Dream team casting

The 2014 recording of Verdi’s La forza del destino from the Bayerischen Staatsoper has the kind of cast one hardly dares dream of.  The elusive Anja Harteros sings Leonora with the almost equally hard to catch Jonas Kaufmann as Alvaro.  Chucking in Ludovic Tézier as Don Carlo and Vitalij Kowaljow doubling the Marchese and Padre Guardiano only improves matters and the rest of the cast is very good indeed.  It was pretty much sure to be a winner and it is.

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Puzzling Genoveva from Zürich

Schumann’s Genoveva is a rarity. It premiered in 1850 and quickly slipped into obscurity.  Recently it has been championed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt who has gone so far as to call it “the most significant opera of the second half of the 19th century”; a slightly eye popping claim.  So what’s it about?  On the face of it it’s a pretty typical German opera of the period, set during the wars against the Moors in Spain.  Siegfried (Graf in the libretto but mysteriously translated as Duke in the disk subtitles) is recently married but must lead his men off to the war leaving behind his young, beautiful, pious and virtuous bride Genoveva. He leaves Golo; a knight but a bastard so apparently not OK for active service, to guard his lands and wife.  Golo has the hots for Genoveva but when she rejects his advances he concocts, with the aid of a witch, a plot to make it appear that she’s having an affair with an elderly retainer.  She’s locked up by the servants and word is sent to Siegfried; returned from Spain but recovering from wounds in Strasbourg, of what has transpired.  He gives Golo his sword and ring and tells Golo to kill Genoveva.  Instead Golo tries to get her to run away with him but she refuses and he disappears.  The servants too are happy enough to humiliate Genoveva but pretty slow about killing her.  This gives time for Siegfried to arrive, having learnt of his wife’s innocence, and save the day.  All sing a hymn of praise to God.  Along the way there’s a magic mirror, a ghost, a magic potion and a whole lot of cloying sentimentality and piousness.

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Summer second thoughts

The heat and humidity of a Toronto summer aren’t especially conducive to dealing with most of what’s in my DVD review pile right now (Wagner chiefly!) and the live music pickings are slim as, Toronto Summer Music Festival aside, music has departed for the land of moose and loon.  I thought, therefore, that I might take another look at some old favourites and see how they shape up to a second look.  I thought I’d focus on works where I have seen many subsequent productions or, perhaps, on works once seen only on DVD but which I had more recently been able to see live.

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Secret Senta

Martin Kušej’s production of Der fliegender Holländer for De Nederlandse Opera recorded in 2010 is high concept and it’s worth looking at the interviews with the cast and conductor before watching the main event.  Certainly the essay in the booklet will do little to prepare you.  For Kušej, Daland’s ship is a cruise ship or pleasure yacht full of expensively dressed partygoers.  The Dutchman’s “crew” are refugees or desperate economic migrants.  The Dutchman himself has made his pile in human trafficking.  The framework of the “outsiders” wanting a share of the “insiders'” goodies is the backdrop for the interpersonal drama of Senta, the Dutchman and Erik.

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Kušej’s Elektra

I don’t think Richard Strauss’ Elektra is an easy opera to stage.  The story is straightforward and really well known and the opera is constructed largely as a series of dialogues so designing visual and dramatic elements that enhance the drama is a real challenge.  In his 2005 production for the Opernhaus Zürich Martin Kušej tries hard to do so but rather comes up short.  Fortunately his detailed direction of the singers is effective and pretty much makes up for the “Kušej bingo card” elements of the production.

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A grim and gritty Rusalka

Martin Kušej’s 2010 production of Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Bayerisches Staatsoper is exactly the sort of production traditionalists fume about over their port and cigars.  It’s loosely based on the Fritzl and Kampusch imprisonment/child abuse cases.  The Water Goblin, aided by his wife, Ježibaba, have their children; Rusalka and her sisters, imprisoned in a wet cellar under their house.  The Water Gnome is clearly indulging in sexual abuse of the girls to the total indifference of his wife.  Rusalka dreams of a life among humans and of love.  She begs her mother to make her human/set her free.  This happens and Rusalka, mute and tottering on red heels, is free to pursue her romance with the prince.  Is this literal or all in Rusalka’s imagination?  Does it matter?  Continue reading

Don Giovanni – choices and futures

This is a continuation of a discussion of how Martin Kušej treats sex in his Salzburg Don Giovanni. The first installment, dealing with Act 1, is here.

At the conclusion of Act 1 the cycle of, at least apparently, consensual kinky sex has been broken by the first clearly non-consensual action; Zerlina has been hunted down by Don Giovanni and forcibly borne off by the sisters of Persephone. Where is this going? Continue reading