The austere, dark sets and costuming were paired with relatively austere stage direction from François Racine. While the intention may have been to let the music speak for itself, in this case it seemed to slow the pace of the show, and gave the performers little to do on stage.
Rossini is incredibly unforgiving in his lighting-fast patter, overlapping harmonies, and blistering tempi in the ensembles, and every single one was perfectly precise, executed flawlessly, and were still all funny, evocative, and playful.
The effect was darkly whimsical and visually captivating, allowing the drama to unravel within a framework of fiction – well-suited to the opera's poetic exaggerations and high-flying emotions.
Although meant to generate laughs at the expense of privileged white people, it's extremely difficult today to present this show, even as gently written as it is, without entering dangerous racist waters.
In short, if this opera causes such a heady discussion about how best to fertilize our soil with culture, philosophy, and the pursuit of authentic enlightenment, it certainly deserves not only the reviews that will surely come up about it, but a whole book of Platonic dialogues as well!
This production co-produced with Teatro Real, Madrid and Rome Opera is the first return of the opera to the Royal Opera stage in nearly 20 years and welcomes back the incomparable Deborah Warner, who has made a career staging Britten.
So confident was I that I almost took it for granted; so, when Mahler's music began, it was as though it dragged me by the nape of my neck through an emotional rollercoaster I didn't know I needed.
The plot is rather fantastical even compared to some of Strauss' prior works, to the point that I would almost be tempted to call it hallucinogenic: Helen and Menelaus find themselves washed up on an island where a sorceress enchants Menelaus to fall in love with Helen all over again.
He subjects Faust to a writhing, grotesque circus; tormenting him with visions of a pregnant Marguerite, and a dead Valentin. Schrott is maniacal and callous, delighting in the pain of others and becoming more despicable every moment he is on stage.
The comedy of this silly, convoluted plot is no longer dependent on racist stereotypes, imagery and impersonations; instead it forces the players step up to the plate and be imaginative.