Reinhard von der Thannen stage director, stage sets and costumes
Alejo Pérez conductor
Piotr Beczala (Faust)
Ildar Abdrazakov (Méphistophélès)
Maria Agresta (Marguerite)
Alexey Markov (Valentin)
Tara Erraught (Siébel)
Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Marthe)
Gounod's Faust from the Salzburg Festival streamed today. It came in a regie production, as you can see in the picture above. There were many images to choose from, but I have chosen the Rien neon which began and ended the opera. One puzzles briefly at the start, and then Faust opens his mouth and sings "Rien," French for nothing. Of course. I have reached Faust's age and listen to his complaining with now more sympathetic ears. He effectively transforms from a bald old man to a young man with hair.
The white daisies Siebel gives as a bouquet in act III are called Marguerites.
Everything is symbolic. I have no idea of what. Abstract shapes that look like nothing at all seem preferable to people in a laboratory for no apparent reason. Half of the tunes are hit tunes. I can listen to Pique Dame and recognize very little of the music, while Faust is ever familiar. The music is intensely nostalgic, a style that grows old for us. Perhaps a meaningless modernist staging takes away from the nostalgia and makes the music tolerable again. I actually enjoyed this, an excellent concert with pictures.
Maria Agresta gave us a strong Marguerite capable of soaring over the orchestra and chorus. Ildar was perfection as Mephistopheles, growly and nasty. Piotr was pleasing. They could only have cast Tara because they wanted her soft sweetness to contrast with the angry brother and the evil Mephistopheles.
My post about Eurotrash was removed from an online site. They don't allow the term. You are required to call everything regietheater. I realize that there are people that call everything that moves the time period Eurotrash, but that was not my intention. I was trying to single out 10 productions for being really bad.
Virtually everything in opera today is regietheater, but it would be a mistake to think that I disliked all of them. I loved and adored Partenope which is pure regie.
We agreed that I could call it "Bottom 10 regie productions."
I am listening to BBC Proms orchestra The Hallé under Mark Elder in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with soloists Alice
Coote and Gregory Kunde. I may possibly love this piece more than any opera. I remember sitting in my living room in Germany and playing it on the piano, even though I'm a terrible pianist. There's been some work on the orchestration. This performance is simply wonderful. Thank you. There is so much depth of understanding.
You will be pleased to know that my top ten Eurotrash productions all come from Europe. This is only suitable. Each of our examples will have a named production designer, also something that happens more often in Europe.
I suppose a definition is in order. Regietheater or director theater is characterized by staged actions that do not represent the planned actions of the original work. Sometimes there is no relationship at all between the words and the actions.
In general it will be a countdown, but I find that I must begin with the most famous of all regie productions, Katharina Wagner's production of her great-grandfather's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for Bayreuth. It dates from early in my blogging career, but I watched it only four years ago. Meistersinger is about a Meistersinger guild in Nürnberg in the time of the Renaissance. The hero, Hans Sachs, was the famous master, and the others strove to come up to his standard.
Katharina Wagner has moved the opera to modern times with our over-inflated celebrity status. Do I understand Meistersinger better now? Absolutely not. Do I understand why the street scene is replaced by green representations of composers? No. What do the composers have to do with the plot? The Meistersingers are from the middle class while the winner of the song contest, Walther Stolzing, is a prince who just wants the girl and does not see the reason he needs the singers' guild. In the original version of the opera Hans Sachs talks him into it, but here Walther does not become a Meistersinger and instead runs off to become a rock star, taking Eva with him. This production holds a position in this list because it is so famous.
Could you buy the costumes in a department store? Pretty much. Do you understand the plot any better? Without reading from the designer's notes, the green composers seem meaningless. Since one of them is clearly Verdi, they can't represent die heilige deutsche Kunst (holy German art). The Meistersingers all appear to be artists instead of singers.
Béatrice, niece of Léonato: Stéphanie d’Oustrac (soprano)
Bénédict, Sicilian officer: Paul Appleby (tenor)
Héro, daughter of Léonato: Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Claudio, general's aide-de-camp: Philippe Sly (baritone)
Somarone, a music master: Lionel Lhote (bass)
Don Pedro, Sicilian general: Frédéric Caton (bass)
Ursule: Katarina Bradić (contralto)
Léonato, Governor of Messina: ? (spoken)
This is utterly charming. I am speaking of Hector Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict from Glyndebourne. It is based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and has a libretto by Berlioz. Beatrice has fallen victim to love, and she is pissed.
It's staged like a movie in black and white with the set pieces mostly made up of gray boxes. Symbolism. You knew that. Beatrice does not wish to be in a box. At the end she appears with her Benedict in one of the boxes and declares that tomorrow they will be enemies again.
It is an opera comique that is nothing like an Italian opera buffa. Frantic tempos are replaced by sweet melodies. Spoken French dialog replaces recitative. There is a buffo bass (Somarone) and a lovely, marvelously comic couple that find each other at the end.
I have long loved Berlioz, read The Aeneid because I knew he loved it. You can feel throughout this excellent opera with duets and trios of female voices, comic choruses and a comic tenor and soprano, how very much he loved Shakespeare.
Philippe Sly looked like the man on the wedding cake when he marries Hero, but it seems he was hired for his beauty and his excellent French because he hardly sings at all.
Music Director/Conductor/Harpsichord: Jory Vinikour
Stage Director: Mark Streshinsky
Agrippina, wife of Claudio: Sarah Gartshore (soprano)
Nero, her son: Celine Ricci (here a mezzo, originally castrato)
Poppea: Hannah Stephens (soprano)
Ottone, Claudio's friend: Ryan Belongie (here a countertenor, originally a woman)
Claudio, emperor of Rome: Carl King (bass)
Pallante: Nikolas Nackley (bass)
Narciso: Johanna Bronk
(here mezzo, originally castrato)
Agrippina is an opera by Handel that was composed in 1709 for Venice. Why have I never seen or heard of this opera before? I imagine it is very important to know that it was composed for Venice because the commercial theater there was fond of sexual plots. Poppea, La Calisto, that kind of thing. Proper handling of the sexual plot by West Edge Opera has made this an amusing Baroque opera without any distortion of the story. Structurally it is a Neapolitan opera with an endless series of da capo arias. In Venice both women and castrati sang. Shortly after this Handel moved to London. It is important to know that in Venice Agrippina was a hit.
Poppea is the sexual center of attention here as she was in Monteverdi's opera. She tells us how to draw men's attention and lists for us three men who are interested in her: Nero, Ottone and the Emperor Claudio. She is most attracted to Ottone and does not like Claudio at all.
Agrippina has but one objective--she wants her son to become emperor of Rome. She has no interest in her husband's interest in Poppea and instead uses it to manipulate Claudio for her own ends. This is a surprisingly good plot. The opera ends when she wins. Here I want to complain. They flashed words on the surtitles screen explaining what happened to the characters after the opera had ended, but they went by so fast I had no idea what they actually said. A bit slower might be better. Slower or not at all.
The hit tune from this opera is "Come nembo," or at least that's what it's called in Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno which was composed for Rome. In Agrippina it has a different text. It is known because Cecilia Bartoli has recorded it.
One feature of this opera was brief full-on male nudity. Agrippina is singing, finishes her aria and says to an unseen man that he needs to get lost. Nude man jumps out of the bed and runs off stage. Full male nudity is much rarer in the theater than female and is therefore still entertaining. People entered down the center aisle of the theater, including Claudio who spoke political phrases in English like an American politician. I shook his hand as he passed.
There was a theorbo in the orchestra which was tuned with the harpsichord at the beginning. The quality of the singing was excellent throughout, the make or break feature of any Baroque opera performance, with the peak experience coming from Celine Ricci. Here is Celine in her incredible costume and makeup as Nero.
Photo by Cory Weaver.
Neapolitan opera, the kind Handel wrote, is probably the most difficult genre to stage successfully. It works to do silly, mostly irrelevant things as was done in Partenope recently at the San Francisco Opera, and in Agrippina it works just to stage the opera as it is revealed in the libretto.
I won't again try to watch 2 operas in a day, but nevertheless I was very pleased with this.
I so enjoyed writing about and listening to Agrippina from West Edge that I immediately bought the All About History magazine with the featured article about Nero. So what is current thinking about Emperor Nero who apparently killed off all possible successors?
I was especially interested in the current thinking on who burned Rome. The argument goes from one side that Nero burned Rome to kill Christians. The other side say the Christians burned Rome so Nero would take the blame. Crucial factoid in this argument is that the rumor that Nero burned Rome is in fact contemporary with the actual burning. It is possibly tacked on later that it had anything to do with Christians. The article seems to conclude that it was not arson. Just a fire. A really huge fire. The argument against Nero setting it is that his own houses burnt down. This point of view is completely new to me.
I knew the story that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The curious story is that Nero considered himself an artist and gave performances at an array of venues. His citizens who had formerly loved him came to find him disgusting, a lower class artist type engaged in an activity not suitable for the heir of Julius Caesar.
Music Director and Conductor: Mary Chun
Stage Director: Elkhanah Pulitzer
The Duchess: Laura Bohn
The Maid, and other characters: Emma McNairy
The Duke and other characters: Hadleigh Adams
The Electrician and other characters: Jonathan Blalock
One of the operas for the summer festival of West Edge Opera is Thomas Adès' Powder her Face, a purportedly biographical opera about Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll. The composer waited until her death in 1993 to dig up all this old dirt--the opera dates from 1995. Perhaps it's necessary to be British to fully enjoy this. Everyone but the duchess had very light blond hair.
I'm going to call this as I see it. This was like two different operas: the serious, intensely emotional performance of Laura Bohn, something I might possibly call a masterpiece, and everything else. Let's just say I don't normally watch porn.
Fake sex is only marginally interesting. I tried to figure out what about the opera suggested the sex. The judge comes out and says, "Order, Silence, Justice." Then he says a bunch of other stuff, and then repeats the first three words. The first time he says them they are drawn out and kind of wavy, but the second time he just says them. So the first time the wavy music is used to express someone doing fellatio on him under his judge's robes. So fioratura is sexual. This goes with the Lucia I saw recently. Ho hum.
I don't think I would want to see this opera again, but I'm sort of a fuddy-duddy.