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.
Dmitri Tcherniakov is an interesting and controversial director. He’s not afraid to take a very radical approach to a work and that method tends to produce uneven results. At it’s best, as in his Berlin Parsifal, it’s extraordinary and sometimes; his Wozzeckfor example, interesting but perhaps not exactly revelatory, and,again, sometimes; as in his Don Giovanni, polarising. That said he never does anything merely to shock or show off. There’s always a logic to what he does and that’s certainly true of his quite radical version of Verdi’s Il Trovatore filmed at Brussels’ La Monnaie in 2012.
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.
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.
Alfano is probably best known for his completion of the third act of Puccini’s Turandot or maybe for his Cyrano de Bergerac but he did write other operas including Sakùntala, which Fritz Reiner described as “the Italian Parsifal“. I don’t know why as, apart from having a religious/mythological theme, they aren’t very similar at all.
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.
Cavalli is a rather neglected composer. Something like thirty of his operas exist but few are ever performed and only one, La Calisto, appears at all frequently. It’s hard to see why. He was Monteverdi’s pupil and a worthy successor whose work was decidedly popular in his lifetime. It’s even harder to see why a work like Elena could have been ignored for 350 years before being revived at the Aix en Provence Festival in 2013. It’s really got the same things going for it as Il coronazione di Poppea. There’s sex, homoeroticism, mythology, cross dressing, a weird (Shakespearean?) mix of the serious and the comic and some really lovely music. The only downside I can see is a rather convoluted plot and the fact that one of the leading roles was written for a high castrato.