2008 has been (in my opinion at least) something of a vintage year for Glyndebourne On Tour. Okay it benefits from having three admittedly populist productions but then that shouldn’t be held against them when they produce three distinct pieces of this quality.
The Magic Flute is a slightly tweaked revival of their 2004 production and is still a glorious thing. Less manic and slightly saner it remains joyous. Sure, The Queen of the Night is nowhere near as good as last time but then pretty much everyone else is a step up from what was then a wonderful cast. The leads are particularly strong – which is always a bonus – but once again it’s production itself which is the star. Tamino playing on the flute attracts a menagerie of animals including a baboon, a turtle that polishes the floor and a spinning penguin (which I’ve tried to find photographs of but sadly can’t). I still don’t have the foggiest what its about – the plot gets jettisoned after about ten minutes but that doesn’t seem important.
Carmen is big, really big. Of all three it has the biggest sound, the most grandiose stage and the largest sense of scale. It wears its heart on its sleeve at all times never letting you forget that everything is going to go wrong come the end. It isn’t entirely joyless however – the song about the joys of smoking sung outside the factory delights in its non-PC attitude whilst the second act is simply breathtaking in its energy. John Daszak has such a beautiful voice that the fact that you can’t imagine him as the figure of such lust doesn’t seem to matter but, lets face it, this is an opera that only really belongs to one person and she doesn’t disappoint.
Oh, and bonus points must be awarded for having audible arterial spray come the end.
Lastly Hansel & Gretel, a fairy tale come Wagnerian opera (unsurprising considering Humperdinck studied under Wagner as the latter completed Parsifal) meets the pick & mix at a particularly chavvy Woolworths. Whilst I understand that this may have some running for the hills don’t let the description put you off from what is weirdly wonderful. It’s not without faults (the tenor cast as The Witch lacked something) its desire to be different sweeps you along. The production becomes more surreal as it progresses, starting with an unfolding cardboard box before ending with obese children dancing around The Witches house come supermarket. Yet somehow it all makes sense within context (which is worrying).
In fact the only criticism that can be levelled at this year is that there isn’t the traditional unsung opera – i.e. one that doesn’t get an airing that often – but when it’s this good you can’t really complain about that too much.