Greetings, meine Damen und Herren, I appear among you today to convey my Smetana hot takes, which were simply too spicy for social media to handle. Trust the Germans to make The Bartered Bride dark, right?
Conventional wisdom may suggest that in a duel between a stage director and the plot of Il trovatore, the director is never going to win. This libretto is, er, complicated, and it belongs to a kind of lurid sensationalism that we often assume has nothing under its surface shock and awe. So the most we dare wish for is mere comprehensibility, hence pro forma efforts like David McVicar’s Met production. I don’t mind that production that much, it does what it has to do, but it sets a fairly low bar.
That’s not the only option, though. La Monnaie had a great Tcherniakov production a few years back that took the plot’s complexity not as an insurmountable problem but rather as its subject, becoming a bunch of people in a room experiencing a claustrophobic series of flashbacks. And there was that Olivier Py job in Munich a few years ago, which I saw only on a technically challenged internet stream and thus believe I can only describe as batshit crazy. And there are more.
And now, I hoped, we would have David Bösch’s at the Royal Opera House too. We did, but we also didn’t.
In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven, a small group of actors and musicians wander through a post-apocalyptic landscape, bringing music and theater to an, empty land. Such is also the world of David Bösch’s dark, sad production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, now in its first revival at the Bayerische Staatsoper, again with baritone Christian Gerhaher in an unusual star turn. While not explicitly post-apocalyptic, it is nonetheless a desolate, nocturnal version of our reality–one even the perky, ukulele-carrying spirit of Music fails to brighten.
I went to see Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Prinzregententheater (as occupied by the Bayerische Staatsoper) and I wrote about it for Bachtrack:
Mozart wrote the opera seria Mitridate at the age of fifteen. The Bayerische Staatsoper’s clever and strangely beautiful production positions it as the work of a child, full of rebellious teenagers and projected scenery seemingly drawn from a primary school art class. But unfortunately even excellent singing and much directorial invention cannot disguise that this is a rather bland opera, and its four hours pass slowly.
Read the whole thing here. On second thought, closing out a busy week with four hours of Mozart seria juvenilia may not have been the best plan! But the production and singing were lovely, and I enjoyed them, which I think means I am not being unfair to find the opera itself dull. The score has charm but it doesn’t do much for the characters or plot. This is, of course, a stock complaint for the opera seria genre, but not one with which I agree, on the whole. But for this piece it applies.
It was also great to see Lisette Oropesa in a bigger role! She has a lovely voice and presence and is horribly underused by the Met. I’m not sure if this coloratura-heavy role was quite right for her talents, though. She can sing it just fine but it’s not her strongest point, and I would rather hear her as Ilia or Despina or Zerlina.
Director David Bösch was also responsible for the Bay Staats’s touching Elisir d’amore, which is in a similar style.
A bit about the theater: it’s a beautiful small space located in the eastern Munich neighborhood of Bogenhausen. The wide, raked arena auditorium was built to be a near-exact copy of Bayreuth. The only major differences are an open pit (currently, at least), more elaborate decoration, and more lobby space. I didn’t hear an acoustic similar to Bayreuth’s, either, but comparing Mozart and Wagner is really difficult. Today the Prinzregententheater hosts a variety of groups both theatrical and musical; unfortunately the theater is too small to make putting on Wagner practical, though it has been done in the past. (They still manage at Bayreuth, but that’s special.)
Continue to see a lot more pictures of this pretty pretty production.
These photos show last year’s Aspasia, Patricia Petibon. Petibon has the gift of Crazy, which this year’s Anja-Nina Bahrmann didn’t, and I could have seen her working a little better dramatically speaking. The rest of the cast is the same except for Marzio. Unfortunately the very nice projections aren’t really visible (I think projection scenery doesn’t photograph well?).
Photos copyright Wilfred Hösl.
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.
Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore. Bayerische Staatsoper, 1/3/2011. Production by David Bösch, conducted by Justin Brown with Joseph Calleja (Nemorino), Laura Tatelescu (Adina), Nikolay Borchev (Belcore), Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara), Tara Erraught (Giannetta)
|Adina and Belcore.
Note that all photos show premiere cast, not the cast I saw.
The set is at first a desert adorned only with a chair and umbrella (Adina’s) and a lamppost with a phone on it. Despite some quite spectacular effects (some using old-fashioned means like glitter and balloons), the production’s focus is on the characters. We first meet Giannetta, whose role is greatly expanded in this production into a nerdy teenage busybody in awkward glasses and a dirty wedding dress, who constantly hangs on Nemorino (who never notices that she has a giant crush on him). He’s a dork himself (though here neither stupid nor idiotic), and the elegant, literate Adina seems totally out of his league. Belcore and his soldiers are senseless brutes who rape and pillage, and his relationship with Adina never seems quite consensual. While Adina usually is played as a manipulative bitch who needs to learn to be nice, here Nemorino and Adina go through the same journey: they must learn to defy conventions, Nemorino by refusing the macho world of the army and Adina by learning to tell a man that no means no. This change was appreciated by me!
Dulcamara arrives in a gigantic spaceship/something that glows, shoots sparks, lets off smoke, and has twirly bits sticking out all over the place (see top of post). In the words of the program, he comes as a god to the village, one bringing the dream of consumerism (I love German programs! this one also indulges in a close reading of the gondola girl song!). The machine’s approach was the first time I ever found the excitement of the chorus greeting Dulcamara to be merited. The elixir itself comes in a giant tank with a hose of the sort you use to spray insecticide. The production is full of details like this, and confetti, and the treatment of Giannetta, but it balances this silly stuff with close attention to the protagonists and the darkness of the setting itself. The desolate atmosphere adds surprising poignancy: these people are really struggling to find happiness under difficult circumstances. Trust the Germans to make L’elisir d’amore depressing, I know. But I found it touching.
This production premiered around a year ago with an almost entirely different cast (original Adina Nino Machiadze sang earlier performances in this run). The spirit was not quite aligned this time around, and sometimes it read like a very ordinary Elisir on inventive sets. Not that there’s anything really wrong with that, but I suspect that the original cast was able to find a more distinctive tone and more comic details. The big set pieces, including Nemorino’s now-infamous striptease with the women’s chorus, were the best moments, but the less tinkered-with scenes were not nearly as interesting (also, note to tenors: you may think black underwear looks more flattering, but it makes you look like you’re wearing a 1920’s swimsuit).
As Nemorino, Joseph Calleja (not pictured) sang with effortless sweetness and his instantly recognizable timbre, a light, bright lyric tenor with a fast and narrow vibrato. It sounds lovely and he knows how to sing with style and feeling, but I found his Nemorino underplayed and not integrated into the production. He was sympathetic, straightforward, and I kind of like a Nemorino who has two brain cells to rub together, but this production seems to demand someone with more personality and presence onstage. The “Una furtive lagrima” was the most beautiful of my recent hearings, though not the most intense. One of the most famed moments of this production in its original iteration was Nemorino singing the aria from halfway up the set’s lamppost, but Calleja did not do this at this performance. I didn’t mind, and his release of a bunch of balloons into the flies during the final bars was a nice touch.
Laura Tatulescu (also not pictured) has a light, focused voice with plenty of carrying power, and made a sympathetic, rather passive Adina. Unfortunately, after a solid evening she came to considerable grief in the aria at the end of the opera, running out of breath and cutting off the usual fermatas, racing through cadenzas, and singing no acuti at all. I’m not sure what happened because the rest of her performance was good. Alessandro Corbelli as Dulcamara was not in best voice either, sounding blustery and approximate, and did not make as much of the comedy as I think could have been done, especially considering that Dulcamara emerges from his machine wearing a spacesuit. As Belcore, Nikolay Borchev showed barihunk qualities of swaggering acting and perfectly acceptable if not very memorable singing.
There must be something on the cover of the Elisir d’amore orchestral score that reads “This Score May Only Be Conducted Very, Very Poorly.” This was the worst-conducted performance I have heard since Elisir in Vienna in October. The orchestra sounded heavy and uncoordinated, and stage/pit relations were hostile. In the arias, the conductor more or less followed the singers, but ensembles proved a trial. Tempo changes were nail-biters. While star conducting isn’t exactly necessary for a solid Elisir, something this bad always gets in the way.
Schenk/Anti-Schenk: On December 21, I saw Otto Schenk’s Wiener Staatsoper production of this opera. Both it and this were repertory performances with non-premiere casts and showed signs of limited rehearsal. Schenk’s production emphasizes the preciousness of the story, making both protagonists childish, the peasants very tidy and cute, and the events always light. Bösch’s production has wildly creative visuals that interpret the story with much greater complexity, and the production has a whole featured a much more interesting mix of darkness and comedy. And the characters, even in minimally rehearsed form, seemed to grow a lot more. I found it a much more involving and emotional experience. Given the choice I’d pick Bösch’s fun-house in a second.
Photos copyright Bayerische Staatsoper.