Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina is a bit of a weird opera. It’s ostensibly based on a series of not entirely related events that unfolded during the succession crisis following the death of Tsar Fyodor III (which took about 12 years to play out) into a story that takes place in a day. It’s complicated by the fact that key players in the story; the Tsars Peter and Ivan and the Tsarevna Sofia don’t actually appear because the Russian censorship would not allow members of the dynasty to be portrayed on stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly Tcherniakov isn’t much interested in the details of the history and uses it to make some, not always entirely obvious, points about modernity vs tradition, personal power and the nature of religious cults.
Wagner’s Parsifal has been served rather well on Blu-ray and DVD in the last few years. The 2016 Bayreuth recording is another interesting addition to the list. Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s production is not exactly traditional but it’s not “in your face” conceptual either. The setting is contemporary and various visual clues locate it where Europe meets Asia; perhaps the Southern Caucasus. The grail temple is run down. There are soldiers and refugees and tourists, as well as the Grail knights. There’s plenty of Christian symbolism around. The “swan scene” is played straight. The “communion scene” uses Amfortas as the source of the communion blood; an idea which seems common enough. Here he’s wearing a crown of thorns (and not much else) and there’s lots of blood.
Kasper Holten shows his customary inventiveness in his production of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, recorded at Finnish National Opera in 2010. He places the whole opera inside Paul’s “Marie museum” with a chaotic, higgledy, piggledy model of the the city of Brugge as a back wall. He emphasises the dream elements of acts 2 and 3 through devices such as having the troupe of players and their boat emerge through Paul’s bed or assorted ecclesiastics popping up randomly in the “city model”. He also inserts a non-speaking Marie who is present throughout the piece, often to very interesting effect.
Die Meistersinger is a problematic opera, particularly for Bayreuth. It has rather disturbing elements of German nationalism and a performance tradition at the festival of those being used for ends that most people would rather be able to forget. No surprise then that Katharina Wagner’s production, recorded in 2008, tries to deal with both. It’s a bold effort. Like Robert Carsen’s Tannhäuser it tries to use visual art as a metaphor for music and art in general.
I guess Lohengrin is one of those operas that’s so loaded up with symbols it just begs directors to deconstruct it. Well that’s what Hans Neuenfels’ Bayreuth production, recorded in 2011, does and then some. There is so much going on in this production that I think it would take many viewings to really get inside it. The bit most critics have fastened on is the costuming of the chorus as rats or, on occasion, half rat, half human. It’s visually interesting and since there are also ‘handlers’ in Hazmat suits it’s clear that some sort of experiment is being alluded to. Add in bonus rat videos at key points and there’s a lot to think about. One thing this does do is solve the Teutonic war song problem. A chorus of rather timid looking rats singing with martial ardour is a good deal less Nurembergesque than a similar chorus in armour or military uniforms. Rats aside the story is really told in a quite straightforward and linear way while providing all sorts of moments that one might want to interrogate further,
Martin Kušej’s 2010 production of Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Bayerisches Staatsoper is exactly the sort of production traditionalists fume about over their port and cigars. It’s loosely based on the Fritzl and Kampusch imprisonment/child abuse cases. The Water Goblin, aided by his wife, Ježibaba, have their children; Rusalka and her sisters, imprisoned in a wet cellar under their house. The Water Gnome is clearly indulging in sexual abuse of the girls to the total indifference of his wife. Rusalka dreams of a life among humans and of love. She begs her mother to make her human/set her free. This happens and Rusalka, mute and tottering on red heels, is free to pursue her romance with the prince. Is this literal or all in Rusalka’s imagination? Does it matter? Continue reading →