Ópera y Teatro musical

Rising temperatures in Covent Garden

Enrique Sacau
miércoles, 5 de agosto de 2009
0,0001878 The Royal Opera season usually goes out with a bang. In contrast with the House’s often understated opening in September (sometimes simply a concert performance of a not very well known opera), in June and July they put on two or three star-filled blockbusters to gather crowds, appeal to tourists and fill piazzas and cinemas all over the world with screenings suitably sponsored by BP. This year it’s the turn of Tosca with Gheorghiu, Giordano and Terfel, Barbiere di Siviglia with Spagnoli, Di Donato, Florez, Corbelli and Furlanetto and Traviata with Fleming, Calleja and Hampson. Match that! To complement this haute-couture display, the Royal Opera has put on a successful new production of Lulu (reviewed by Mundoclasico.com) and a prêt-a-porter revival of Mario Martone’s Un ballo in maschera with Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas as the main attraction. Small wonder we were all dying for the summer to arrive for such a shower of divos over London! Still waiting to see Barbiere and Tosca, I can tell that things got off to a very good start.

Richard Eyre came back to revive his celebrated 1994 production of Traviata. His return, loudly trumpeted by the Royal Opera, yielded mixed results. On the plus side, Eyre brought tuberculosis back into the opera. Indeed, the fact that Violeta is dying of consumption is a crucial element of the plot, clearly reflected in the libretto and signified by the music. It happens too often that we don’t perceive Violeta’s illness until the last act, depriving the first two of a fundamental part of their meaning - a tragic sense of anticipation. On the minus side, Eyre had the singers do too much, especially during act one when he made Renee Fleming run up and down opening and closing doors, playing with glasses, champagne bottles and ice cubes. This was all rather gratuitous, especially since the right approach to directing Fleming is to rein her in so that she stops over-acting. Indeed, America’s undisputed diva pulled the usual corny faces (lucky I was sitting quite far from the stage), read out the letter in act 3 so badly that it was funny and added in sobs even when she wasn’t singing. But how she sang!

During “Ah fors’è lui” I was happily reminded of how good she can be, something obvious again in her act 2 duet with Germont (rather overacted too), the best “Amami Alfredo” I’ve ever heard and a melting “Addìo del passato”. During these moments, Fleming displayed her perfect legato supported by endless fiato, creamy timbre, excellent pitch and fabulous technique. As I have written before, Fleming doesn’t gamble: she goes on stage fully prepared and knowing her part backwards, thus making the audience feel that they are in good hands. You may like or dislike Fleming, as any other singer, but her quality and professionalism cannot be denied. Her only less-than-good moment was “Sempre libera”: challenged by the high notes, she needed to build near ladders of extra ones to reach them, which together with her often notorious scooping made for a rendition of this stretta that didn’t make one feel that she was totally in control.

Joseph Calleja’s Alfredo was the surprise of the evening. I confess to have thought for a long time that he was overrated. Yet, this time he was simply perfect. His voice sounded full, rich, rounded as never before. The Maltese tenor is only 32, which makes me hope that more hard work on the voice and the acting will yield long-lasting results and keep us all happy for a few decades. Somebody should tell American baritone Thomas Hampson that Covent Garden is not the Met and that you don’t need to scream your chest off every time you sing. Hampson’s Germont was unnecessarily (and always) loud, something that cast a small shadow over his otherwise commendable performance of a role he knows well and in which he can display his beautiful timbre and impressive stage presence. Occasionally lacking in colour, Antonio Pappano’s Verdi is never quite as great as his very strong Puccini (or his Shostakovich), but is still good. A little more nuance here and there to spice up the Brindisi or slow down “Addìo del passato” would be a welcome improvement. But above all, Pappano is an excellent accompanist who made it possible for us all to enjoy the singing of this very good revival of La traviata.

The night before this Traviata I attended a Verdian warm-up; that is, a less starry yet nicely put-together revival of Martone’s neither-good-nor-bad, kind-of-soulless Un ballo in maschera which was adequately conducted by Maurizio Benini. Martone’s production hasn’t been lucky with its revivals (nor was the premiere with Carlos Alvarez and Karita Mattila as amazing as expected, as witnessed by Emanuele Senici’s review for Mundoclasico.com). Again, this time was good, but not thrilling. The exception was Ramon Vargas’s rendition of Riccardo, which went from adequate to excellent, his act 3 “Ma se m’è forza perderti” being a great treat. Also increasingly good was Dalibor Jenis’s Riccardo, who sang authoritatively in acts 2 and 3. As Amelia, Angela Marambio’s Royal Opera debut wasn’t memorable. Her voice is too challenged in the upper register and her good centre doesn’t quite make up for it; however, there were good moments in “Morrò ma prima in grazia”. Elena Manistina’s Ulrica was much better as has made me look forward to seeing her in similar roles (Azucena and the like). Anna Christy’s good singing as Oscar was marred by her really substandard acting jumping up and down and looking much more girlish than the role of Oscar demands.
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