There have been over thirty operas dealing with Montezuma, last emperor of the Aztecs from Vivaldi in 1733 to Bernhard Lang in 2010. The second such premiered in 1755 and was rather remarkable. The idea originated with Frederick II of Prussia who decided to fit in an opera before his next war against the Austrians. He wrote a French prose libretto which was turned into an Italian text by his court poet Giampietro Tagliazucchi and then set by his court composer Carl Heinrich Graun. It’s pretty clear that Frederick identied himself with the idealized enlightened monarch Montezuma, the ultimate noble savage, and his betrayal by forces loyal to the Habsburgs and Catholoicism. The ideas earlier expressed in Anti-Machiavel are very much to the fore as are Frederick’s own rather odd ideas on fate and his own mortality(1). Basically this Montezuma is deposed and executed and his world goes up in flames.
For the performances of Elektra at the 2010 Baden-Baden festival the Powers that Be chose to revive Herbert Wernicke’s 1997 Munich production with Bettina Göschl directing. The production concept seems to have been inspired by classical Greek drama. Sets and costumes are very simple, even austere, and the singers often address the audience directly. On stage this probably worked quite well as the overall effects are visually striking and the relative lack of interaction between the characters is perhaps appropriate for a work that is so much about alienation.
So what was I most impressed with on the opera and related scene in in 2013?
Big house opera
The COC had a pretty good twelve months. I enjoyed everything I saw except, maybe, Lucia di Lammermoor. Making a choice between Christopher Alden’s probing La Clemenza di Tito, the searing opening night of Peter Sellars’ Tristan und Isolde; the night when I really “got” why people fly across oceans to see this piece, Robert Carsen’s spare and intensely moving Dialogues des Carmélites or Tony Dean Griffey’s intense and lyrical portrayal of the title character in Peter Grimes is beyond me. So, I shall be intensely disloyal to my home company and name as my pick in this category the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Wernicke’s production is pure magic and Anna Schwanewilms was a revelation.
We caught Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met on Wednesday night. Expectations were high. It’s Strauss, and rare Strauss at that. It was our first time at the Met. The on-line opera world was abuzz with Christine Goerke’s performance as the Dyer’s Wife. By and large we weren’t disappointed.