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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The Harnoncourt show

Unusually, the Theater and der Wien’s 2011 production of Handel’s Rodelinda features a father and son team.  Philippe Harnoncourt directs and Nikolaus conducts.  It’s an interesting production with great acting, very decent singing and the always excellent Concentus Musicus Wien in the pit. 1.wardrobe Continue reading

Monochrome Poppea

Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea was the “shabby, little shocker” of the 17th century.  It’s about lust, obsession, murder and revenge.  So, it’s a bit surprising that all too often it comes off as elegant but deadly dull.  That’s rather the case with Pierre Luigi Pizzi’s production filmed at the Teatro Real in 2010.  Despite having Danielle di Niese, something of a specialist Roman sex kitten, in the title role it’s all rather bloodless.  It starts off OK with the gods and goddesses of the prologue being wheeled about on platforms but after that he gets rather static.  Sets and costumes are almost unrelieved grey/silver tones (including a rather fetching pair of silver lamé booty shorts for Damigella) although Nerone himself seems to be dressed as a giant black chicken in Act1 (know you of such a bird, Baldrick?).  The only real breaks in the (literal) monotony are the bright red robe Ottone borrows from Drusilla for the attempted murder and the sparkly gold outfits  that appear for Nerone and Poppea at the end.  It’s also rather dark most of the time.

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Honest Injun?

I confess to having mixed, nay conflicted, feelings about the 2003 Palais Garnier recording of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes.  On the one hand there is some really good music, idiomatically played and sung by musicians utterly at home in this repertoire, there’s some brilliant dance; both the choreography and the execution, and there is spectacle on a grand scale.  On the other hand there’s a nagging sense of cultural appropriation and, perhaps worse, a feeling that the whole thing may just be a giant piss take.  Actually in some ways it’s all of the above and if one can get into the spirit of the thing it sort of works.

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Ballet/Opera Fusion

Handel’s Acis and Galatea is a peculiar piece in some ways.  It was written to be performed at Cannon’s, the Edgware residence of the then Earl of Caernavon, presumably for his guests.  Apparently the performance style was to have the singers sing from music stands in front of a painted backdrop.  So, a sort of oratorio with curtains.  It’s not uncommon to stage Handel oratorios as opera these days.  Theodora is done quite often and even Messiah has been staged so it’s no great surprise that Acis and Galatea should be given a similar treatment.  In fact Wayne McGregor’s 2009 Covent Garden production stages it as an opera and a ballet simultaneously combining the resources of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera.

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I came, I saw, I picnicked

The DVD of the 2005 Glyndebourne Festival production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto is one of the most satisfying that I have ever got my hands on. David McVicar’s production is a delight. The cast is consistently excellent with stand out performances from Sarah Connolly as Caesar and Danni de Niese as Cleopatra. William Christie gets wonderful playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The production for DVD/Blu-ray is exceptional in every way. There’s even over an hour of worthwhile extras giving a total of over five hours of material.

Let’s start with the production. McVicar and his design team have placed the action firmly in Egypt but moved the time period to the late 19th century with the Romans being portrayed in the manner of the British who effectively ruled Egypt at the time. There are a number of elements taken from Bollywood musicals which seems to have led some reviewers to dismiss it as not being “serious” enough to be a proper Handel production. I think this is misguided. The Bollywood elements are well integrated dramatically and musically and serve a dramatic purpose. They point up the cultural rift between the Romans and the Egyptians without getting into a crude and heavy critique of colonialism. There are a few places where Andrew George’s choreography is a bit over the top but mostly it works and, if nothing else, it’s tremendous fun. McVicar has obviously worked really hard on the and all the main characters and their interactions are clearly defined. The gulf between Romans and Egyptians emerges through these relationships though perhaps the rather overwrought Sesto of Angelika Kirchschlager somewhat undermines the chilly memsahib Cornelia of Patricia Bardon. Throughout there are neat little touches like Cleopatra ditching her cigarette in the urn containing Pompey’s ashes or the Roman/British warships sailing into Alexandria harbour with airship cover during Da tempeste il legno infranto. At the very end, Achilla and Tolomeo, blood soaked, (both are dead at this point) reappear and flank the line of seated dignitaries sipping champagne. It’s weird but works. Notably the production team got one of the biggest ovations of the night when they appeared for a curtain call.

The individual performances range from very good indeed to spectacular. Musically the star is Sarah Connolly. She’s utterly brilliant with completely secure coloratura and ornaments that are far more than just decorative.  Right from Empio, dirò, tu sei where she manages to spit out her disgust while maintaining 100% musicality, to the very end she’s note perfect. Her acting is also really good. She covers a wide range of emotions and her physical acting is genuinely masculine. She really does not look or move like a woman in drag. Then there’s Danielle de Niese! Musically there may be subtler or more refined exponents of the art of Handelian singing but I doubt whether there are any who could handle the role Danni is handed here. (Jane Archibald maybe, just maybe). She sings very well in fact. Some of her big numbers are very well done indeed and Piangerò la sorte mia is very fine and she’s very clever vocally in Da tempeste il legno infranto here she works some ornamentation in to accompany miming firing a sub-machine gun. But singing is only a fraction of the work she gets through. She has a lot of physical acting and several major dance numbers. She’s a very good dancer and, of course, she really looks the part. It’s really quite a performance!

Patricia Bardon acts well in a chilly way and sings beautifully. Priva son d’ogni confortois a real tear jerker. Kirchschlager sings very well but is a bit overwrought in the acting department and doesn’t really come across as a young man set on revenge. Rachid Ben Abdeslam is wonderful as Nireno. He gets the basically scaredy cat (and somewhat effeminate) functionary spot on. Chris Maltman is an appropriately brutal and coarse Achilla without letting the coarseness affect his singing. Alexander Ashworth in a kilt, is a solid, if unexciting, Curio but that’s the role. Christophe Dumaux is brilliant as Tolomeo. He looks like Captain Darling from Blackadder Goes Forth and is similarly petty and petulant. He’s also a vicious, spoiled bully and narcissist. Dumaux brings out all these aspects while singing at the highest level. It’s almost up there with de Niese and Connolly. The musical direction and orchestral playing is of the highest order.

Glyndebourne has been really well treated on video in recent years and this Opus Arte release is no exception.  The production for DVD is both excellent and opulent. The DVD version is spread across three disks (the Blu-ray gets two which is remarkable!). The video direction, by Robin Lough, is sympathetic and unobtrusive. The production was filmed in 1080i (which is what one gets on the Blu-ray) and the DVD rendering of the picture is about as good as DVD gets. The audio choices on DVD are LPCM stereo and DTS 5.0 with the latter being superior. In fact it’s superb; maybe the best sound I’ve come across on DVD. The fidelity with which the brass and woodwinds are captured is exceptional. The Sinfonia just before the final scene is thrilling to listen to. I’d really like to hear what the PCM 5.0 track on the Blu-ray sounds like. There are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles. Besides a synopsis and cast gallery there are two documentaries incluced. There’s a “making of” called, appropriately “Entertainment is not a dirty word” and a feature on “Danielle de Niese and the Glyndebourne experience”. It’s rather touching as Danni gushes over what an amazing place Glyndebourne is and interviews Gus Christie about what it’s like to live there. I’d like to see the follow up with Mrs Gus Christie, chatelaine!

This really should be watched by anyone who thinks baroque opera is difficult and boring and needs to be dumbed down for the average audience. But I don’t suppose he’s listening.