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Rejoice! The pioneering spirit returns to London

Director Peter Sellars returns with two contrasting staged productions, continuing and expanding on previous Barbican and LSO collaborations: a performance of Lassus’s a cappella Renaissance masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro (Barbican classical music season 2018/19)

YAY! This is our chance to see a very ye olde worke transposed in So-Cal cca 2018 meets 1988 fashion. I was starting to get widthdrawals.

More coherent thoughts on Sellars’ and Currentzis’ Salzburg Tito

Spending a couple of hours on a flight with an impressive number of rambunctious children under 10 offers a good opportunity to sit through this unnecessary bloated production. At several moments I wanted to skip the extraneous music but faced with the joy of the child next to me playing with the tray I went back to Sellars et all 😉

Well, hohum. Quite the letdown. It’s got enough visual chutzpah to give an initial impression of thought out but there doesn’t seem to be any coherence at all due to the lack of strong relationships. The drama is pushed back behind the chutzpah and the endless choir action. I would under no circumstances show this to a Tito novice. But I think Tito veterans should see it for many reasons, none of which, sadly, have to do with the story of Tito – except in the general Tito context. It’s unusual but it’s not illuminating, unless you really wanted to know more about the MusicAeterna choir.

Let me start with what I liked:

  • whatever is going on during the overture. It’s enegetic and interesting, it hits you and it feels refreshing that you don’t quite know what’s going on.
  • I liked the idea behind the choreography on Non piu di fiori. The development was thin.
  • Servilia and Sesto have a lovely sisterly relationship the likes of which you’ve never seen in a Tito production.
  • the black/white/ethnic thing. It’s unusual (though not for Sellars) and it says something. An interesting conversation could be had regarding what exactly it does say. I am not entirely sure.

What I didn’t get:

  • the development was thin in general. I never got the important relationships, aside from Annio and Servilia, who look like a real couple and the nice revelation of Servilia and Sesto.
  • who is Sesto, really? What is his motivation, really? It’s never explained and you need that – there can’t be Tito without it laid out clearly. If any of you get it, please enlighten me. I am stumped. She looks like a student who hangs out with people of a radical bent, though the same people seem to really like Tito. She doesn’t look like a proper fanatic, especially when she starts feeling really remorseful. Again, if you saw something I didn’t, please argue your point. I would love to see more meaning that I could so far.
  • Vitellia! She reminds me of the one we know but, again, her relationship with Tito and, especially, Sesto, is unclear to me. The upshot is I loved Schultz’s musically. She needs a proper Tito production, I hope she gets to sing in one somewhere we (I) can see.
  • Tito dying lessens the drama and the message. In fact
  • the lack of proper relationships dilutes the message to the point where it’s hard to care about what is going on.
  • The MusicAeterna choir and their neverending closeups: yea, they’re good but I don’t see why Tito has to be used as a vehicle to push their agenda to the point where it’s more MusicAeterna choir than Tito.

I am still undecided on Currentzis yet. Some good stuff, some overdone, meddlesome. Whover advocated the extra music needs to be spanked with a wooden paddle (unless they particularly like it).

Grand Tito again at Salzburg 2017?

Just a few months ago I was predicting the future Tito would be seen in a smaller, cosier space. Wrong! The new production of Tito returns to Felsenreitschule with a cast that doesn’t look Mozart-based. I am somewhat puzzled/surprised rather than miffed I was wrong – or ahead of times (as I like to think).

Currentzis, obviously looking to make his way through the entire Mozart catalog, brings his musicAesterna choir and orchestra crew to support the following:

Tito: Russell Thomas (this could be interesting)
Vitellia: Golda Schultz
Sesto: Marianne Crebassa (should we expect cape tossing? I’m all for that)
Annio: Jeanine de Bique (a soprano Annio)
Servilia: Christina Gansch
Publio: Willard White (really? Isn’t he a bit too estalished for Publio? Good for us!)

You will notice that everyone save for Sesto and Servilia is black. That in itself can take Tito in a different direction than usual. So probably no cape tossing.

2017: Tito year

After a couple of years of relative absence, Tito will receive two new major productions in 2017 – Glyndebourne and Salzburg. This new Salzburg production will be directed by Peter Sellars. Judging by Sellars’ recent focus, I’m guessing it’ll be all about Vitellia’s feminist plight and the patriarchal hypocrisy of Tito. Curentzis sinks his teeth into another Mozart opera. I’m not sure what I think about that.

Well, what can I say? I can’t afford Salzburg but I’m curious how this new incarnation will work and how those who will star will fare.

thanks again to giulia for tipping me off 🙂

The Gospel according to the other Mary (ENO, 27-11-14)

I went on a whim. If nothing else: Mary: mezzo; Martha: contralto. But I ended up enjoying it a lot even beyond these parameters. It’s not the most riveting score. But it’s never unpleasant. Sometimes (especially in the “supernatural” scenes) it gets engrossingly atmospheric. The music, the libretto and the visuals (choreography included) combine to make it more than the sum of its parts, reason for which I will give you the entire team:

Mary Magdalene: Patricia Bardon
Martha: Meredith Arwady
Lazarus: Russell Thomas
Counter-tenors: Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley
Dancers: Banks and Stephanie Berge
Conductor: Joana Carneiro
Director/librettist: Peter Sellars
Set Designer: George Tsypin
Costume Designer: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Designer: James F. Ingalls
Sound Designer: Mark Grey

The libretto tells of Jesus’ last days and subsequent resurrection, from the point of view of Mary Magdalene and Martha (and their friend Lazarus). It’s not a straight-up “gospel”, it sometimes inserts things that have happened nowadays that more or less mirror the biblical story or just draws parallels, as when we’re told that Martha is running a homeless shelter. It works, unless you’re bothered by breaks in the narrative or switches of angle. I thought it all tied in together very well.

The stage setting is symbolic for a very stylised story. There are a couple of very large cardboard boxes that suggest both poverty and cubicles of eternal rest. The primary stage looks like dunes. The main space is surrounded by a chicken wire fence with open gates, which I took to suggest our worldly existence. I found it very interesting if initially confusing that Mary and Jesus (and possibly God) had doubles (dancers – who were ace) who sometimes took on a life of their own but were generally supportive of their characters. By supportive I mean they behaved like the “liberated” side of the character.

I was so impressed with the choreography I often turned away from the surtitles just so I could focus entirely on that. It’s the kind of show where everything converges to tell the story, so there was a lot to express through body movement (the actual resurrection scene and Jesus’s walking away at the very end were especially great). It gave me a lot of ideas of what can be done with seemingly static libretti if one really has an imagination. It’s by no means a busy staging but extremely effective. Wonderful, really.

It’s in English (with some Spanish and Latin for the chorus) but when the chorus was at it I still had to follow the surtitles. Thankfully the singers projected very well, because the text – as everything else – is important and there is quite a lot of it. It’s also a very intense piece – duh! – so the singers (especially Bardon) had an awful lot of acting to do. Arwady’s Martha is an action woman, she’s always getting things done, furthering the plot. As such she doesn’t need and doesn’t have a double. Mary is presented as very introverted, a female counterpart of Jesus, taking on humanity’s pain in a more private manner (at home, not in the street). By contrast, her double is very gentle and full of life. I think Bardon did really well, it’s a bitch having to do introverted and avoid coming off absent. Lazarus was a figure of hope and Thomas infused him with a lot of vitality (good resurrection skills, Jesus!) – also, lovely tenor voice.

Vocals went hand in hand with the acting, occasionally quite moving. I wasn’t crazy about the choir parts, they seemed sort of shouty-monotonous1 where I think it was meant to be akin to a Greek chorus. Maybe Greek choruses were shouty. Generally speaking, whilst I thought the introversion and the supernatural came off well to very well musically as well as dramatically, the straight-on “daylight” parts were not as successful, rather pedestrian.

Although somewhat of a mixed bag, it’s well worth seeing, especially for the excellent staging and the very committed singers and dancers. The good bits will stay with you. There are three more performances.

Audience and gallery. Contemporary operas seem to attract the “hip” crowd, regardless of age (although I think the median age itself was lower than usual). Luckily (?) it was far from sold out, so I had the chance to upgrade to the center gallery from my side seat, with nobody on each side (not everybody was bold enough to upgrade…). It’s a good thing, because the gallery seats (at least) are made for a breed of tall and skinny folk evolved from the praying mantis. I’m not tall but I’m definitely skinny and still there was not enough seat for my bum no matter how I turned…

  1. Aside from the Spanish part in the trailer, that was one of the best things, musically, in the whole opera. It goes on for quite a while in that mesmerising manner. I even thought I could listen to a two hour extended version of that.