Dmitri Tcherniakov is an interesting and controversial director. He’s not afraid to take a very radical approach to a work and that method tends to produce uneven results. At it’s best, as in his Berlin Parsifal, it’s extraordinary and sometimes; his Wozzeckfor example, interesting but perhaps not exactly revelatory, and,again, sometimes; as in his Don Giovanni, polarising. That said he never does anything merely to shock or show off. There’s always a logic to what he does and that’s certainly true of his quite radical version of Verdi’s Il Trovatore filmed at Brussels’ La Monnaie in 2012.
VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert announced their 2018/19 season last night. There are three main stage shows. Two of them, alas, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for; Massenet’s Werther (November 25th 2018) and Schubert’s Fierabras (February 3rd 2019). The first features Goethe’s version of Fotherington-Thomas and the latter is one of the most confused and implausible messes ever to “grace” an opera stage. I’m much more up for the third show; Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (March 30th/31st 2019). No details on casting or anything else but I assume the first two will be piano score and the last a chamber ensemble. There are also two shows at Gallery 345; Little Mahagonny: a Tribute to Weill (September 25th 2018) and Viva Verdi (April 3rd 2019).
David Pountney is rarely afraid of taking risks in pursuit of an idea and that seems to be what’s going on in his 2008 Wiener Staatsoper production of Verdi’s La forza del destino. The basic concept seems to be to draw as much distinction as possible between the piece’s predominantly dark tone while making the ‘scherzo’ like elements as mad as possible. And occasionally mixing up the two to create deliberate confusion. To this end he uses a lot of moving set elements and projections; often fuzzily superimposed on stage action. Preziosilla and the camp followers are hot pants clad cowgirls. The full effect is seen in the Act 3 “orgy” where hospital patients, some on drips etc, interact with cow girls and a marching band while giant fuzzy B&W projections of WW2 armour play on the scrim. It’s really busy and takes some decoding.
In 2015 the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Verdi’s Otello directed by Bartlett Sher. It was broadcast in the Met in HD series and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s a bit hard to judge the production on video because of the video direction. I don’t think there are any big ideas but it’s decorative enough with arrangements and rearrangements of plexiglass wall/rooms and some effective video projections for things like the storm scene. Only Act 4 breaks the mould with a sparse stage with just a bed and a few chairs. I strongly suspect though from the occasional wide angle shot that there was a lot more going on visually than one sees on the video. Costumes are 19th centuryish and quite decorative.
I’m usually a bit leery of watching older recordings of 19th century Italian opera. The aesthetic is rarely my thing. But, when I came across a recording of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco directed by Werner Herzog I had to take a look. It was a pretty weird experience. It would hardly have been odder if Klaus Kinski had sung the title role. It’s a production from the Teatro Communale di Bologna and it was recorded in 1990.
Verdi’s sixth opera, I due Foscari, is probably not well known to many readers so a brief description may be in order. It’s a rather grim tale of injustice and revenge. Francesco Foscari is the aged Doge of Venice. His son, Jacopo, has been stitched up by the family rival Jacopo Loredano and exiled to Crete. He returns to try and clear his name but is fitted up again. This time for the murder of one Donato. Despite torture he refuses to confess and is sentenced to return to exile in Crete. The first three quarters of the opera is mostly either father or son bemoaning their fate (Francesco has already lost three sons. Lady Bracknell would be unimpressed) or Lucrezia, Jacopo’s wife, pleading for mercy to anyone who will listen. Then there’s a final scene where Francesco receives proof of his son’s innocence, closely followed by news of his death, closely followed by news that the Council and Senate are sacking him. Loredano gloats. Foscari dies. Structurally it’s very much a “numbers” opera with a succession of short scenes mostly featuring various combinations of the three Foscaris and the chorus. There are a lot of quite sophisticated ensemble pieces as well as a couple of solo arias for each of the principals. It’s musically rather distinguished in fact. The three Foscari roles are big sings. Nobody else has much to do.
2017 draws to a close and we haven’t had a nuclear war (yet). So it’s time to look ahead to what’s coming up opera and concertwise in January 2018. But first, there’s one show still to catch in 2017. Toronto Operetta Theatre opens a run of Bernstein’s Candide tomorrow night at the Jane Mallett. It stars Tonatiuh Abrego, Vania Chan, Elizabeth Beeler and Nicholas Borg. There are shows at 8pm on December 28th and 30th and January 5th and 6th with matinées on New Year’s Eve and January 7th. For the shows on 28th, 5th and 6th you can use code CANDIDE30 to get a 30% discount. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds!