Essentials

Essentials

by BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT

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Lisi, Auteuil, Chéreau and Adjani on the set of Queen Margot
© Luc Roux/Sygma/Corbis 2013
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© Clive Barda/ArenaPAL 2013
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© BBC 2013

Essential Patrice Chéreau Non-Opera: Queen Margot, Chéreau's 1994 adaptation of La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas père. Chéreau has the camera participate in every scene — whether it's the running animals in a boar hunt or at the side of a sickbed. A crowd scene near the beginning invites the viewer into the restlessness and violence of 1572 Paris, while introducing Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil and a lot of Chéreau regulars — Dominique Blanc, Vincent Perez, Pascal Greggory and Jean-Hugues Anglade. Virna Lisi, as Catherine de' Medici, has probably never looked (or behaved) worse. spacer OPERA NEWS says goodbye to Patrice Chéreau. 

Essential Robert Carsen Production: Alcina. Carsen may have the keenest visual imagination of any stage director working in opera today, and his Alcina, first seen at Opéra National de Paris in 1999,showed him off at his best. Set designer Tobias Hoheisel created a lush, green island paradise where the sorceress Alcina's victims languished, naked and half-naked zombies in various stages of sexual stupefaction. Alcina is usually staged with the sorceress's victims being turned into rocks and trees, but Carsen told The New York Times that he heard it as a work "about the men wanting to be turned into animals.… And the nearest men and women get to being animals is when they are making love." The result was the director's deeply erotic interpretation, with the most spontaneous performance we have ever seen Renée Fleming give over her long career. Inexplicably, this production never made it to DVD, but go to YouTube, and you can catch some choice excerpts. spacer Robert Carsen talks about Falstaff with OPERA NEWS in "The Carsen Show." 

Essential Falstaff: The late Richard Griffiths was one of those actors who remind you that no matter how much we may feel the culture shifting, there's still nothing quite like London theater. In a 1982 BBC production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by David Hugh Jones, Griffiths may be too subdued for some tastes, but he's still a wonderful, vain, too-pleased-with-himself Falstaff, and he catches not only the character's slovenliness but his nobility. There are other reasons to see this adaptation, too — Ben Kingsley as a wonderfully high-strung Ford, Judy Davis as Mistress Ford, Prunella Scales as Mistress Page and Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly. The incomparable playwright Alan Bennett (author of The History Boys, which gave Griffiths the role of a lifetime) turns up as Pistol. spacer Garry Wills discusses Falstaff and Boito in "Topping Shakespeare." 

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Rooney and Olivia de Havilland (Hermia)
© Warner Bros. Pictures, photographer: Mickey Marigold/Photofest 2013

Essential A Midsummer Night's Dream: Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle's 1935 version for Warner Bros. The best moments in this Midsummer happen between Shakespeare's lines. Early on, Lysander (Dick Powell) mocks Demetrius (Ross Alexander) by singing Mendelssohn's famous wedding march. Bottom (James Cagney) and Snug (Dewey Robinson) unexpectedly take turns roaring. A sunflower-seed-eating Francis Flute (Joe E. Brown) steals some scenes before the expert slapstick in "Pyramus and Thisbe." A fourteen-year-old Mickey Rooney plays a fidgety, eccentric Puck. The extended ballet sequences by Bronislava Nijinska show off Reinhardt's incredible camera obscura techniques. spacer Broadcast coverage of Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream begins on p. 48.

BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3