Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s stagings of the Mozart/da Ponte operas in Salzburg concluded in 2015 with Le nozze di Figaro. I think it’s the most successful of the three. Bechtolf’s strengths lie in detailed direction of the action rather than bold conceptual statements and Nozze is probably the least in need of, and the least amenable to, the big Konzept. There aren’t any real dramaturgical problems to solve. It just works as written. I don’t think that’s so true for Don Giovanni or Così.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s second Mozart/daPonte for Salzburg was Don Giovanni which premiered in 2014. There are some similarities with his Così fan tutte. He uses a symmetrical unit set again and shows a fondness for creating symmetrical tableaux vivants but there the similarities pretty much end. I could find a consistent, believable set of humans in Così but not so much in Don Giovanni. The problem is really the man himself. Bechtolf, in his notes, seems to be arguing that Don Giovanni can make no sense in an age of pervasive accessibility and exposure to all things sexual. Da Ponte’s Don requires a climate of sexual repression for his essence; to Bechtolf a kind of Dionysian force (he cites Kierkegaard), to make any sense as a human. I think I get that but then, I think, the challenge becomes to create a Don Giovanni who does make sense to a 21st century audience as, in their different ways, do Guth and Tcherniakov. Bechtolf seems to treat the character not so much as a human rather than as a kind of energy focus who exists by igniting aspects of the other characters; whether that’s lust or jealousy or hatred. He caps off this idea at the end by having Don Giovanni reappear during the final ensemble as a kind of mischievous presence still chasing anything in a skirt, even if it’s, perhaps, from another world. It’s an idea that I could not really buy into.
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 2009 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from Madrid’s Teatro Real had me doing a bit of a double take. It’s all pouffy wigs, breeches and heaving bosoms. In fact it’s so traditional that it wouldn’t be out of place in Winnipeg or Omaha but comes as something of a surprise in a major European house. In the “Making of” feature, included as an extra, director Emilio Sagi suggests that the opera is so “perfect” that only a “hyper-realist” approach is appropriate. It’s an interesting idea but “hyper-realist” here turns out to mean a bunch of established opera conventions that bear as much of a relationship to “reality” as, say, a James Bond film does. There is one minor directorial intervention. A air of buxom extras appear in almost every scene. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps they are the Wonderbra of the production as their sole purpose seems to be to uplift the cleavage quotient. For the record, the piece is presented uncut so Basilio and Marcellina get their big arias in the last act. The traditional approach, I know, has its adherents. I’m not one of them. I could have used a few ideas!
Rossini’s rarely performed opera seria Maometto II opened at the Four Seasons Centre last night in a production by David Alden and with substantially the same cast as when it played in Santa Fe on 2012. This is the restored Maometto in the edition prepared by Hans Schellevis in an attempt to get as close to Rossini’s initial Naples score as possible. So, no happy ending and all the complexity of Rossini’s original design.
Robert Carsen doesn’t seem disposed to treat Handel too reverentially. Although there is some of the trademark Carsen cool minimalism in his 2011 Glyndebourne production of Rinaldo (not to mention symmetrically arranged furniture) there’s also a degree of humour, as there is in his Zürich Semele. I find it very effective and, judging by the audience reaction, so did the people who saw it at Glyndebourne.
Cavalli’s Ercole amante was written for the wedding of Louis XIV to Marie-Thérèse, a Habsburg princess. The marriage itself being the seal on the French victory over Spain in the war that had lasted until 1659. It’s an odd work considering. It’s not nearly as weird as, say, Il Giasone or La Didone but it’s hardly what one would expect for the nuptials of Le Roi Soleil. It’s clear from both the Prologue and the ending that Ercole is Louis but he’s also a most unlikeable character. In this version of the Hercules story he’s in love with his son’s (Hyllo) girlfriend (Iole) and will stop at nothing to bed her including casting off his wife (Deianira), imprisoning his son and bumping off Iole’s father. In the end he’s attacked by the spirits of various people he has wronged before succumbing to the trick with the centaur’s poisoned shirt. He’s made immortal and paired off with Hebe in the heavens but it’s hardly a tale of kingly virtue or marital fidelity. For good measure, along the way a good chunk of the Graeco-Roman pantheon make an appearance.