Stravinsky LSO is a video release on the LSO’s own label of a 2015 concert at the Barbican featuring music by Berg, Webern, Ligeti and Stravinsky conducted by Simon Rattle. It opens with Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. Rattle produces a transparent, clearly articulated and structurally coherent account of this short work.
Just as Rossini’s version of Il barbiere di Siviglia completely eclipsed Paisiello’s version, so Verdi’s Otello sounded the death knell for an earlier version; ironically enough by Rossini. It’s a bit surprising as the Rossini version is not bad at all despite having a rather patchy libretto and being hard to cast. The first thing one notices is that the story isn’t even close to Shakespeare/Verdi. This is because the libretto was based on a French play by Jean-François Ducis that was popular in the 18th century. I don’t know whether the plot’s weaknesses are due to Ducis or the librettist but there are a few. There’s no Cassio so the motivation for Jago’s plotting is unclear. All the Venetian notables (bar perhaps the Doge) hate Otello but Jago doesn’t seem to have any special reason for animosity. Between the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3 Otello is exiled. There is no explanation. The finale is abrupt and weak. Immediately after Otello kills Desdemona the gang of notables burst in to the room and appear to be completely reconciled to Otello and to him marrying Desdemona, despite having spent the rest of the opera chewing chips about this. In fact one could argue that the happy ending variant (yes, there was one) is the more plausible as it would only take the guys to arrive about ten bars sooner for that to be the logical outcome. As it is, Otello listens with incredulity to the change of heart and, not unreasonably, kills himself.
Handel’s Giulio Cesare is pretty well served in terms of video recordings. The very fine Glyndebourne and Copenhagen versions get some serious competition from the 2012 production that inaugurated Cecilia Bartoli’s reign as director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. The production is by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. It’s set in somewhere like Iraq in an immediately post-war period. It’s quite dark, probably darker than Negrin’s in Copenhagen and world’s away from McVicar’s almost RomCom version. There’s a lot of violence and some pretty sleazy sex. A lot of this centres around Tolomeo who is portrayed as beyond revolting. There’s a scene where he rips guts out of a statue of Caesar and starts to gnaw on them and there is a fair bit in that vein. Caesar and Cleopatra are portrayed ambiguously too. Sure they are the “heroes” of the piece but Cleopatra’s delight in flogging off her country’s oil wealth to the Romans shows a degree of cynicism. This is not a production for the Konzept averse but I think all the choices made have a point and the overall effect is coherent. It’s not without humour either. Cleopatra sings V’adore pupille in a 70s blonde wig while riding a cruise missile with Caesar watching through 3D glasses.
Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is based, like so many operas, on an episode in Ariosto’s work of the same name. In this case it relates the events that take place during Orlandos stay on the enchanted island of the sorceress Alcina. There are two love triangles, enchantments and Orlando goes mad before order is restored, the island is disenchanted and Alcina, as befits a woman who gets uppity in an eighteenth century opera, is restored to her rightful place in the Outer Darkness. Structurally it’s pretty typical of the period with a lot of showy arias in a variety of forms plus a couple of decent choruses.