Every few years the Salzburg Festival replaces the productions of the three Mozart/da Ponte collaborations with new productions. At least in recent years they have entrusted all three to the same director but the “refresh” happens in different years and not always in the same order. I reviewed Claus Guth’s offerings here (Le nozze di Figaro, 2006; Don Giovanni, 2008; Così fan tutte, 2009) and noted the way that certain linking elements developed over the course of the “cycle”. I was interested to see whether the same thing held for the newest iteration by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. All three have now been released on Blu-ray (though due to availability issues I have the Così on DVD) so I thought I should watch them in the order they appeared at the festival and see what transpires. So here we go with Così fan tutte recorded in 2013 in the Haus für Mozart.
The Royal Conservatory has just announced its Koerner Hall line up for the 2017/18 season. There are 23 classical and 6 jazz concerts. This doesn’t include the Glenn Gould School or concerts in the RCM’s other halls. Highlights from a vocal point of view are as follows:
November 10th 2017 at 8pm: Barbara Hannigan with Reinbert de Leeuw in a mainly Second Vienna School programme. Not to be missed if that’s your thing and it’s certainly mine.
February 14th 2018 at 8pm: Ian Bostridge with Julius Drake in an all Schubert programme.
April 6th 2018 at 8pm: Bernstein@100; a tribute to Lenny featuring, among others, Wallis Giunta.
April 22nd 2018 at 3pm: Gerald Finley with Julius Drake in a varied program of art and folk songs.
April 27th 2018 at 8pm: The Amici Ensemble with Isabel Bayrakdarian and the winners of the GGS chamber music competition. The vocal part of the programme is all Bernstein.
May 10th 2018 at 8pm: Not typical Opera Ramblings fare but worth a mention; Jodi Sarvall, Hespèrion XXI and Galician pipes specialist Carlos Núñez in a program of pipe music from around the western fringes of Europe.
In the booklet accompanying David McVicar’s production of Le nozze di Figaro, recorded at the Royal Opera house in 2006, there’s an essay by the director in which he raises all kinds of questions about the rise of the bourgeoisie, the nature of revolution and romantic conceptions of love. He even appears to draw a parallel between Joseph II and Tony Blair. Then he declines to explain how he has embodied all these ideas on the stage and challenges us to “Watch, listen, participate”. Well I did and I’m none the wiser. What I see her is an essentially traditional approach; transferred cosmetically to 1830s France but so what? It’s darker than some Figaro’s but not nearly as dark as, say, Guth. Curiously, the main “extra” on the disks “Stage directions encoded in the music” tees this up much more clearly than the essay.
Royal Opera House cinema screenings are back at the Bloor Cinema and it seems that the full season will be available. ENO are you watching or is your sense of Ontario gepography akin to your business acumen?
First up, tomorrow, at noon they’re screening Giordano’s Andrea Chenier directed by David McVicar with Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek.
March 22nd sees Tim Albery’s production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer with Adrienne Pieczonka and Bryn Terfel. Ms. Pieczonka will be on hand to introduce the piece.
On June 28th we get a new John Fulljames production of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Anne Sofie von Otter.
July 26th sees John Copley’s venerable production of Puccini’s La Bohème. This production is almost as old as I am. Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja play Mimi and Rodolfo.
Finally, on August 30th we can see a new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell directed by Damiano Michieletto with Antonio Pappano conducting. The cast includes Gerry Finley and Malin Bystrom.
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
The nice thing about seeing a production for the the third time is that one can focus on what one wants to because the big picture is already known. After two looks at the COC’s current Falstaff from the Rings I was glad to be able to see it from closer up and this time I also remembered my opera glasses. The details in the production and the Personenregie are really amazing. In the scene where Fortuna is offering gifts to Falstaff, the five cases of wine are Pétrus. In a way that’s doubly funny because although Pétrus is typically the most expensive Bordeaux today it was relatively unknown in the 1950s. My 1970’s copy of Hugh Johnson’s The Wines of Bordeaux talks of how, if he lived in France, he would certainly cultivate a number of petits fournisseurs in the relatively unknown and undervalued Pomerol appellation! Anyway, back to Falstaff. The money in the suitcase of money is clearly US currency. Nice touch. The ornaments in Mrs. Ford’s 1960s chic kitchen are hilarious. I particularly liked the glass elephants. The antics of Pistola and Bardolfo also came more sharply into focus. They nick anything that’s not nailed down. Are we sure Falstaff is from Norfolk not Liverpool? The handbag snatch in the restaurant scene is especially good.
The other thing I noticed was how much fun the audience was having. There was none of the “opera is SRS business” vibe going on. Rather, much unaffected laughter and laid back enjoyment. We could use more of that. So when do we get Gerry Finley back?
In an age of co-productions many opera productions are seen in multiple houses. Some of them we get to see in multiple guises. For example I’ve seen Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni on DVD and will be seeing it live later this season in Toronto. Spmething that’s been fermenting in my brain for a while now is why the same production can get a drastically different reception in different places. The piece that first made me think about this was Chris Alden’s Die Fledermaus. This was generally well received in Toronto (more perhaps by my friends and acquaintances than the print media but that’s par for the course) but universally panned in London when it played at ENO. Bryan’s interesting comments about the Carsen Falstaff kicked off the train of thought again and made me want to put some tentative thoughts into writing.