Maometto II on DVD

Rossini’s Maometto II is one of those pieces that has a somewhat complex performance history.  The recent David Alden production seen at Santa Fe and the COC was a carefully reconstructed edition of the original Naples production of 1820 which was considered musically radical at the time.  Two years later, for Venice, Rossini produced a new version with cuts, new music and borrowings from other works.  He also changed the ending to a happy one.  The net effect is a far more conventional bel canto opera.  That Venice version forms the basis of the only video recording in the catalogue, recorded at La Fenice in 2005.

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Death, in Venice

If I have a beef with Britten’s Death in Venice it’s that it’s a bit cerebral and bloodless, at least as it has come down in the Aldeburgh-Glyndebourne-ENO performing tradition.  I think it’s fair to say that in its bloodlessness it mirrors the Thomas Mann novella (and indeed a lot of Mann’s other writing) but, for me, it’s a challenge to engage with the piece and, especially, with Gustav von Aschenbach.  So, it was with surprise and growing pleasure that I watched Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for, appropriately enough, Venice’s La Fenice.  His take is bold and seems to centre less on Aschenbach’s relationshsip with the Polish boy, Tadziu, and more on the conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian ways of thinking and doing and I think it’s clear that Pizzi is a Dionysian.

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Monochrome Poppea

Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea was the “shabby, little shocker” of the 17th century.  It’s about lust, obsession, murder and revenge.  So, it’s a bit surprising that all too often it comes off as elegant but deadly dull.  That’s rather the case with Pierre Luigi Pizzi’s production filmed at the Teatro Real in 2010.  Despite having Danielle di Niese, something of a specialist Roman sex kitten, in the title role it’s all rather bloodless.  It starts off OK with the gods and goddesses of the prologue being wheeled about on platforms but after that he gets rather static.  Sets and costumes are almost unrelieved grey/silver tones (including a rather fetching pair of silver lamé booty shorts for Damigella) although Nerone himself seems to be dressed as a giant black chicken in Act1 (know you of such a bird, Baldrick?).  The only real breaks in the (literal) monotony are the bright red robe Ottone borrows from Drusilla for the attempted murder and the sparkly gold outfits  that appear for Nerone and Poppea at the end.  It’s also rather dark most of the time.

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Elegant and Powerful Ulisse

Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria hasn’t proved as popular as his other late work L’incoronazione di Poppea but, given as compelling a performance as it got at the Teatro Real, it’s a bit hard to see why that is.  On this 2007 recording we have an elegant and interesting production by Pier Luigi Pizzi, an excellent cast headed by Kobie van Rensburg and Christine Rice and the incomparable William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants.  It’s a compelling package.

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Tancredi in Schwetzingen

Rossini’s Tancredi isn’t performed particularly often but it was Stendhal’s favourite opera and it’s not hard to see why both these things are true.  It’s got some really lovely music but the plot is pretty thin and it’s hard to cast.  It needs a very versatile low mezzo/contralto for the title role and a crackerjack soprano and tenor too.  I watched it in a well cast 1992 production from the Schwetzingen festival and enjoyed it despite some frustrations with the staging and the implausibly drawn out plot of the second act.  Continue reading

I vespri Siciliani

Mid period Verdi in a highly traditional La Scala production isn’t usually my cup of tea but I thought that if the usually excellent Opus Arte label thought the thing was worth a reissue it might be worth watching.  With caveats, it was, even for someone who is as allergic to this kind of production as myself.
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