Tag: Sellars

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

But at the same time, the three most important female characters – Susanna (Jeanne Ommerlé), the Countess, and Marcellina (Sue Ellen Kuzma) all sound surprisingly similar. For whatever reason, we’ve got a trio of women who all have silvery, bright-sounding voices. And there isn’t even much contrast between them and Cherubino, sung by Susan Larson, who also has that sort of voice. Often you get a noticeable contrast in timbre of some kind between Susanna and the Countess, but here not so much.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (2)

(Previous section here.)

And the thing is, I think we can. Sellars has placed the action in Manhattan, which is one of those places that is seen as iconically American – but which is also a place where you often see a fairly terrifying contrast of wealth and poverty. The dramatic widget that that this thing is turning on is the assumption some Americans make that we are a country without social classes. If this were true, Le Nozze di Figaro, with its lecherous nobleman and sometimes loyal, sometimes subversive servants, would not make as much sense – and yet it does make sense. The idea that Susanna’s monstrously wealthy employer, knowing that she and Figaro don’t have much money, might try to trade cash for sexual favors? Or the idea that employees have to bow and scrape before their bosses, and even provide presents out of their own earnings? Not so unfamiliar. The comparison doesn’t track exactly, of course. But it tracks enough that the point is made.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (1)

This is Peter Sellars doing a Mozart opera, so as you would expect there is a mixture of the very clever and funny and insightful and also a bit of “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” Sellars has tackled all three of the Da Ponte operas, and of his versions I like Don Giovanni the best and Cosí the least, with this one somewhere in the middle.

se udir brami il resto

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Don Giovanni / Peter Sellars (1)

I suppose the way to begin with this is to note that this is a Peter Sellars version of a Mozart opera. With these, you know going in that shit is probably going to get weird. Whether it’s brilliant weird or annoying weird or weird that takes a couple go-rounds to warm up to — well, this is always the question with Sellars, isn’t it?

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Handel – Giulio Cesare / Gall, Larson, Hunt et al. 1990 (4)

What I said about Giulio Cesare earlier this week has been bothering me because I am not sure that I said it quite right. Also, I was thinking about the differences between the Sellars version of that opera that I recently watched and this one from Glyndebourne in 2005, which is musically excellent and immensely entertaining. These are two quite different productions. The Glyndebourne one is campy and funny and takes the story at its face value. The Sellars one — well, it’s not that it doesn’t take the story at face value, but the goal of the production seems to be to force the story to show itself in the worst possible light. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach in the abstract, of course, but it’s a lot less fun to watch.

So, very different goals with the opera. But there are aspects of these two productions which are strikingly similar.

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Handel – Giulio Cesare / Gall, Larson, Hunt et al. 1990 (3)

(Previous section here.)

The most moving performance in this opera comes from Lorraine Hunt as Sesto. While Cleopatra is having terrific fun with pool toys, bags of money and the President, and Cesare is spending much of his time either gladhanding or scampering about and looking like kind of a doofus (those blue track pants he’s got on during ‘v’adoro, pupille’ are — well, let us just say that he is not doing his country proud, sartorially), while all this is going on Sesto is having a bit of a personal crisis. Which is perfectly understandable given that he has just seen his father’s head brought in in a box.

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Handel – Giulio Cesare / Gall, Larson, Hunt et al. 1990 (2)

(part one here.)

So, Cleopatra is performing. This is romance ‘staged’ in a very obvious way. It’s hard to miss in ‘v’adoro, pupille.’ It’s rubbed in our faces again in the final scene, where Cesare and Cleopatra emerge in matching red and blue striped bathrobes and a blinding amount of gold jewelry. (I particularly enjoyed Cesar’s line here about the beauty of Cleopatra’s hair while he fingers her very late-80s rat-tail.) But rat-tails and glitter aside, why tell the story in this way?

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Handel – Giulio Cesare / Gall, Larson, Hunt et al. 1990 (1)

This is not DVD of a production of Giulio Cesare. This is a DVD that is a production of Giulio Cesare. There is a difference.

But I should begin at the beginning. The action of the opera takes place not in the Egypt of the first century BC, but rather in the slightly tacky courtyard of a slightly tacky hotel in the Egypt of the twentieth century. The DVD case claims that it is some unspecified time in the future, but it looks like the 1980s to me. Later, we move to the beach, complete with oil drums. There is a great deal of lawn furniture lying about, as well as numerous garden implements, at least one rubber snake and some pool toys. Cesare (Jeffrey Gall) is the president of the United States and he arrives with the secret service (led by Curio) and accompanied by Sesto (Lorraine Hunt) and Cornelia (Mary Westbrook-Geha).

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Theodora / Glyndebourne 1996 / Daniels, Upshaw, Hunt et al. (3)

[previous section here]

As I was watching this I often found myself wavering between watching closely so that I could follow the visual aspects of this production, with its often strikingly beautiful stage direction, and closing my eyes so that I could follow the music alone. Probably a sign that I should buy the DVD and watch it over again. But this is a phenomenal performance.

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Theodora / Glyndebourne 1996 / Daniels, Upshaw, Hunt et al. (1)

The thing I like about Regietheater is that in the most abstract sense it’s about using one thing to talk about another. I mean, all theater does this on some level. It’s metaphors all the way down. But with more abstract and intellectually risky stagings there is a greater distance between what you literally see on the stage and what the thing is about. And what happens in the space between those two things is the draw. That space can contain a great deal.

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