Alcina / Naglestad, Coote et al., Stuttgart Opera 1999 (1)

There is a term that I hear every so often, mostly from other American opera fans. It is ‘Eurotrash.’

I don’t like this term myself. I think it’s unfair and a little silly. Now, I am not saying that there are not bizarre, ill-conceived and sometimes even pointlessly ‘shocking’ productions of operas in Europe. There are. I think that the problem with the term ‘Eurotrash’ is that it has become a kind of shorthand for ‘that was not what I expected and I didn’t like it.’ It is possible to not like something for good reasons; it is also possible to not like something for fairly stupid reasons.

This Alcina from the Stuttgart Opera has been described as ‘Eurotrash,’ mostly (I suspect) because there is a lot of groping and also because one is left in no doubt as to the shapeliness of Catherine Naglestad’s breasts. There is nothing wrong, of course, with either shapeliness or breasts. But it is fair to ask in this instance whether the fact that we get quite an eyeful of Alcina’s is serving any useful artistic purpose.

I watched this again mainly because it was available on the internet and I could. I saw the DVD once before (for a while it was the only DVD of Alcina out there) and although I was not bowled over then I figured, hey — what the hell. Why not? Besides, I have had Alcina on the brain lately.

This production has many of the hallmarks of the type of operation people label as ‘Eurotrash.’ Let us begin with Alcina’s clothes. There is a little bit of a leitmotif with these, in the sense that many of Alcina’s dresses are missing fabric in roughly the same places. Naglestad wears these like a champ. She looks very nice. The costume refuses to play ball for a little while during “ah! mio cor” but this is not actually part of the production (at least, I don’t think it is) so we can leave it alone.

Oronte strips down to his skivvies during “semplicetto!” in Act I. I don’t know why. I don’t think Ruggiero knows why. Oronte might, but he is not telling. Let me be clear, here. There is nothing wrong with tenors in underpants. I am not against it — but I am enough of a stickler to demand that there be a reason for it.

There is also a great deal of groping. Even Oberto gets in on the action during his last aria. He and his father have Alcina in a sort of magical island version of an armlock, and Oberto — well, Oberto does some nuzzling, and then it gets weird. Despite the classy little camera jump at 2:25:17 it’s fairly clear where that hand went. I could have done without that. I’m fine with Ruggiero and Alcina feeling one another up because, well, they’re both grown-ups and that is kind of what the game is about. But Oberto? I do not want the version of Alcina that is about Oberto having some sort of youthful sexual awakening. I mean, of course he can if he likes. That is none of my business. But if Alcina’s island is going to have a Blue Lagoon, the artistic justification for it had better be phenomenally good.

Finally, the big picture frame that forms the center of the set encloses a wedding scene during the ballet after “ombre pallide.” There is a veil, and some fake blood, and I am kind of with Alcina during this scene, to the extent that her interior state is expressed on her face: I am rather sad and also somewhat concerned as to the direction all this appears to be taking.

However. There is an argument to be made here for musical interest, and there is actually more going on in this production than what I described above — but enough is enough for one evening. More on this later.

(Next part here.)

7 thoughts on “Alcina / Naglestad, Coote et al., Stuttgart Opera 1999 (1)

  1. I love the Stuttgart production of Alcina. I think non-European opera ‘pundits’ are dismayed at how the Europeans – particularly the Germans are doing such a great job with injecting some modern relevance into opera. Opera has a streak of vulgarity a mile wide embedded in its very nature. It is an integral part of the genre. The pundits and elitists who tried to sanitise it and make it something incomprehensible might be dismayed to see opera being transformed into something with wider appeal to people, who will then develop their own tastes and form their own opinions – and then who will listen to the pundits pontificate on ‘eurotrash’ or anything else? No one listens to these people anyway. People love opera for the drama and spectacle and the delicious voices. I look at the old productions of operas like La Clemenza di Tito etc, and compared to the German productions they are flat and boring and utterly lacking in interest.

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    1. I enjoy regie style conceptual productions too – in terms of staging and interpretation, opera has definitely gotten a lot more varied and interesting over the past few decades.

      There are aspects of this production that I liked. What turned me off was a feeling of almost excessive detail and illustration in the production itself – there is so much going on, and so much detail there, that it is almost a distraction. Or, it was for me. As noted here, I have no issue with any of the individual elements in this production. A lot of them are creative and interesting. But taken together, it’s as if the director is always sort of hanging over and poking at the opera – as if he didn’t trust the music to communicate on its own.

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  2. Yes, the production did seem a bit cluttered, but its background after all. The voices and the characters are the main course, and what a sumptuous dish Naglestadt turned out to be!

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    1. I am more and more a fan of Naglestadt – she was a wonderful Vitellia in a production of Clemenza di Tito from Paris about ten years ago, and more recently as Senta in Der Fliegende Hollaender – wish I could hear her live one of these days.

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  3. Have you seen the the Salsburg Clemenza with Kasarova, Garanča, Röschmann, Bonney et al?
    That staging (i’ve heard it referred to as a ‘parking garage’) was strange too, and managed to be both stark and distracting at the same time. But I thought the female cast was superb. Oh those trouser roles….

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      1. And for excellent reasons I’m sure! I watched the streamed I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Stuttgart production – this summer, with Kasarova and Netrebko. Not my favourite opera, but once again Kasarova shone bright as ever.

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