Recommendations for December 2013
Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil) - Giacomo Meyerbeer
From the Royal Opera House's controversial 2012 production, it verges on pastiche.
Gloriana - Benjamin Britten
The Tempest - Thomas Adès
Falstaff - Giuseppe Verdi
A splendid production from a live performance at the Teatro Comunale, Florence, in 2006, with wonderful sets and a uniformly good cast.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nurenburg) - Richard Wagner
A near-perfect traditional production, live from the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1995.
Eugene Onegin - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
Using doubles to suggest the paths taken by Onegin and Tatyana, with dancers playing their younger selves, this is an original production, recorded live at the Royal Opera House in 2013, with a superb performance by Krassimira Stoyanova.
Le nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro) - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A production updated to the 1960s, recorded live at Glyndebourne Festival, June 2012.
Die tote Stadt (The dead city) - Erich Wolfgang Korngold
A superb production, with a stunning set representing Paul's obsession with mementos of his deceased wife Marie, and the oppressive city of Bruges. The orchestra do justice to Korngold's luscious score, and Camilla Nylund is especially outstanding as Marietta.
30th November 2013
Thomas Adès's opera The Tempest is one of the most outstanding operas to have been composed in the last ten years; but despite a successful premiere at Covent Garden in 2004, a US premiere by the Santa Fe Opera in 2006, and a revival at Covent Garden in 2007, we have had to wait until the new version at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2012 before it is now finally available on DVD. Has it been worth the wait?
Prospero explains to Miranda how they arrived on the island twelve years earlier, in Thomas Adès's opera The Tempest.
This production was directed by Robert Lepage and originally broadcast as an HD Live transmission. Instead of the more literal sand-dune island used in earlier productions, Robert Lepage has set the action in a reconstruction of the La Scala Opera House. At first this seems a strange decision, but it works because it reflects the play's preoccupation with the relationship between the players and audience, and the way Prospero is using the island to stage the events that unfold.
In creating the libretto Meredith Oaks hasn't so much adapted Shakespeare's text as created a totally new text, consisting of short rhyming couplets. In the first act the libretto feels a bit like a plot synopsis, with none of Shakespeare's complex language. But as the opera progresses her words fit perfectly with Thomas Adès's superbly expressive music, successfully conveying the atmosphere of the play.
Audrey Luna as Ariel is breathtaking, singing at the upper extreme of the soprano range to convey the otherworldly qualities of the spirit, but sometimes her words are almost impossible to make out and so it's reassuring to have subtitles available. Simon Keenlyside is an experienced Prospero, having played the part in several of the opera's productions to date, and he is uniformly superb. Isabel Leonard and Alek Shrader are both excellent as the lovers, giving enchanting duets, and the scene at the end of Act 2 where their love breaks Prospero's spell and they walk hand in hand together into the sea is superbly staged and very affecting. Alan Oak is suitably repulsive as Caliban, and there aren't really any weak links among any of the other parts.
One minor point – I would have preferred Deborah Voight's introduction to be moved into the extras as it makes a distracting start to the opera. But otherwise the filming and DVD production are superb, with excellent sound and picture quality. Highly recommended.
21st October 2013
The Cunning Little Vixen
One of this year's opera DVD highlights has been Opus Arte's release of Janacek's opera "The Cunning Little Vixen" from the 2012 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production by Melly Still.
The Forester discovers that the Vixen is a bit more than he bargained for, in Janacek's opera The Cunning Little Vixen.
Inspired by episodes featured in a Czech newspaper cartoon strip, Janacek's opera isn't just a children's fairytale, but deals with the brutal cycle of life and death in the forest of Moravia. Melly Still's production succeeds admirably in conveying this, as well as the parallel lives of the animals and humans. Instead of using realistic animal costumes, the animals are dressed as humans, and their animal characteristics are conveyed with the help of props such as the Vixen's tail, which she uses as a weapon. The animals' sexual urges and aggressive instincts are portrayed with frankness; the Vixen's attack of the hens is particularly bloody.
Lucy Crowe's singing and acting are both superb in the title role as Vixen Sharp Ears. Sergei Leiferkusis and Emma Bell are also excellent as the Forester, and the Fox who falls in love with her. Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra with confidence, and the rest of the cast are also very good. Altogether a near-perfect production of this charming opera.
14th June 2013
La Scala Peter Grimes
Benjamin Britten's most popular opera, Peter Grimes, is the study of a man tortured by his own inadequacies and the disapproval of the small British coastal village where he earns his living as a fisherman. It's a very English opera, and so it's perhaps surprising that last year the La Scala opera house in Milan, famous for its productions of Verdi and Puccini, staged an almost perfect production of the opera, now available on DVD on the Opus Arte label.
Ellen Orford tries to reason with Peter Grimes while the apprentice boy sits watching, in Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes.
The production features a substantially British cast, with John Graham-Hall in the title role, Susan Gritton as Peter Grimes's friend Ellen Orford, and Felicity Palmer as the local landlady Auntie. There's not one weak point in the cast, and the orchestra and chorus of La Scala Theatre are superb, conducted by Robin Ticciati, a British conductor of Italian descent.
The setting is updated to the 1980s, and the staging directed by Richard Jones perfectly captures the oppressive atmosphere of life in a small English village, with its local pub, young people with no prospects, and superb sets of drab low-budget architecture complete with benches and seagulls. The video direction by Patrizia Carmine is effective without being intrusive, with overhead shots to emphasise the chaotic nature of the crowd scenes.
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