When first performed in 1851, Rigoletto was explosive because of its implied criticism of a corrupt king. In pursuit of a comparable political edge, director James Macdonald transfers Verdi’s tragedy from Renaissance Mantua to a fictitious 1960s White House.
In his final decade, the Czech nationalist Janacek, found a new love interest and produced five major operas. The most accessible and refreshing is The Cunning Little Vixen (premiered in 1924), with its comic acceptance – like late Shakespeare – of the redemptive power of love and renewal, and its tragic awareness of the forces of raw nature and of life’s disappointments.
Don Carlo – or Don Carlos – in history was the mentally unstable son of Philip II of Spain whose brief betrothal to the woman his father later married and contacts with Protestant rebels in the Low Countries provided ammunition for the “black legend” propaganda whipped up by the opponents of his father’s rule.
This was the first time I had seen this operetta and the idea of Viennese kitsch did not excite me. Director Max Webster clearly shares my antipathy for schlock. His production is a wonderful reframing of the story from a post #MeToo perspective.
Lucca, Italy, was the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini in 1858 in an apartment that is now a museum to the last and most famous of generations of Puccini maestros, restored to its Second Empire glory, down to a bed, surrounded by columns, that replicates the one in which Puccini was born.
Tolstoy’s great, complex, genre-busting sprawl “War and Peace” is about many things, including Russian nationalism to the extent that when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin reached for the work to promote a patriotic defence of the Motherland.
La Forza del Destino was first performed in 1862. Not satisfied, Verdi carried on revising it for years, adding in 1869 the famous sinfonia overture that announces so many of the work’s overwhelming musical themes.
Tchaikovsky said his aim in creating an opera from Pushkin’s supremely Russian yet universal drama of ill-fated love was to relay “ordinary, simple human feelings” as opposed to lavishly theatrical action.
Hansel and Gretel was originally written by The Brothers’ Grimm in 1912. It is a folk tale, showing how a brother and sister avoid being eaten alive by a witch in the gingerbread house. It is a tale that seems to foreshadow the Third Reich.
Romeo Castellucci at Brussels’ La Monnaie (De Munt in Dutch) opera house takes a real-life sufferer of locked-in syndrome and turns her into the protagonist of Ophee et Eurydice (adapted by Hector Berlioz from Gluck).