Well, here we are again. Nearly a month since the last post and much operatic activity that has passed without comment. What can I say? My mind was elsewhere.
In short: a fabulous Simon Boccanegra with Domingo; an excellent Salome with Angela Denoke; a so-so Traviata with a hyperactive Gheorghiu; and Hänsel und Gretel at Glyndebourne, not quite as good as the last outing.
I won’t go into details, save to expand briefly on those short descriptors. I’m not a great fan of Simon Boccanegra; I think it pales in comparison to Don Carlos for the public/private dichotomy and to Traviata for the interpersonal chemistry. Nonetheless, a good performance is still an engaging affair. In this case, Furlanetto mimed whilst Tomlinson sang (conspicuously) from the wings, and Poplavskaya wasn’t quite ‘there’ as Amelia, struggling to rein in her hefty voice to some of the gentler passages. But, of course, Domingo took this solid silver performance and plated it in platinum. There was something magical about his very first – and every successive – appearance; his every dramatic gesture; and his glowing tone, even if the role ideally demanded more heft lower down. He is a great. As a 36-year old, I expect to maintain vivid memories of seeing him and to recount the stories just like those older gentlemen of my acquaintance now, who fondly remember their experiences of Sutherland/Callas/Gobbi/di Stefano [insert name of favourite diva/divo here].
You do wonder, though, if just a teensy bit, about how much is down to the ‘group experience’ of a huge audience seeing a great star and everyone contributing their little bit to the atmosphere, and ‘willing’ it on. In some small way, that contributes to the ‘specialness’ of the evening, I think. And it’s probably no bad thing.
And there has to be a kernel of something really special, because there are then those evenings where you can’t quite see what is going on for everyone else. Like La Traviata with Gheorghiu. After an act 1 that ended with the most physically tortuous coloratura I’ve seen for while, she was cheered to the rafters. I remained rather cold, and a little bemused. Poor Violetta looked like consumption was layered upon epilepsy. That was combined with a tendency to walk upstage and sing to the wall – gallantly concealed under an air of dramatic conviction – that was presumably to aid in tuning the coloratura by listening to the reflections off the wall. If not, it was a most curious dramatic decision.
Acts 2 and 3 were more comfortable. By the end of Act 3, this was the Gheorghiu I remembered from all those years ago when I was at the hastily televised third performance of the run that launched her. She is, indeed, the only singer who has been able to do that curious ‘lap of honour’ in the dying moments and make it not merely acceptable, but genuinely convincing.
For the record, no-one applauded the Act 2 Scene 2 scenery. Presumably because, by now, we’ve all seen it before. Germont père was vivid and hearty in both drama and song; Germont fils was willowy, dashing, but dramatically gauche and vocally hit-and-miss.
Salome was a fabulous shocker, as it should be. I was pleasantly surprised by Denoke, having previously seen her ‘up close and impersonal’ as Chrysothemis in Elektra at the Barbican, and found her vocal production rather odd. She was all over the stage though in Salome, eating it up, owning it, controlling it like a thing possessed. I’m still a bit undecided on the staging of the Dance of the Seven Veils, but I think I err on the side of it being as good a solution as any to this perennial problem. Others were all good, save to observe that I simply cannot imagine another role – other than, perhaps, Klytemnestra or, at a push, Fricka – that would suit Irina Mishura’s voice. It was stupendously big, fruity, wobbly and at times, grotesque. It suited Herodias, but it can’t be an easy instrument to cast…
And so to Hänsel und Gretel: a production that, in its overall conception and basic execution, is spectacular. It needs some details tightening up: the witch’s demise is a bit limp, even if the explosion that follows is tremendous. Voices didn’t seem to register – almost uniformly – and I wonder if it was the seats we had (the end two of row B of the Upper Circle) because this applied to Alice Coote’s ever-enjoyable Hänsel. Her acting as a boy is something to marvel at. Wolfgang Ablinger-Speerhacke’s Witch hammed up the true horror of the character and, if occasionally it went a bit OTT, on balance it was where it should be. By the way, I do hate it when audiences boo the evil character… it may be a fairytale, but it’s opera, not panto.
[And on that note, Opera magazine’s remarks in their Billy Budd review about the audience booing Claggart have my full support: that was Britten, it’s a shattering story, performed in what has a convincing claim to be England’s greatest opera house after (perhaps even including) the ROH, and it’s tacky and puerile to ‘boo’ the villain after such a serious endeavour. There, said it: now I shall try and make my face a little less ‘po’.]
So there we are, we’re up to date again! I’ve been being distracted by my new acquisition, a Canon EOS-7D, which has rather stole the limelight from my blogging efforts. Who knows, maybe this will become a opera-cum-photography blog? We’ll see.
In the meantime, I will redouble my efforts and try and make sure something gets posted promptly about next Friday’s Eugene Onegin by the Bolshoi at Covent Garden. If nothing else, a short rant about the disgustingly inflated seat prices will be in order. You’ll notice there are rather a lot left still, which is no surprise when a Lower Slips is £50+. Anyway, we’ll see how the Bolshoi compares to the Mariinsky’s last visit, but at least they’re on home turf with Onegin, so we can hope for something more solid. It’s still interesting to note that they are doing four performances on four successive nights, which seems rather like the Mariinsky’s workaholic regime.
I go on Friday 13th. Let’s hope there’s no curse…