Enjoying opera — fully staged opera — at home has become easier. Recent productions from top European houses have begun to appear for rental and purchase on Amazon Prime Video.
So, on an impulse, you can take in these works — and keep them, too. (There are other opera-focused streaming platforms, but those rarely allow for purchases.) The productions include rarely staged gems, and feature some of the boldest directors and greatest vocal talents today. Earlier this year, we put the spotlight on five offerings. Here are five more recent additions.
Tobias Kratzer is a director who is willing to jerk a canonical text around to fit a contemporary concept. In his take on Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” for the Royal Opera in London in 2020, he upends both acts: The first takes place in a Jacobin milieu, amid the French Revolution; the second, however, departs from historical specificity, showing its chorus in modern dress. This approach fits an opera that has always proved a challenge for straightforward storytelling. Crucially, Kratzer’s direction of singing actors tends to be marvelous; here, the star soprano Lise Davidsen is truly gripping as Leonore.
Kratzer makes many small alterations. One involves a partial disrobing by Fidelio (Leonore disguised as a man) in front of Marzelline during the first act. But the humanist impulse of this opera — clearly about more than saving just one man from prison — is consistently emphasized by a strong cast, the Royal Opera orchestra and the conductor, Antonio Pappano. And Davidsen, a powerhouse soprano known for blowing the roof off the Metropolitan Opera, also indulges her talents for delicate scene partnership, as in the early Canon Quartet.
Franz Schreker’s music goes almost entirely unplayed in American concert halls and theaters. When it is programmed, you can often tell that it has been produced on the smallest of budgets. That’s too bad, because this early-20th-century composer’s music dramas are wild delights. At the hinge of late Romanticism and early modernism, they’re also unabashedly sensual. Music by Schreker, whose father was Jewish, was popular in German houses during the 1920s, but banned by the Nazis after 1933.
“For him, eroticism is like a way of escaping from the dilemma of societal failure,” says director Christof Loy, who piloted this staging for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin last year. As with his recent presentation of Korngold’s “Das Wunder der Heliane,” the production is spare; he often lets singers do the storytelling. And this cast handles Schreker’s lushly complex and demanding idiom with aplomb. As a humble innkeeper’s daughter with an eye for the queen’s jewels, the soprano Elisabet Strid is a powerhouse, pivoting between memories of youth, desires for fame and manipulative seductions. The Deutsche Oper orchestra, under Marc Albrecht, attends to the gorgeousness of Schreker’s style.
Jacques Offenbach, the French operetta master, is also too infrequently heard in American houses. But he is reliably served on video. Some of Laurent Pelly’s stagings remain in print, and Barrie Kosky’s enjoyably deranged take on “Orphée aux Enfers” at the Salzburg Festival is on Blu-ray — but, unfortunately, not on streaming platforms.
This composer’s works can be plenty manic even without a modern gloss or a metatheatrical concept. This Opéra Comique performance of “La Périchole” from last year offers vividly colorful stage pictures, but within a presentation that mostly reflects the period of the piece’s 1874 revision. Here, the director Valérie Lesort steers a strong cast; Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Philippe Talbot are stellar as the songful yet destitute lovebirds at the center of the plot. And, with its comic slant on the injustice of imprisonment, “La Périchole” makes for a refreshing tonic after “Fidelio.”