Cher Public

Bottom dollar

In Robert Carsen’s 2004 production of La traviata for Teatro La Fenice, the Prelude is staged.  During this haunting music, we see Violetta lounging on a huge bed while more than a dozen men pay her for her services with wads of oversized dollar bills.  By the time Act One begins, the bed is virtually covered in money. 

As they say in television land, you could have turned your sets off right there.  Virtually all of Carsen’s ideas are established before a single note is sung.  He establishes that his Violetta is a prostitute rather than an elevated courtesan, and that money and sexual commerce form the basis of this story.  He then proceeds to repeat the money business ad nauseam.   Read more »

Salo, me

David McVicar’s ravishingly lurid 2008 production of Strauss’s Salome for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden has been issued as an HD-filmed DVD from Opus Arte.  Now, Strauss’s music is ravishingly lurid on its own, so I came to this production, which claims as a visual source reference the Pasolini film Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom, with some trepidation about “ugly image overload.” Read more »

Freedom sings

In 1967, Rolf Liebermann , General Manager of the Hamburg State Operas, undertook to produce 13 operas for television, securing the Hamburg-based film and television company Polyphon Film und Fernsehgesellschaft to record the productions with the original Hamburg casts. The director Joachim Hess adapted the stage productions for the requirements of television.

The second of these films was Beethoven’s Fidelio, here released on DVD by Arthaus Musik. While the film techniques are quite rudimentary, this film features a splendid cast without a weak link in the bunch. Much of the opera is staged almost as a concert version in costume (though the dungeon scene is well crafted and acted).  Read more »

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Hojotoho-kay

BelAir Classiques has released a DVD of a 2007 production of Die Walküre, filmed in HD at the Festival D’Aix en Provence, a co-production with Osterfestspiele Salzburg.  While not an unwelcome addition to the numerous DVDs available of this work, it is certainly not an essential one. This production is just not bad enough to be startling or shocking, and not nearly good enough to be fascinating or compelling.  After two watchings, it seems to me… just okay.  And Wagner should never be “just okay.”

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The Reimann for the job

In 2006, Aribert Reimann was offered a commission to create a new work for Vienna State Opera.  After initial hesitation—”The creative process can sometimes be rather a struggle and isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience”—he went to work.  After a flirtation with a Camus drama, he settled on Franz Grillparzer’s version of Medea as his subject matter. Arthaus Musik has released a DVD of a live performance of this Medea, during its world premiere run in Vienna.  A remarkable ensemble cast and brilliant stage direction by Marco Arturo Marelli bring this startling music drama to vivid life.

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Fails of Hoffmann

In 1804, E.T.A. Hoffmann became acquainted with Schlegel’s translations of Spanish plays in Spanisches Theater. During an illness in 1807, he returned to the Schlegel and discovered Calderon’s Die Scharpe und die Blume, finding it an ideal operatic subject.  He composed the opera in Warsaw and Berlin, and began seeking a theatre that would present it…in vain.

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Worth the wait

Arthaus Musik has released on DVD a superb 1963 “Historical Studio Production” of Der Konsul, a German language filmed version of Menotti’s 1950 opera, The Consul. It is a dark, harrowing vision of Menotti’s “denunciation of all forms of tyranny”, beautifully sung, superbly acted, and directed with an almost film noir/expressionistic style by Rudolph Cartier. Hearing an opera “somewhere in Europe” in a clearly totalitarian society sung in a European language adds an authenticity to its impact. Menotti’s music beautifully combines a Pucciniesque sweep, the dark undertones of Berg, and orchestral cacophony worthy of Strauss to paint a stark musical vision […]

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Pastia shrugged

The interpretation of Carmen by Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca has been much debated, many finding her cold and remote, others admiring her subtly smoldering quality.  A new Deutsche Grammophon DVD documenting the Met’s January 16, 2010 performances offers us an opportunity to examine the gypsy in close-up.  This is certainly not the lusty, passionate, mercurial Carmen of many interpreters.  There is no overt hip-swinging sexuality here.  It strikes me that this is a Carmen for the head, and not the gut—the most intellectual Carmen of my experience.  Rather than following her whims and desires, this Carmen acts with a glorification of […]

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Un wallow in maschera

Chicago’s opera community has been abuzz about this production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera ever since the 2010-11 Lyric Opera season was announced.  A sumptuous production owned by San Francisco opera, major female stars, a solid male cast of experienced Verdians, and stage direction by the legendary Renata Scotto—what more could one ask?  

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Gaines and losses

Lyric Opera of Chicago has entrusted their new Macbeth to Barbara Gaines, Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, whose work can be frustratingly inconsistent. She has directed the finest Troilus and Cressida and the finest King Lear that I have ever seen. Yet her recent work has been filled with wretched excess and effects for the sake of effect.

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