Went to English National Opera on Friday night to take in the first new production of the season - Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci. I have been in love with the score from both of these one actors for quite some time and have seen several productions - including Franco Zeferelli's massive cast of what looked like a thousand production at the Metropolitan Opera. Also when I was at English Touring Opera we did a really intimate production of Pagliacci with a band of five that really conveyed the lyrical quality of the score accompanied with some beautiful Neapolitan songs. This new production is directed by Richard Jones who I am a big fan of - especially his production of The Trojans at ENO which recast the fall of Troy into the American idiom of the fall of Kennedy's Camelot and his chilling production of Hansel and Gretel. I am very excited that he will be coming to Glyndebourne again (with the imaginative designer Ultz) next summer with a new production of Falstaff.
Cavelleria is a good old fashioned revenge story set in Sicily (you might remember it was used by Coppola in Godfather Part 3 as the backdrop for all the revenge that went on at the end of the story as scores was finally settled - who could forget the poisoned pastries!). The story takes place on Easter morning and Jones sets it in a Sicilian social club - a box set with a small kitchen for teas and coffees. This box gives the production a claustrophobic feel and you do not get to the see the usual large church on the hill that the Easter morning village go towards in the glorious chorus praising the resurrection. Cav (as it is know with its partner Pag) is a true verismo opera - a movement that became popular with composers like Cav's Mascagni and in Puccini operas like Tosca - which attempts to give a slice of life with very little background to the story (no long Verdian or Wagnerian narratives of what has happened before as we hear in the later parts of the Ring and in Trovatore). The lead roles were song beautifully by Jane Dutton (Santuzza), Peter Auty (Turiddu) and Roland Wood was an excellent Onegin and Don Giovanni in past English Touring Opera productions blew me away as Alfio. ETO has two great new productions coming up this autumn - La Tragedie de Carmen and Rusalka and its worth a visit to the site to see some really good previews of both productions that will tour the UK starting in October.
Note: interesting parallels between Santuzza and another opera heroine set during Easter time Wagner's Kundry (sacrifice, redemption - note to self to research).
The second half of the evening was the reverse side of the coin -- Jones' Pagliacci recast this story which is said to have been based on a true story of an actor killing his cheating wife and lover on the stage during a performance - to the 1950's with a travelling troop of actors putting on a cheesy bedroom romp called "Ding Dong" - this is a production to be seen and I will not give too many of the staging away - it packs quite a punch with beautiful singing by Mary Plazas as Nelly and Geriant Dodd as the Kenny the head of the troop who sings the famous aria Vesti La Giubba (you know, Riddi Pagliacci!) in a dank regional theatre dressing room as he struggles to go on the stage after finding out his wife is having an affair. The star of both these productions in the ENO orchestra and chorus under the baton of Edward Gardener - who gets an incredibly powerful and poignant sound from them. A must see!!!! And I am looking forward to the new production of Handel's Partenope next week.
On the Tolkien front - I was very please to see in a London bookstore yesterday the new edition of Tales from the Perilous Realm with illustrations by Alan Lee - five stories (Roverandom, Farmer Giles, Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wooten Major and Leaf by Niggle) that I look forward to revisiting. Also, I have Tolkien Studies Vol 5 on the way.......so many books so little time.
Its been one month for me at Glyndebourne Opera - a truly amazing and innovative mecca in the rolling hills of the Sussex downs where we are in the process of launching the 2008 Glyndebourne On Screen programme - which will bring three Glyndebourne operas to cinemas in the UK, US and Japan in 5.1 high definition and surround sound - Hansel and Gretel, Giulio Cesare (with the excellent Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra) and Cenerentola coming to a cinema near you!!!
And for Richard Strauss lovers - I just sat through one earth shaking listening session of the glorious Renee Fleming's new recording of Strauss' Four Last Songs and other works - this is one for the IPOD and good to have more Strauss from Renee - she was born to sing his works!!!
Basta for now!!