Looking at a (perhaps inadequate) sample of video recordings from La Scala I begin to come to the conclusion that there is a pretty strong pattern in what they do well, and not so well. 1800-1920 Italian classics with strong casts in visually attractive but not overly deep productions seems to be the sweet spot. Stray far from this and the wheels tend to come off. Fortunately this week I’ve seen two of the good ones recorded 30 years apart. A couple of days ago I posted a review of the recent I due Foscari and now I’ve jumped in the Tardis to watch a 1986 recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The similarities are striking.
Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve is often credited with being the first true Spanish opera. It’s certainly one of very few works in that language one might encounter in an opera house. It’s hard to see why it’s not performed more often. It’s a dramatic story about the tragic love affair of a gtpsy girl and a wealthy young man and the music is a blend of verismo and flamenco. The orchestration is quite exciting and the Spanish influenced vocal lines are very easy on the ear. It really ought to have a rather wide appeal.
The 2007 recording of Verdi’s La Traviata from Milan’s Teattro alla Scala is extremely traditional but very satisfying. Liliana Cavani’s production is set in the mid 19th century with entirely conventional sets and costumes (with the obligatory cleavage) and nothing in the direction that adds up to an original concept or idea. Act 1 is set in a glitzy ballroom. Act 2 scene 1 takes us to a slightly odd sort of country house bedsit with billiard table In Act 2 scene 2 we are back with the glitz with actual gypsies and bare chested matadors. Act 3 is set in a suitably dark invalid’s bedroom. Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta goes from ballgown to nightdress to ballgown to nightdress while maintaining Ange levels of, you guessed it, cleavage. The guys are all in evening dress or operetta dress uniforms. It’s all pretty and doesn’t distract from the music.