This production was booed on its opening night. It's the kind of production I've been griping about for the past few years, the kind that changes the place and/or time of the story for no reason other than to give the director and designer a chance to show off. Empty minimalist sets, heavy-handed symbolism, etc. Besides, "updating" always shows a lack of confidence in the opera to succeed on its own without the addition of way-out gimmickry. That's sad.
Having said that, I now have to eat my words, because I liked this production. I liked it a lot. The scene in the first act where they're all getting ready to go off to Ulrica's den was staged like a vaudeville routine. From that unexpected bit of whimsy clear through to the choreographed reflections in the mirrored walls of the ballroom -- it was all good. The uncluttered sets, the constantly changing stage picture...I thought it was beautiful.
Now I'm going to have to contradict myself again; there was one thing that seemed to me to be a mistake. The painting of the fall of Icarus was used as a stage curtain, a ceiling, a backdrop -- it appeared in some form in almost every scene. To make sure we got the point, Oscar was wearing wings at the masked ball. Late in the opera the conspirators sing that Gustavo is going to fall from Heaven to Hell, and I guess that's all that was needed to make the Icarus connection. But Icarus fell because he soared too high (a lesson in hubris). As far as I could tell, Gustavo did no soaring at all. In fact, he was pretty much headed in the other direction all along. He was reckless, he ignored advice and warnings, he'd killed one conspirator's brother and took another conspirator's castle for himself, he actively pursued his best friend's wife. No soaring there. Gustavo is no Icarus.
Alvarez was a wonderful surprise; it seemed to me he had much more variety in his singing than the last time I heard him. (He even did some acting this time!) I thought all the singing was good, both principals and chorus. Except for Icarus, I can't fault this production and to hell with the boo-birds.