Drama features significantly in our new audiovisual releases this month, with two powerful stage works written some three centuries apart – Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610) and Anna Gmeyner’s Automatenbüfett (1932) – complemented by a performance of Schubert songs enhanced by dramatic input from a team of actors under award-winning director Christof Loy.
From the world of opera we have Offenbach’s La Vie parisienne, a classic of the French operetta tradition in a new edition from La Palazzetto Bru Zane; Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, a commedia lirica that was given seven encores and thirty-five curtain calls at its 1891 premiere in Rome; and a double bill that pairs two masterpieces of early English opera, John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Jacques Offenbach had already achieved fame as an operetta composer by 1866, but that year’s premiere of La Vie parisienne was his first portrayal of contemporary Parisian life. With its tale of romantic intrigues, disguises and comic celebrations of the mad gaiety of life in the French capital, La Vie parisienne became popular in the nation’s theatres, but not after a hasty re-working of its final acts after protests from the original performers. With significant new musical discoveries and the final acts restored, this opéra-bouffe masterpiece now speaks for itself given the resources of a superb cast and Christian Lacroix’s colourful and much acclaimed Bru Zane France production.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0163V)
In Eine Winterreise, renowned director Christof Loy has created a memorable evening of music theatre in which Schubert’s tragically short life is depicted by and extended through his immortal music and songs from Winterreise, Die schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang. The soul of the composer is brought to life by the internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter alongside acclaimed pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout. Drawing on nostalgia for Viennese Biedermeier intimacy the narrative explores extremes of human feelings from the joy of life to a longing for death, all portrayed through a cast that includes Schubert’s disreputable friend Schober, among other shadows from his past and his imagined future.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0165V)
Building on the success of Cavalleria rusticana, Pietro Mascagni’s commedia lirica L’amico Fritz was given seven encores and thirty-five curtain calls at its premiere in Rome in 1891. Considered by critics to be one of Mascagni’s best operas, the story is that of a love triangle involving the wealthy Fritz Kobus and Suzel, daughter of one of his tenants, who together sing the famous Cherry Duet in Act II. Returning to the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Florence for the first time since 1941, this production was acclaimed for its superb cast and astonishingly effective modern setting.
The provincialist Adam saves the beautiful stranger Eva from suicide by drowning and takes her along to the ‘Automatenbüfett’, the restaurant owned by his feisty wife. Eva’s arrival is an attraction to this largely male community and the shrewd Adam knows how to use it to further his plans. Martin Zehetgruber has designed the eponymous automat, which provides a looming backdrop to sometimes cringeworthily funny and sometimes heartrendingly sad encounters between the outstanding cast.
Anna Gmeyner was born in Vienna in 1902 and like the heroines of her stage plays she remained an autonomous outsider. During the Weimar Republic she worked in Berlin as a dramatist and as a dramaturge but as a political exile she moved to Paris and London, where she wrote film scripts and novels. Her first stage play ‘Automat’ dates from 1932 and was inspired by the technological innovations of her age as well as by the reactionary attitudes of the bourgeoisie. The play proved a draw in major theatres in Hamburg, Berlin and Zurich before its author was forced to flee in the face of persecution by the National Socialists.
When Leontes, Sicilian king, becomes convinced his pregnant wife Hermione is conducting an affair with his closest friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, he is so enraged he banishes her new-born child, while Hermione apparently dies of grief. Sixteen years later, the child, Perdita, having been raised in Bohemia by shepherds, is in love with Florizel, son of Polixines, who forbids their marriage. The lovers travel to Leontes’ court seeking happiness, which they find – in ways nobody expected.
Blanche McIntyre directs a new version of Shakespeare’s great play of the irrational and inexplicable.
Set in a world of monsters, gods and natural disasters, travel from the stifling atmosphere of the Sicilian court to the unbuttoned joy of a Bohemian festival.
Spoken in Shakespeare’s English.
Two classic court operas are brought together to tell the stories of love, be it between gods or royalty, in the historic Confidencen Theatre, Sweden.
Venus & Adonis, composed in 1683 by John Blow, is considered the earliest example of English opera. It tells the enchanting story of two mythical lovers and their cruel fate in scenes reaching from light-hearted comedy to heartfelt despair.
Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas from 1689 has become one of the most famous and beloved operas from the Baroque era, with its sumptuous music, dramatic plot and its themes of love, friendship, jealousy, and cruelty. The opera is perhaps best known for Dido’s painfully beautiful lament When I am Laid in Earth.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7308D)