Last Saturday to hear the SSO with Victoria Mullova and Donald Runnicles, Brahms violin concerto and Strauss Symphonia Domestica. I’ve really left it too late to be able to say anything either accurate or intelligent about this occasion. VM and DR both made a good impression.
During the week, an interlude of uncharacteristic luxury (there is a gfc, you know).
On Wednesday, to Aida. D is going away before our otherwise scheduled date so I found him a seat earlier in the season (supplies were limited) and on the day picked up a (for me) marginal seat on the end of row M in the stalls. I was told this was the last seat. Judging from the state of the house, that was possibly true, at least of the seats which were to be sold.
It is directed by Graeme Murphy. I know why they brought him in. They thought: spectacle! colour and movement! Turandot! Graeme Murphy!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about GM’s production of Turandot. I have mixed feelings also about Aida. Both require spectacle and pomp which are difficult to achieve on the Opera Theatre stage . They require it because in each opera the spectacle, principally of the might of the state (or in Turandot, the oriental despot by his princess), is the counterpoise to the love drama and the force against which the love heroes struggle.
Because this Aida is an Opera Conference production, Murphy has also had to conceive it to fit the capabilities of the least of the theatres to which those productions may tour. I wonder if this in some way at a level of sheer technical necessity lies behind his use of the “travelator” at the front of the stage rather than, for example, a revolve stage. Quite frankly, it’s not an easy brief.
I share some of Sarah‘s reservations about the pomp and grandeur scenes. They’re inventively done but the invention involves an element of ingenuity which at the same time leaves everything looking at times a bit like a parody of grand opera at its slightly shabby clunkiest. The last act was better but I expect that even at the grandest opera houses it always is, because it is inherent in the design of the work.
Dongwon Shin, our Radames, was clearly struggling (though quite well) with vocal indisposition. He’s obviously a good singer – you could tell that from how nevertheless he managed to nail the last high note in Celeste Aida. I don’t blame him from bailing out at the second interval. He had to be able to come back and sing the role again. His replacement (whose exact name, I, like others, did not catch) did his best and quite well in the circumstances. I am next going on 8 August, so whether I hear DS on that occasion depends on what Opera Australia means by saying that he is Radames “until 8 August” and that otherwise it is (without time qualification) Rosario La Spina.
It’s clear that the public wants to see Aida. It’s odd then that it isn’t done more frequently in Australia.
Perhaps it really is because it is difficult to do. As I’ve said, there was lots that was ingenious about the production;
Claire Rutter Tamara Wilson sang Aida at a level which in Sydney we certainly cannot complain about, though Michael Lewis’s appearance as Amonasro definitely raised the stakes so far as witnessing someone really at home in the style and knowing what to do with it.
Anyway, I’m going to see it again, and I hope next time to be more moved by it – I have certainly been more moved by this opera than I was on Wednesday, when the overall effect was mildly dispiriting – however much, of course, it remained a great work. D gave it two-and-a-half stars.
On Thursday, a further night of luxury (even at two and a half stars, Aida remains incontrovertibly a luxury) with the first night of Manon Lescaut. This is Puccini’s first big hit. It’s a bit of an odd opera because, spanning the action of a novel, it relies on you to join the dots between the episodes shown on the stage.
The production was cast pretty much at Opera Australia’s top level. If I hadn’t already gone on at more than adequate length about Aida I might try to say why the result in ML was reassuringly satisfactory in the way that Aida was not: I suspect a lot of it came down to a production which attempted comfortably and securely something which it actually could achieve.
The performance was also billed as being dedicated to the memory of former Australian Opera musical director, Edward Downes, and there were leaflets to that effect on the armrests. I thought it might have been possible for something to have been said at the end of the performance. I don’t know exactly how it filtered through the musical folk-memory-sphere to me but the message I’ve always had is that Downes was very “well-respected” (the quotes because that was the actual phrase which instantly came to mind and I have also seen something like it in print) for what he achieved when in Sydney in the early seventies. I suspect this was transmitted with a certain emphasis because of the decided lack of respect he was shown when the time came to welcome Richard Bonynge back with Joan Sutherland.
Wanderer writes eloquently of the first Australian season of Jenufa, which we owe to Downes. This I also saw, albeit at a more tender and differently impressionable age. The ticket was my collateral gain from the divorce of some friends of my parents, which goes to show that there are few clouds which do not have a silver lining for someone.