I’m rather a fan of the productions on the lake stage at Bregenz. It can be a bit hokey and the productions, though spectacular, aren’t usually particularly deep but they are fun to watch. The 2019 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto might just be the best I’ve seen. It takes spectacular to new heights, it’s got some interesting ideas and the performances are very good indeed.
Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.
Sometimes a video recording just seems to have it all and I would put the 2019 Salzburg Festival version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in that category. It’s quite an interesting production but it’s the sheer quality of the music making that puts it in the very top bracket. It’s also technically very good in all departments.
Directors seem to see the 1950s as the logical time period to stage Verdi’s Falstaff though they come up with very different 1950s. Robert Carsen set his in a rather dark world that pits the nouveau riche against a declining gentry. Richard Jones went for a sort of Carry on film aesthetic that was entirely English. Laurent Pelly in his production filmed at the Teatro Real in Rome in 2019, despite some overtly English elements in the set design, gives us a distinctly continental European feel. Indeed Falstaff, Pistola and Bardolfo might easily be hangovers from the more criminal end of the French resistance. There’s much less of “class struggle” in Pelly’s rather straightforward production. In fact it seems like a fairly light comedy with the darker aspects emerging only rarely.
Traviata – Vous méritez un avenir meilleur is a theatre piece that combines elements of Verdi’s La Traviata with elements of the source material for it; Dumas fils’ La Dame aux camélias (both the novel and the play). There is also some newly written and composed material. The creators; Benjamin Lazar (director), Florent Hubert (arrangements and musical direction) and Judith Chemla (who sings Violetta) aimed to create a work that goes further than the source material in exploring the inner psychology of the main character.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore is always pretty grim. It’s hard to lighten up an opera with multiple executions, suicide and babies being barbecued. David Bösch in his Covent Garden production (remounted and recorded in 2017 with Julia Burbach directing), probably wisely, doesn’t even try. This is as grim as Grimsby on a wet Sunday in February with extra gratuitous violence. The setting is some roughly contemporary civil war. The Conte di Luna’s troops are a scruffy lot but they have a pretty cool looking tank. The gypsies are a bit gayer though Azucena’s caravan is disturbingly plastered with baby dolls reflecting her obsession. It’s all quite dark. Really only Leonora (and her maid) stand out as they wear white in contrast to the greys of pretty much everyone else. The story is told straightforwardly enough and the sets and costumes do provide some kind of moral differentiation between the two camps with Leonora sort of standing above and apart from the violence.
I managed to catch the fourth performance of the COC’s current run of Verdi’s Otello last night. It’s a David Alden production that first aired at ENO and it’s a very dark take on an already dark story. It’s set maybe circa 1900 and the sets are stark but the lighting is dramatic with lots of contrasts and giant moving shadows. The overall Zeitgeist seems to be of a society that has seen too much war; a sort of collective PTSD. This comes over in a number of ways. The scenes that usually lighten things up a bit; the victory celebrations in Act 1, the children and flowers in Act 2, don’t here. In fact they are downright creepy. There’s also a female dancer, used rather as Christopher Alden used Monterone’s daughter in Rigoletto, who clearly doesn’t expect good things from returning soldiers.
Last night Thomas Hampson, his son in law Luca Pisaroni and pianist Vlad Intifca appeared at Koerner Hall. It was a curious program. The first half was made up of opera arias and excerpts. There was a sequence of Conte/Figaro and Leporello/Don G numbers. They were, of course, very well sung. Both singers are noted exponents of these roles but I really didn’t see the point. They were pieces I’m sure pretty much every audience member has seen with orchestra, on stage, multiple times. With piano accompaniment it all seemed a bit pointless. There followed two longish scenes; the Riccardo/Giorgio confrontation from I Puritani and the scene from Don Carlo where Posa pleads with the king for a change in policy in the Netherlands. These worked better; perhaps because they are less familiar but more likely the fact that each featured Pisaroni in a genuine bass role. This allowed for more variation of timbre and colour than the Mozart pieces.
Toronto City Opera opened a run of three performances of Verdi’s La Traviata at the Al Green Theatre last night. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Certainly less even than their Le nozze di Figaro earlier in the season. Director Alaina Viau sets the piece in contemporary Toronto which creates both possibilities and problems. I’ll come back to that because I want to talk about the performances first.
Here are a couple more listings for March. VOICEBOX are doing Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny on March 30th at 8pm and March 31st at 2.30pm. The cast includes Beste Kalender, Michael Barrett and Elizabeth DeGrazia. It will be piano accompaniment with Narmina Afandiyeva at the keyboard.
Toronto City Opera are performing Verdi’s La Traviata at the Al Green Theatre on March 28th and 29th at 7.30pm and the 31st at 2,30pm. Alaina Viau directs with a musical team of Ivan Jovanovic and Jennifer Tung. The cast is headed up by Beth Hagerman, Kijong Wi and Handaya Rusli. Apparently it’s a “modern, Toronto setting”. I’m curious to see how the ideas of “a fallen woman”, “family honour” and “arranged marriage” play out.