Peter Sellar’s production of Handel’s Theodora has long been one of my favourite video recordings of opera. It’s brilliant in so many ways and I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the whole thing without tearing up. It’s now been remastered from the original tape and reissued on Blu-ray. The video and sound quality are distinctly better than previous DVD releases though not, inevitably, in the same class as the best modern recordings. It’s also still a depressingly bare bones release with no extras and minimal documentation but don’t let that put you off.
My original review is here. I thought about rewriting it but for the most part I stand by my original comments. The only judgement I’d change is that, on greater experience, I do think this is one of Handel’s best works.
So I thought the obvious antidote to Robert Carsen’s Dialogues des Carmélites would be the recording of Ollie Knussen’s Where The Wild Things Are and Higglety, Pigglety, Pop that was sitting in my ‘to watch’ pile. It’s a 1985 Glyndebourne recording and the Associate Director is one Robert Carsen, assisting Frank Corsaro. So it goes. Actually it was rather fun, if a bit irritating in the way that children’s literature written for kids with ADD seems to be. The music is terrific and not at all dumbed down. The sets and designs, as well as the libretto, are by Maurice Sendak himself and there’s some pretty neat lighting by Robert Bryan. The Wild Things are really cool and almost make up for the fact that Max (played here by Karen Beardsley) is an appalling little s$%t who needs a good kick in the backside. HHP is a bit more restrained and simultaneously manages to be less fun but also less annoying. It has a rather splendid lion and Cynthia Buchan does rather well as, to the best of my knowledge, the only Sealyham terrier in opera. Knussen conducts the London Sinfonietta and they sound really good. Continue reading →
Jonathan Kent’s 2010 Glyndebourne production of Don Giovanni has a great cast and high ambitions but, ultimately, doesn’t really come off, largely because the relationships between the characters too often fall short of anything interesting. The concept, as explained in the two short bonus segments, is that Don Giovanni is set in a society in transition and that the title character is a sort of harbinger of the new mores. The “society in transition” chosen by Kent is a sort of hybrid of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and the last years of Franco’s regime in Spain. He might have done better to just pick one as the Fellini elements get pretty much reduced to the costumes and the Franco elements really don’t go anywhere.
A series of blog posts discussing time, perceptions of time and historically informed performance (HIP) plus seeing Opera Atelier’s Der Freischütz got me thinking along some curiously convergent lines and arriving at the conclusion that HIP isn’t and can’t be what it is often purported to be; a fairly faithful attempt to reproduce a work as it would have been seen by its first viewers or “as the composer intended” or something like that. Not, of course, that even if it was, we would see and hear it as the original audience did but that perhaps is a topic for another day.
There’s lots to like in the 2003 Glyndebourne recording of Die Fledermaus. Let’s start with Stephen Lawless’ production. It’s attractively designed, quite slick and has a few good new gags without going overboard. The sets aer designed with striking diagonals and staircases and gantries. Rotation is used both as a device to change the setting and as an element in the scene composition. The overall effect is that the scene changes from drawing room to a sort of “gilded cage” for Orlofsky’s party – which opens out to create space for the action – to a prison with minimum disruption to us or the action. Spots are used to create stagey effects and at one point Jurowski in the pit ostentatiously upstages the actors on stage. Lawless never lets us forget this is a “show”. Continue reading →
If you are a fan of bel canto comedies you will probably enjoy the 2009 Glyndeboure production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore quite a lot.
Director Annabel Arden sets this bucolic comedy in the Italian countryside of the 1950s (though some of the iconography is more appropriate to the Mussolini period). It has some of the look, but little of the edge of Italian neo-realist cinema. It does though take the work fairly seriously with a Dulcamara who is isn’t the obvious quack we usually see but just hints at having real powers. Dulcemara also acquires a rather bizarre mute assistant. Beyond that it’s all carefully staged with the chorus action well directed and performed. Continue reading →
There are, I think, eighteen DVD versions of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro currently available so there needs to be something very special about a recording for it to stand out. Unfortunately Stephen Medcalf’s 1994 Glyndebourne production doesn’t really despite having a strong looking cast. It’s a pretty traditional looking production with breeches and crinolines and sets which look a bit like a giant doll’s house. The Personenregie is well thought out and the stage picture often artfully composed. The acting is almost uniformly excellent. It’s a good solid production but with nothing original in the least about it. Continue reading →
Southern Television’s 1979 Glyndebourne broadcast was Beethoven’s Fidelio. The production by Peter Hall with designs by John Bury is conventional enough though tendencies to exaggerate are clearly creeping in. The chorus of prisoners is almost zombie like and Florestan looks disconcertingly like the legless sea captain from Blackadder II. Apart from that it’s a conventional 1800ish setting where the prison’s a prison, the dungeon’s a dungeon etc. It’s also very literal in that the dungeon is so dark it’s almost impossible to see anything. Continue reading →
Having watched quite a few opera recordings from the 70s and 80s recently I can well see why David Hockney’s designs for Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Glyndebourne were such a big deal back in the day. They look they were designed by an artist rather than being lifted from an expensive department store furniture catalogue. And, of course, they are still in use. Beyond the design issues, this has a kind of transitional feel as a production. Occasionally some acting breaks out and quite imaginative use is made of the chorus but there is a lot of “park and bark”; perhaps somewhat inevitable on the old, small Glyndebourne stage but very noticeable. It’s hard not to feel that director John Cox could have done a lot more with a neat staging and a talented cast. Continue reading →
On a bit of a hiatus here caused in part by bad luck with some library DVDs; a couple of which turned out to be pretty much unwatchable and certainly not worth a full blown review. For the record:
Shannon Mercer - Extremely Silly
Le Nozze di Figaro; Glyndebourne 1973. Dates from the era before acting or stage direction made it into opera. eg: Susanna “this is the hat that I made”. Stops, grins, points to hat…
Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy); RAH 2009. I was searching the library catalogue for Claus Guth’s staged Messiah. Not a chance of course but I did find this. How bad could a Monty Python oratorio be I thought? That bad! How did the lovely Shannon Mercer and a trouper like Rosalind Plowright get mixed up with this pile of dreck?
Hopefully the “to watch” pile will turn up something better soon.