BIZET: The Pearl Fishers
Strauss's magnificent opera Elektra is a towering masterpiece, but one that seems to tempt producers and stage directors to feel it must be updated or re-interpreted. For example, the recent Patrice Chereau production featured at the Met this season (and magnificently sung) has a final scene in which Elektra does not dance to death as the composer specified, but instead the stage is filled with members of the ballet corps. A stupid concept unfortunately embraced by Met officials. That seems quite tame compared with this production by the Norrlandsoperan. This company has a history of flamboyant productions and this is no exception. It was produced by La Fura Dels Baus and directed by Carlos Padrissa. I respect this company; they presented a remarkable updated version of Wagner's Ring at Valencia conducted by Zubin Mehta, reviewed on this site. However, this Elektra is a confusing display of characterization. The performance was recorded live at Umestan Företagspark, Umea, Sweden, August 19 and 21, 2014, given in a huge parking lot . One wonders where the audience was—out in the street around the parking lot? There are huge puppets/statues, sometimes with singes on them. Sometimes singers are on moving crane chairs. Because of the darkness of the stage it usually is difficult to see what is going on. Often there are fireworks explosions, and the stage area usually has several raging fires; these are very easy to see, as the stage area is always dark. However, it is lighted enough for us to see cascading waves of blood. There always is a lot of action on the stage, most of which seems meaningless., and a huge supporting cast, many carrying flaming torches. Costumes, designed by Clara Sulla, are equally weird: Klytämnestra wears only a robe over her shoulders, and throughout the opera we see much more of her than anyone would wish to. Elektra appears to have an unending umbilical cord hanging from her back. The performance is second-rate at best, with a cast surely not up to Strauss's demanding score. I am surprised conductor Rumon Gamba, for whom I have the greatest respect, would let himself be involved. Audio is equally disappointing. Only get this ill-advised Elektra as a curiosity.
This 2004 Zürich Opera presentation of Fidelio was released more than a decade ago and mentioned on this site (REVIEW). It is a superb performance in every way, and it is a pleasure to view Kaufmann rather early in his career. Now it has been issued on Blu Rauy, and if you prefer that format here it is.
Bizet was only 25 in 1863 when his opera The Pearl Fishers was premiered in Paris. It had been commissioned because of his winning the Grand Prix di Rome. The opera is set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon, and tells the story of how two fishermen (Zurga and Nadir) who have sworn eternal friendship, challenged by their love for the same woman (Leila),. the exotic virgin priestesse. The friendship duet, "Au fond du temple saint," is one of the best-known duierts, made famous decades ago by the recording with Jussi Bjoerling and Robert Merrill as the two friends. The opera was praised by Berlioz, and received 18 performances. It is a lovely opera although there are no big erxciting scenes. that Now the opera is revived occasional. The Met did so in January 2016. This was the first performance at the Met in a century, and it was a great hit, with an all-star cast: Diane Damrau, Matthew Polenzzani, and Mariusz Kwiecien. The production was by Penny Woolcock, updated with ion with beautiful scenery and visual effects. This new DVD is a production from San Carlo designed by Giorgio Richelli with costumes by Alessandra Torella. The set is quite barren and little effort has been made to suggest an exotic atmosphere. The cast is adequate but little more. Male singers do not impress, particularly tenor Dmitry Korchak The many dance sequences are uneven. Audience reception is limited and it is easy to understand why. Video is excellent, audio OK, but this hardly is a performance to be immortalized on DVD. Doubtless the Met performance will appear on DVD. It is worth waiting for.
R.E.B. (June 2016)