Danni’s Rosina

One rather gets the feeling that the 2016 Glyndebourne production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was built around the lady of the house.  It makes a lot of sense.  There may have been better singers in the role of Rosina but I doubt there has ever been a better mover than Danielle de Niese.  She’s matched move for move, eye candy for eye candy by the guys; Björn Burger as Figaro and Taylor Stayton as Almaviva.  There’s more mature comedy from the always fantastic Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo and the irrepressible Janis Kelly as Berta.

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La cosa vostra?

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

From corpse to corpse

I managed to get my hands on the DVD of the Gianni Schicchi that formed the second half of the evening’s entertainment with The Miserly Knight that I reviewed yesterday (Glyndebourne 2004). It’s the same creative team of Jurowski and Arden and they reinforce the end on a corpse, start on a corpse symmetry by using the aerialist Matilda Leyser as the corpse in Schicchi. Both Jurowski and Arden stress the dark side of the work in interviews but to be honest it comes off here more as a madcap comedy. Perhaps that was inevitable when following the very dark and enigmatic Rachmaninov piece. It’s set around the time of the work’s composition and a unit set with balcony and bed and a cupboard to stuff the body in serve throughout. It’s workmanlike and effective. The blocking is very precise and effective. After all there are at least eight characters on stage throughout this piece. Arden moves and groups them with precision and my only beef is that (surprise) we miss much of her careful work because of closeupitis.

The performances are excellent. Alessandro Corbelli is superb in the title role confirming my opinion of him as one of the great comic baritones. The acid aunt Zita is wonderfully played by the seemingly timeless Felicity Palmer and the rest of the family back her up strongly with excellent ensemble work. Sally Matthews as Lauretta and Massimo Giordano as Rinuccio are the romantic interest and they are both good. Matthews manages a version of O mio babbino caro that is lovely to listen to and spectacularly insincere. She also acts very well and looks the part. Giodarno has a lovely Italianate tenor voice, acts well and is also most pleasant to listen to. Jurowski handles the score well building to some impressive climaxes where required, for example in the scene where the family are imagining all the good things the monks will get to eat from Buoso’s legacy.

The video direction isn’t as egregious here as in the Rachmaninov but it’s still annoying. The scene where Schicchi is preparing to impersonate Buoso is particularly irritating. Technical details and standard of execution are the same as for the Rachmaninov. The interviews with Jurowski, Arden and Corbelli are also equally good. I could listen to Jurowski talk about music and its relationships to other art forms and social developments for a long, long time. Just a reminder that this is also available as a double bill with the Rachmaninov on Blu-ray as well as separately on DVD.

It will be interesting to see how this compares to the upcoming COC production which will be paired with the very dark Eine florentinische Tragödie by Zemlinsky from Wilde’s play. It has a starry cast, Sir Andrew Davis conducting and Catherine Malfitano directing so we may be in for a treat.

A Knight to remember

Rachmaninov’s The Miserly Knight is a very strange one act opera and it isn’t often performed. A production by as cerebral a creative team as Vladimir Jurowski and Annabel Arden looks like a very promising idea so I was very intrigued to see what they made of it in this 2004 Glyndebourne recording.

This work lasts only a little over an hour and is split into three scenes which scarcely relate to each other. In Scene 1 a young knight laments that he can’t keep up his social position on his meagre allowance. A Jewish moneylender refuses to extend further credit but suggests that he can provide the knight with poison if he wants to do his old man in. The knight refuses. Act 2 consists of a monologue in which the father, the Miserly Knight of the title, rhapsodizes over his six chests of gold in a fairly overtly sexual way for twenty five minutes. In Scene 3 the Duke orders the father to make an appropriate allowance to his son. The father refuses ultimately claiming, ironically, that his son is trying to poison him. The son rushes in and denounces his father. They have a row and the father drops dead. End of story. All this takes place to an incredibly complex score full of leitmotivs. In a real sense the orchestra is the main character, functioning as Chorus in the original Greek sense. How to bring some sense of the dramatic to this is no mean problem. Arden’s solution is to embody Greed in the form of an aerialist who is present whenever the father is present. This seems like a great idea and on the odd occasion the video director lets the DVD audience see the interaction between Greed and the father it seems to work. Unfortunately the video director, Franceska Kemp, is even more wedded than most of her ilk to superfluous close-ups and so most of Arden’s intelligent work is lost on us.

Musically this is pretty impressive. The music is not typical Rachmaninov. There are no big tunes and it looks forward to the musical language of early Schoenberg or Bartok as much as it looks back to Wagner and Tchaikovsky. In other words it’s an uncompromising early 20th century score. Jurowski gets this and conjures up superbly detailed and incisive playing playing from the London Philharmonic. He’s backed up by an excellent cast of singing actors. The star, clearly, is Sergei Leiferkus as the father. He manages a part that is usually cast for a bass but goes uncomfortably high for most basses. He can sing the music and he brings an absolutely revolting quality to his quasi sexual monologue about money and power. He’s amazing. The rest of the cast are more than adequate. I particularly liked Albert Schagidullin’s powerful baritone as the Duke. Richard Berkeley-Steele, Maxim Mikhailov and Vyacheslav Voynarovsky are solid as the young knight, the servant and the moneylender. Matilda Leyser is the aerialist portraying Greed. What little we see of her is impressive but I really would like to see much more.

Video direction aside this is pretty impressive as a DVD package. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is superb (LPCM stereo also available). The picture is also excellent. There are French, German, English, Italian and Spanish subtitles. The extras on the disk include very useful interviews with Jurowski, Arden and Leiferkus as well as a quick look at the Gianni Schicchi with which it was paired at Glyndebourne. The documentation also includes a couple of essays that are worth reading. There’s also a Blu-ray release that includes both The Miserly Knight and Gianni Schicchi.

This is the only currently available video recording of The Miserly Knight so I think it’s worth a look despite the dreadful video direction. If that had been done properly I think this would likely have been really impressive.