Abstracting the Dutchman

Olivier Py’s production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2015, is quite unusual.  Usually opera productions either play the story more or less straight or work with a concept of the director’s that is not obviously contained in the libretto.  Py doesn’t rally do either of these.  What he does is present the narrative as Wagner wrote it but with visuals that act as a sort of commentary on, rather than a literal depiction of, the action being described.  One of the things this does is make the viewer realise just how much Wagner is describing!  There is much more tell than show.

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Now includes dwarf tossing

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is opera on a grand scale.  Only a really big company like the Met could possibly afford to stage it.  Yesterday’s performance used a chorus of 110, a larger orchestra, at least twelve soloists and a bunch of dancers.  It also lasted 5 1/2 hours including the intervals.  Was it worth it?  For the most part I’d say yes.

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There were rats

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,

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Chav Giovanni

Calixto Bieito’s 2002 production of Don Giovanni from Barcelona’s Liceu theatre is a drink and drug fuelled nightmare. The general atmosphere will be familiar enough to anybody who has been around the “entertainment district” of a large city around chucking out time. Besides chemical stimulants and a great deal of enthusiastic bonking there’s also lots of violence, some of it quite disturbing, and buckets of blood but, as far as I could tell, only one rape.  It’s bold and never dull but I think it stretches the libretto to its very limits and perhaps beyond.

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