Christof Loy’s production of Handel’s late oratorio Theodora was a critical and popular success at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and deservedly so. That said, certain decisions seem a bit perverse. The G minor organ concerto HWV 310 is interpolated in Part 3, which is fine, but why cut a fine number like “Bane of virtue” in Part 1 or “Whither, Princess,do you Fly?” in Part 3? There are a bunch of other, rather odd, cuts in Part 3. Still it doesn’t do serious damage to a fine performance of an interesting production.
I’m a pretty Regie friendly guy but I confess to being quite bemused by the 2006 Salzburg production of Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba. Some of the production concept I totally get. Removing the unaccompanied recits and replacing them with two actors speaking a summary (in German) makes all kinds of sense. It reduces a sprawling pastorale with minimal plot to something half the length while keeping all the good music. The wonky android chorus, the hero apparently with severe motor neuron disease and Aceste shunting Silvia about in a wheelbarrow I had more problems with. The Gumbie chorus seemed particularly odd and the costumes, well see for yourself.
Claus Guth’s 2008 Salzburg production of Don Giovanni divided the critics along entirely predictable lines. It’s a very unusual treatment of Don Giovanni but the concept is stuck to with real consistency and it works to create a compelling piece of music theatre. The treatment on video too is not straightforward and, in a sense, the DVD/Blu-ray version is as much the work of Brian Large as it is of Claus Guth.
Hans Werner Henze conceived of L’Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe as his farewell to the stage although, as it turned out, it wasn’t. It’s a combination of Arabian Nights type themes crossed with elements from German folklore not unlike Die Zauberflöte, which is an obvious infuence. So obvious, in fact, that in the scene where Kasim rescues his beloved she is given a line straight out of Schikaneder. For the 2003 world premiere in the Kleinesfestspielhaus in Salzburg, director Dieter Dorn and designer Jürgen Rose chose a simple stage concept. The action is encircled by an arch, at the apex of which is a tower room. The old man, the ruler of the principality, inhabits the room. The action mostly takes place in brightly coloured scenes under the arch.
When I first encountered Richard Strauss’ Elektra as a teenager I found the music almost unbearably harsh. The more I listen to it the more erroneous that judgement seems. It has its “tough” moments to be sure. How could an opera about Elektra not? But it is also full of lush romanticism and there are some really quite lovely passages. In the 2010 Salzburg Festival recording Daniele Gatti explores both sides of the music in a rather thrilling reading of the score aided and abetted by the Wiener Philharmoniker and a pretty much ideal cast.
The 2006 Salzburg production of Idomeneo seems to me to be just about ideal. The production is clean and consistently interesting without ever getting too far away from the core story and the pretty much unbeatable cast is backed up by the period sensibilities of Roger Norrington and the Salzburg Camerata and Bachchor. The only fly in the ointment is the utterly heinous video direction.
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.
Robert Carsen’s 2004 production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Salzburg Festival was apparently enormously controversial at the time. In many ways that says more about the iconic status of the piece in Salzburg tradition than about Carsen’s production. There are a few controversial elements. He has updated the period to 1914 and the third act is set in a brothel with a fair amount of nudity. Beyond that, the production is pretty faithful to the libretto and has, I think characteristic Carsen touches like long lines of tables and chairs and a certain geometric elegance. He seems to be using the sides of the stage to comment on the action which tends to be fixed centre stage. I say seems because the video direction (by Brian Large) is utterly perverse and makes it extraordinarily difficult to see what Carsen is doing, let alone decode it. We see the whole stage, maybe, for three seconds in the whole piece. Otherwise 99% of what we get is either close up and even closer up or apparently shot from the restricted view seats high up and close to the side of the stage. The other 1% is just plain nuts and includes a section of the Sophie/Octavian duet in Act 2 where, on stage, Octavian is maybe twenty feet to Sophie’s right but on camera he’s standing right up close on her left hand side. I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say the video direction comes close to wrecking an otherwise excellent DVD.
Intermezzo reports that Harrison Birtwistle’s 1991 (revised 1994) opera Gawain is to be performed at the
2014 2013 Salzburg Festival. I saw this when originally broadcast on TV in the UK and really want to see it again. I’m hoping that there will be a DVD release as it’s unlikely(!) that I will make it to Salzburg. I’m half surprised that it hasn’t been performed again or spread beyond Covent Garden (same is true of The Minotaur of course). But only half surprised. There seems to be a real reluctance currently to produce work that is seen as less “accessible”. There are exceptions of course. Saariaho seems to be quite fashionable for example but overall, and especially on this side of the Atlantic, the modernist tradition seems to have been firmly rejected.
Rossini’s La Cenerentola takes almost three hours to tell a very straightforward version of the Cinderella story. Generally directors, despairing of the this, either camp it up (for example the Els Comediants production seen, inter alia, in Houston and Toronto in recent years) or they try to find a few more layers of meaning as in Ponnelle’s film version. Michael Hampe does neither in his 1988 Salzburg production, preferring to tell the story as a straightforward morality tale. I guess if one really loves the music and it’s really well sung this could work but, ultimately, I found it rather dull. Continue reading