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Carl NIELSEN (1865–1931)
Maskarade - Comic opera in three acts (1906)
Stephen Milling (bass) – Jeronimus, a citizen of Copenhagen; Susanne Resmark (mezzo-soprano) – Magdelone, his wife; Niels Jörgen Riis (tenor) – Leander, his son; Johan Reuter (bass) – Leander’s servant; Ole Hedegaard (tenor) – Arv, a servant; Poul Elming (tenor) – Leonard, a gentleman from Slagelse; Gisella Stille (soprano) – Leonora, his daughter; Hanne Fischer (mezzo-soprano) – Pernille, Leonora’s maid; Sten Byriel (bass) – A night watchman; Anders Jacobsson (bass) – Master of the masquerade; and others; Artists: Geneviève Gauthier, Antoine Carabinier Lépine, Manu Tiger and Jacob Westin; The Royal Danish Opera Choir and Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
Stage directors: Kasper Bech Holten, Morgan Alling;
Sets and costumes: Marie í Dali;
Lighting designer: Jesper Kongshaug;
Assistant stage director: Staffan Jennehov;
DVD producers: Thorleif Hoppe, Niels Severin
Co-production by The Royal Danish Theatre and The Danish Broadcasting Corporation/DR
rec. live, Operaen, Copenhagen, 13, 15 November 2006
Bonus material: Introduction to Maskarade; Making of Maskarade
DACAPO 2.110407 [138:00]
Experience Classicsonline


Just three weeks before I saw this DVD (18.2.2008) I visited the new opera house in Copenhagen for the first time and saw Maskarade in this same production’s reprise run. I was quite fascinated by it and asked for the DVD which was recorded during two performances almost to the day one hundred years after the premiere of the opera on 11 November 1906. Since it is the same production and with many of the same singers, I think it is legitimate to refer readers to my review for Seen And Heard and concentrate more on the pros and cons of the DVD production vis-a-vis the live performance.
 
I have discussed before the differences and problems with watching opera on DVD as opposed to live performances and the contradiction became apparent when seeing the alternatives with just a few weeks interval. Sitting in the opera house one is immersed in the atmosphere from the beginning while in one’s own living room one is watching as it were from outside. With good surround sound the aural experience can of course be almost just as alive but the small screen compresses the stage and details one admired in the live performance tend to pass unnoticed. On the other hand a TV producer can spotlight these details in a way that is impossible in the theatre. The problem is still that it is up to this producer what I see – I can’t make my own selections. Add to this that too much spotlighting often means that one loses the totality. This is an equation that is almost insoluble but if one is lucky the producer’s will and the viewer’s are in accordance and then everything in the garden is lovely.
 
“Aha!” some readers may think, “this preamble is meant as an intimation that this particular garden isn’t that lovely.” Let’s put it this way: Having so recently seen the production on stage and having very vivid memories of it I can honestly say that the DVD production team hardly misses an opportunity. All, or almost all, the high-spots, the funny details that I mused at in the theatre and was waiting for, were there; sometimes it was a matter of a fraction of a second, but it was there. And I must say that in so busy a performance this is admirable. There are many hours of planning behind and the outcome gives full justice to sets as well as direction.
 
But I still have an objection and this may, as so often, be a matter of personal taste. We have been used to seeing the conductor and the orchestra during the overture and occasionally glimpses from the pit in between. This production is something more than that. The overture is a tour de force for any good orchestra and the orchestration is a marvel, which the producer knows and wants to show to the less knowledgeable viewer. This was wonderful when in close-ups now the strings or a single string-player, now a French horn, now a timpani roll was shown, and one understood the pedagogical idea: Listen with your ears as well! This is what happens in the orchestra! But after a while I got a feeling of over-explicitness. When every little felicity in the score had to be shown, to the detriment of the continuity on stage, I think it was slightly overdone. Every timpani roll wasn’t necessary to show, when the muted trumpets played we had learnt our lesson and knew who they were. Of course it is fair to say that the orchestra is essential in any opera performance and arguably more so in this opera than in many others, and of course it was wonderful to see the dynamic and expressive Michael Schønwandt towering above the orchestra, pulling all the right strings in his role as puppet-master and also, amazingly, as prompter since the man sang all the parts all through the performance. It was fascinating, to say the least, but I wonder how I will react next time … and next … and the tenth!
 
I warned in my live review that the comedy sometimes becomes rather coarse, at times it’s sheer slapstick farce. When Arv in the third act masquerade appears in military outfit, first with a machine-gun, then armed with an anti-tank rifle, big enough to demolish the whole house, it felt a bit over the top. But if one can stomach such things the production is greatly entertaining, hilarious and filled with proverbial Danish joviality. And the music is of course masterly. Of the ‘new’ singers Gisella Stille and Hanne Fischer as Leonora and Pernille are good, veteran Sten Byriel makes a cosy night watchman – a kind of comic counterpart to his names sake in Die Meistersinger – but the most impressive impersonation in this performance is Stephen Milling as Jeronimus. He is such an intense actor and he is the possessor of one of the most magnificent bass voices around. There is an interview with him at Seen And Heard.
 
Musically this is one of the finest 20th century operas and this production is one of the most hilarious comedies I have seen but to some it may be a little too much.
 
Göran Forsling
 


 


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