Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 production of Wagner’s Parsifal recorded at the Staatsoper in Berlin in 2015 left me emotionally drained as I don’t think I’ve ever been after watching a recording. I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience this live. The combination of the production, exceptional singing and acting and Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is quite exceptional. It’s not going to be easy to unpack it all coherently but here goes…
Last night the COC began its run of Götterdämmerung, the last and longest opera in Wagner’s epic tetralogy at The Four Seasons Centre. It’s very different from Die Walküre and Siegfried. The visual elements that tied them together; tottering Valhalla, disintegrating world ash, gantries, dancers, heaps of corpses are mostly gone. In Tim Albery’s production the visuals are spare almost to abstraction. The Gibichung Hall is a CEO suite with computer monitors and red couches, both Brünnhilde’s rock and the Rhinemaidens’ hang out look improvised, almost like squatters’ camps. Costuming, apart from an occasional flashback, as in Waltraute’s scene, is severely modern business; grey suits, black dresses. Only Siegfried himself in tee shirt and leather jacket stands out from the corporate crowd. Dancing flames are replaced by red lights. Everything that can be understated is and the world ends not with an overflowing Rhine and collapsing Valhalla but a stately pas de quatre between Brünnhilde and the Rhinemaidens.
Katharina Wagner’s take on Tristan und Isolde recorded at Bayreuth in 2015 is hard to unpack. There are some hints in a short essay in the booklet accompanying the disk and a few more in the interview with conductor Christian Thielemann included as an extra but it still leaves the viewer with a lot to do. It’s essentially unromantic and quite abstract. A lot of stuff that happens in a traditional interpretation just doesn’t happen but there’s not really anything much to replace it. What’s left is the story of two people who fall in love in a situation where that is bound to end badly and where, despite the best efforts of pretty much everyone else, it does. It’s actually quite nihilistic. Tristan, and maybe Isolde, seek a kind of transcendence in love/death but there is none. At the end Isolde doesn’t die but something in her does. It had me thinking of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (but then so much in life does).
Wagner’s Rienzi is really quite an interesting work. It follows the conventions of the French grand opera rather than the more integrated structure of most of the later works, although as presented in Toulouse in 2012 some of those elements, for example the ballet, have been removed in the interests of cutting the work down to manageable size. Even with the Toulouse cuts it runs three hours.
Back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the current Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. It was a somewhat different experience than opening night. The timing and physical comedy seems to have crisped up and the audience seemed more relaxed. There was a lot of laughter. A lot. I could see why too, although I have never thought of this as a “funny” production. Indeed the 2006 Salzburg original earned its reputation as “the darkest Figaro ever”. Interval conversation suggested that the production has been progressively “lightened up” in its various Salzburg revivals and maybe this was just the next step in that progression. There seemed to be fewer dead birds too. One effect of the shift was to bring the character of Figaro more to the fore. I thought Joseph Wagner was a bit anonymous on opening night but he impressed me last night.
This week kicks off with a concert performance of a rarity; Salieri’s Falstaff. It’s a concert performance by Voicebox:Opera in Concert. Larry Beckwith conducts the Aradia Ensemble and a cast of Voicebox stalwarts. You can catch it at 2.30pm today at the Jane Mallett Theatre.
There are two free events on Tuesday. Chris Purves, Alberich in the COC’s Siegfried, has a lunchtime recital in the RBA with Liz Upchurch at the piano. The programme includes Mussorgsky, Handel and Duparc. At 8pm in the Victoria College chapel you can catch Dean Burry’s graduate recital as he finishes up his PhD. Soon perhaps Canada’s most performed composer will no longer be a lowly TA. Oh the joys of credentialism!
Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC. I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience. The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps. It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches. It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce. There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim. He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck. Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute. Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble. Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected. Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive. Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.