Friday, January 28, 2011

Berenice: Handel’s other Egyptian queen

Actually, make that Handel’s other other Egyptian queen, because while Cleo is definitely No. 1, I think sort-of queen Seleuce in Tolomeo is more popular than Berenice. Alan Curtis recorded this obscure lady in 2010 on Virgin Classics, and brought his Il complesso barocco and most of the same singers to the Theater an der Wien for a concert performance last night. It’s not quite top-drawer Handel, but there’s still plenty to enjoy, particularly with a performance this good.

My Week of Living 18th Century continues.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ariosti’s La fede ne’ tradimenti at the Konzerthaus

Attilio Ariosti’s 1701 opera La fede ne’ tradimenti has lots of charming arias, even more pretty good recitative, and the plot’s bumbling Python-esque medieval antics seem to be a barrel of laughs. I say “seem” because despite excellent singing and playing Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante’s concert performance did not show this small-scale satire to its best advantage.  It may have been an evening more for operatic Kenner than Liebhaber, but it was still a welcome and intriguing introduction to a forgotten work. Forgotten composer. Forgotten style, even.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Castor et Pollux: Brotherly love

Christophe Rousset and Mariame Clément’s Castor et Pollux is a breath of fresh air in the Theater an der Wien. After a string of disappointing shows, here’s one that fulfills the theater’s mission: a modern, polished production of an unusual work with a fabulous orchestra and chorus. The singing is uneven and it might be a little more gloomy than grand, but it all works together.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lucia di Lammermoor: Mad about you

So generous of the Wiener Staatsoper to throw in an opera along with that mad scene, no?  But considering the spectacle of hopeless conducting and pathetic staging that surrounded Annick Massis’s moment of Crazy--and Piotr Beczala’s decent tenor aria--I kind of wish they hadn’t.  That thing I said the other day about wanting boring productions to blog about instead of tricky stuff like Herheim?  It was only a joke, but I TAKE IT ALL BACK.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Die Fledermaus in Stuttgart: Old Champagne in new bottles

Time for the laced-up bourgeoisie to take another field trip into the wild forest of their collective id. Like any self-respecting piece of provocation, Philipp Stölzl’s Staatsoper Stuttgart Fledermaus is equipped with an orgy in Act 2 and a set that turns upside down, as well as that obligatory dark forest. But under the fancy dress--or rather undress--there’s a lot of traditional Fledermaus schtick struggling to get out. The concept might be superficial and none too original, but it’s visually nifty and that traditional Fledermaus is not bad at all.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Fidelio in Munich: Led to freedom

Of all composers, it's Beethoven who we think we understand. The greatest achievement of Calixto Bieito and Daniele Gatti's strange Bayerische Staatsoper Fidelio is how it disrupts our expectations and banishes calcified certainty and cliché. The prison exists only in the minds of the alienated characters, and Leonore finds that freeing her husband isn’t quite as simple as finding him and dressing him in a suit. The production’s fragmented dreaminess and vaguely unfinished quality can be frustrating, but its handful of revelatory moments and wonderful performances add up to a powerful experience.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

L'elisir d'amore: Punch-drunk love

If you've ever gazed upon a stage full of picturesque Italian peasants and thought, "This would be so much better if it looked like something out of Brazil!" then have I got an Elisir d'amore for you, directed by David Bösch at the Bayerische Staatsoper.   Life in Nemorino and Adina's post-apocalyptic village isn't easy, what with the bombed-out looking landscape, rapey soldiers, and shortage of furniture.  But, like the chorus with their pathetic little watering cans, they learn how to find love under difficult circumstances.  The results are fabulous.

And your blogger does her best to appreciate the musical assets of Joseph Calleja's Nemorino under some trying conditions.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Die Fledermaus: Bring your own fizz


Appreciation of the Wiener Staatsoper’s ritual New Year’s Fledermaus depends on your appreciation of Viennese rituals in general, of jokes about current Austrian politics in particular, of the simple joy of watching a tenor fall on his ass, and most of all on the amount of Champagne you have drunk. I missed the legendary special-guests New Year’s Eve showing (this year: Netrebko and Schrott) and went to the hangover special the next day instead. Once you get past the sociological aspects, this was a mostly first-rate cast threading their way through the greasy cogs of an ancient schticky Otto Schenk production with varying degrees of aplomb. Not bad, but magic only in a Viennese imagination.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Looking ahead into 2011

Happy New Year! What do we have to look forward to this winter and spring? Here are some exciting new productions coming up around Europe in the next few months. I’m interested to know your thoughts too, so please vote in the poll at the bottom of this post. (I can’t promise it will determine what I will go to, though--that depends more on the vicissitudes of RyanAir and available tickets. Sometimes my planning is... casual.)

Marlis Petersen as Lulu at the Met
La traviata (Oper Graz, January/February), directed by Peter Konwitschny, conducted by Tecwyn Evans. Peter Konwitschny’s Don Carlos has become the canonic Regietheater production, one that even Viennese old-timers grudgingly respect. This will be his first Traviata ever, and will feature the role debut of intense Marlis Petersen as Violetta.  Who knows what he will do, but it will surely be something interesting.

Eva-Maria Westbroek,
the Anna-Nicole to be
Anna-Nicole (Royal Opera House Covent Garden, February), premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage, production by Richard Jones, conducted by Antonio Pappano. This piece based on the life of colorful character Anna-Nicole Smith has been greeted by the opera internet with some disapprobation. I don’t understand why, because it’s obviously going to be awesome. I think back to Traviata in terms of putting characters on an operatic stage who are not thought to belong there.  Pappano and Jones promise something that isn't just tossed off.  Remember when Turnage punked the Proms last summer with "Single Ladies"?  And I enjoy Jerry Springer: The Opera (libretto by Richard Thomas, who wrote Anna-Nicole), more than I would care to admit in polite company.  So yeah, I really want to see this.

Parsifal (Gran Teatro de Liceu, Barcelona in February; Opernhaus Zürich in June), production by Claus Guth. Profane to sacred, indeed. Guth’s Tannhäuser and Tristan were both stunning journeys into the 19th-century mind, and both had close connections to the cities in which they were staged (Vienna and Zürich respectively). So when I saw he was doing Parsifal in Spain I was immediately intrigued. In Barcelona, Michael Boder will conduct and the cast includes Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal, who is all sorts of amazing, and in Zürich the idiosyncratic Daniele Gatti conducts and the most excellent Stuart Skelton in Zürich sings the title role. (Doubt I will make it to Barcelona but I’m not ruling Zürich out.)

Salome (Osterfestspiele Salzburg, April), production by Stefan Herheim, conducted by Simon Rattle. I am ashamed of my ignorance of the art of Herheim, who is arguably the most talked-about director in opera today.  I have never heard Emily Magee in person but from what I have heard on recordings she may be a remarkable Salome. I admit to currently having no opinion of Rattle in early-period Strauss, but this looks like an Event.  And would be an enlightening one for me.

Traditionalist Alternative: Le nozze di Figaro (Wiener Staatsoper, February). After the roaring success of Jean-Louis Martinoty’s Don Giovanni in December, this production from the same director is a hot commodity. In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. This Nozze has been out on DVD for years and I’ve already written about it, but it’s new to Vienna in February and despite the boring, the cast of Röschmann, Pisaroni, and Bonitatitbus looks pretty good. Schrott as the Count should be interesting.  Welser-Möst conducts.

Please vote here or suggest something else in the comments!

Off to Fledermaus tonight!