Liudmyla Monastyrska

Bland Ballo

A monument at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey [photo: Mark Tyson]

Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey [photo: Mark Tyson]

Upheaval seems to be baked into Verdi’s 1859 opera Un ballo in maschera: it was begun as a tale about a Swedish king, shifted briefly (in conception) to Germany, then finally premiered as featuring colonial Boston. Now Katharina Thoma has shifted it to pre-First World War Austria-Hungary for Covent Garden’s new production. The assassination of Riccardo at the end is seemingly intended to evoke the spirit of events on the town hall steps in Sarajevo in June 1914.

Not that it matters, since this rather hammy melodrama streamrollers forth, paying no heed to the new window-dressing. Outer acts appear to look backward to the clunkier operations of Il Trovatore or Nabucco, whilst the central act in the ‘spooky’ graveyard has more of the developed, conversational writing on which Verdi’s reputation is more justly based. Picking up on the spooky graveyard theme, not to mention the supernatural invocations of fortune-teller Ulrica, Thoma has opted for an omnipresent pseudo-Gothic décor (minus the pointed arches, incidentally). When funerary monuments are not required, the cloisters and weighty doorframes are rearranged to form libraries, bedrooms, etc., but in essence most of the action, loosely directed, takes place in a wide open space in the middle of the stage. The graveyard scene did have some quite effective business with statuary coming to life to caress the distressed Amelia. Otherwise not particularly engaging, but I suppose not too offensive either. Given Covent Garden’s recent run of flirting with more interventionist directorial ideas, it’s at least a more benign form of failure for a new production. (more…)

Nabucco

Nabucco programme and ticket

So, last night was a thoroughly enjoyable performance of Nabucco at Covent Garden, something of a birthday treat. Domingo headed a cast that included the formidable Liudmyla Monastyrska amongst other excellent performances.

Daniele Abbado’s production has had more than its fair share of detractors, but from our vantage point (extreme side, in a Balcony box) I thought it functioned quite effectively in providing an unintrusive – indeed atmospheric – space for the action, with some nice touches such as the standing stones being toppled in one destructive episode. Elsewhere, admittedly, it’s less effective, such as the destruction of the idol, which is formed from parts held on sticks, which actors bring down to the floor with rather less drama than the music suggests. The clouds of dust that erupt from the sand-covered space whenever the chorus move around it seem rather alarming as well, given the artform depends on the health of participants’ airways. (more…)

Where’d he go??

Oh, dear.  A bit of a bloggin’ disaster.  Moving house got me out of the habit, out of the frame of mind, and out of the path of a computer for rather too long.  I do apologise, and especially to the two people who were kind enough to trouble themselves with comments on previous blogposts, which then sat in unloved cyberspace for two months.  Tsk tsk, not good enough. (more…)

Lady Macbeth’s vocal power behind the throne

In the programme note for the Royal Opera’ s latest revival of Verdi’s Macbeth, there is a brief reference to the early performances of the piece in Florence in 1847, after the second of which, Verdi was “accompanied home by a crowd of people who yelled like the damned”.  If she didn’t quite get that response, Liudmyla Monastyrska came quite close after a tremendous performance of the opera’s anti-heroine. (more…)

Covent Garden’s Aïda

I can’t recall the last time I had so many cancellation notices in the run-up to an opera. First, Micaela Carosi withdrew due to pregnancy and/or, depending on how much you read into these things, being boo’d at the dress rehearsal.  Given her reviews for the first run, we might not count that as too grievous a loss.  Then Fabio Luisi gets a better offer and swaps Covent Garden’s Aïda for the Met’s Rheingold, in place of an ailing James Levine.  And finally, a few days before the performance, Olga Borodina succumbs to a virus and withdraws to spend the night, one assumes, with a cold compress and some Vicks. (more…)