In anticipation of this weekend’s ALL ARTS Opera Marathon, we have compiled a selection of our favorite productions available to stream in full on ALL ARTS. Many of these operas feature unconventional stagings or interpretations that breathe new life into old favorites. Others are lesser-known works making welcome returns to the stage (and our screens).
If you’ve seen all of the titles below, we’ve got hours more on our opera collection page — where you’ll find Barrie Kosky’s “The Coronation of Poppea” and a performance from the legendary Maria Callas.
Not often the title that first comes to mind when one thinks “opera,” Stravinsky’s “Perséphone” is a melodrama that includes an actor, a tenor, a chorus, a children’s ensemble and dancers.
This opera is performed infrequently, and the opportunity to relish its distinctive combination of genres is especially ripe in director Peter Sellars’ production from the Teatro Real in Madrid. With minimalist costuming and a simple set that speaks to the permeability of the borders between this realm and the underworld of the Persephone myth, Sellars presents a production as pure as Stravinsky’s score.
Another factor that sets this work apart is the superb mirroring effect between the narrator Persephone (Dominique Blanc) and the dancer Persephone (Sam Sathya). Eschewing the usual ballet choreography, Sathya and the other featured dancers illustrate the journey of Persephone to the underworld and back through traditional Cambodian dance. This alone is worth watching but paired with the somber chorus and the heartfelt narration, the dancing is merely one part of an exquisitely unique production.
The dialogue from the opening scene of Prokofiev’s “The Gambler” could be straight out of a modern-day reality TV show. This comparison is not a reflection on the quality of the opera, but rather a comment on how delightfully sordid the plot is.
Set in the fictional German spa town of Roulettenberg in the mid-19th century, “The Gambler” features a robust score to match the often avaricious lyrics. The opera was based on a Dostoevsky novella of the same name and involves the pernicious effects of debt and gambling on relationships — not least on those that suggest inheritance (several of the characters express impatience that a grandmother has not yet died and left them her money).
There is a certain amount of schadenfreude derived from being an audience member of this production, as the cast does a splendid job portraying characters that viewers will take great pleasure in hating. This experience is enhanced by powerful moments of genuine suffering on the part of the characters (a result from the pull of the roulette table), which inspires a perhaps more charitable response to the damage inflicted by addiction.
A much better-known work, this production of Bizet’s “Carmen” nonetheless shares more than its opera house — the Teatro Real — with the production of Stravinsky’s “Perséphone” detailed above. Just as traditional Cambodian dance is incorporated into the whole of the latter performance, this production of “Carmen” was choreographed and designed by legendary flamenco artist Antonio Gades, alongside Carlos Saura, and features flamenco dancing throughout. Dressed casually in modern t-shirts and colorful flamenco skirts or jeans, the dancers’ light, rhythmic steps are accompanied by guitars and simple, authoritative claps.
While the long-beloved musical themes central to the opera are present in the performance, they serve more as a backdrop to the cast’s physical comedy and proficient dancing. The plot develops primarily through movement, and Vanesa Vento’s interpretation of Carmen is as fiery and passionate as if she were portrayed through song. Flamenco feels like the perfect vehicle for the sensual drama inherent to the iconic “Carmen” story.
If you are looking for something more lighthearted than the above options but equally mesmerizing, Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is staged at the Bregenzer Festspiele in the form of an updated cabaret and is sure to keep you on your toes with its many departures from tradition.
Director Stefan Herheim has male chorus members in bare legs and garters and female chorus members in top hats and tailcoats as they grace the stage in the opera’s drunken prologue. The mobile, grand staircase set swings apart to reveal smaller stagings for each of the three scenes of unrequited love comprised within the opera. A massive, overhanging screen cleverly displays textures and graphics relating to the assorted settings (and sometimes lewd images in the spirit of this rebellious production).
While a certain rowdiness is stitched into the lyrics and emphasized by various design elements, “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is ultimately a series of love stories, and the vocal performances in this gender-bending adaptation are as clean and magnificent as anyone could wish them to be.
Dvořák’s “Rusalka” is almost entirely unrecognizable in Stefan Herheim’s seedy, urban staging of the typically pastoral water nymph narrative from which “The Little Mermaid” was derived. All the more reason to give this avant-garde production a watch!
This “Rusalka” utilizes post-dramatic theatrical techniques that immerse audience members into a self-referential world. Spectatorship and its relation to voyeurism is a recurring theme that Herheim draws out of this production, provoking audiences to consider their own role in the opera house.
Rusalka’s agency fluctuates throughout the story, particularly when she trades her voice for the opportunity to live on land. Herheim’s production gives audience members the opportunity to reflect on the fact that, in a way, they too have traded their voices for the opportunity to remain in the fantastic land of opera for the evening. Rather than granting audiences the magical water nymphs and castles that they expect from “Rusalka,” Herheim’s staging reflects a disconcertingly stark version of the urban setting from which audiences might have been attempting to escape.
Top Image: Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Photo: Never in New York.