Royal Opera

Tell me more…

Red Apple. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Tell’s famous shooting of the apple on Jemmy’s head was a brilliantly realised theatrical trick. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Having seen it at Sunday’s matinee, my thoughts about the Royal Opera’s new Guillaume Tell (production by Damiano Michieletto) will not rank amongst the more fulminating of the online debate. In short: musically stellar; visually interesting-tending-to-the-inert; dramatically stimulating. Notably, I didn’t find it – and that much-commented-upon sexual assault scene – particularly offensive.

I had expected to hate it. The way it was described conjured up the Royal Opera’s truly horrendous production of Rusalka, or the dull and pretentious Idomeneo. Both of those were in a league apart in terms of clumsy over-conceptual plot-handling and poor visuals. The atmosphere of Tell was well-established by the mud floor and general air of bleak oppression (however difficult it is to project a voice over so unreverberant a surface). On the night I had placed it in that miserable indefinably-somewhere-between-50s-and-70s period, but in fact it was set around World War 1, so my programme tells me. Chairs in abundance, against which much violence was wrought. Visible, hung strip-lighting as well. Baddies in combats wielding guns. It was not entirely cliché-free.  (more…)

Bye bye Bohème

Rooftops of Paris [(c) Mark Tyson]

Rooftops of Paris [(c) Mark Tyson]

So, it begins: the last run of Covent Garden’s production of La Bohème by John Copley, originally premiered during the period of electricity cuts and the 3-day week in 1974 – in fact, on the eve of Edward Heath asking for a dissolution of Parliament for the February 1974 General Election. In contrast 2015’s final revival saw ample full-on star-wattage blazing, albeit distractingly at times, from the two lead performers. In the meantime, the production showed its steadfast muted colours by carrying the the story with convincing straightforwardness. Nice though it was to see it a last time, I confess myself ready for something with rather more insight.

Given my lack of success in seeing her on the Covent Garden stage in the past, it was pleasing to note that Anna Netrebko was indeed present – and then some. As the evening progressed the celebrity sheen was slowly dimmed in favour of her genuine acting talents. Vocally as well, she seemed to ‘free up’ as the performance went on, after a first act in which her vocal voluptuousness threatened to tip over into an excessively mezzo-ish tone with stodgy consonants. Nonetheless, she won me back over as she stood behind the tumbril in act 3 and reacted most movingly to Rodolfo’s changing explanations of why he had left her. At the close, she anchored the death scene with her stillness, matching her vocal beauty to the failing health of the character. (more…)

Uneasy lies the head…

Duomo di Firenze, Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

Duomo, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Firenze; Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

It’s a tricky one, don’t you find? When you’re struggling to maintain your grasp on regal power because the anonymous, writhing naked men dwelling in the depths of your psyche simply won’t stop distracting you. They become particularly lively, and things reach a particularly feverish and catastrophic pitch, when a so-called prophet rides into town promising all sorts of pleasures…

Thus runs, broadly, the theme (it’s not so much a plot) of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, at least in Kasper Holten’s well-judged production at Covent Garden. At last, a new production at Covent Garden that can be considered a fairly comprehensive success. The monumental head, filling the stage, starts out as some sort of totem of established worship, framed within a galleried set. As it turns, it reveals a metaphorical chamber, with enlightenment above (symbolised by piles of books) and the aforementioned baser elements slithering in the depths. This colossal stage-picture allowed the themes of Szymanowski’s opera to be very well elucidated: pulses of movement in the sensual depths accompanied each hint of King Roger’s seamier psychological undercurrents, until things disintegrated completely and broke free from the central cranium. Knowledge, again symbolised by books, was destroyed in a flaming pyre in the third act, giving way to the pursuit of pure pleasure – except for Roger, who sees a possibility of rebuilding a more meaningful life.  (more…)

Quick catch-up…

Programmes April 2015

It’s been a hectic old time the last few weeks, so capturing thoughts on performances has rather got forgotten. They’ve been a diverse bunch as well.

So, in brief: (more…)

L’Ormindo

There can hardly be a greater contrast between The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at English National Opera, which I’m about to head out to, and L’Ormindo performed in the warm intimacy of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre. The 340-seat theatre, tightly packed and lit exclusively by candlelight, is a perfect setting for early Baroque operas such as this one by Francesco Cavalli. Standing for £10 was a bargain on any measure, even if my days of standing through performances are rapidly running out. (more…)

Well-matured ham

It’s great to see the increasingly fervent Twitter commendations for Andrea Chénier at Covent Garden as the run reached its climax with the last night on 6 February.

(more…)

Fervent, but not very revolutionary

Versailles: Galerie des Glaces [photo: Mark Tyson]

Versailles: Galerie des Glaces

I wasn’t expecting to see Covent Garden’s new Andrea Chénier until next weekend, but was cajoled into a last-minute returned Upper Slips ticket for last night. For various reasons – not least, that it was a long, long week – I’m glad I’ll have a second chance at it.

I don’t really know Andrea Chénier, other than as a couple of over-impassioned excerpts such as La mamma morta and the closing duet. Judging by some Twitter commentators, it’s a piece of rare delicacy that calls for the most carefully cultivated voices and a production of subtle delicacy, making the most of the myriad options for reinterpretation. To me, it looked – and sounded – like a loud, brash load of old ham: one of those operas that makes a good noise, but isn’t going to change your world.  (more…)