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This lavishly illustrated volume celebrates the Swiss stage director Luc Bondy (1948-2015), whose opera productions included Don Giovanni at the Wiener Festwochen (1990-91), Salome with Catherine Malfitano at Salzburg and Covent Garden (1992) and a French-language Don Carlos at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (1996). Perhaps his most notorious moment was to be roundly booed at the opening night of his new production of Tosca at the the Met in 2009, replacing the much-loved ultra-traditional staging by Franco Zeffirelli. Bondy also wrote the libretti for settings by Philippe Boesmans of The Winter’s Tale (1999) and Strindberg’s Miss Julie (2005).

Bondy’s last operatic hurrah was the world premiere of the French composer Marc-André Dalbavie’s Charlotte Salomon at the Salzburg Festival (2014). Writing in the Air offers essays by Bondy collaborators including Boesmans, the sopranos Anja Silja and Mireille Delunsch, Thomas Wördehoff, director of the Ludwigsburg Castle Festival in Germany, and Stéphane Lissner, director of the Paris Opera.

This starry ensemble evokes a rather fragile but indubitably creative colleague, whose flashes of inspiration made him an accomplished opera director almost in spite of himself. Wördehoff points out that despite an inability to read a musical score, Bondy had an ‘instinct for the narrative interaction between music and stage’ that few musically educated rivals could boast.

During a 1995 Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg Festival, Bondy instructed the Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringelborn in the role of the unhappily married Countess to build a house of cards during the introduction to her aria, ‘Porgi, amor’. This symbol of the fragility of wedlock was but one example of the Bondy touch. Still, Bondy preferred to avoid an all-operatic diet among directorial projects, given the art form’s ‘link with money, power and the public… opera puffs everything up bombastically.’ Likewise, his Austrian assistant director Dietlind Antretter reveals that before directing it, Bondy ‘originally detested’ Salome, feeling that Strauss’s setting of Oscar Wilde’s play was ‘unbearable kitsch, too sweet, too humid, too decadent, the music exaggerated, overwhelming and pompous.’

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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