Tag: regietheater!

In which we expand the conceptual boundaries of “a performance”

I was complaining that I had nothing new to listen to the other day. My other half suggested that I watch my DiDonato Maria Stuarda DVD again. After all, I do sometimes go and see two different performances of the same concert or opera if it’s possible and I have a good reason to do so.

Me: It’s a DVD. It’s not a concert. There aren’t any fluctuations.

J: But there are like different cars going by outside, right? And there even could be a car alarm. Or those people down the hall with the two children could try to get their big stroller into the elevator again!* That could totally reshape the whole concept if they do that during the confrontation scene!

Me: Go away.

___

*Those people should know by now that that stroller doesn’t fit in the elevator.

Mozart – Don Giovanni / Salzburg 2006 (3)

(Previous section here.)

There are a lot of really interesting performances in this. I don’t know if it’s my favorite Giovanni musically – I am not sure I have one of those – but there’s plenty to like about it. Melanie Diener as Donna Elvira has a lovely ringing resonant sound to her voice; the last high notes in “taci, ingiusto core” were really pretty. There is something solid, even at times careful about the interpretation.

read the rest

Mozart – Don Giovanni / Salzburg 2006 (2)

(Previous section here.)

That a production of Don Giovanni might contain some scantily clad women is not going to surprise anyone. (Well, with some exceptions.) But the women in this are not necessarily there to be ogled. There are the women in fur coats who appear during “madamina, e catologo e questo” – but then there are the women cleaning, and later on a little girl. (This reminded me of the Peter Sellars version, which also had a little girl, but she appeared later. Also, come to think of it, that version also played with the question of whether Leporello and Giovanni were different people, like this one.)

read the rest

Mozart – Don Giovanni / Salzburg 2006 (1)

Martin Kusej’s production of Don Giovanni is alternately buzzing white light and blue dimness. The thing begins with a large flat image of a group of women in nothing but stockings, lounging on the floor with their backs to the audience. There is a door in this image, and during the overture we see women in trench coats and heels approaching the door, opening it, and stepping inside.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

So, the boys go off to war. (Well, to be specific, they go off to the men’s room, which, like the women’s room, has an eighteenth-century style bust stenciled onto the door to indicate the sex of the potential occupants; Sellars gets some milage out of framing various people in shots with one or the other stenciled bust when matters of gender are under discussion – but as far as the men’s room is concerned: having no personal knowledge of that strange and alien terrain, I will say no more about it. I’ve seen pictures of urinals on the internet, though.) Anyway, the boys go off to war.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Peter Sellars (2)

(Previous section here.)

So, Alfonso and Despina are running this diner together. Or something like that. The production implies that there is some sort of fraught personal history between the two of them. The staging and the translation of the dialogue suggest that Despina ended it because it became “torture” for them both – or at least for her. Alfonso is still entangled and entranced and every so often just stands there looking stunned. One gets the distinct impression that the reason he comes up with the wager idea with the guys is to prove some point to himself about his own issues as far as Despina is concerned.

read the rest

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (3)

(Previous section here.)

One more thing about the Cherub and Cherubino. I was reminded yesterday (thanks, Rob!) of the moment in Act I when Cherubino finds one of the Cherub’s feathers on the floor and then reaches back, startled, to feel behind his own shoulder as if to check if something is missing. As if the names didn’t make it plain enough, he has a special connection to this other character. After all, Cherubino is sort of an odd and ambiguous little thing, right? He’s a boy played by a woman; he’s neither a child nor an adult; he exercises a rather strange erotic pull on the Countess; he infuriates the count, who accidentally kisses him at one point in the story; his relationship to Susanna seems almost sisterly, but then he tries to either kiss her or grope her or some variation thereof when he meets her in the garden in Act IV; he is consistently places he should not be and causing problems others would rather not deal with. Given both the Cherub’s role in this story and Cherubino’s identification with the Cherub, it makes a certain kind of sense that the Count and Figaro basically torture the kid during “non più andrai” at the end of Act I. Figaro slices him up with a piece of glass and the count gleefully joins in the mayhem. Figaro and the Count are at odds, but the type of things that the Cherub/Cherubino pair represent are in the interest of neither of them.

read the rest

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (2)

(Previous section here.)

This production has an additional character, listed as ‘Cherub.’ The Cherub is a young man (the performer’s name is Uli Kirsch) who is dressed in the same clothes – navy shorts suit, gray knee socks – as Cherubino, although he has wings. He leaps in via the window during the overture. On stage at this point are three couples, all frozen still: Bartolo and Marcellina, Figaro and Susanna, and the Count and Countess. Bartolo is reading something; Marcellina’s attention is elsewhere; Figaro is mentally measuring something and Susanna is thinking; the Count is nervously mopping his face and the Countess is gazing out into space towards the audience looking as if she is going to cry. The Cherub places an apple near each of the pairs, and moves his hands over them. Everyone seems to wake up. Marcellina moves toward Figaro, Susanna wanders up the stairs toward the Count, who turns to look at his wife, who walks, as if in a trance, up the stairs. Everyone’s unadmitted and even unwanted desires, in other words, have been unlocked.

This appears to be the function of the Cherub in this production. He releases the aspects of the characters’ selves that make them uncomfortable. He literally rides around on the Count’s shoulder at one point, and in general is often to be found pushing or pulling or otherwise influencing the characters. Whenever someone does something that might cause some confusion or trouble (Figaro’s plan in Act II, or Susanna’s “deh, vieni”) the Cherub sometimes stands with his back to the person in question, so that that character is for that moment “wearing” his wings. No one can quite see him – like the touch of the feathers he blows or lets fall, he’s just barely perceptible. (Susanna writes the note in “canzonetta sull’aria” with a feather from one of his wings, and during “deh, vieni” picks up  and toys with a Cherub feather. The feathers seem to communicate how the emotions the Cherub awakens seem to the characters: sometimes just barely perceptible, sometimes blowing in gusts; these are objects that convey a physical sense of being touched by something that might not actually be there at all, and which if it is is certainly not something you want to rely on. And if you try to grab it you might end up with nothing but fuzz. Feathers might actually be a good metaphor for subtext, when you think about it.)

The Cherub appears to have quite an influence on Cherubino in particular. When Cherubino enters in Act II the Cherub draws him into the room, and the Countess stares at him as if he’s the most amazing little thing she’s ever seen in her life. He stares back. He tries to flee to avoid singing his song, but the Cherub stops him. Cherubino sings “voi che sapete” and – well, ladies and gentlemen, this is one magic pageboy. Both the Countess and Susanna rest against the wall, looking dazed. The Countess in particular has an expression on her face that suggests she is, for the moment, in a very, very happy place. The effect is more than ably assisted by the truly lovely sound of Christine Schäfer’s voice – here and elsewhere in this performance she is sheer happiness to listen to. Later, during “venite, inginocchiatevi” Susanna strips Cherubino down to his shorts and t-shirt, but does not dress him up in girl’s clothes. Rather, all three of them take turns stretching out on the count’s fur-lined coat on the floor and everyone feels up Cherubino. And the two women take turns lying down so that Cherubino can touch them. (Cherubino, once he’s gazing down, rapt, at the Countess, clearly knows where he wants to put his hands, but doesn’t quite dare; he settles for a snog instead.) The point is, Cherubino is a particular focus of the Cherub’s attention and seems to communicate it to others as well. In addition to this he is often completely overwhelmed by what is going on around him. At the very end of the opera, when all the couples have been appropriately paired up again, and the Cherub despite all his efforts cannot wrest them apart, which causes him to leave, Cherubino – after a parting caress from the Cherub – collapses onto the floor. Poor little guy.

So, the Cherub is a sort of external expression of everyone’s mixed desires. He’s a figure of disorder and temptation and desire (all those apples!). It’s worth noting that the one person he has no effect on at all is Basilio, who – as his aria in Act IV expresses; this is one of the few productions I’ve ever seen where this aria really seems to do something – has long ago settled on being duplicitous, and as such, is so thoroughly fake that he apparently has none of the sort of self-deception or ambivalence which allows the Cherub an in with the other characters. Whereas Cherubino is the opposite: he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants or what he’s doing half the time – he’s the perfect access point.

(Next section here.)

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (1)

Based on my unscientific sampling of 1. YouTube comments and 2. people I know on the internet, this production tends to elicit strong reactions. Some of us squealed with delight from the very first viewing. Others could only sit there, knees to chest, shivering and rocking back and forth and hugging a tattered program from the Metropolitan Opera for comfort. Still others of us engaged in a certain amount of snide commentary while nevertheless buying the DVD and watching bits of it over and over. I was in the third category. I have been known to squeal and jump up and down in certain opera-related situations, but I didn’t – initially – for this. And I am not a booklet-cuddler under any circumstances.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Staatsoper Berlin 2002 (3)

(Previous section here.)

Röschmann is not the only one emoting in this performance. Werner Güra sings an “un aura amorosa” that is very easy on the ears, and in general gives the impression that Ferrando gets sucked into the game more than his friend does – by Act II Ferrando appears to mean what he’s doing. “Fra gli amplessi” is wonderfully intense (and we get bonus reprise of the gardening shears!). I enjoyed Röschmann here too – Fiordiligi’s “giusto ciel . . .crudel!” (the held high A) was great.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Staatsoper Berlin 2002 (2)

(Previous section here.)

In some productions of Così the two women are costumed to look very similar, almost interchangeable. Here they definitely are not. Physically the women are difficult to mix up – Katharina Kammerloher (Dorabella) is at least six inches taller than Dorothea Röschmann (Fiordiligi), and they’re distinguished by wigs as well. Dorabella’s is blonde, and Fiordiligi’s is black (the wigs belong to the characters – they come off by Act II).

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Staatsoper Berlin 2002 (1) / Anyone who claims to remember this opera wasn’t really there

I guess I should get the obvious point out of the way first: if you have ever wanted to watch Hanno Müller-Brachmann caper around in nothing but a Legolas wig and a pair of tighty-whiteys, this Così is for you. If you have never wanted to watch Mr. Müller-Brachmann caper about so attired – if the thought had never even really occurred to you – if the idea leaves you bored, indifferent, or even vaguely uneasy, rest assured that this production also contains Werner Güra shirtless, a very agitated Dorothea Röschmann armed with gardening shears, and a lot of pot. Are you sold yet?

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Salzburg 2009 (3)

(Previous section here.)

So, the emotions the characters are feeling are real. These people have not turned into automatons. Ferrando (Topi Lehtipuu) really means it about that dirt. And when Ferrando is about to seduce Fiordiligi in “fra gli amplessi” there is a moment where he seems furiously angry and rather threatening – this is revenge and there’s a hint it could get unpleasant.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Salzburg 2009 (2)

(Previous section here.)

So, we’ve got Alfonso as sometimes frustrated manipulator of others. This is standard for this opera, in some ways – but it doesn’t feel so in this version. Perhaps this is because Alfonso is not teaching these silly young things a lesson. Rather, he appears to be manipulating them out of a kind of compulsion. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that part of the vulnerability that is being showcased here is Alfonso’s.

read the rest

Mozart – Così fan tutte / Salzburg 2009 (1)

I watched this dvd for the first time nearly a year ago now, and my initial response was a sustained feeling of irritation. I watched it again this past weekend, and while I was still feeling irritated through a large chunk of Act I, I was coming around by Act II, and by the end, although I wasn’t leaping up and down and shrieking with excitement, I did not feel as if my time had been misspent.

read the rest

Wagner – Der Fliegende Holländer / De Nederlandse Opera 2010 (1)

I think Richard Wagner must have been a difficult man to live with. Have you ever noticed that his solution to most relationship problems is the death of both parties? (Wouldn’t it be fun to have an “Ask Richard Wagner” advice column? People could write in about their personal problems and . . .actually never mind; this would be a terrible idea.)

read the rest

Don Giovanni / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

With a few exceptions, this is not a production that you would buy for musical reasons alone. It’s well executed in terms of the vocal performances. Hunt always gets me with that beautiful, resonant sound — and it’s a sound that she can shrink down to sound gentle and vulnerable in ways that make perfect sense. Dominique Labelle as Donna Anna sounded slight – her voice seemed too small, and sort of lacked punch, although at times, e.g. with “crudele! ah, no mio bene” and the preceding recitative she can make a really bright ringing pretty sound that is like a much smaller version of what Hunt sounds like. (This is the scene where Donna Anna shoots up. I have gotten so used to people getting high in productions of this opera that it has begun to seem normal – and besides, with Anna that bright, fragile, brittle-sounding music itself gives the impression that this young lady is either not taking her meds or self-medicating: heroin kind of makes sense. But anyway.) This production is one of those Regie versions of Mozart where you end up thinking about it more than listening to it. Because there is, of course, the ending to deal with.

read the rest

Don Giovanni / Peter Sellars (2)

(Previous section here.)

Donna Elvira is a tricky character. I have seen versions of her that were slightly more toward the buffa end of the spectrum (here I am recalling Joyce DiDonato packing a shotgun) and also versions that were intended to evoke a reaction more along the lines of “what a strange/haunted-looking woman, and she seems to be very upset about something.” The tricky thing about the character is probably that she’s very much an eighteenth-century type. If you take the story at face value, she’s a woman who on the basis of a promise of marriage did something – sex – that she did not not want to do but would probably not have done under other circumstances. To a modern audience a woman who reacts as Elvira does to this series of events comes off as strange and sheltered and weird and perhaps an object of pity, but not for quite the same reasons that an eighteenth-century audience would have pitied her. Her clinginess and gullibility are a little embarrassing to watch – but this is part of what makes her interesting.

read the rest