28 Dec 2010
Mozart at Salzburg Festival: Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte
Once a preserve of opulent traditional productions, the summer Salzburg Festival has become a destination for viewing more cutting edge stagings.
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
Once a preserve of opulent traditional productions, the summer Salzburg Festival has become a destination for viewing more cutting edge stagings.
Perhaps the best-known of such from recent seasons is the Willy Decker take on Verdi’s La Traviata, a contemporary classic of a production that will soon debut at the Metropolitan Opera. The operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have a special history for Salzburg (one of these DVDs has a title card that states “From the House of Mozart”). Director Claus Goth brought his updated vision of Don Giovanni to the Festival in 2008, and his Così fan tutte was recorded for performance in 2009. Both productions are in contemporary dress, with grim chuckles in place of any buoyant cheer produced by former Salzburg productions. This is Mozart as misanthrope, pouring out his melodious commentary on the sad and/or despicable characters of Lorenzo da Ponte’s librettos. Well sung, sharply acted, impeccably staged — both DVDs present classy performances. Just be prepared for a distinctly chilly atmosphere.
Christian Schmidt’s stage design for the Così offers the clean white walls, metal railings and glass panels of a cliched contemporary loft home. An ironic intent makes itself felt as the story of the two pairs of young lovers manipulated into deceit by a cynical older man proceeds — the attractive veneer of the set complements the good looks of the younger leads, and an emptiness behind the good looks of both the surroundings and the characters also makes itself felt. That doesn’t take away the culpability of Don Alfonso and even Despina; the Don seems more cruel in his scheming than ever, and that rubs off on the sour comedy of Despina’s antics.
The quartet of young lovers submit themselves almost too well into this scheme, with not much personality in Miah Persson’s Fiordilgi, Isabel Leonard’s Dorabella, Florian Boesch’s Guglielmo, or Topi Lehtipuu’s Ferrando. They sing cleanly, manage the Mozartean line well, and look their parts. Mozart does give each of them at least one major set piece to bring to life, and here is where the director’s clinical vision may have inhibited the singers’ ability to “stand out.” Bo Skovhus, on the other hand, gets to camp it up a bit as Guth choreographs as much as directs the Don and Despina — there’s a lot of mock dancing and posing. Skovhus lets a scratchiness in his production loose a little too often, however, for a character probably intended to be a bit more seductive in his wheedling. Patricia Petibon’s Despina reigns in the cuteness for a sort of hyperactivity, more ominous than charming. In her recorded recital discs she is a more interesting singer than indicated here — Despina offers no real challenges.
One unmitigated strength of the performance comes from Adam Fischer’s muscular, propulsive direction of the Wiener Philharmoniker. The score comes across with a youthful energy appropriate to the characters while suggesting the aggression behind the Don’s gambit. Guth’s direction may not age well — at times it already feels self-conscious — but as one alternate vision of Così, it is effective in context.
The Don Giovanni Guth stages is stronger overall than the Così, at least partly because it has a more high-powered cast than that of the Così. Set designer Schmidt here provides a very realistic pine forest, the only discernible reason for which seems to your reviewer to center on differentiating Guth’s setting from the famous Calixto Bieto one (preserved on DVD in a performance at Barcelona's Liceu). Bieto used modern dress (as does Guth) and elements of an organized crime mileux to highlight the libretto’s potent and dangerous mixture of violence and sexuality. Guth has the same concern, and most of his “big ideas” come across as vaguely desperate efforts to make his vision distinct from Bieto’s. So in the action under the prologue, we see Christopher Maltman’s Don get shot by the Commendatore, a grievous stomach wound that seems to bother the Don from time to time during the rest of the action, until he finally succumbs with the Commendatore’s reappearance at the end — but propelled into hell by Leporello and a syringe of heroin. To underscore the darkness of his vision, Guth chose an edition of the score without the “happy ending” ensemble, which Bieto memorably used to underlay the victorious “good guys” mutilating the Don’s corpse.
A vocally strong, physically seductive group of singers work hard for Guth. Maltman apparently spent as much time in the gym as in the rehearsal hall, if not more, and if not as muscular as his physique, his voice still ripples with strength. Erwin Schrott’s Leporello is no sad sidekick, but almost as dangerously sexy as his master. Nonetheless, Schrott also has the comic chops to portray the character’s frustration and barely contained resentment. In a wimpy suit and glasses, Matthew Polenzani could have been yet another feckless Don Ottavio, but his expert singing gives his character some needed backbone. In an imaginative touch, Guth has Ottavio dig out his cell phone when the car he and Donna Anna are riding in “breaks down” in the forest.
The women are a bit less distinctive. Annette Dasch in particular lacks the full armory for Donna Anna , a difficult role that requires ample strength and beauty. Dorothea Röeschmann doesn’t portray Donna Elvira as a harpy, thankfully; on the other hand, her interpretation is almost too neutral for a role that should have some edge. Ekaterina Siurina as Zerlina and Alex Espositio as Masetto are modestly effective (the booklet credit list amusingly assigns each of these singers to the other’s role!).
Bertrand de Billy is the conductor here, leading an entirely professional performance. In spots the rather spare piano used for recitatives seems anachronistic.
Salzburg’s tickets have the reputation of being both scarce and expensive, so for those who would like a great view of the stage and to keep their wallets full, these DVDs are to be appreciated. Neither one of these stagings may become classics such as the Dexter Traviata, but they both have much to reward the attentive viewer.
W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni: Christopher Maltman; Il Commendatore: Anatoli Kotscherga; Donna Anna: Annette Dasch; Don Ottavio: Matthew Polenzani; Donna Elvira: Dorothea Röschmann; Leporello: Erwin Schrott; Zerlina: Ekaterina Siurina; Masetto: Alex Esposito. Vienna State Opera Chorus(chorus master: Thomas Lang). Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Bertrand de Billy, conductor. Claus Guth, stage director. Christian Schmidt, stage and costume design. Olaf Winter, lighting design. Recorded at the Haus für Mozart, Salzburg Festival, 2008.
Euroarts 2072548 [2DVDs]