It takes a lot to keep me inside on a bright sunny day like today. In this case I was spending some time looking through my latest musical aquisition - M22 - a complete DVD set of all 22 of Mozart's operas, performed live in Salzburg in 2006 to mark the 250th anniversary of the prodigy's birth. Most of the productions feature the Vienna Philharmonic along with the Vienna State Opera so I was interested to see and hear.
I came late into opera. Truth be told, I didn't spend much time listening to it in university. I just found it hard to get in to. I knew some of the plots and was familiar with the more well-known overtures but other than that the world of opera was undiscovered territory for me.
I checked out Don Giovanni since I was interested in comparing it to the live version I saw in Prague last summer. The music was fantastic of course. The production itself was quite untraditional. Rather than set the actors in the expected costumes of Mozart's day, they were all decked out in modern 21st century chic which I found a bit odd. The setting involved a giant white structure of interlocking circles. I thought this was pretty sterile and rather distracting. The daughter's of the underworld were replaced with some rather scantily clad (and in some case very scantily-clad ) underwear models, if you know what if mean. Honest Mom, I did close my little eyes.
Compared to the staging of Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro was a little less avant-garde, which suited me just fine. Over the years I think I've seen large pieces of this opera and most if not all the arias so it was nice to finally see the entire production from start to finish. Susanna rather than Figaro (the same actor who performed Leporello in Don Giovanni by the way) really stole the show for me. The only new twist was the addition of a cherub-like figure not in the original who functioned to personify the ideas of fury and eroticism that run through the opera. I thought this was an interesting modern twist. Perhaps Mozart himself would have liked it, though I did find some of the cherub's on-stage antics distracting from the main action at certain times. The Vienna Philharmonic was under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, one of my favourite classical period conductors and a definite bonus in my mind. At any rate, I'll give this performance 4 opera-glasses out of five.
The other opera which I've managed to finish off this afternoon was The Magic Flute (ah, Die Zauberflote! Try saying that 5 times fast.) Zauberflote is known as a singspiel-type opera which basically means there is spoken word involved in addition to all the screaming and shouting. I've always had a soft-spot for this work. The overture alone is one of my favorite Mozart pieces and there are 3 or 4 arias that also rank among my favorites, including "Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (Hell's vengeance boils in my heart), likely the most difficult piece in all of opera. The set had a circus-like feel and came across as a bit garrish at times, but it still worked for me. At its heart, Zauberflote is a story of love and adventure, a great piece of escapism.
I'm looking forward to taking a look at some of Mozart's earlier and more obscure operas. For the most part these are rarely, if ever performed. A few were written while he was still a teenager and his first true opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, was written at the tender age of eleven. Ah, can't wait to dive in and see what new gems I can find!
I suppose opera isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for me, its all about love, revenge, magic and adventure - and it works for me!
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