2020 May Kirsten Flagstad -1206
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By Emanuele Senici

La Scala has fared rather well with new productions this season, with Robert Carsen’s Don Giovanni and Claus Guth’s Frau ohne Schatten followed by two further successes, Richard Jones’s Peter Grimes and Mario Martone’s Luisa Miller. Jones sets Britten’s work in 1980s England, a society obsessed with appearances and money: Grimes’s belief that if he becomes rich he will get the Borough’s respect makes perfect sense in this context (May 24). There is no sea in sight in Stewart Laing’s sets, only seagulls perched on the roofs of bleak council houses. Landscape is only heard, never seen, but this does not mean that it is not felt, quite the opposite in fact: its sounds seem to highlight the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the characters live. The Boar is a brightly-lit but cheaply-furnished bar where people go to try and forget their sad lives. Grimes lives in a recently-built, small bungalow, with no furniture except for a mattress on the floor and a TV set on a chair. It’s all very drab and tasteless, including the costumes (also by Laing), as is fairly usual in Jones’s productions; this time it works. Even the director’s penchant for the grotesque helps make better sense of those moments in the score that in other productions can come across as overdone, such as the first scene of Act 3.

Robin Ticciati’s musical reading fitted this staging like a glove. Making his Scala opera debut, he did a wonderful job with its notoriously fickle orchestra, coaxing a suitably tense, hard, even occasionally brutal sound from it—which admittedly did overwhelm the singers on a couple of occasions. But he was also movingly tender and gentle, especially when Ellen Orford was on stage.

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