On Friday I went to the Theater an der Wien’s final offering of the season and wondered at what is up with Roland Geyer, thinking he can cast this opera:
Within twenty years of the opera’s composition Sir Walter Scott’s Highland epics had spawned a further two dozen operatic spin-offs, but far from venturing onto psychodramatic territory as Donizetti did in Lucia di Lammermoor, Rossini only seldom permits the emotional immediacy of an unadorned vocal line. The ensemble numbers yield only fleeting moments of self-contemplation for the characters to examine their actions and it is mostly in the orchestration, continued in the vein of Rossini’s Otello and a world removed in many places from the customary sunshine and verve of his comedies, that a genuinely dramatic urgency is to be heard. Ultimately Rossini’s cautious classical instincts prove dramatically fatal as there is not enough thematic material to go around the cast and characters are often found expressing violently conflicting sentiments to the same recurring musical strains.
While the score may well be more sympathetically appreciated as a vehicle for a first-rate bel canto cast, there can be no talking in relative terms of the level required; Rossini’s ruthlessly difficult vocal writing spares no mercies and demands luxury casting for each of the four big roles. The cast fielded for this production all tried valiantly but, with one exception, came repeatedly unstuck.
For more, see Bachtrack. One generous thing I could have said about Malena Ernman’s Elena was that her acting really sold the perky kookiness Christof Loy
created for the role based on Joyce DiDonato’s stock character. By the same token I didn’t touch upon her erratic volume and
poor breathing technique for fear of piling on, but there were those things, impossible
to ignore, as well. Quite unusually for the Theater an der Wien this
performance was booed pretty much the entire way through and there were some interval
theatrics in the foyer with one aggrieved gentleman delivering his finger-pointing
judgement on the singers for us all to hear (and that before the disastrous Act
II trio). In all likelihood Staatsoper loyalists starved by the Sommerpause who
have temporarily migrated to a house they view as Vienna’s operatic upstart;
curiously these people never behave like loggionisti when there’s cause to am
I was in two minds about the staging, co-produced with Geneva (where it played in 2010 with DiDonato as the lead): the drama is, admittedly, thin and the humour Loy brings to it thankfully more British than German. But there’s little more to the Konzept than a series of unrelated situational sketches, and the plot turns he can’t contrive a solution for are lazily consigned to an upstage theatre within a theatre. For more photos follow the jump.
Image credit: Monika Rittershaus