Monday 2 July 2007

Gleanings from this Month's opera magazine (I)

Some jottings from the July edition of Opera Magazine

The opening editorial is about age-ism and the editor quotes Yvonne Kenny who said in an interview with the magazine in 1992 that Fiordiligi is so gruelling a sing that it takes a 40-ish soprano to illuminate it. The editor then speculates about a director bringing us a mid-life crisis version of Cosi !

The interview this month is with the young Scottish director, Paul Curran. Young being a relative term, he's 42. It is curious how some people seem to have lives that are intertwined even though they don't meet, and the intertwinings are ultimately rather meaningless.. As a young man Curran had a number of key experiences of theatre at the Citizens in the late 70's when I was in Scotland and went there as well. He saw the 1980 Wozzeck at Scottish Opera, as did I. Later in London he saw Christa Ludwig as Klytemnestra, as did I. He studied at the London Studio Centre, where a friend of mine works. And he went on to dance with Scottish Ballet, I troupe that I enjoyed immensely.

More importantly, the interview sheds light on Curran's formative experiences. At the age of 16 he fell in love with a (male) dancer and was thrown out by his parents. This is the sort of important detail which is glossed over in such interviews and it is all to Curran, and Opera Magazine's credit that they include such important details.

Curran was in London in the 1980's when ENO was run by Lord Harewood. He makes the important point that Harewood had a mix of styles. David Alden and David Pountney, as well as John Cox, Joh Dexter, John Copley and some 1960's productions. It was this balance that was lost when the PowerHouse took over. 'I don't want every show I do to have the same look, because not every story can be told the same way. Harewood's ENO nurtured that philosophy'. Later on he quotes David Pountney's interesting dictum about 'the danger, when you take something out of its era, of creating more of a monster than a meaningful interpretation'. Hmm, how many recent productions could I apply that to!!

There is a feature article on Montemezzi's opera, L'amore dei tre re, described in a 1947 history of opera as 'the greatest tragic opera since Verdi's Otello'. Oh yes? The leading lady was a favourite role of Mary Garden's, in fact it was one of the few roles she did in Italian (she even did Tosca in French).

Another interview, this time with Francis Egerton who has been on my operatic radar since I started seeing operas at Covent Garden. He has been singing there since 1972. We saw one of his last appearances, in La Fanciulla del West.

Hugh Canning's review of Winton Dean's 2nd volume on Handel's Opera is really hardly a review at all. After all, the book is so masterly that much is beyond criticism. Still, Dean does manage to include quite a lot of comment about contemporary opera production and Canning manages to have an interesting dialogue with that.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du Regiment has landed in Vienna. Still with Florez and Dessay but with Monsterrat Caballe as the Duchess; now that I would like to have seen. Over in Buenos Aires, the Colon mounted a production of Wozzeck entirely with a Latin cast, no small feat; it is amazing how many performances of German operas you read about in Latin or Latin American countries only to find the cast has been body shopped from Germany. More power to the Colon's elbow, so to speak.

A new opera in Brussels, Benoit Mernier's opera based on Spring Awakening. It sounds a remarkable show but I don't suppose we'll get to see it any time soon. Also in Brussels, but soon to come to Covent Garden (and Madrid and San Francisco and Lyons) is Robert LePage's 1950's Hollywood setting for Rakes Progress. It sounds fascinating and beautifully done, but you wonder why. And of course, Pountney's dictum starts to spring to mind.

I had not realised that the 1881 revised version of Simon Boccanegra started Tamagno (the first Otello) as Gabriele Adorno. Given Tamagno's huge voice, this puts a remarkably slant on the balance of the revised piece. The comment about it in opera was made in the context of a lyric tenor singing the role.

In Berlin Iphigenie en Tauride cropped up. The producer Barrie Kosky evidently said in interview that the opera's real love interest was between Oreste and Pylade, which seems to me to be a very interesting point. The reviewer, Carlos Maria Solare, simply comments 'Mercifully the ... point wasn't unduly harped on'. Well? And why not please?

Another travelling show is the Villazon/Netrebko Manon, it sounds interesting enough but I gather that much material not involving the leading couple has been cut. Surely not a good basis for a musical edition for a production.

In Trieste they did a production of La Sonnambula borrowed from Verona. How on earth do you fit a production designed for the arena into an ordinary theatre?

John Allison reviews the première of Jonathan Harvey's new opera, Wagner Dream, premièred in Luxembourg. The libretto, in English, is by Jean-Claude Carriere and though the philosophy sounds distinguished, his English writing does not. Great shame. Seems like there are just too many 'Pass the Mustard' type moments. Always a difficult one in librettos. Also, some of the big parts are spoken. So I'll have to reserve judgement until I hear it, if I ever do.

Over in New York, the Met. has revived Giulio Cesare with David Daniels and Ruth Ann Swenson in John Copley's production which was new, for ENO, in 1979; it first appeared in New York in 1988. Now that is longevity. Their latest production, Puccini's Il Trittico is billed as 'the largest production in the company's history' - now is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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