Mini Review

Mozart Marathon

Royal Opera have advertised their Mozart-da Ponte cycle as having some connection to the Olympics year. That connection is not in any way apparent when seeing the operas, but why let that fact get in the way of an appealing marketing campaign?

Each production having been presented previously, there is no thread to the stagings, they are not even given similar treatments in terms of style. If there is one facet illuminated by the cycle, it is the delicious wit of da Ponte’s texts, in which humour is more an ongoing pleasure rather than more obvious or heavyhanded ‘jokes’.

If there is a common link at all it is the uniformly superb singing and playing that has brought Mozart’s glorious music to life. Bravo to Royal Opera for the obvious care and effort they expend in selecting the most talented casts available.

Cosi fan tutte
Royal Opera House
7pm Monday 30 January 2012

When Fiordiligi and Dorabella cme on stage checking their mobile phones, you know it’s not your grandmother’s Cosi.

While the opera is far from a personal favourite, Jonathan Miller’s 1995 update is utterly charming, placing the music first but with plenty of welcome humour along the way.

A particularly young, slender and attractive lead cast play the modern day lovers, making their passion for love all the more believable. Ostensibly still set in Naples, the characters are dressed like young Londoners, the men especially seeming to be making the bet about their girlfriends’ fidelity at an executive bistro.

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A single white-washed backdrop stands in for the seven scenes originally listed for the opera. This simplicity, while a little dull, focuses the action squarely on the six inter-twined characters. Fortunately, he six performers in this season prove themselves to be well up to the task, singing beautifully and also delighting with their comic acting.

Pretending to go off to some sort of middle eastern war, the boys return as long-haired, tattooed bikie/hippy types, eventually even converting the initially prissy girls over to this style.

Overseeing seeing the shenanigans is elder statesman Thomas Allen, celebrating forty years at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with this appearance. In fine voice, Allen’s wry, knowing smirk grounded the more outlandish elements, letting the audience know we were all in on the joke.

Charles Castronovo shone as Ferrando, his pure, tenor voice ringing out sweetly but strongly. His act one aria “Un’aura amorosa” was unspeakably romantic, followed equally well by his two second act arias. Nikolai Borchev sang the baritone role of Gugliemo with ease, and contributed plenty of humorous action.

Malin Bystrom was an exquisite Fiordiligi, her rich soprano all he more surprising from her slight, young frame. Bystrom demonstrated the beauty of her voice and her sterling technique with “Come scoglio”, also holding the audience in rapture during the leisurely length of “Per pieta perdona”. Michele Losier we lovely to see and hear as Dorabella.

Despina, re-imagined as a kind of modern PA to the girls, was sung beautifully and brought comically to life by Rosemary Joshua.

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A wonderful night at the opera.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Royal Opera
7pm Friday 24 February 2012

Now this is how to do a traditional period production. Gorgeous costumes, majestic sets and truly beautiful singing.

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To watch Sir Antonio Pappano in action is to watch a true artist at work, his hands shaping the music as a potter shapes clay or a painter caresses a canvas with paint. His love, not to mention intricate knowledge, of the music is all pervasive, his passion clearly inspiring one and all to give their performance everything they have. And he is a dab hand at the harpsichord as well.

David McVicar’s six year old production gleams with polish and wit, with expert use made of incidental physical comedy in particular. Magical scene transitions glide about effortlessly, with plenty of space on the sparkling polished floorboards for the action to take place. The servants, possibly of more interest than ever in this Downton era, are showcased via a delightful overture pantomime, returning for frequent cheeky vignettes throughout the night. And they are costumed splendidly in forest and mossy shades of green.

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The absence of star attraction Simon Keenlyside was a blow, though American bass Lucas Meachem was certainly a strong, if uninvolving, performer as the Count. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo demonstrated his deliciously deep bass voice as a spiritedly Figaro.

If anything, the evening belonged to the women. Rachel Willis-Sornsen was a voluptuous Countess, impressing with a longingly delivered “Dove sono i bei momenti”. Aleksandra Kurzak filled the house with house with her rich soprano as Susanna. Anna Bonitatibus scored the greatest acclaim of the night with Cherubino’s ‘song’ “Voi che sapete che cosa è amor”.

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Another delightful evening of opera.

Don Giovanni
Royal Opera
5.30pm Sunday 26 February 2012

Erwin Schrott is as likeable a scoundrel as you are ever likely to see as the Don.

Decadent midnight shades of dark blue, green and scarlet characterise the richly textured work of legendary designer Maria Björnson (Phantom of the Opera) for this production. Wittily adorned with sacred iconography, a central curved unit revolves to transport the characters to the range of locations of the devilish story. Incredible pillars of fire intensify the dramatic finale.

Schrott plays Giovanni as a swaggering rogue who sees himself as a charming gift to womankind rather than a murdering, heartbreaking serial seducer. Schrott’s easy manner is a pleasure to watch and colours his interaction with all other characters, especially Leporello (Alex Esposito), who comes off as funnier and more lovable than ever. Schrott’s bass is perfectly matched the role, his charming presence commanding the stage at all time. Not to mention that his final shirtless scene means that the columns of fire are not necessarily the hottest things on the stage.

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The principal cast are of an evenly matched high standard, the singing a pleasure to hear the whole way through. Highlights include Pavol Breslik’s highly romantic Don Ottavio and Ruxandra Donose’s intense Donna Elvira. (both pictured below)

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A strong finale to this trio of Mozart-da Ponte classics.

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Photos: Action shots- Royal Opera, Bows- Simon Parris

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