Sunday, 22 January 2012

La traviata, 17th January 2012, Belissimo!

La traviata. Where do I begin with this opera? It's one of the greatest, most wonderful and tuneful pieces of theatre ever written in my opinion and by one of operas truly great composers, Giuseppe Verdi. I love this opera with a ferocious passion, for me it's everything I love about opera - it's beautifully tuneful, dramatic, gripping, devastatingly heartbreaking, and performed well it makes you want to leap out of your seat as the curtain goes down in raputous applause with at least a few tears in your eyes. Kasper Holten, the Royal Opera's new Director of Opera, says in the current programme 'We promise we will do our very best to move you to tears tonight' - Certainly worked for me! I just love,love,love La traviata!

The performance I saw this week was my second at the Royal Opera. It comes at the end of the mega run they've had this season, featuring a range of stars in the main role of Violetta. This week it was supposed to the turn of mega-soprano Anna Netrebko. Unfortunately (and not for the first time and I doubt for the last time) she was forced to pull out of her two shows due to an emergency foot operation..........I'm saying nothing. Anyway, in Netrebko's place we had the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, who made her début covering for Netrebko the last time she bowed out several years ago. This was also the second time I've seen Jaho in the role, the first occasion being back in 2010 again at the ROH. I have to say, she wasn't quite as strong this time round. In fact, during Act I i was a bit nervous that she might not be able to get through some of the tougher numbers. Needless to say she did, and personally I felt she went from strength to strength as the opera progressed. By the end of ACT III she'd drawn me in enough to have me in tears as Violetta passed away and the curtains came down. That's an important aspect of opera, essential even - the acting. It's all very well to get up on stage and belt out a few big numbers, but if you can't act the part then you won't draw people into the character. Opera is essentially just musical theatre after all! Jaho plays the character with brilliant vulnerability. I'm becoming quite a fan of her's at the moment. She was by far the best aspect of Il trittico back in September where she performed in Sour Angelica, and although her performance in this La traviata wasn't flawless, I still think she did a great job overall.

It must be tough coming out on stage to perform to an audience who've come wanting to see a super star like Anna Netrebko. I guess it'd be a bit like going to a Madonna concert and instead getting the cast of Glee come out and perform her greatest hits. The potential is for a disappointing evening and a hostile reaction from the crowd, especially risky with a discerning opera audience at one of the world's top opera houses. The crowd was definitely a bit subdued on Tuesday evening, but I think by the end they'd warmed to Jaho and Verdi's barnstorming music had taken most people under it's spell. I certainly enjoyed it immensely. It has confirmed for me that I'm firmly in the Italian opera camp. I did enjoy my last Wagner, but it wasn't anything compared to the enjoyment I get from the great Italian's like Verdi and Puccini. These guys are why I love opera so very much. The music is just beautiful, it's dramatic, passionate, engaging. La traviata encapsulates all of this. My favourite moments are many in this opera. the entire first Act for starters, the opening of the second half of Act II, the closing scenes of Act III. They're all just wonderful, wonderful moments!

However, I have discovered my new favourite opera moment of all time in La traviata. It's buried towards the end of the first half of Act II (at the ROH Act II is divided into two halves,I'm not sure if this is common elsewhere), I say 'buried' because it's a very short moment, although it's very well know. For starters, it is the opera scene from Pretty Woman when Richard Gere (I had to Google him just then, that's how memorable he is!) takes Julia Roberts to her first opera in San Francisco. Just prior to this scene, Alfredo's father has been to see Violetta and has demanded that she leave him for good so that he can return to his family in Provence. Alfredo returns home to find Violetta upset and writing a letter to him explaining why she must leave, the scene unfolds with Alfredo demanding to know what's happened, Violetta proclaims 'Amami, Alfredo, amami quanto io t'amo!' (Love me, Alfredo, Love me as I love you!) to the most stunning, rolling music, before she flees from the house forever. It just gets me every time, I just love the emotions of the entire scene, the intensity of it. The thought of being forced to leave someone you're deeply in love with through no choice of your own. Proper tear jerker! I haven't described it too well here, so it's best if I add in a few sneak peaks of the scene from You Tube: (This is a scene from the Netrebko/Villazon performance at the Salzburg Festival in 2005); (Someone doing some illegal recording here at the Met in NYC, but it's Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann) (I don't want to promote this scene, but it's the bit from Pretty Woman - with that guy I couldn't remember)

Anyway - I'm out of things to say about La traviata. sometimes words aren't good enough! This might not have been a performance for the history books, and I was disappointed at Netrebko's absence. But it was still Verdi's La traviata and it was still at the Royal Opera and I still had an amazing night. If you only ever go to one opera in your lifetime, make it a good production of La traviata. Brilliant stuff. Makes it worth getting out of bed in the mornings!

Belissimo, bravo, brilliant, magnificent, tremendous, barnstorming, earth shattering La traviata!!!!!!

Stars: *****
Seat: B35, Amphitheatre Left ***
Suggested recordings:
Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Thomas Hampston, Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Rizzi (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2005) - Live from 2005 Salzburg Festival;
Angela Gheorghiu, Frank Lopardo, Leo Nucci, Orchestra & Chorus of The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Sir Georg Solti (Decca, 1994) - Live performance from the ROH;
Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Matteo Manuguerra, National Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1981) - Probably my favourite recording to date.

NEXT OPERA: Cosi fan tutte (Mozart) 7th February.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 1st January 2012

After a short Christmas break from opera - on the stage at least! - I was back at the Royal Opera House for my first production of 2012, and what a brilliant way to start my new year! Wagner's Die Meistersinger von  Nürnberg was the opera, and i loved, loved, loved it. Everything about it. it was just fantastic. The staging was vibrant and colourful, the cast was brilliant, I even found it genuinely funny! The newly knighted Sir Antonio Pappano was in the pitt and he brought the score to life with stunning effect. Each time I'm lucky enough to experience Tony Pappano in action I think I love him even more!

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (her after Die Meistersinger) is not for the faint hearted coming in at 5hrs 40mins in length. Having said that, it wasn't until the end when I rose from seat after the long final act that I felt i'd been sat through such a long performance. A review in the Guardian this weekend said that the production flew by, and I total agree. I found the whole production so engaging that I really didn't notice the time passing. I think this was in large part down to the performance of the cast, as well as the well paced conducting from Pappano. I found the scenes involving the character of Sixtus Beckmesser especially enjoyable, and pretty funny too. I've never really gotten the joke whilst watching comic opera. Whilst those around me chortle, I normally find myself cringing. After all, a good joke in 1850 is rarely as fresh 200 years later, as I often find with much of Jane Austin's 'comic' books, such as Emma. However this isn't always the case, some of Oscar Wilde's work is still brilliantly funny to this day, and this was the case here. The acting throughout was really excellent, something which can be overlooked as something as integral to an opera as the singing itself (or so i've come to realise), which really added the humour to this production. Other highlights included the extravagant choral scenes, especially the riot in the town square at the end of Act II and the final scene in Act III. The stage just kept on filling up, and up and up with people on both occasions. It was brilliant! Also, the tenor Simon O' Neil, performing as the Knight, Walter von Stolzing, also put on a great show, especially considering he was suffering from mild bronchitis. 

This opera was a great way to start 2012 for me, and i'd highly recommend it, at least for those of you who are a bit more exposed to opera. Might be a bit much if your experience stops at Verdi's La Traviata. Die Meistersinger and indeed Wagner remain controversial because of their connections with anti-Semitism and the Nazis (more on this in an upcoming post), and i've had to do a lot of reading on the subject to understand it more. If you can look beyond this though and can accept Wagner's work as the art of total genius then you're left with beautiful, beautiful music, rousing choruses and an enjoyable and uplifting opera. all 5hrs 40mins of it. 

Rating: ****
Seat: Amphitheatre, Right, D77 ****

At the Royal Opera House until 8th January (

Next Opera: La traviata (Verdi), 17th January