Monday, 2 September 2013

Rusalka in the basement of Fritzl

Rusalka. DVD. Bavarian State Opera 2010. Production: Martin Kusej. Conductor: Tomas Hanus. Cast: Kristine Opolais (Rusalka), Klaus Florian Vogt (Prince), Günther Groissböck (Water Goblin), Janina Baechle (Jezibaba), Nadia Krasteva (Foreign Princess).
A both shocking and haunting production, this Rusalka is one of Martin Kusej´s best stagings and probably one that many will find it hard to forget – whether one agrees or not with the “concept”.

Inspired by the horrors of the likes Josef Pritzl and Wolfgang Priklopil, Martin Kusej completely ignores any trace of the romantic era painting a grim and shocking picture of contemporary sexual violence.

While Fritzl/Rusalka´s Father/Water Goblin and his wife/Rusalka´s Mother/Jezibaba live upstairs, Rusalka together with her sisters are kept prisoners in the cellar of an (from the outside) idyllic house. the mother/Fritzl´s accomplice but also she who helps Rusalka escape.

It is simply heartbreaking to see how Rusalka is damaged beyond repair and does not stand a chance adapting to life outside, when she escapes, aided by her mother/Jezibaba. Obviously an insensitive Prince (perfectly played by Klaus Florian Vogt), who carries on a premarital affair with the Foreign Princess does not help her either, however it is clear that the psychological damages inflicted upon Rusalka during her childhood as a prisoner are too severe and incompatible with a normal life on the outside. Finally, Rusalka flees back to the comfort of her prison, the only place she knows and among the most outstanding features of Kusej detailed direction is the ambiguity of the psychological portraits – Rusalka´s ambiguity towards her father and also her mothers/Jezibaba´s ambiguity as both an accomplice and support in Rusalka´s escape. 
In the end, however, Fritzl is finally caught by undercover police, but damaged and shattered, the children end up in a mental institution and, by now, Rusalka is clearly insane.  The closest I have ever seen an opera come to a psychological thriller. It may not have been Dvorak´s intention, but it works.

Originally planned for Nina Stemme as Rusalka, Kristine Opolais gave up her Metropolitan Opera debut (Musetta in Boheme) when Stemme pulled out - retrospectively the right choice as she later was hailed as one of the most noteworthy debuts of the 2012-13 Met season as Magda/La Rondine.

Kristine Opolais is the ideal interpreter of this haunted Rusalka, looking and acting the part worthy of a Hollywood-star and with a silvery, agile voice, she certainly is up to the demands of the part. That her voice does not quite appeal to me should not be held against her.
Gunther Groissbock is terrifyingly convincing as Fritzl/Water Goblin in what could easily be one of the most thoroughly unsympathetic character´s ever seen on an opera stage (contrary to Dvorak´s intention). Probably not what he expected signing up for this production....
Not less outstanding are Klaus Florian Vogt´s cool, egocentric Prince, Janina Baechle´s Jezibaba, herself a damaged creature and Nadia Krasteva´s looker of a Foreign Princess.

There is only one let-down here, and for me that is Tomas Hanus in the pit, whose style is rather rigid, reluctant and transparent and does not truly capture Dvorak´s flow.

Almost unwatchable, at the same time one of the strongest stagings I have ever seen.

Production trailer:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Kristine Opolais: 5
Klaus Florian Vogt: 5
Günter Groissbäck: 5
Janina Baechle: 5
Nadia Krasteva: 5

Martin Kusej´s production: 5
Tomas Hanus: 4

Overall impression: 5

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

don giovanni in dull zambello staging


Don Giovanni, DVD. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2008. Production: Francesca Zambello. Conductor: Charles Mackerras. Cast: Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Joyce DiDonato (Donna Elvira), Ramon Vargas (Don Ottavio), Marina Poplavskaya (Donna Anna), Miah Persson (Zerlina), Robert Gleadow (Masetto), Eric Halfvarson (Commendatore).

I have never really understood why Francesca Zambello has been invited and re-invited to stage operas in virtually all the major opera houses: I have never once seen a staging by her which I found exciting, or even interesting. Okay, once she was involved with something exciting: The Carmen with Jonas Kaufmann andAnna Caterina Antonacci. However, this was exciting despite Zambello´s best efforts to drown Carmen in dullness.
Suffice to say that I agree with all those who found this Don Giovanni ugly and boring and I disagree with those finding the DVD much better: A circular wall of glass, dark colours throughout. A death-scene with live flames and then a bare-chested Simon Keenlyside in baggy pants, not to mention the foolish wigs both he and Leporello wear – is this a comedy or tragedy, really? The characterization seemed monodimensional as well with Don Giovanni the rogue, Leporello the more anonymous, Donna Anna the elegant and Donna Elvira the desperate.

As to the musical side, things look rather better. Best of all is Joyce DiDonato, a strong-voiced clear Donna Elvira. Also Kyle Ketelsen, in strong voice, shows quite a comic talent as Leporello. Robert Gleadow (23 years old at the time of the recording..) and Miah Persson are sweet. However, while Marina Poplavskaya as always inhabits her character more than 100% ,vocally she seems quite thin and overchallenged, especially in “Or sai chi onore”. 
Simon Keenlyside himself is clearly among the top choices of any Don Giovanni production today, though I´d like to see him in a better directed production, frankly. As always I almost forgot the Don Ottavio: Here  Ramon Vargas, though I do not really know what to say about him: He sings his arias well, but Mozart did not give him much to work with in terms of characerization to begin with.

There are many, many Don Giovanni DVDs out there, and off-hand I can without difficulty name at least 5 better than this one. In fact, all the Don Giovanni DVDs I havereviewed are better than this one, though I admittedly have seen worse as well. Much worse. The late Sir Charles Mackerras (deceased in 2010) was engaged, and clearly masters the score, despite the fact that I largely disagree with the ornamentations he asked the singers to perform, though they were in no way offensive.

The masked trio:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Simon Keenlyside: 4-5
Kyle Ketelsen: 4-5
Marina Poplavskaya: 3
Joyce DiDonato: 5
Miah Persson: 4-5
Robert Gleadow: 4-5

Francesca Zambello´s production: 2
Charles Mackerras: 4

Overall impression: 3

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Calixto Bieito


CALIXTO BIEITO

Born 1962 is Mirande de Ebro, Spain. Refers to himself as Catalán.  Education: History of art and philology at the University in Barcelona. Afte he worked as an apprentice with ao. Pete Brooks, Old Vic Theatre School (Bristol). Biographical details here. Extensive biography in Spanish here.

Directorial approach: Very contemporary, often describing characters living on the edge of society in stagings often including nudity, sex and violence.  At his best, his productions are both aesthetic and with a distinct and quite unique contemporary feel.

Major achievements in opera: Breakthrough beginning of the 00´s with highly controversial stagings of Ballo di Maschera and Don Giovanni in Barcelona and London. Other notable stagings include Carmen (the best production on DVD, in my opinion), Wozzeck (also top choice on DVD) as well as Entführung from Seraillet set in a brothel (Komische Oper Berlin 2009).

CALIXTO BIEITO - SELECTED PRODUCTIONS

Ballo di Maschera, Barcelona 2000 - the infamous opening scene in which 14 men squat on open loos, pants down:



Entführung, originally at Komische Oper Berlin 2004:

Parsifal, Stuttgart 2010:

Boris Godunov, Munich 2013:


CALIXTO BIEITO ON DVD

CALIXTO BIEITO - LIVE PERFORMANCES REVIEWED BY MOSTLY OPERA

Ballo in Maschero, Copenhagen around 2003 (seen but not reviewed)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Katharina Wagners Meistersinger: A winner on DVD

Meistersinger. DVD. Bayreuth Festival 2008. Production: Katharina Wagner. Conductor: Sebastian Weigle. Dast: Franz Hawlata (Hans Sachs), Michael Volle (Sixtus Beckmesser), Michaela Kaune (Eva), Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther Von Stolzing), Norbert Ernst (David), Carola Guber (Magdalene), Artur Korn (Veit Pogner), Markus Eiche (Fritz Kothner), Friedemann Röhlig (Ein Nachtwächter).


I remember very well this production, the first I saw in the BayreuthFestival house in 2007. Arriving at the last minute, I squeezed into my hard seat on the 25th row followed this spectacle, which had opened a few weeks earlier, to almost universal criticism.


For some reason, Meistersinger normally receives a very traditional treatment even by directors otherwise renowned for inventive staging. Perhaps it was the depart from this “traditionalisation”  that made many criticise Katharina Wagner´s staging? Or perhaps the fact that the succession (to Wolfgang Wagner as Festival Director) at that time was very much debated, and that she, as his grand-daughter was judged as much politically as artistically? I, for one, remember having seen dozens of negative comments related to this staging from people who had not even seen it at the time. Anyway I found at the time, and I still find now, that this staging is more than interesting, and the DVD with the frequent use of close-up, provide myriad of details, which were impossible to notice from the 25th row in the house. Especially the last 45 minutes are quite extraordinary, presenting a daring and entirely novel interpretation:

To truly enjoy this staging you will probably need to accept/agree that this opera is an allegory of changes in society; about how society reacts to change and how much change it can accept:
In Act 1 we are in a 19th century brotherhood of sorts: Traditionally clad “meistersingers” sit around the table, reading small yellow books of German classics. At that time, Sachs, barefoot, is a slightly controversial outsider. But not nearly as controversial as the modern-dress Walther, who sprays paint on everything and everybody. Not a singer, but a painter, the point is driven through, by him assembling a puzzle of Nürnberg all in disorder compared to Beckmessers perfectly assembled Nürnberg puzzle.

In Act 2, the sullen Eva hangs around what looks like an East-German Canteen in the 1950´s, where Sachs sits with his typewriter in the corner. In the only hint at shoemaking, sneakers seem to be dropping from the sky and all ends in an orgy of paint-throwing.

The real stuff begins in Act 3: Now Beckmesser is suddenly the outcast with his T-shirt “Beck in Town” and finds himself in Sach´s fancy apartment, where the heads of the old German masters (Brahms etc.) dancing in the background. Sachs, with his elegant suit, is now constructing a neat idealised family-concept literally within the frames of a doll-house for Walther and Eva to be filmed in. How come this sudden change? Then, in the choral scene preceding the “wach auf”, Sachs is captured and tied to a chair by these heads while they, often clad in underwear, perform a weird dance and Eva blindfolded walks amidst them. What is going on here, seriously? Next however, Katharina Wagners master-stroke begin in earnest with an eerie scene in which Sachs´s helpers capture a stage director and conductor, putting them in a coffin, starting the fire to burn them exactly at the “wach auf” in a scene reminiscent of the Nazi epoque. Very strong theater, indeed. Et voila, what comes out of the coffin? A golden calf it seems. When a model of the auditorium emerges from under stage, we the audience are double spectators to Walther bringing home a check of 10.000 from the Nürnberg Bank, while Beckmesser now is an outcast.

The staging requires a familiarity with German culture, both ancient and present, that I perhaps do not have and there are myriads of details to discover here, as the pace is furious, especially in the third act.
To summarize, Sachs and Walther essentially submit to conformism while Beckmesser moves in the other direction. 

No, Katharina Wagner does not have all the answers and admittedly the staging of the first act seems a bit heavy-handed. But then again, the first act is really long and not for the first time do I wish Wagner would have lived to revise (read: shorten) it, though I have no idea if he ever thought about that and anyway, if he had lived any longer his next project (after Parsifal) would probably have been a revision of Tannhäuser (needed as well).

More singers stand out on the DVD than I remember from the live performance, especially Franz Hawlata, underpowered in the theater but not here, taking fully advantage of the close-ups for us to see his detailed and impressive acting.
Walther really is a super role for Klaus Florian Vogt, probably his best role together with Lohengrin and Michael Volle also leaves nothing to be desired. As for the rest nobody was exceptional, one way or the other, though admittedly Michaela Kaune was vastly better than the Amanda Mace I saw the year before.

Katharina Wagner presents with the only production on DVD truly departing from medieval Nürnberg and trying to wrestle with this issues. For this alone, this is a must-see.

Trailer for the DVD:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Franz Hawlata: 4
Michaela Kaune: 3-4
Klaus Florian Vogt: 5
Michael Volle: 5
Norbert Ernst: 4
Carola Guber: 4

Katharina Wagner´s production: 4-5
Sebastian Weigle: 4

Overall impression: 5

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Disappointing Meistersinger from Zürich

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Zurich Opera 2003. Production: Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Cast: José Van Dam (Sachs), Peter Seiffer (Walther), Petra-Maria Schnitzer (Eva), Matti Salminen (Pogner), Michael Volle (Beckmesser), Brigitte Pinter (Magdalene), Christoph Strehl (David), Gunther Groissböck (Nightwatchman).

It is not the first time, that otherwise quite inventive stage directors seem to freeze and revert to previous times static theatre when faced with Meistersinger. While it is perhaps not surprising that no-one seems to have truly decoded this piece, why not at least give it a try? Katharina Wagner did, with mixed, but nevertheless interesting results. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, as seen here? Well, suffice to say, we are light years from his production of Tristan and Isolde, to be seen at Glyndebourne around the same time.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff´s style is easily recognizable though; simplistic, geometric sets in stylish colours and characters in period costumes; just take a look at the abstract blue second act with a massive stair-case which could easily have been re-used for his Lohengrin. The best are the equally abstract 3rd act sets, including and excellent amphitheatre excellent ballet.  However, when the answer to the question "what did you learn from this staging regarding the characters and their relationship?" is "nothing", then the raison d´être for this DVD eludes me. Especially as none of the singers were stand-outs either:

Peter Seiffert, sings Walther like Tristan, though not without strain. His real-life wife Petra-Maria Schnitzer is better vocally, though not exactly youthful. Is it really that difficult to cast these two characters? After all this is not Tristan and Isolde.  Also as Magdalene we see the rather mature Brigitte Pinter and while Matti Salminen brings his usual command to Pogner, he is not in optimal vocal shape.  Age notwithstanding, I have seen much better performances from him recently.

José Van Dams strong point is his characterization of Sachs. The voice? Rather too dry, however his strong stage presence and the experience he brings to the role makes up for a lot.

Best of all however: Michael Volle, in a role he repeated in Bayreuth a couple of years later: Vocally strong, always interesting and never ridiculous. A better Beckmesser is not to be seen today.

Finally, Franz Welser-Möst presents a rather swift reading, which is not bad at all, especially as he keeps momentum throughout. However, the competition is stiff, and he does not reach the level of neither Barenboim, Thielemann nor Levine on competing DVDs.

Final scene:


The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

José Van Dam: 3-4
Peter Seiffert: 2
Petra Maria Schnitzer: 3
Michael Volle: 5
Matti Salminen: 4
Christoph Strehl: 4

Lehnhoffs production: 3
Franz Welser-Möst: 3

Overall impression: 3

Sunday, 21 April 2013

pique dame barcelona dvd

Pique Dame. DVD. 2010 Liceu Barcelona. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Conductor: Michael Boder. Cast: Misha Didyk (Hermann), Emily Magee (Lisa), Lado Ataneli (Tomsky), Ludovic Tezier (Yeletski), Elena Zaremba (Pauline), Ewa Podles (Countess).


Tchaikovsky´s opera about the gambling addictive Hermann, who loves Lisa, but kills her grandmother the Countess in order to gain three secret winning cards is not quite at the same level of his Eugene Onegin, but nevertheless contains some beautiful music and 2-3 famous arias (one by Yeletsky, Lisa´s rejected fiance, 1-2 by Lisa). But above all it is the role of the Countess, which offers one of the few possibilities for great singer personalities and the role is often cast with singers far past  the age of normal retirement, presently both Anja Silja and Agnes Baltsa may be seen in the role.

The production by Gilbert Deflo is elegant and largely traditional: Period costumes, a sparse background, same recipe as he has previously used as in his Paris versions of Manon, Ballo in Maschera and Rigoletto (Zürich). Unfortunately it is not at the same levels as his best work, such as an extraordinary version of Prokofiev´s Oranges. Thus, while the central confrontation between Hermann and Countess is quite thrilling, other parts, especially the first act seems a bit jaded.

Hermann really is a quite unsympathetic character and Misha Didyk plays him well. Vocally, however he is quite overchallenged sounding heavily strained in almost every forte passage. Emily Magee is an at times wonderful and very touching Lisa, though she seems to mature for the role, which doesn´t seem to lie well for her and is not among her best. Ludovic Tezier in what is basically a one aria  + a bit more role, sings his one famous aria well and looks sufficiently disappointed by Lisa´s rejection of him.

However, by far the strongest performance is Ewa Podles grandiose Countess, a true primordial force and an entirely sufficient reason to watch this DVD or at least the 2nd act.

Unfortunately the orchestra is somewhat disappointing as well, lacking both punch and density under Michael Boder.

Pique Dame is not well represented on recent DVDs, but however I doubt that this will end up as a first choice in five years time.
Ewa Podles and Misha Didyk in Act 2:


The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):



Misha Didyk: 3

Emily Magee: 4
Ewa Podles: 5
Ludovic Tezier: 4

Gilbert Deflo´s production: 3-4
Michael Boder: 3

Overall impression: 3

Friday, 19 April 2013

singers disappoint in smashing carsen tannhäuser staging

Tannhäuser. DVD. Liceu Barcelona 2008. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Sebastian Weigle. Cast: Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser), Petra Maria Schnitzer (Elisabeth), Beatrice Uria-Monzon (Venus), Günther Groissböck (Hermann), Markus Eiche (Wolfram).

With this production of Tannhäuser, Robert Carsen has created one of his best stagings: Elegant, well thought out as well as thought-provoking. There is only one problem: This was a co-production between the opera houses of Paris and Barcelona. In Paris, the cast including Nina Stemme and Sophie Koch was superb. In Barcelona, less so. And however illogical and unfortunate, the DVD was filmed in Barcelona.



To Robert Carsen, ths opera evolves around an artists struggle with the creative process: Tannhäuser is a painter. We begin in his studio, where he is painting the naked Venus. Multiple copies of Tannhäuser try and paint Venus as well, but all ends in an orgy of nakedness. And is this not the problem perhaps? That nakedness, itself, is not enough to be exciting let alone artistic inspiration? In any case, Tannhäuser completes his painting and in Act 2 finds himself in a modern art gallery. Hermann is the owner. A reception is about to begin. Unsurprisingly, what we see next is a successive revelation of paintings (note that we, the audience only see the reverse side, never what is actually on the painting) during the traditional “Sängerfest”. Shocked by Tannhäusers painting of the naked Venus (presumably, as we never get to see it), he is expelled from the Gallery. During all this, Carsen makes extensive use of the auditorium as both gallery guests as Elisabeth and Tannhäuser enter and exit from between the rows of spectators.


So far, no real interpretative controversy. However this is to come in the third Act, which opens with Elisabeth dreaming about Tannhäuser whilst performing some act of autoeroticism. When the painters/pilgrims return from Rome, their scaffolds are empty, stripped of their paintings. With the antecedents in mind it really is not that surprising that when Tannhäuser finally calls out for Venus, she arrives together with Elisabeth. The two women have merged into one so to say, representing two different but equally essential aspects of womanhood. Thus, when Tannhäuser now reveals his painting (after Elisabeth has touched it)a high-class audience it is recognized as a masterpiece and is assigned a place on the wall in a gallery full of masterpieces – its final place being on the wall just beneath Botticelli´s Venus from Milo. As the painting is turned around just before it is revealed the curtain drops.


The weakness, however, are the singers. In Paris they had Nina Stemme, Sophie Koch and Eva-Maria Westbroek (in a previous run). Here, Beatrice Uria-Monzon looks stunning, just as fine as her Act 1 body-double, but vocally she is shaky and her vibrato is unpleasant.
As for Peter Seiffert, his acting is not too bad, but vocally he is just not very pleasant to listen too. His real-life wife Petra-Maria Schnitzer does better, but there is no bloom in her voice and she is no match for the Paris ladies. Best are Markus Eiche (a substitute for Bo Skovhus) as Wolfram and Günter Groissböck as Hermann.

Weigle is doing fine without being extraordinary, however a Tannhäuser without a real Tannhäuser is a hard sell. As for alternative versions, the idea of Tannhäuser centered around creative struggles is also explored in Kasper Holtens staging from Copenhagen, now available on DVD, but otherwise my recommendation would probably either Alden´s production fromMunich or Lehnhoff´s from Baden-Baden.

Arrival of the guests (Act 2):

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Peter Seiffert: 2-3
Beatrice Uria-Monzon: 3
Petra-Maria Schnitzer: 3-4
Günter Groissböck: 4
Markus Eiche: 4

Sebastian Weigle: 4

Robert Carsens production: 5

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

giulio cesare by david mcvicar

Giulio Cesare in Egitto. DVD. Glyndebourne 2005. Production: David McVicar. Conductor: William Christie with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment. Cast: Sarah Connolly (Giulio Cesare), Angelika Kirchschlager (Sesto), Danielle de Niese (Cleopatra), Patricia Bardon (Cornelia), Christopher Maltman (Achilla), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo).


We are in the 19th Century at the time of the British colonisation of Egypt and the opera evolves around the clashes between the British (Giulio Cesare) and the Egyptians (Cleopatra and her brother Tolomeo). David McVicar has created a fast-paced exciting production, that really has to be considered a must for those interested in baroque opera. Even those not normally inclined towards baroque, such as myself, may find this production highly entertaining, which I certainly did. First of all, what really sets this production apart are the many rhythmic dances and movements accompanying the music.  Secondly, there really are some quite funny moments as well - to just mention one, take a look at Cleopatra when she dumps her cigarette into the urn of one of Cesar´s rival, Cornelia´s late husband Pompeo.

Danielle De Niese gives us an entirely unsophisticated, almost vulgar version of Cleopatra. Her voice rings clear, she has a very direct manner of delivery and she is a fabulous dancer. She definitely has the “X” factor  she seems completely involved in the portrait of this scheming character, no doubt helped by David McVicar´s entertaining personenregie. No wonder she had her international breakthrough with this role. Later, however, it became clear that she applies this particular stage manner to all of her roles at which point her career seemed to stagnate a bit.. However as Cleopatra, and as Poppea as well, she is fabulous. .

While I personally prefer a countertenor in the part of Giulio Cesare, I must admit that I have never seen a female singer as convincing as Sarah Connelly in a pants role: Her masculine bearing as well as forceful masculine straight-toned singing is simply extraordinary. Futhermore her presence comes with a hint of an underlying menace, very appropriate for a Roman emperor/British general.

Patricia Bardon sings Cornlia with beauty but the Erda-like power the part demands, she does not have. And yes, she sings Erda too, with the exact same problems as here. Angelika Kirchschlager in her first baroque production is a youthful Sesto, looking at least 20 years younger than Kirchschlager´s age.

Christophe Dumaux seems to be the Tolemeo of choice today appearing in almost every production of importance. While he sings beautifully, he somehow fails to leave a lasting impact on stage – after all he is Giulio Cesar´s main adversary but up against Sarah Connelly he seems bleak.

To complete the cast, there is an extraordinary rhythmic drive and vivacity in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by William Christie.

This production will be seen later this spring at the Metropolitan Opera, where Patricia Bardon will repeat her Cornelia with David Daniels as Giulio Cesare and Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, a role she also performed in the Pelly production from Paris. And Christoph Dumaux, of course, as Tolomeo.

This could well be the production of choice for many and in any case it is certainly worth a view. Personally, I still prefer Negrin´s production from Copenhagen, due to the even greater vivacity and Andreas Scholl´s Giulio Cesare.


Danielle De Niese - Da tempeste:



The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Sarah Connelly: 5
Danielle De Niese: 5
Angelika Kirschschager: 5
Patricia Bardon: 3-4
Christoph Dumaux: 4

David McVicar´s production: 5

William Christie: 5

Overall impression: 5

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Bieito and Don Giovanni - which scandal?


Don Giovanni. Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2002. DVD. Production:  Calixto Bieito. Conductor: Bertrand de Billy. Cast: Wojtek Drabowicz (Don Giovanni), Kwanchul Youn (Leporello), Regina Schörg (Donna Anna), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Anatoly Kocherga (Commendatore), Marcel Reijans (Don Ottavio), Marisa Martins (Zerlina), Felipe Bou (Masetto).

This is the production, which created massive scandal when seen at the English National Opera, London in 2001. However, despite the presence of both urine and oral sex on stage, I was far from shocked and those  frequenting contemporary theater productions (which I rarely do, by the way) will probably feel the same. On the other hand, it will not be to the taste of those preferring a traditional-traditional production - so take a look at it before buying this for your new mother-in-law.. Though I´d recommend everyone to at least take a look as I find this one of the freshest stagings of Don Giovanni that I have seen.

Calixto Bieito has created a production which succeed in creating a real contemporary ambiance, a quite rare achievement in opera.

This Don Giovanni is all about a group of young people living on the edge of society and constantly seeking boundaries. Don Giovanni is quite happy shagging girls in the back of the car, the latest being Donna Anna, quite consensual by the way. And after the murder of her, by the way, aggressive father, Don Ottavio promises her to cover up the entire story in exchange for certain sexual favors. At least this is the impression I get.. In any case Donna Anna is mightily pissed off at Donna Elvira, when she realises that she also has had an affair with Don Giovanni. Donna Elvira, on the other hand, is disgusted when she realises she has performed certain sexual favour to Leporello, believing him to be the Don.

Décors mainly consist of a car park, and a pub with a pool table, background for Masetto and Zerlina´s tasteless party as well.  And the final supper, complete with cheap take-away, rubbish, peeing on the floor, drinking beer from cans – and the Commendatore popping up from the luggage compartment of a car obviously not dead, but almost, as he is killed by Don Giovanni a few minutes later. However, just when I thought Don Giovanni might indeed save his butt, he is murdered by all the other main characters acting together in the final scene, the last stab thrown in by an unwilling Donna Elvira, her hands forced by all the others.

A very contemporary production, all about a restless and alienated young generation. And as such well in accordance with the underlying ideas of the work, from which Bieito essentially does not deviated much. In 2008 in Salzburg Don Giovanni was a heroine addict, but as to the description of youth living on the edge I have never seen a more convincing production than this. The personenregie is exciting and there never was a dull moment.

All the singers act splendidly, however vocally they are not all top-notch.

Best are Véronique Gens as an elegant Donna Elvira and Kwanchul Youn, now a Wagnerian bass, as a splendid Leporello, demonstrating a real comical talent, which he unfortunately does not have so many occasions to show off amidst the many Gurnemanz he performs nowadays.
Wojtek Drabowicz has the right semi-eloquent manners for this Don, but unfortunately not the voice (why not have signed up Simon Keenlyside, who by the way has performed in this production, as the Don for this).
Bertrand de Billy is fast at times too fast for his ensemble, though vastly better than in his later Salzburg performances.

Though, I realise, this will not be to everyone´s taste, in my view it is a completely valid interpretation at least worth to have a look at.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Wojtek Drabowicz: 3
Kwanchul Youn: 4
Regina Schörg: 3
Véronique Gens: 4-5
Marcel Reijans: 3
Marisa Martins: 3
Felipe Bou: 3
Anatoly Kocherga: 4

Calixto Bieito´s staging: 5
Bertrand de Billy: 4

Overall impression: 4-5

Friday, 12 April 2013

danielle de niese is poppea

L´Incoronazione di Poppea. DVD. Glyndebourne Festival, June 2008. Production: Robert Carsen. Conductor: Emmanuelle Haim with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Cast: Danielle de Niese (Poppea), Alice Coote (Nerone), Iestyn Davis (Ottone), Tamara Mumford (Ottavia), Paolo Battaglia (Seneca), Marie Arnet (Drusilla), Lucia Cirillo (Valletto), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Arnalta), Dominique Visse (Nutrice).


I have always found the libretto to be one of the most impressive features of L´incoronazione di Poppea: Written around 1643, this story of love, desire and power struggle in ancient Rome remains as fresh as anything written today and with a contemporary ring to the many excellently conceived dialogues/monologues. Though the original score does not exist, there is generally agreement that this is  indeed a work by Monteverdi (and not by his students/contemporaries).


It is often discussed whether the morale of this story of Poppea who succeeds with her ruthless schemes and becomes Nero's Empress should be interpreted as a punishment of virtue and/or a victory of love and/or greed. In any case, if you know your Roman history (as Monteverdi no doubt did), the story of Poppea and Nero´s love triumph is indeed hollow, as 1) Nero allegedly kicked Poppea to death a few years later (although disputed by some historians) when she was pregnant with their second child (their first-born died in early childhood) 2) Poppea´s ex-husband Ottone, exiled in the opera, became emperor after the death of Nero (although only for a short while, then he committed suicide) and 3) after passing some time in exile, Nero finally had his ex-wife Ottavia killed.

Robert Carsen explores (again-again) the theatre-within-theatre concept as the main part of the production takes place in front of a velvet dark-red curtain on a naked stage, containing a bed occupied by the various protagonists in turn. Certainly, the production is very elegant, and the opening where the goddess Fortuna kicks out the goddess Virtue from her front-row seat is excellent,  but I still wonder if this spectator-to-ones-own-life concept does not restrict L´Incoronazione di Poppea rather than expand it. The best production I have seen of Poppea still remains DavidMcVicars wonderfully expansive staging, unfortunately not (yet) available on DVD.

Danielle de Niese is virtually perfect as the almost slutty Poppea. Completely insincere in her declarations of love for Nero, she schemes and plots and seems completely to inhabit the character. Vocally, she already shows signs of the shaky intonation and shrill top which is now evident in her performances, but in this production I can hardly imagine a better Poppea. Twenty years from now, we will probably say that this Poppea together with her Cleopatra represented the highlights of her career.

Though Alison Coote does not have the masculinity of a Sarah Connelly, she is a convincingly creepy Nero and vocally quite secure. Tamara Mumford is an expressive and elegant Ottavia and Iestyn Davis and Marie Arnet are sufficiently subdued as Ottone/Drusilla. For me, the only real disappointment was Paolo Battaglia, who neither vocally nor dramatically made a real impact as Seneca.

Among the minor roles, the hilarious Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (some may remember him as a marvellous Witch in Hänsel and Gretel) stood out as Poppea´s nurse Arnalta.

Emmanuelle Haïm with the strange willowy movements in the pit lead an excellent, vivacious performance with the OAE. 

Danielle de Niese and Alice Coote:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Danielle De Niese: 5
Alison Coote: 4-5
Iestyn Davies: 4
Tamara Mumford: 4
Paolo Battaglia: 3

Robert Carsen´s production: 4
Emmanuelle Haïm: 5

Overall impression: 4-5
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