Sunday 24 July 2022

Donizetti - Viva la Diva (Buxton, 2022)

Gaetano Donizetti - Viva la Diva

Buxton International Festival, 2022

Iwan Davies, Stephen Medcalf, George Humphreys, Jenny Stafford, Richard Burkhard, Elliot Carlton Hines, Raimundas Juzuitis, Joseph Doody, Olivia Carrell, Quentin Hayes, Lauren Young

Buxton Opera House - 18th July 2022

Buxton is known for reviving rare and little-known operas in their annual festival, but there is also always a tremendous variety to the musical offerings. This year was no exception. There was a rare Rossini, a new contemporary opera by Tom Coult, a Sondheim musical Gypsy, Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, a baroque opera in Johann Hasse's Antonio e Cleopatra and a comic opera by Donizetti that, for me at least, is known only by reputation. Another thing Buxton do well is farce, whether it's Mozart (La Finta Giardiniera) or Britten (Albert Herring), they recognise that humour is an essential part of opera, that there are times when it shouldn't be taken so seriously, but at the same time, comedy has a way of revealing truths that may be difficult to broach in any other way. 

How else for example, can you look upon the complicated business writing an opera to satirise the process of putting on an opera? That's what Viva la Diva (alternatively known as Viva la Mamma, based on Donizetti's Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali) is all about, and typically Buxton - recognising that they aren't exactly Glyndebourne, Salzburg or one of the very important opera festivals - do it very much their own inimitable and self-effacing way (while also making fun of Glyndebourne and Salzburg). The temptation of what you can do with an opera about the problems that can arise trying to put on an opera are too much to resist and the BIF go out of their way to make it feel 'at home', recognisable not just to the opera world trapped in its own little hermetic bubble, but as something that exists very much in the world of culture and arts funding, business dealing and political favours.

Not only does director Stephen Medcalf not resist but he takes it much further, and before we even get to the rehearsal room in Act I there are an extra highly entertaining 20 minutes of a prologue added to cover the auditions for a production of the opera seria Romolo ed Ersilia for the 2022 High Peak Opera Festival. Donizetti's original work, adapted from plays by Simeone Antonio Sografi on the theatrical world, are consequently greatly reworked in a new English version by Kit Hesketh-Harvey. This brings it right up to date and introduces several more levels of humour to the proceedings, where even the person doing the surtitles has a few observations of his own to impart about his role in the whole process of putting on an opera. It's a very clever idea that introduces the characters and warms the audience up for what will follow.

It's a wonderfully witty colloquial and contemporary translation/resetting/rewriting of the opera, right down to renaming the characters, including Vanamaka Zonnendanz as a Czech mezzo, a Mr B.S. Merchant as the director, Conn Chetham as the dodgy impresario, and Huw Watt as the conductor. The rehearsal room also has local resonances and references, there are a few in-jokes thrown in and extemporised for the current high temperatures (it was 37°C outside). It's a laugh a minute if you can keep up with the pace as the jokes are flying out. Donizetti's opera evidently provides the basis for this, providing an insight into the whole creative and performance process as well as the personalities involved, and the director Stephen Medcalf swears that nothing in the Buxton production is entirely made up, but has a basis in the reality that he has experienced in his career.

Viva la Diva may not be anything more than an amusing satire that pokes fun at the personalities involved and their mannerisms, but it's just as clever and layered as Ariadne auf Naxos - if clearly not as musically sophisticated as Richard Strauss - predating it by almost a century. If you are going to play a comedy like this as a farce, the success rests just as heavily on the performers being willing to put everything into it, and that was very much the case here. That goes right down to the conductor Iwan Davies taking part, demonstrating a comic temperamental impatience with his singers, and by extension this involvement undoubtedly fed into the bright, lovely music performance by the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

It would be indelicate to name any of the personalities being satirised - they were broad enough that everyone could make their own mind up about who the acting-up Prima Donna most resembles (and I'm sure insiders will know a few of their own), but Jenny Stafford was marvellous, darling. We got a spot on performance from Lithuanian bass baritone Raimundas Juzuitis as Haakan Czestikov. Although his exaggerated thick Russian accent dialogue wasn't always easy to make out, his threatening presence and singing were excellent. We didn't get enough of Joseph Doody as the temperamental Italian tenor or Lauren Young as the Czech mezzo, but both were excellent. Quentin Hayes as Ray, Olivia Carrell as Alexa and Richard Burkhard as the impresario also lived up to their roles very well, but evidently George Humphreys, done up like a pantomime dame as Agatha, la Mamma, dominated proceedings. As usual the singers and 'singers' here get all the credit, but you have to acknowledge the contributions by the chorus, actors and other creatives so important in a team effort like this, even though as usual they don't even get a name check in a review.

Having said that it would be remiss not to mention the superb set design by Yannis Thavoris which added another element of satire at extravagant Regietheater productions. I actually thought it was a very convincing and workable concept for 'Romolo ed Ersilia'. Maybe not so much the Schmirnoff rocket, but I could see this working for Bregenz. I can't imagine where they got the funding for such an extravagant set at a festival in a little spa town on the edge of the Peak District, or rather I have a better idea now of the kind of business arrangements and deals that are made to get a show like this on the road. I just hope the cast and musicians got paid for this one.

Links: Buxton International Festival

Saturday 23 July 2022

Coult - Violet (Buxton, 2022)

Tom Coult - Violet

Buxton International Festival, 2022

Andrew Gourlay, Jude Christian, Anna Dennis, Richard Burkhard, Frances Gregory, Andrew Mackenzie

Buxton Opera House - 18th July 2022

The idea of the world coming to an end in Tom Coult's new and first opera Violet may have had a little extra edge due to the fact that it took place in Buxton on the hottest day of the year in a summer that was hitting the highest temperatures the UK has ever seen. It was 33°C at 7:15 pm when the opera started (and it reached 37°C the following day), so you felt like you had indeed been out through the wringer by the time you got out. As far as Violet is concerned, I'm undecided whether that's a good thing or not.

Time and awareness of the passing of time is significant as far as Violet goes and playwright Alice Birch has built a relatively simple idea around this for her libretto. A woman in a village, Violet, notices that an hour has disappeared from the day, a swift adjustment from midnight to 1:00am in the blink of an eye that even affects the clocks. Her husband Felix doesn't believe it, but as subsequent days each lose another hour every day, the evidence is clear and the implications worrying as we come to day 23, a day lasts only one hour.

I had been looking forward to hearing this since 2020 when it was originally scheduled and then cancelled because of the Covid pandemic, so I based my annual visit to the Buxton International Festival around its single performance here. The critical acclaim from its likewise readjusted world premiere performance at Aldeburgh to June this year was also promising, but despite its acclaim Violet didn't live up to the billing for me. It may be a simple idea that invites profound thoughts, but you're going to have to bring those yourself, because Violet and the production don't provide them.

What the opera seeks to explore is evidently how people react to what looks like impending doom, and the responses from the characters here varies. Violet, who has been suffering from depression and is the first person to understand what is happening, finds it easiest to embrace the idea, having presumably been expecting or longing for her own personal world to shut down for years. The other people and the inhabitants of the village used to a sense of order in their lives, are less sanguine about the turn of events and unexpectedly this turns to fear, anger and violence.

Not that we really see any of this in the Music Theatre Wales production (or hear it in the music really) other than through reports in the exchanges between the four characters who remain confined to a room around a table, curiously preoccupied with meals. The room is more of an abstraction, with ominous computer visuals projected behind of skies and perhaps time itself being consumed by strange singularities. The table is eventually overturned and Violet for some reason builds a boat, but under the direction of Jude Christian there is very little meaningful activity on the stage. The intent however is to present Violet as an idea or something to provoke ideas, but there is very little in the mundane exchanges of growing concern that really invite any deeper consideration.

As I suggested at the start, you could take what happens as a metaphor for global warming, with its small incremental and irreversible changes that creep up with the potential to have serious consequences down the line. You can also take it on an individual level of someone feeling their world closing in on them and accepting that there is no way out. The breakdown of the old social order presents Violet with a freedom, an inner freeing that she was unable to attain under the established patriarchal system. There are lots of other ways you can read this, even the idea of accepting the inevitably of time and change, but there is nothing too deep provided here.

Musically with its metronomes and bells, the score is quite effective at sustaining the mood of impending doom. Coult cites Ravel as a model (and evidently L'Heure espagnole with its clockmaker comes to mind), as well as several movie influences, mainly Lars Von Trier and there is certainly an element of Melancholia here (but nothing Wagnerian in Coult's score as with that film's apocalyptic use of Tristan und Isolde). Musically I can think of several antecedents that have worked to abstract ideas of time more successfully. I was reminded of Georg Friedrich Haas's microtonal shifts in Morgen und Abend and evidently of the musical techniques employed by Britten for The Turn of the Screw. I expected at least that each scene or segment of Violet would shorten in length as the opera progressed, but they all seemed more or less equal.

Nevertheless, conducted by Andrew Gourlay the chamber orchestration and the fascinating use of instruments managed to keep the opera engaging on a musical level, becoming sparser and more abstract as time progressed and disappeared. The countdown of hours left each day also provided structure and inevitably apprehension and Anna Dennis gave a terrific performance as Violet. The closing section of the final moments of existence using computer graphics of family in a room with a macabre game show in the background was perhaps intended to be satirical, but felt misjudged and really failed to make the impact. Not with a bang but a whimper indeed. Sadly, I felt much the same about Violet.

Links: Buxton International Festival

Friday 22 July 2022

Rossini - La donna del lago (Buxton, 2022)

Giacomo Rossini - La donna del lago

Buxton International Festival, 2022

Giulio Cilona, Jacopo Spirei, Máire Flavin, Catherine Carby, Nico Darmanin, David Ireland, John Irvin, Fiona Finsbury, Robert Lewis, William Searle

Buxton Opera House - 17th July 2022

La donna del lago is an irresistible Rossini opera; filled with stirring melodies and rousing choruses, it's no wonder that it's one of the lesser-known Rossini opera to get revived more regularly. The problem with this particular opera - and it has to be said a lot of early Rossini operas - is that it largely resists any attempts at modernisation. The Buxton International Festival production, as is often the case when trying to revive older and more problematic works like this, settles for a kind of half-way house between retaining fidelity to the original but adding a little modernisation in how the work is framed.

That was indeed the approach taken to the last production I saw of this opera directed by John Fulljames at the Royal Opera House in 2013. It took the approach of viewing it as an historical artefact, a museum piece preserved in amber more or less, a fantastic relic of the past that can be brought out, polished up and admired for its craft. There is a similar approach taken here in Buxton, where the set is not by a lake in the Scottish Highlands but on the site of some ancient ruin that is being excavated by archeologists. The archeologist in charge of the dig finds an object, a model of a boat, and this seems to set off her imagination at the story that might lie behind it, becoming a minor character in the drama - Albina - an observer to what takes place when King James returns to Scotland incognito and encounters Elena, 'the lady of the lake'.

Based on what we see here, I would have my doubts about the lead archeologist's qualifications, but then Rossini's librettist Andrea Leone Tottola wasn't too concerned about historical accuracy of the era of King James V. Jacopo Spirei, the director for the Buxton production, doesn't see any value either in making this an accurate reflection of the Scottish highlands in the 16th century, and rather than making it contemporary, even seems to push it back much further. There are no kilts, but rather the robes worn look like something from antiquity or Roman times that you would expect to see in Semiramide, Mosè in Egitto or Aureliano in Palmira.

It doesn't really matter, and in fact it makes sense to play it out as a timeless romantic fantasy, as essentially that's what Rossini's opera does with Walter Scott's epic poem. Accepting it on those terms is easy and the first half of the Buxton production played out well enough, but without there being anything significant in the way of a plot in this opera, or any real input provided to make it connect meaningfully with a contemporary audience, it felt like there was something missing. I'm not sure exactly what was missing - there still wasn't anything to make you really understand or care about what the characters were going through - but there were a few subtle changes applied in the second half of the performance after the interval that seemed to contribute it.

For one thing, the framing device changed in the second act. The foreground of the excavation site remained the same but the background changed, the dig now relocated intact to a museum where the archeologist is being congratulated on her discovery and successful transfer to the museum. With the archeologist slipping between present and past as Albina, it's evidently a way of bringing the past into the present and reconnecting with it, but there is maybe even a little more than that. As Elena arrives at the court of King James, the king and his retinue in black and silver look more futuristic, so in a way it's also trying to look beyond the narrative. It doesn't seem like much, but it did seem to make a difference.

What really made the difference in Act II is how the music and performances stepped up a level. Rossini is primarily responsible for that of course with his marvellous score, but it needs a suitable orchestral drive and urgency and that was in place in Giulio Cilona's conducting of the Northern Chamber Orchestra. The singing too helped push this one convincingly over the line. Initially the strongest performances came from John Irvin as Rodrigo and Nico Darmanin as Uberto/Giacomo (King James), each of the tenors hitting those high Cs squarely, while David Ireland gave an authoritative delivery as Elena's father Duglas. Máire Flavin was excellent as Elena, weaker on recitative but capable of fiery delivery. She really came into her own however in the final act where, in combination with Rossini's finales and the orchestral drive, she really made an impact.

La donna del lago still remains a curiosity despite Spirei's efforts and the fine singing. Composed in 1819, the opera retains some elements of opera seria, most notably in the self-absorbed arias - Malcom's Act I aria in particular - and in the notion of a divisive ruler who eventually sees the error of his ways and offers clemency to all, reuniting lovers, reconciling children with parents. but you can already see some of the developments that would lead to early Verdi. That can even be a reading of the work, taking the past and incorporating it into the present to bring about change, as Verdi would similarly deal with subjects of conflict between parents and children, between love and duty, in his own way. 

Another reading that seems to be applied here is where Elena assumes some measure of power, walking up to the throne at the conclusion, gaining power over her own decisions if not exactly overthrowing the King of Scotland. It's not something that is obvious or made explicit in the opera, but it does have the kind of impact that gives it a little more purpose in the absence of any kind of convincing plot. It wasn't anything revelatory and didn't have any great ideas about how to present a work stepped in old-fashioned 19th century romantic sentiments and operatic delivery, but the Buxton Festival production nonetheless made a convincing case that La donna del lago as an opera still worth revisiting.

Links: Buxton International Festival

Thursday 14 July 2022

Prokofiev - The Fiery Angel (Madrid, 2022)

Sergei Prokofiev - The Fiery Angel

Teatro Real de Madrid, 2022

Gustavo Gimeno,Calixto Bieito, Ausrine Stundyte, Leigh Melrose, Dmitry Golovnin, Agnieszka Rehlis, Mika Kares, Nino Surguladze, Dmitry Ulyanov, Josep Fadò, Gerardo Bullón, Ernst Alisch, David Lagares, Estibaliz Martyn, Anna Gomà

ARTE Concert - April 2022

Based on a Symbolist work by Valery Bryusov with autobiographical experiences that were shared to some extent by the composer, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel is one of the most impressive and original works of opera I've come across. Musically and thematically it is quite unlike anything else in opera and each new production - although they aren't that common - always suggests new ways of looking at it. There have been some interesting perspectives taken on the work in recent years in Munich, Aix and Rome, but the idea of seeing what a director like Calixto Bieito can make of it is always going to be an intriguing proposition. It turns out that the Madrid production of The Fiery Angel doesn't seem to have a whole lot to say that is new, but the opera nonetheless remains fascinating, particularly with Ausrine Stundyte again taking on the mesmerising role of Renata. 

Sure, in some respects you can see Renata as a typical opera heroine abused and mistreated and misunderstood by the men in her life, her behaviour out of step with society around her, but in the case of Renata, there is indeed quite a bit to misunderstand. Not that her state of mind is any excuse for the abuse she endures or indeed the exploitation of her vulnerability, but fundamentally does seem to be the rationale for the irrational here. Because for whatever reason (there are hints and suggestions but nothing is made explicit), Renata is indeed not functioning on a rational level. Whether a victim of childhood abuse or suffering from schizophrenia, she has clearly been scarred by her childhood experiences, experiencing visions of a celestial being appearing in her bedroom, a fiery angel who becomes intimate with her.

This unfortunately sets her up to become a victim to be further exploited by the men she meets. She lets herself be taken in by Count Heinrich, who she believes is the angel Madiel in a corporeal form, and his eventual rejection only deepens her trauma. Even the noble knight, Ruprecht who comes to her aid in her distress, sees a vulnerable woman he can exploit sexually. His behaviours and actions are suspect, but when he is rejected he does at least try to consider his better nature and help, although it seems to be primarily because he is still fascinated by this extraordinary woman. With his assistance, Renata is exploited even further by charlatans and astrologers, as she tries to find a way to Madiel through occultism and mysticism. 

On one level then it is a familiar situation of a woman being exploited and shunned by a conformist society, leading her to seek answers elsewhere, but The Fiery Angel is also a work that seeks to explore the far reaches and complexities of human experience, Renata's journey being one to get in touch with a spiritual dimension or existence of life outside of the common experience. She has a sense of having touched on forbidden knowledge and seeks to press it further. For Ruprecht too, there is even a fascination for the mystery of a woman that Renata represents. She stirs up a riot of feelings that involve lust, compassion, fear, jealousy and possessiveness. Combined, The Fiery Angel is an exploration of human dualism, what it means to be human, a material physical being with a spiritual mind, mortal creatures with aspirations of an eternal afterlife. On an everyday level grappling with this dualism extends to male and female divisions, base instincts and a higher purpose, purity and corruption, subjective and objective realities.

In other productions by Mariusz Treliński at Aix-en-Provence and Emma Dante in Rome, the stage directors have sought ways to bring the otherworldly level of the opera expressed in the music to the fore, whereas Barrie Kosky's Munich production highlighted the comic absurdity. Calixto Bieito takes a surprisingly much more down to earth approach, seeing the opera very much as an opening into the mind of a woman rejected for not conforming to the expectations of society. It's even set (restricted I feel) in a specific period, the 1950s, before a more general liberalisation and a sexual permissive society. Initially we see Renata seeking mystery in the spinning of a bicycle wheel, creating patterns, the bicycle perhaps alluding to a childhood trauma. The set meanwhile consists of a block of compartments that, as occasional projections of Ausrine Stundyte as Renata illustrate, are representative of the idea that we are seeing into her mind.

Those rooms or compartments are mostly bare empty rooms, ready to be filled with horrors, each in their own little world, none of them connecting up to form any coherent view of reality. Significantly, perhaps rejecting any idea of a spiritual realm beyond physical reality, the few rooms that are decorated, the only lights in the darkness, are related to Agrippa von Nettesheim who in this version is less of a sorcerer than a physician, a man of science who is aware that we are still far from having all the answers. Her childhood bedroom, the source of her trauma, is also shown in all its horror. With an older man appearing, there is the suggestion of abuse by her father, who she looks up to. She sees Heinrich, an older man, as a substitute for her father, but inevitably that is a terrible mistake that only deepens her trauma. The tavern scene with Faust and Mephisopheles pushes Renata to her limits, and is quite disturbing in its own way. As she disturbs the community of nuns in Act 5, there are correspondences with Penderecki's opera Die Teufel von Loudun, which also featured Ausrine Stundyte in a recent Munich production.

Prokofiev, in a work long laboured over that he never saw performed in his own lifetime, strives to find similar expression in the music for the tangible and intangible, and it truly is a remarkable endeavour. The music is powerful and dynamic, sweeping between sensual and disorientating, evoking objective and subjective realities. I think its complexities came across better in the Rome production, but that might just be that the recording benefitted from superb High Resolution sound mix on the Blu-ray presentation. Here, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, the detail isn't all there, nor the same dynamic shifts of tempo and volume.

Where the opera really comes to life however here in this Madrid production is in the singing performances. Once again - a revelation in the same role in Aix-en-Provence - we have a marvellous performance by Ausrine Stundyte. It's a role that has considerable vocal challenges but there are dramatic challenges too that require expression beyond the external, a requirement for Renata to be possessed of a deep and mysterious inner life. Bieito makes it physically challenging too and Stundyte is again impressive. Leigh Melrose is also excellent, his Ruprecht grappling with things beyond his comprehension and his own limited knowledge and experience. He brings that out in a similarly committed physical performance. 

The origins of the work and its Symbolist trappings leave a lot of room for analysis in The Fiery Angel, but it seems like the controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito uncharacteristically seeks to demystify the work and restrict its possibilities. In his hands it does indeed boil down to familiar opera themes of a woman with unconventional individual behaviours being shunned by a closed society, moulded to conform and eventually destroyed by it. Prokofiev music suggests a wider context, but in that dialectic between the score and stage representation, the opera still works and weaves its fascination. Principally of course its real human level is expressed by the singers, and with prior experience of these roles, Stundyte and Melrose are thoroughly convincing.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Penderecki - Die Teufel von Loudun (Munich, 2022)

Krzysztof Penderecki - Die Teufel von Loudun

Bayerische Staatsoper, 2022

Vladimir Jurowski, Simon Stone, Ausrine Stundyte, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen, Nadezhda Gulitskaya, Lindsay Ammann, Danae Kontora, Nadezhda Karyazina, Jordan Shanahan, Robert Dölle, Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Andrew Harris, Ulrich Reß, Kevin Conners, Jochen Kupfer, Thiemo Strutzenberger, Barbara Horvath, Sean Michael Plumb, Martin Snell, Christian Rieger, Steffen Recks

Staatsoper.TV - 27th June 2022

The Bavarian State Opera are not afraid to take in new and challenging works, and while not exactly new - it was premiered in 1969 - Penderecki's Die Teufel von Loudun is being performed in Munich for the first time in 2022 and it is an ambitious work to open their Summer Opera Festival. It's not just that Penderecki's music is modern and uses some unconventional instruments, but the subject matter still has the potential to cause shock and outrage in some quarters. Directing the opera at Munich, Simon Stone attempts to explore the work and its subject a little more deeply than that, but it doesn't quite have the impact you might have expected.

The opera itself caused a certain amount of disapproval when it was first performed, but the controversy around the subject goes back much further than that. Based on a famous event of mass hysteria in a Ursuline monastery in the 17th century where a number of nuns claimed to be possessed by demons, the story has been written about and filmed many times, celebrated for its potential to cause outrage. The basis of most modern adaptations is Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudun (1952), including the play by John Whiting, and it's the latter that provides the dramatic template that is the basis for Penderecki's opera.

More than just being about mass hysteria, the subject gives rise to a number of human and socio-political points of interest, on the abuse of power, on religion, the oppression of women, female repression and expression; all topics that, not so surprisingly, continue to be topical and can be related to many present day issues and scandals. And since it's Australian-Swiss director Simon Stone who is directing for Munich, you can imagine that it will not be set in the 17th century but will have a contemporary setting. Essentially however Stone doesn't take revisionism much further than modern dress, just to prevent the viewer from thinking that this is a historical event that has no relevance to the present. Other than that however, the work and its themes speak out powerfully on their own terms.

It's really not such an outrageous idea to imagine how a closed group of people or a closed inward-looking society, dissatisfied with their situation, repressed from having expression of normal human activities that others are able to enjoy, might find themselves subject to manipulation resulting in mass delusion. It certainly appears to be that kind of situation exploited by Cardinal Richelieu in France in the 17th century, wanting to break down the walls of Loudun as a sign of being more open to Protestantism, and he uses the breaking down of a liberal-minded man, the womanising priest Grandier who poses a threat to his sense of order. Huxley would have seen parallels to this in his time just as Penderecki would have recognised lving in Poland in the 1930s, and you don't need to be reminded where it is applicable today.

There are many other levels that can be explored, and from a modern perspective - and again an issue that remains topical and controversial - it's interesting that the battleground that this battle is fought over is that of a woman's body. The young women of Loudun are preyed on to some extend by Grandier, and they are urged to claim demonic possession by the priest's enemies. The nun Jeanne and the other nuns, victims of repressive behaviour and thus highly suggestible, who have no control over how their situation is exploited. The use of modern dress might help make such connections without having to make it explicit and without having to resort to exploitative or sensationalist imagery, but nonetheless I don't think that Stone's production is entirely successful. The again, I'm not sure it's all down to the direction.

Where Stone is usually strong is in working with his set designer, Bob Cousins, to devise a set that is adaptable and fluid, keeping the drama moving while holding the inherent intensity of a work. This set however doesn't prove to be very attractive or interesting, being just a large revolving block with a number of functional openings and staircases. I'm not convinced however that Penderecki gets to the heart of the situation either in the libretto or the score. The essential ideas and themes I mentioned earlier are evident, but the libretto is a little too wordy and explanatory, the music often reduced to cinematic cues. The lip-syned demonically possessed voices is a quite creepy effect, but you get a sense that it should be far more chilling and disturbing than this. It feels more academically laid out than dramatically engaging.

Where Stone is also traditionally good is getting into the complex underlying psychology and making it relatable. There is a lot to get into here, and we certainly get strong performances under the musical direction of Vladimir Jurowski, a champion for the work. Ausrine Stundyte in particular is excellent as Jeanne, and is typically superb in roles like this, but it still feels like there is something missing. Whether it's in the disconnect between the music, the drama, the themes, the set design or the performances, in some operas it is critical that they all come together. That's down to the director to ensure that happens, but for whatever reason, the elements just don't seem to blend in a way that really makes the necessary impact.

I don't think the replacement of an indisposed Wolfgang Koch by an actor had any real bearing on that, but it probably didn't help. Robert Dölle from the Ensemble of the Residence Theater gave a strong dramatic performance with a Sprechstimme delivery of the recitative lines, but the singing part of the role had to be taken off-stage by Jordan Shanahan. Certainly the fate of Grandier as depicted in the opera and on stage is truly horrific, and that impact was not lost. Die Teufel von Loudun is definitely an opera that is worth bringing back and looking at it again in the filmed version of the opera with Tatjana Troyanos confirms its worth, but it doesn't really make the same impression here in the 2022 Munich Festival premiere.

Links: Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatsoper.TV