I’m rather suffering from “stream fatigue” right now but once in a while something really worth watching shows up. I’d put Royal Swedish Opera’s recent performance of Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio La passion de Simone in that category. It’s a 2006 work with a French libretto by Amin Maalouf dealing with the life and thought of philosopher, social activist and mystic Simone Weil.
The Salzburg Festival rarely does operetta but in 2019 they decided to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth with a new production of Orphée aux enfers by Barrie Kosky. With Kosky and comedy one sort of knows what to expect but there’s always something very original. Here, in order to get the (German) dialogue as crisp as possible he takes it away from the singers and gives it to a new character; John Styx, played by actor Max Hopp, who not only speaks all the dialogue in an amazingly wide range of voices but also produces all the sound effects. The only other character who speaks is Anne Sofie von Otter as L’Opinion publique and even she is doubled by Hopp. Not that the singers have nothing to do during the dialogues. They pantomime their words, often in quite an exaggerated fashion and to great effect.
Terezín/Theresienstadt is a CD of music composed in the concentration camp at Terezín in what was then Czechoslovakia. Virtually the entire Czech intelligentsia; certainly those of Jewish or Communist persuasion, were imprisoned in a kind of “show camp” to demonstrate to the world that the Nazis weren’t as bad as made out. Nine of the ten composers featured on the disc ended up on a “Polentransport”; a one way ticket to Auschwitz. No story is more poignant than that of Ilse Weber, a nurse in the hospital. She chose to accompany the sick children of the camp on their final journey and reportedly sang to them in the gas chamber.
Handel’s Giulio Cesare is pretty well served in terms of video recordings. The very fine Glyndebourne and Copenhagen versions get some serious competition from the 2012 production that inaugurated Cecilia Bartoli’s reign as director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. The production is by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. It’s set in somewhere like Iraq in an immediately post-war period. It’s quite dark, probably darker than Negrin’s in Copenhagen and world’s away from McVicar’s almost RomCom version. There’s a lot of violence and some pretty sleazy sex. A lot of this centres around Tolomeo who is portrayed as beyond revolting. There’s a scene where he rips guts out of a statue of Caesar and starts to gnaw on them and there is a fair bit in that vein. Caesar and Cleopatra are portrayed ambiguously too. Sure they are the “heroes” of the piece but Cleopatra’s delight in flogging off her country’s oil wealth to the Romans shows a degree of cynicism. This is not a production for the Konzept averse but I think all the choices made have a point and the overall effect is coherent. It’s not without humour either. Cleopatra sings V’adore pupille in a 70s blonde wig while riding a cruise missile with Caesar watching through 3D glasses.
I don’t usually give colloborative pianists headline billing but last night’s packed Koerner Hall recital certainly had an element of “They came for Ms. von Otter but stayed for Ms. Hewitt”. Hewitt was phenomenal in a program that interspersed solo piano pieces with sets of songs. In the songs she was simultaneously an individual voice and supportive of her colleague while the solo piano pieces were breathtaking; elegant Scubert and Brahms before the interval, staggeringly virtuosic Chabrier after. She’s also fascinating to watch. Continue reading →
Klaus Michael Grüber’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, recorded at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2000, is both stylish and stylised. The stage and costume designs, by Gilles Aillaud and Rudy Sabounghi, are extremely elegant and, at times, very beautiful. The Seneca scenes at the beginning of Act 2, set in a sort of lemon grove, are especially effective as ai the use of painterly backdrops looking like Greek vase paintings reinterpreted by a fauviste. The director complements the designs with a somewhat formalised acting style that fits rather well. He also makes some changes to the narrative to tighten up the drama, dispensing with Ottavia’s nurse and ending with Pur tí miro, rather than Poppea’s coronation. Coupled with excellent acting performances it’s a straightforward but effective way to tell the story.
There’s a performance of Dean Burry’s children’s opera The Scorpion’s Sting on Saturday 29th November at 11am at the ROM. It’s free with museum entrance and forms part of an Ancient Egypt themed day of special presentations. It’s being performed by the COC Ensemble Studio and is suitable for kids aged 8-14 or thereabouts. More details here.
Gluck’s Alceste is not as well known as Orfeo ed Eurydice or the Iphigénie operas but in some ways it’s an even better example of what Gluck meant by “reform”. It’s simple, restrained and elegant. The plot has some similarities with Orfeo. The good king of Thessaly, Admète, is doomed to die unless someone else volunteers in his place. Naturally enough, this being opera, his wife Alceste volunteers. There is much dignified lamenting. She descends to Hades. Husband and wife reproach each other for their selfishness in being the one to die. Hercules shows up and, in gratitude for earlier hospitality, saves the day. There is (dignified) rejoicing. It;s an easy score to listen to with plenty of good tunes but no blockbuster, memorable, numbers.
Before heading over to the Daniels Spectrum last night I dropped in on the 2014/15 Royal Conservatory season announcement at Koerner Hall. The line up of 100 concerts is eclectic; chamber and orchestral, world music and jazz and a small number of vocal concerts which are probably the ones of most interest to readers of this blog.