Catching up 2 [what?]

Last Saturday night again to Aida. Dongwon Shin (in difficulties and then indisposed when I first went) was in form as Radames and his form is pretty good.

D is away and I went with my old friend, Sq. Sq is a specialist in operas set in Egypt with nude bathing scenes, which is to say that one of the two other operas he has been to was Julius Caesar, when it was first mounted. The other, also at my urging, was Falstaff with Bryn Terfel, when he bought a standing room ticket (and suffered the next day, so he tells me).

Sq enjoyed it. I suppose that, all things being equal, he may next go to an opera in about 2018.

The previous week was busy. Pressing business at work on Monday night prevented me from going to hear and see Stephen Isselis and Dénes Varjon play Schumann for Musica Viva. Later in the week a genuinely urgent appearance before a duty judge prevented me from hearing Cédric Tiberghien playing the Bartók 2 with the SSO and Simone Young, not to mention the the orchestra play Brahms Haydn variations. At least (arriving just before interval) I heard the Strauss (Ein Heldenleben) which oddly enough gave me courage for the impending struggle (to which the truly urgent application related). Dene Olding wore his groovy thick-framed glasses. Ms Young led a rather brisk performance, or so it seemed to me. At times it verged on the scrappy, though some of that could easily be put down to programatticism (is this a word?) and even an element of quite admirable recklessness. Maybe I could have done with a few more dumplings and a bit less diet Coke.

On Tuesday (ie, last night by now) to the opening night of Bellini’s I Capuletti e i Montecchi, based on the same story as R&J. This really ought to be the subject of another post, if I can get around to it. My neighbour for the night told me she is coming to 5 operas this year, and that she has never forgiven Graeme Murphy for Turandot (“If I saw just one more Mexican wave!…”). Obviously, she didn’t choose Aida as one of her five. It just goes to show how long opera-goers can keep a grudge going. Aldo di Toro was indisposed and Henry Choo stood in (apparently he also sang at the final dress) as Tebaldo more than competently.

During the opening chorus [correction:] overture, as a means of showing the bitterness and entrenched nature of the feud, the production featured a lad (blond, of course) who with the encouragement of his elders executed a blindfold captive from the opposing family/faction. There was quite a big build up to this and it looked as though it was going to be a shocking moment. This was averted when the shot fired came through the PA rather than by a good old-fashioned stage blank. There were probably OH&S issues at stake here: not simply about the noise and the boy’s hearing, but also the psychological effect on him were the play-acting too realistic. I don’t remember such squeamishness about gunfire onstage in school dramatics in my youth, but then our stagecraft was probably never at a risk of psychologically damaging realism of any sort.

On a disquieting note, I got the distinct impression that the orchestra was being “discreetly” (as they always say) amplified. It seemed to go away for the first scene after interval (which included a spectacular clarinet obbligato by Catherine McCorkill, who has been playing quite a lot with the orchestra this year) but returned with the chorus in the next scene. On the Saturday at Aida the occasional reverberative ring after short sharp big tutti also made me wonder if something similar was going on. There is word that Fidelio also saw some experiments in this direction, though of the vocalists rather than the orchestra. I know everything needs to be tried to ameliorate the wretchedly enclosed pit, but amplification seems a desperate remedy. Tell me it isn’t so!

12 Responses to “Catching up 2 [what?]”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I can’t speak to Aida or Capuleti, but this is the email I received from OA after opening night of Fidelio, where there was a pretty major (though shortlived) amplification mishap in Act I:

    “Thank you for attending Opera Australia’s opening night of Fidelio last night. I wanted to advise you that due to a malfunction in the sound desk at the Sydney Opera House, a test microphone, installed upstage by the ABC for a future broadcast, was activated and routed through the auditorium. The Sydney Opera House has apologised to us for this error.

    I want to reassure you that Opera Australia does not amplify its singers and that this was an unfortunate error on the opening night. “

  2. marcellous Says:

    That statement from OA obviously has a rider when musicals or “operetta” are involved. It also doesn’t say anything about the orchestra. I can’t really say anything more about the echo after big chords in Aida and were it not for the peculiar orchestral sound in I Capuleti I would have thought no more of it. I’d still rather believe I was imagining it all.

  3. wanderer Says:

    Now that you mention it, I thought the orchestra sounded louder than usual at the Manon I heard. And as you note, their disclaimer clearly only refers to singers. Someone needs to ask the question. I nominate M.

  4. marcellous Says:

    M = moi? Sarah is the one in email correspondence with the company.

    I didn’t have any concerns about ML. It wasn’t so much the volume which seemed odd at I Capuleti as where the sound seemed to be coming from and a kind of, well, loudspeakerish homogeneity. Nor have I ruled out not sitting in my usual seat (I was in row C) and some orchestral rearrangement as factors.

    The last time I thought I was hearing amplification it was just the healthy echo at Angel Place in Idomeneo when I was sitting right near the front.

  5. Sarah Says:

    I don’t know if it answers your wonderings at all but is it perhaps worth noting that the orchestra list for Capuleti includes an offstage banda?

  6. marcellous Says:

    Now, I did notice that, and I saw references to it elsewhere. That wasn’t what it sounded like, but then if the banda were amplified it might provide an explanation. Drop them a line and inquire, S! (I have my pseudonymity as an excuse to palm this task off on you.)

  7. Victor Says:

    Whilst you are focussed on sound issues, my apologies now for lowering the tone. I have no expertise to worry about whether amplification was used in opera performances but I certainly would have been interested in ‘amplified’ nude scenes.

    I really should try opera again. One of my last visits to opera at the SOH was to Murphy’s Turandot in what was I think the first season of his production. I suppose that was decades ago now.

    Actually, now that I think further about it my last visit was to Madama Butterfly around 2000.

  8. marcellous Says:

    Female nudity only in the Egyptian numbers, Victor. Generally only shirts off for the gents, though there was male dorsal (I think rectal would be taking it too far) nudity in the current production of Il Trovatore.

    If you are thinking of going to the opera, now’s the time. My guess is that there is a fall off in the tourist trade. There are some attractive offers around, at least if you know a subscriber. BOGOF vouchers for friends of subscribers and a 25% subscriber discount (up from 10%) are two at least that I am aware of.

  9. Sarah Says:

    And when I went last night to book for another Fidelio, I was told that if I came back during the day and bought a ticket for the opera house tour ($35), that ticket would entitle me to a seat in any reserve for $50. Not sure how broadly this discount applies, however.

  10. ken n Says:

    I’m glad you realized that Idomeneo at CRH was not amplified.
    Some audience members with very good eyesight have noticed the small mikes taped to the faces of soloists in Pinchgut productions.
    These are for the ABC Classics’s recording.
    In OA’s Baroque Masterpieces programme recently the harpsichord was amplified – I don’t know about other instruments. Perhaps the lutes.

    BTW, Anna is now blogging for Pinchgut at

    • marcellous Says:

      AO and then OA have quite frequently amplified continuo instruments over the years. I can’t say I’m fond of it, but then that’s because I make a point of sitting close enough to hear them unassisted. And yes, it was the echo plus those in my opinion rather ugly and not so small mikes taped to the the singers’ faces (and the battery or transmission packs stowed elsewhere) which first aroused my suspicion at Pinchgut. Maybe when I am older I will look back and wonder at my eyesight in spotting them.

  11. Loss « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] from A, who went to law school with me. My friend, variously referred to in this blog as Sq, the specialist in operas set in Egypt involving nude bathing scenes, and Sx, the man with a morbid fear of being poisoned by a snail in a beer bottle and source of a […]

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