Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

High opera, high concept

I never complain about modern dress versions of classic plays or operas, since they’re at least a chance to hold up an old masterpiece in a new light. Occasionally a more substantial remix adds some important insights. Very rarely the new concept takes on a life of its own and provides a satisfying theatrical experience in its own right. It happened for me with Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film of Richard III, set in an alternative fascist England. And it’s happened again with this production, in which Director Dmitri Tcherniakov has virtually re-written the story that underlies Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tsar’s Bride. The court of Ivan the Terrible is now a modern television studio, and the Czar has been replaced by a virtual character seen on big screens, put together with motion capture and green screen. You no longer need to know what a boyar is to appreciate the story, and the board room and television studio have replaced the court. But this isn’t just about changing externals to make things more ‘relevant’ to today’s audience. The new dynamics of multi-nationals and media moguls are so close to the old ones of nations and monarchs. It’s an arresting story in either case, with basic love/hate/jealousy geometry turned up to an operatic white-heat. The affairs of state and corporations, of media empires and real empires, matter less than the passions of individuals. Those passions are expressed in beautiful arias of longing, innocent love, betrayal and regret. In either reality, the music of Rimsky-Korsakov provides an enduring soundtrack that’s always of interest whatever happens in the foreground. Nothing in the concept is especially subtle, but there are beautiful moments in the acting of the principals, sensitive movements of the camera to expose hidden emotions, and gorgeous singing and playing all around. Daniel Barenboim ensures the highest musical standards, and the beauties of the opera come to the fore.

The DVD trailer shows off the concept well:

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