Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Salzburg 2015 - A Terrific "Nozze" and "Fidelio" (At least it sounded like "Fidelio")

Within the last couple weeks two operas were streamed live from the Salzburg Festival and I got a chance to watch both, though the 2nd one I had to delay slightly.  The first was an absolutely terrific performance and production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”  I loved the production and I loved the cast.  It was a wonderful performance in every way.  For me the stand out was Anett Fritsch as the Countess.  Hers was perhaps the most beautiful portrayals of this character I have seen since I saw Rene Fleming sing this role in the early 90’s.  But she wasn’t alone the rest of the cast were all her equals and the result was a wonderful afternoon at the opera in my living room!

I missed the live broadcast of “Fidelio” and as a result have gotten to read others reactions and reviews as well as observe a spirited discussion on this production.  Here are two excellent reviews:
A Video review from Rowna Sutin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMOSZ9ATL_8

For the most part, now that I have watched it, I can say that I agree with Rowna and Naomi for the most part.  I have some additional observations though.
So what was this all about anyway?  Act 1 would have been impossible to follow if you didn’t already know the plot and even if you did, it was still hard to follow.  I did not read the director’s notes in the program since I wasn’t in the house, but I gather that he was trying to make some kind of a metaphysical statement about how we are all imprisoned – or how each of those characters is a dimension of our own psyche – or how we project – or how we are shadows… or ????  Frankly, I didn’t think this really worked.
The shadow characters?  I will call them projections since every one had a shadow on this stage, even these characters.  This didn’t work for me either.  
The best part for me was from the beginning of act 2 through the Leonore #3 overture.  This was the closest the entire production came to actually following the plot and you could actually follow it, mostly.  Musically I thought this was the strongest part of the performance also...
 Concluding with an absolutely terrific performance of Leonore #3.  Naomi complained that it was an interruption and I don’t disagree.  But exactly what did it interrupt?  I wasn’t really following it anyway.
However, the video director should be fired.  What idiot came up with the idea of using the Leonore #3 performance as background music for us to watch the stage crew change the set.  That was a TERRIBLE idea.  It totally distracted from perhaps the musical highlight of the entire opera for me.
I do not agree with other reviews that it was musically impeccable.  It was certainly outstanding – but it was uneven.  We had bloops in the horns at a crucial moment and some odd tempi, especially the Prisoner’s Chorus which was ruined for me because the tempo was so darn fast.
 I was amazed when Jonas Kaufmann began to sing “Gott….”  It was a powerfully moving performance of one note!  And then we get to the fast section and the tempo is probably the slowest I have ever heard, which would have killed a lesser tenor.  But Kaufmann was glorious!  So no complaints about that tempo.  His performance was a tour de force – amazing and powerful.  He turned in the best performance of the opera IMHO. 
Also, bravo to the conductor for balancing the duet that follows so that the contra-bassoon was front and center.  I love to hear the contra in that part.  It is way cool and very clever orchestration.  Beethoven rarely used the contra in such an audible way. 
 In general the winds were really outstanding – especially the principal flute!
I like Norbert Ernst.  Here he played the rather forgettable role of Jacquino but did so with his usual grace and beauty of sound.  He is a fine singer and actor – though I couldn’t figure out who in the world he was suppose to be.
The rest of the cast was fine.  The Marzelline/Jacquino stuff got totally lost in this production. 
Now about the lack of dialog – the best part of that was that it shortened this production (sorry).  I thought it made no sense.  Act 1 was impossible to follow, act 2 was better, but the last scene was, well, what was it anyway?  The chorus all backstage lessened the power and everyone else just wandered around.

 In conclusion I’ll just say, I did not really enjoy this production of this opera.  I do love Fidelio and certainly parts of it were tremendous, but I found the over-psychologizing of the opera to be meaningless and silly.  It is a much more powerful statement about liberty and freedom when you can actually understand the plot.  Naomi lays out some of the background at the beginning of her review and she has it all exactly right.  But this director didn’t seem to care about any of that.  Except maybe he is trying to be as bold as Beethoven, if so, he has a ways to go.  Comprehension would be a goal he might want to work on.