Having done Glyndebourne three times and Holland Park twice I can’t really claim that the summer got in the way of opera-going, but there’s a sort of ‘back to school’ feeling in the air, and it’s backed up by the restart of the opera season ‘proper’. It’s not been auspicious…
An impromptu visit to Linda di Chamounix lasted to the end of Act 1. No excitement about the restarting of Covent Garden proceedings could persuade me to stick with something so rambling and so patchily performed. With orchestra arranged on the stage and performers manacled to music (and microphone) stands, it was all a rather flaccid presentation. I had hoped for the style of concert presentation that accompanied the Rusalka a couple of years back where there was some movement and interaction. Nope, none of that.
Eglise Gutiérrez has had quite good write-ups elsewhere. I think my ears were at a different performance. I found it an uncomfortable listen, with volume going up and down and a marked break between two different vocal soundworlds: one a dusky rich lower voice, and then a thin ‘peeping’ upper sound. I didn’t enjoy it, but what was odd was that the recorded snippet that was on Radio 3 sounded less unsatisfactory so it raises the possibility that I was in an odd space, perhaps physically (acoustically) and emotionally. Anyway, the rest irritated me and I couldn’t be bothered to keep up with the vapid plot so we mooched off home.
Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower Festival wasn’t much more successful, this time for environmental reasons. It rained. It’s difficult to keep focused on the performance when you’re a couple of hundred feet away, in the rain, surrounded by rustling plastic ponchos (free, of course). It was mic’d but that didn’t really help since the volume wasn’t up enough. We made it through to the trio ‘Alas I waver to and fro’, but in the event we made up our minds in favour of departure. And if you think it rude to leave during the performance, you’ve clearly never been to the Tower Festival. Fancy a natter? No problem. Sirens, lorries, buses, car horns? Yep. Under a flight path? Ah well, there you go. And whereas most of the seating is on the bottom of the moat of the Tower, the back block are on a raked gantry, which brings you (if you’re up the back) to a near-level with the road. There’s not much point in commenting on the voices, I could hardly hear them, save for Susan Gorton’s booming Dame Carruthers, who gave the vocal impression of trying to manoeuvre a petrol tanker in a cul-de-sac.
We had tickets for the next night as well: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa presents the Future Stars of Opera with the City of London Sinfonia. No, really.
Actually, they were quite good. It was also mic’d, and again not entirely successfully, this time it stayed dry, and we were a bit closer, but next to the technical booth, so you can add to the disturbances above the sound of the wind-blown plastic sheeting protecting the equipment and the comings and goings (and debates about who asked for tea and who for coffee) of the technical crew. And a woman singing along behind us, which was curtly silenced.
The three young soloists were quite good, although they chose some obscure material for such a populist event, all presented without surtitles: it included ‘O luce di quest’anima’ from Linda di Chamounix, and I have to say that Lauryna Bendziunaite was rather more engaging about it than had been Eglise Gutiérrez. She also sang a good duet from L’Elisir d’Amore with Roberto Gomez, who also gave us quite a good if a little bland (allowances made for the circumstances) ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. The strongest voice was, I thought, Phillip Rhodes whose performance of ‘Largo al factotum’ was also perhaps the most characterful. He also sang, quite effectively, the piece that took the prize for most mangled song-title in the ineptly-produced programme: a Prologue from something called ‘Pagliace’ (sic) by a certain Leon Cavallo (‘ah, dear Leon,’ exclaimed the Duchess wistfully). A horsewhipping is due for someone in the production department.
Kiri’s contributions included the Flower Song from Carmen, which seemed to be rather more successful than the ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ from Adriana Lecouvreur. The latter seemed to become a bit unwieldy and made me wonder about the wisdom of those Köln Marschallins. But hey, what could I judge on the basis of the acoustic experience of the Tower of London moat? There were also a smattering of other operatic baubles and a few of the inevitable crossover numbers, including a really quite disastrous arrangement of ‘Somewhere’ which threatened to come apart at any point. The humour was provided by the arrival of a helicopter which hovered overhead for a protracted period to coincide with the line “peace and quiet and open air, wait for us somewhere…” I did think that Dame K’s voice was in quite good nick, all things considered, and had moments of real interest. But her stage presence still troubles me, seeming awkward and slightly flat, perhaps even bland. I suppose that not everyone can be a Karita Mattila.
In short, the Tower Festival: I don’t recommend it. It’s just not very well put together and thought-through. The other comedy moment was Harvey Goldsmith himself (I think) making the announcements in a broad London accent: “Can you ‘urry up and take your seats, we’re waiting to start the concert!” Charming. Particularly since the delays were in no small measure due to the disinterested and inept band of ushers-cum-security that he’d engaged for the proceedings. Poor show.
Let’s hope things get underway proper with tomorrow night’s Don Carlo. Can’t wait, hurrah!