WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde
SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
A production of Otello at the prestigious Salzburg Festival should be something very special, but in this one taped in 2008 disappoints. Stephen Langridge's staging is unimaginative. Set designs by George Souglides are not convincing, focusing on a short huge glass platform stage left on which singers sometimes stand. Scenery is projected on a back screen, and the chorus often is in bleachers on either side of the screen. Most tenors don't attempt to sing Otello until they are well into their careers; for some odd reason, young Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko (b. 1975) was chosen for this Salzburg production. He is over-taxed by this demanding role, the youngest-looking Otello on DVD, and that is not a positive statement. In the final scene, thanks to the staging, Desdemona's last kiss is given by Otello when he is on the floor ten feet away from her. None of the singing is exceptional. The stars here are Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic, although I was surprised by the rather tame opening scene—the fireworks and tension in the famous Toscanini 1947 recording have yet to be matched by any conductor, but Muti would seem a likely candidate. Video quality is remarkably vivid, but director Peter Schönhofer offers endless super close-ups of featured singers. A qualified orthodontist could give you detailed dental history of the singers subjected to this super scrutiny. There is a dubious "bonus" featuring comments by producers and singers; Riccardo Muti is not included—he probably wished he was elsewhere, particularly when he looks back to 2001 when his La Scala performance with Plácido Domingo was filmed, or his 1980 recording with Carlo Cossutta. There are superb Otellos on DVD featuring Mario Del Monado, Jon Vickers and Plácido Domingo—check the DVD Video Index on this site.
Christoph Marthaler's production of Tristan and Isolde is an insult to the world of opera. Anna Viebrock is responsible for stage design and costumes. There was "considerable booing" when this production was first presented in Bayreuth in 2005, stated in the DVD booklet, but they say that now the production is "enthusiastically received." Impossible to believe this abomination was presented in Wagner's home theater. However, it seems such is the state of affairs in Bayreuth, particularly now that Wolfgang Wagner recently died at the age of 90, and presumably his daughters will now have even more control on artistic matters. This Tristan takes place inside a crumbling ship, and sinks even lower as it progresses. Isolde and Brangane's Act I scene is played out among lawn chairs, when Act II begins, as we hear Wagner's remarkable music, we watch Isolde and Brangane in modern dress acting coy and pointing a finger every now and then, and when Tristan appears he is wearing a blue suit. The opera ends in the ship's infirmary, as Isolde sings her Liebestod and than lies down on a bed and pulls a sheet over herself. Wagner must be doing cartwheels in his grave. Singers are unexceptional; the orchestra is the only star of this production. Video, as happens so much nowadays, all too often focuses on faces—do we really want to see the singers that closeup? This production is an abomination, far removed from the imaginative Valencia modern version of The Ring reviewed on this site (REVIEW). A dubious "bonus" contains interviews with producers and singers including Kansas-born Robert Dean Smith who has sing Tristan in this production for four seasons. Also included are curtain calls for the entire cast as they walk on the stage of a huge outdoor screen area where a large audience was able to watch the production. The tepid reception is well-deserved.
Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtszensk is well represented on DVD, and several fine versions are mentioned on this site (REVIEW).This new version directed by Lev Dodin with sets and costumes by David Borovsky is at the bottom of the list. The cast is unexceptional, Charbonnet a decidedly unattractive Katerina physically (mercilessly seen in close-ups) with an out of control voice. The famous rape scene is quite simple: while Shostakovich's suggestive music is playing, all we see is a swinging lamp over a partition behind which it occurs. Excellent video and fine surround audio are the only pluses in this release. There is no "bonus" to attempt to explain this production. Avoid at all costs.
R.E.B. (April 2010)