The Dark and the Light

David Pountney is rarely afraid of taking risks in pursuit of an idea and that seems to be what’s going on in his 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production of Verdi’s La forza del destino.  The basic concept seems to be to draw as much distinction as possible between the piece’s predominantly dark tone while making the ‘scherzo’ like elements as mad as possible.  And occasionally mixing up the two to create deliberate confusion.  To this end he uses a lot of moving set elements and projections; often fuzzily superimposed on stage action.  Preziosilla and the camp followers are hot pants clad cowgirls.  The full effect is seen in the Act 3 “orgy” where hospital patients, some on drips etc, interact with cow girls and a marching band while giant fuzzy B&W projections of WW2 armour play on the scrim.  It’s really busy and takes some decoding.

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Glorious Alcina

The 2011 production of Handel’s Alcina at the Wiener Staatsoper marked the first time Handel, or any other baroque work, had appeared in the house since Karajan’s reign in the 1960s.  In mounting it they went big.  There’s a starry cast headed by Anja Harteros, Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble, a large group of dancers and former Royal Shakespeare Company boss Adrian Nobel.  It paid off.

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Gruberova’s Zerbinetta

A chance to see the young Edita Gruberova’s near legendary portrayal of Zerbinetta would be reason enough to watch the 1978 Vienna recording of Ariadne auf Naxos but, as it happens, there’s much more.  For a start the cast includes Gundula Janowitz, Walter Berry, René Kollo and Trudeliese Schmidt plus Karl Böhm, a man who worked closely with Strauss, is conducting.

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The way by swan

No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD.  It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler).  It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating.  The singing is very good indeed.  Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.

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Kleiber’s Rosenkavalier

Carlos Kleiber didn’t record much despite enjoying something of a cult following as a conductor.  In 1994, shortly before his death, he conducted four performances of Der Rosenkavalier at the Wiener Staatsoper; the first of which was recorded.  It’s clearly Kleiber’s night.  His appearances at the start of each act are greeted with cheers and wild applause.  One can only guess at the reception he got afterwards because the curtain calls don’t make it onto the recording.  And, yes, it is a masterly conducting performance with fine support for the singers, beautifully shaped lines and an infectious sense of fun.

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Traditional Wozzeck from Vienna

1.doctorThe 1987 recording of Berg’s Wozzeck from the Vienna State Opera is a bit of a mixed bag.  Claudio Abbado’s reading of the score is incredibly intense and powerful and he gets great support from the orchestra,  There’s also some very good singing.  Dramatically it’s a bit of a mixed bag and the DVD production isn’t particularly good.  Continue reading

Babes in bodices

After a less than satisfactory introduction to Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in a MetHD broadcast last year it was with some trepidation that I approached the DVD version recorded at the Wiener Staatsoper and also starring Anna Netrebko.  I need not have worried because it’s very good indeed.  It has a stronger cast, Eric Genovese’s relatively simple production trumps David McVicar’s overstuffed effort and Evelino Pido doesn’t try and make the orchestra sound like it’s playing Wagner.  The sound on the DVD is also way better than it was on that broadcast.

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Sister swap

Richard Strauss’ Arabella is a bit of a peculiarity.  The music is top notch Strauss and the libretto is by von Hofmannsthal so it ought to be quite superb.  It doesn’t quite get there though.  It’s hard not to think that if von Hofmannsthal had lived a little longer he would have tightened up the libretto.  Act 1 works fine but Acts 2 and 3 seem rather contrived and could definitely use a few cuts.  I’m not sure that the whole Fiakermilli thing works either.  It’s almost as if Prince Orlofsky’s party mislaid Johann and found Richard by accident.  That said there is some very beautiful music.  Aber der Richtige, wenn’s einem gibt is going straight onto my list of top soprano duets.

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The dream is over but the night not yet

So closes Aribert Reimann’s 2010 opera Medea.  It’s a two hour piece in four “pictures” that premiered at the Wiener Staatsoper in 2010 and the Blu-ray/DVD recording is taken from that initial run.  Actually there’s a good deal more nightmare than dream in this version as, I suppose, there is in just about any version of the Medea story.  This one draws on Franz Grillparzer’s version for the libretto and is entirely concerned with events after Jason and Medea reach Corinth.  It’s unusually sympathetic to Medea herself with Jason and Kreon very much the villains.

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Less than the sum of its parts

Ken Russell’s 1985 production of Gounod’s Faust at the Wiener Staatsoper makes an uneven and somewhat unsatisfying DVD.  The music making is fine, sometimes very fine, and the production has some very interesting and effective scenes but the overall concept doesn’t quite work.  Add to that quirky video direction and a picture quality that’s not good even by 1985 standards and the package as a whole just doesn’t quite make it.  It’s a shame as this is more interesting than most opera productions of the period.  Continue reading