Three card trick

Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades is a rather odd opera.  It’s got some really good music but it’s dramatically a bit of a mess; it’s episodic and the plot contains highly implausible occult elements.  The 2016 production at Dutch National Opera was given to Stefan Herheim to direct which is what piqued my interest.  There are few directors as capable of applying some radical rethinking to an opera and coming up with something fully coherent.  I think he manages it here.

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Muddled Figaro from La Scala

The 2016 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from La Scala had me really puzzled after three acts.  There’s nothing to help with the production in either the booklet or on the disk so I went looking on line.  According to the Financial Times, Frederic Wake-Walker’s production replaced a much revered version by Girgio Strehler and is a sort of homage to him filled with references to other of his productions.

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A serious attempt at Fedora

There are only two video recordings of Giodarno’s Fedora in the catalogue.  There’s a classic 1996 recording from the Met and, now, a 2015 production from the Teatro Carlo Fenice in Genoa.  The Genoa version, directed by Rosetta Cucchi, attempts to inject some serious ideas into the piece, which the Met production most certainly does not.  Whether this is a good idea is questionable for Fedora, even though it contains some good numbers and some great melodies is, dramatically, about as clichéd as it gets.  Cucchi attacks this problem in two ways.  First, an old version of Loris Ipanov is on stage throughout observing the action and dies at the end.  I’m not sure what this adds.  Second, at various points a mime/ballet sequence is staged behind the main stage area.  This seems like an attempt to link the narrative specifically to WW1 and the death of the Romanovs which seems odd as the ending makes no sense in a post-revolutionary context.  So, I’m not sure the idea is sound and I’m not sure the piece would carry the freight even if it were.  The rather quirky video direction by Matteo Ricchetti doesn’t help either as it’s often hard to figure out what is going on in total.

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Multi-layered Così

What’s Mozart’s Così fan tutte about?  I doubt there’s a good answer to that question but one element of what it’s about is artifice.  That appears to be Jan Philipp Gloger’s jumping off point for his Royal Opera House production filmed in 2016.  I have pages of notes on how the setting changes and who is singing to whom about what at which point in the opera.  It starts with the “cast”, in 18th century dress, taking a curtain call during the overture but it soon turns out to be a bit more complex.  Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Ferrando and Guglielmo appear in the auditorium in smart modern dress as late comers taking their seats.  Soon the boys are on stage in front of the curtain with Don Alphonso (for some reason dressed as a 17th century divine) while the girls hide in embarrassment behind their programmes.

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Brisk and attractive Figaro

This recording of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro was made in 2004 and released on DVD, which won a Grammy.  It’s now been remastered and released on Blu-ray.  It was recorded at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty.  The production is visually attractive and well thought out but not concept driven in any way.  The sets are largely made up of 16th century paintings while the costumes are the operatic version of the 17th or maybe 18th century; low necklines, full skirts, breeches etc.  There are a few interesting touches.  Act 3 is set in the count’s curio room with dead reptiles, skulls and so on and it seems somehow to provoke extreme nostalgia in the countess during Dove sono.  For the most part it’s a highly competent, well paced effort though with nothing new or different to say.

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If you are going to be crazy, do it properly

In 1884 Ludwig II of Bavaria put on a spectacular outdoor show for his guests at Herrenchiemsee.  It featured perhaps the first use of electric light outdoors in a spectacular lighting plot designed by Edison trained Alois Zettler.  That’s the jumping off point for Des Königs Zauberflöte.  So now imagine, as was not uncommon in the 19th century, that the aristocratic guests had decided to put on a spectacular amateur performance of Die Zauberflöte.  Ok, it’s not that probable that Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, let alone Otto von Bismarck,would have performed but hang in there.  Now suppose, through some warp of time, space and imagination that the “real” Papageno had shown up and pointed out loudly, and at length, that’s not really what happened.  And so we get Enoch zu Guttenberg’s reimagining of Mozart and Schikaneder’s iconic work that played at Munich’s Prinzregententheater in 2013.

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The Dark and the Light

David Pountney is rarely afraid of taking risks in pursuit of an idea and that seems to be what’s going on in his 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production of Verdi’s La forza del destino.  The basic concept seems to be to draw as much distinction as possible between the piece’s predominantly dark tone while making the ‘scherzo’ like elements as mad as possible.  And occasionally mixing up the two to create deliberate confusion.  To this end he uses a lot of moving set elements and projections; often fuzzily superimposed on stage action.  Preziosilla and the camp followers are hot pants clad cowgirls.  The full effect is seen in the Act 3 “orgy” where hospital patients, some on drips etc, interact with cow girls and a marching band while giant fuzzy B&W projections of WW2 armour play on the scrim.  It’s really busy and takes some decoding.

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