Two evenings, both with flaws as well as tremendous performances; both looked forward to immensely, and one more successful than the other.
The first – and most successful – was the concert performance of Der Freischütz at the Barbican (21/4). The LSO were on fine form, with all the gorgeous sonorities of the score richly displayed. Sir Colin Davis ensured there was the right amount of pep in all of the folksy numbers, the angst of Agathe and Max was given its space, and there was a liberal dose of fire and thunder in the Wolf’s Glen scene. I could have done without some of the electronic sound effects: I thought we left such things behind with John Culshaw’s Solti Ring recording.
Christine Brewer flashed the blade of her steely voice a little too often for Agathe’s intimate angst, but it was a vivid portrayal with some very touching moments indeed when the pressure was off. Sally Matthews, by contrast, poured forth an astonishingly beautiful, creamy voice, adding up to a winning Aennchen.
Of the men, Simon O’Neill was a thin-voiced Max, his difficult vocal sound becoming rather tiring after a while; and it didn’t help that he was glued to a score throughout (which he held – regularly but intermittently – directly between him and his recording mic, so who knows what the sound engineers will do with that?). Falk Struckmann’s replacement, Lars Woldt, packed a thrilling punch as Kaspar; Gidon Saks was similarly impressive – and luxury casting – as the Hermit. Other parts were of similar standard.
In common with the comparison piece – La Fille du Régiment – Der Freischütz is a piece that I could hear over and over. Fille (27/4) might be a little thin by comparison, but it is also effortlessly enjoyable. Unfortunately, in the Covent Garden revival of Laurent Pelly’s (to my mind) fun production, there was rather too much effort on display. The comedy – which had seemed so balanced and consistent on earlier outings – this time round seemed more forced and clunky.
Patrizia Ciofi’s voice lacks the crisp bright sound that Dessay still had when she performed the role. Instead, it has a cloudiness to its middle register, a seeming effort in lower passages, that robbed the histrionic and comedic hyperactivity of its impact. Her comedy portrayal was uncannily Dessay-ish, which only served to highlight the lack of vocal clout. Where she did excel was in the slower numbers, where her tone was given more space, and its comparative warmth lent the music a greater pathos.
The revelation (for me) was Colin Lee – finally, seemingly, out of the shadow of Juan Diego Flórez for whom, in WC2, he has regularly been the ‘B cast’ or stand-in. I might actually have preferred his Tonio to that of Flórez. His voice has a greater muscularity to it, and he manages the naïveté more straightforwardly, slightly less cloyingly. Appropriately for Olympic™ year, that most opera-as-sport aria (Ah! Mes amis…) was despatched in top-notch fashion, all nine high-C’s (count ’em!) duly delivered.
I could watch Anne Murray in grande dame mode for hours, as she bustles, fusses, gasps and domineers through the role of La Marquise. Similarly, Alan Opie was on form as Sulpice and Donald Maxwell reprised the slightly hoch-G&S take on Hortensius. The less said about the Royal Opera’s gimmick casting of Anne Widdecombe as La Duchesse de Crackentorp the better. She wasn’t as awful as I thought she would be, but still she was barely audible for most of it, and delivered lines with the stilted approach of an amateur. Better could have been done. I could do without the Olympics™ jokes in that section as well: apart from a good excuse for a Ring cycle and Les Troyens with Jonas Kaufmann, I’m getting heartily sick of hearing about the whole grotesque festival of commercialism.