Regular readers of
these columns will know my misgivings
about ‘filmed’ opera, and this is no
exception. Technically it is quite good,
with no real lip-synch problems and
decent picture and sound quality. It
also boasts some attractive leads that
look right for the parts - with one
exception - and are in very good voice.
The drawbacks concern the overall conception
and whether ‘opening out’ Stravinsky’s
chamber opera, written specifically
for the intimacy of Venice’s La Fenice,
really works. It is also quite badly
cut, with the bread-machine scene gone
altogether - maybe no great loss - and
a large chunk of the all-important Bedlam
scene, including Trulove’s appearance.
The ensemble Epilogue, with its morality
warning, also goes and is replaced by
the more cinematic shot of a simple
wooden coffin being carted into the
distance. This in itself is quite effective
but is then spoilt by a final freeze-frame
of the two lovers surrounded by a Hollywood-style
haze – perhaps one liberty too many.
These alterations are all presumably
to keep the running time down to a neat
couple of hours and also be more ‘attractive’
to a mainstream cinema audience. It
may already rule it out for you, but
if not, read on.
Director Inger Åby
gives us some ravishing countryside
locations for the opening, but his London
is obviously not the English capital
and looks more like a central European
city, presumably Stockholm. His naturalistic
costumes and claustrophobic interior
sets have a degree of atmosphere and
his love of countryman Ingmar Bergman
is obvious – gloomy lighting, garish
close-ups and lots of symbolism, notable
the ticking of the clock at various
points, as poor Tom’s time runs out.
What could save the
day for some is the singing and playing.
Greg Fedderly has a pleasingly full
tenor, is very musical and sings with
excellent diction and phrasing. He also
looks the part, wide-eyed and handsome,
making his downfall all the more moving.
Barbara Hendricks is also on good form,
touching and simple, and her big Act
1 aria ‘No word from Tom’ is beautifully
delivered. Håkan Hagegård
has a light-ish baritone, not as dark
or rich as Samuel Ramey or Bryn Terfel,
but he shapes the phrases intelligently
and never overacts, which is a blessing.
The bizarre casting of countertenor
Brian Asawa as Baba the Turk is a mystery.
Yes, he sings well and we know it’s
meant to be a bearded lady, but to cast
an obvious male brings out all sorts
of homo-erotic undertones that are uncomfortable
and, if they are intentional, are never
Salonen is a seasoned
Stravinskian and his sharp, incisive
and fiery rendition of the score is
a delight, as is the playing of his
Swedish band. DVD competition is not
particularly fierce in this work as
yet, though many will be waiting impatiently
for the famous Glyndebourne production
from Hockney, Cox and Haitink which,
as far as I’m aware, is only available
as a Region 1 import at the moment.
When it does materialise it will probably
be first choice. You could give this
Swedish film some consideration, but
its many virtues are probably outweighed
by too many important minuses.