Robert Carsen’s production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is as visually striking as any of his productions. It’s also one that’s done the rounds, playing in Aix and Lyon before being recorded by a strong cast at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2005. The challenge with Dream is to create visual worlds for the Fairies and the Mortals that are different but work together. Carsen and his usual design team do this very well in this case. The Fairies are given striking green and blue costumes with red gloves. The mortals mostly run to white and cream and gold and they seem to spend a lot of time in their underwear. The lighting, as always with Carsen, forms an important part of the overall design. Carsen completists will also notice certain other characteristic touches like starkly arranged furniture.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is less often performed than Rossini’s take on the same basic story. I’m really not sure why. Rossini’s take is a bit weird (in a good way), especially in the Ponelle production, but Massenet’s is much more interesting musically. Oddly enough there’s only one version on DVD; a 2011 recording from the Royal Opera House. Fortunately it’s very good. The production is by Laurent Pelly and it has quite a bit in common with his La Fille du Regiment. Here the set is made up of pages from the original syory by Perrault rather than military maps but the effect is similar. Costumes are quite cartoonish (shades of the recent Alice in Wonderland ballet) except for Cendrillon herself, the prince and her father. There’s a strong emphasis on the humorous side of the piece and the “ballets” are thoroughly subverted.
Bartlett Sher’s concept for his production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a theatre within a theatre setting with scruffy bewigged footmen types operating old fashioned stage machinery. Throw in costume design that seems to cross the slutty middle ages with My Little Pony and one gets a production that would probably appeal to the average seven year old girl. Fortunately the singing and acting is really rather fine with splendid vocal contributions from Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau well backed up by the likes of Stéphane Degout and Susanne Resmark and it’s Maurizio Benini and the Met orchestra so no problems there either. To be honest they are hamming it up for all its worth but that doesn’t seem unreasonable in this very silly piece. The second act trio which features some mind boggling gender bending with the three principals swapping partners faster than Liz Taylor swapped husbands is hilarious.
Wagner’s Tannhäuser is the earliest of the canonical works. In some ways it’s very Wagnerian. It has screwed up theology with a heavy dose of misogyny and some recognisably Wagnerian music. On the other hand it is structured more like a French grand opera and some of the music definitely has more than a hint of Meyerbeer to it.The basic plot is that of the hero seduced into sin by the pagan love goddess Venus and then redeemed by the love (and death) of the chaste virgin Elisabeth.
The Copenhagen Ring has been dubbed the feminist Ring with good reason and we’ll come back to that in looking at the relationship between Wotan and Brünnhilde. It might also be called the drinkers’ Ring. There’s an astonishing amount of boozing going on. It was there in Rheingold with Loge’s hangover and Alberich staggering drunkenly after the Rhinemaidens. It’s back in Die Walküre. Hunding and Siegmund knock off the best part of a bottle of Bushmill’s Malt (Add a few cigars and this scene would be perfect for Stuart Skelton and Iain Paterson), Wotan has a flask in his pocket and the Walkyries; Ride is like a sorority party. Actually it reminds me a lot of Denmark so maybe it just seemed natural.
The second half of the Amsterdam double bill that opened with Iphigénie en Aulide is, of course, Iphigénie en Tauride. In this piece the more usual version of the Aulis story, where Diana substitutes a stag for Iphigenia on the altar and whisks the girl off to be her priestess among the savage Scythians of Tauris, is assumed. So the piece opens with Iphigenia and six other Mycenean priestesses (how they got to Tauris is a mystery) in Diana’s temple at Tauris where their job is to sacrifice any strangers who show up. Almost at once the capture of two Greeks is announced. They turn out to Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his sidekick Pylades and the the next 90 minutes turns on Iphigenia failing to sacrifice either of them.
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD. It was staged and recorded as a double bill with Iphigénie en Tauride at De Nederlandse Opera in September 2011 in productions by Pierre Audi. It’s excellent in just about every respect. The cast is to die for, the production is interesting and so is the staging in the rather challenging space of The Amsterdam Music Theatre, which also poses problems for the video director. Backed up, on Blu-ray, by a 1080i picture and DTS-HD-MA sound it’s a pretty compelling package.
It’s 1990 and Dame Joan Sutherland is retiring. Australian Opera decide to stage Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots as a farewell gala. In some ways it’s an odd choice as the Sutherland character, Marguerite de Valois, only appears in two of the five acts of an opera that’s rather long despite cuts. Still, as a vehicle for an ageing coloratura it’s not a bad choice. The production is by Lotfi Mansouri so there is nothing to get in the way of the plot and, by the same token, nothing much to think about. It’s also, equally characteristically, quite dark in places. Everything then rests on the performances. Continue reading
This 2006 Copenhagen production of Wagner’s Ring has been written about a lot. It’s been dubbed “the feminist Ring” and a lot has been made of the frequent camera cuts and odd angles. Actually what struck me most about it was the comparative goriness. The video direction (by Uffe Borgwandt) didn’t strike me as particularly unusual. I’d say it was better edited than a typical Halvorson Met broadcast but not so terribly different in spirit. The main difference is that this is very much presented as a film rather than a documentary record of a live performance. Oddly it begins very much in live performance mode with footage of the Queen of Denmark taking her seat and of the conductor (Michael Schønwandt) complete with miniatures of his decorations on his tail coat going to the pit. From then on though we get anything but what the audience in the house saw.
Bellini’s I Puritani is one of those 19th century operas that dishes out a version of 16th or 17th century English history that’s all but unrecognisable to anyone with any actual knowledge of the subject. In this case we are in Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the nasty Puritans want to off anyone with a Stuart connection including the widowed queen Henrietta. Various implausibly named Puritan colonels (everyone in the New Model apparently holds that rank) feature as well as a Royalist earl who is, of course, in love with the Roundhead commander’s daughter. Immediately prior to marrying her though he decides to save Henrietta from execution and escapes with her thus triggering the obligatory mad scene, which is probably the main reason for watching this thing at all. Finally Arturo (the earl) returns, is captured and, inevitably, sentenced to death. As he is being led to the block Cromwell’s messenger arrives with the second most improbable reprieve in all of opera. The Stuarts have been defeated and everyone is pardoned. A happy ending with fortissimo soprano high notes ensues.