension between a story with elements of murder, rape, revenge and damnation and broad humour.  It’s tricky to find a balance.  There’s also a decision to be made between a concept based production and a more laissez faire approach.  Francesca Zambello’s production for the Royal Opera House, recorded in 2008 doesn’t really have a concept and sort of goes with the flow mixing very broad humour with lots of Catholic kitsch and some flamboyant stage effects.  As a production I find it distinctly underwhelming.

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Almost ideal Idomeneo

The 2006 Salzburg production of Idomeneo seems to me to be just about ideal.  The production is clean and consistently interesting without ever getting too far away from the core story and the pretty much unbeatable cast is backed up by the period sensibilities of Roger Norrington and the Salzburg Camerata and Bachchor.  The only fly in the ointment is the utterly heinous video direction.

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Traditional Traviata

The 2007 recording of Verdi’s La Traviata from Milan’s Teattro alla Scala is extremely traditional but very satisfying.  Liliana Cavani’s production is set in the mid 19th century with entirely conventional sets and costumes (with the obligatory cleavage) and nothing in the direction that adds up to an original concept or idea.  Act 1 is set in a glitzy ballroom.  Act 2 scene 1 takes us to a slightly odd sort of country house bedsit with billiard table  In Act 2 scene 2 we are back with the glitz with actual gypsies and bare chested matadors. Act 3 is set in a suitably dark invalid’s bedroom.  Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta goes from ballgown to nightdress to ballgown to nightdress while maintaining Ange levels of, you guessed it, cleavage.  The guys are all in evening dress or operetta dress uniforms.  It’s all pretty and doesn’t distract from the music.
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Fifty shades of grey

Verdi’s Il Trovatore notoriously has an episodic and highly improbable plot.  It’s also famously difficult to cast.  Creating a compelling production and staffing it with capable singers therefore presents a formidable double challenge.  The current Canadian Opera Company production gets it half right.  The problem is Charles Roubaud’s much travelled production.  There’s not an idea in it.  It’s not surprising that the director’s programme notes run to three short paragraphs.  Roubaud sets each scene in a sort of grey box of towering walls.  Unfortunately each grey box is just different enough that that the curtain comes down at the end of each scene and the stage crew spend what seems like an interminable amount of time setting up the next grey box.  We just aren’t used anymore to sitting quietly through interminable scene changes.  We expect slicker stagecraft and in a modern opera house there’s really no excuse for this 19th century approach.  Within in each grey box the grey clad cast come and go and in between mostly stand around.  Blocking is perfunctory, acting superfluous and old fashioned “park and bark” the order of the day.  It’s the sort of production that might have passed muster thirty years ago but really doesn’t cut it in 2012.
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