Royal Opera’s latest revival of the classic double bill of Italian verismo operas that has thrilled opera lovers since the time of Enrico Caruso.
I’ve never really made sense of Cavalleria Rusticana on record past the famous tunes but the bitter drama opens up to life with this vibrant modern dress production, stage revolve and above all, surtitles in English. The music has a huge emotional compass, is technically progressive, passionate and supple, this performance seemed much darker than the classic recordings. The prelude action is non-sequential but then there’s a load of story-telling to get through before the plot sort of becomes clear but then, oh then, the opera comes so alive. This staging gives us false perspective, heightening the sense of exclusion. The scenery (in both productions) is set on a stage revolve, in Cavalleria Rusticana the rotation is reversed as an indication of a change of fortune as the dénouement approaches. The singing is gripping, the passion, the warmth but the chilling discords in the famous Easter Hymn now make sense with stage action and dramatic lighting. Wonderful.
With Pagliacci it’s a similar plot but a quite different treatment. The duets are glorious and Jorge de León (tenor) gave us a barnstorming performance of the famous aria Ridi Pagliacci, though impossible not to hear it without an echo in the ear of the old recording of Enrico Caruso, who sung it slightly faster. Again the modern production, seamless changes between the scenes using the stage revolve and with lots of background action, plus surtitles, made it possible to understand the plot. I’m not sure it adds that much, the glory is the singing and the tunes. Leoncavallo pays homage to Wagner a couple of times which both places Pagliacci in musical history and gives musical depth to the already complex plot.
Iolanthe is fun and fairies and ENO gave us magic too. Fairies have been different over the ages, ENO’s fairies are multi-coloured Arthur Rackhamesque fairies of uncertain ages: fun and frolics are their territory. It fits fine and the company poked fun at the political pumpkins of our time.
It’s a five star production and the music is fantastic. The front of house announcements were made as stand-up comedy by Clive Mantle as a character fireman, who appears in the action to put out fires. The opening is further subverted with lights fading up on a faux Royal Box showing a sheep wearing a tiara, then a flamingo, the first of many running jokes.
Fantastic to hear live large scale choral music once more with all the clarity and dynamics thrill you still only get with being in the same space where the musicians are playing. Tonight’s programme featured two large scale orchestral works with undercurrents of death and disaster.
A rare opportunity to hear the composer talk about and play his own music. Simeon Walker is halfway through a tour of 28 recitals in the UK promoting his recent projects. His programme is a refreshing change from the usual fare of St. Patrick’s music series. His first Impromptu was serene; he started playing with the minimum of ceremony, his music coming as if from nowhere as the daylight faded through the windows of the old church set in the rural beauty of the Lake District.
Blaze of Glory! is the first Welsh opera I’ve come across, despite the fine roster of famous Welsh singers. I went out of my way to see it in Cardiff at the last night of the premiere run and it was brilliant. A full, knowledgeable and appreciative audience in Cardiff’s new theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre. I heard groups around me speaking only in Welsh. There was a spine-chilling concert hush from the audience for the lusty opening chorus sung both on stage and augmented in the auditorium by the Ynysowen Male Choir. Much of the audience joined in singing, in Welsh, to the final chorus at the end of the opera, then there was a standing ovation with three or four curtain calls.