Back home

On Saturday with D to Opera Australia’s Carmen. I first saw this production with D in 2008 and again with my father in 2011 on an occasion which passed without direct mention on this blog.

I’m still digesting an orgy of opera-going in Germany in January as well as Parsifal at Covent Garden. A return to the dear old Opera House requires some adjustments of expectations. If I sat further away, the big issue would be the pit. I make up for that (at the price of an over-loud orchestra) by sitting right at the front, but that does nothing for the size of the stage, which seems particularly tiny in combination with the set for this production and the numerous crowd scenes.

In a modernising trend, the chorus of street urchins impersonating soldiers now include girls as well as boys. I’m not entirely convinced by this dramatically (would girls play at soldiers in this way?) but I suppose it is inevitable on an equity basis for the children, and probably also an irresistible temptation to an opera company in search of vocal reliability.

I expect it is the necessary revision of expectations which is to blame for a failure on my part to fall under the opera’s spell on this occasion. It all seemed put together rather by the numbers. That’s not to say that Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen wasn’t good, if a little matronly up close next to Dmytro Popov, who sang well as Don Jose though his acting seemed to me a little wooden. Michael Honeyman made a good fist of Escamillo (I thought better than the reviewers allowed). Natalie Aroyan as Micaela had a surprisingly big vibrato for a young singer and character. Perhaps she was just trying a bit hard to make a big sound: in the second phrase of her Act III aria (“Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante”) she seemed to ride a crescendo to overshoot by almost a semitone by the time she got to “je meurs d’effroi!” This happened on the reprise as well so it was an ingrained thing.

On Wednesday I returned for Rossini’s “The Turk in Italy.” This was much sillier but also more fun. It doesn’t have Rossini’s most memorable tunes, though it does have some striking orchestration. The direction was brilliant and the comic business constantly inventive. Andrea Molino, who conducted this as he did Masked Ball last year without a score, is a real live wire.

The opera was a triumph for Emma Matthews (singing the sort of stuff she should always sing if being a big fish in our small Operatic pond did not dictate otherwise). The honours were otherwise fairly evenly distributed, even if I was a bit surprised that OA, assuming they still have a limited quota of foreigners, chose to import Luciano Botelho in the admittedly testing high-tenor role of Narciso.

I could have managed a return visit, but it was the last night. On the other hand, I don’t think I need to see that production of Carmen again.

An opinion (as to Carmen) which was shared by James Waites, even though he only managed to stay until interval.

It is everyone’s entitlement to leave before the end.

On the day I went to Turco, Waites swam out to sea for the last time.

That’s very sad, but I can’t help also thinking it was pretty brave of him.

9 Responses to “Back home”

  1. Victor Says:

    Welcome home!

    I am seeing this Carmen shortly and now have your and the late James Waites’ non review in my mind for reference.

    • marcellous Says:

      Victor, I’m sure you will enjoy it. You will not be jaded as perhaps I am by a surfeit of something better whilst in Germany for the past month. You may also see a different cast.

      And perhaps I should stress that I did enjoy it – just not as much as I have on other occasions – and it’s been snippets of Carmen that D and I have both been bursting into around the house in the week since.

  2. wanderer Says:

    Home again, home again …

    Carmen bursts at home, with cigarettes not knives one hopes.

    Elektra? And if not why not? It is, I understand, back to the good old days with the orchestra in the front stalls and the concert platform for performance, albeit of the (Sydney Dance Co) dancing emotions kind of which I’m no fan. Fingers crossed I’m wrong on that, but musically and vocally it looks very strong – Goerke no less and the return of Gasteen. I hope your Dutchman experience hasn’t put you off. And value for money? – puts OA to shame.

    SSO should be doing this – they, or their then master (ABC) – started the cock-up in the halls in the first place. I’m keen to show all the encouragement muster-able; there’s more afoot.

    • marcellous Says:

      I’m going to Elektra on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if SSO can live up to their first outing last weekend with Robertson as chief which especially for the Beethoven set a high benchmark, as McCallum accurately observed. Will wait and see.

      Not really fair though to compare costs of concert and staged performances. Best thing SSO could do in my opinion is leave for an adequate concert hall somewhere else, though then they’d have to find their own audience rather than live off the building.

      Incidentally, I saw the Elektra you saw in Leipzig: Eva Johannson sang Brünhilde in Die Walküre one night and Elektra the next. I thought she was better as Elektra. It could be that’s because she needed to keep a bit in reserve.

  3. wanderer Says:

    Actually, with neither (cigarettes nor knives) I should have said.

  4. wanderer Says:

    No you can’t compare costs, but you can look at value for money as in top price for a not-top-draw Carmen $295 vs top price for a top-draw (minus some sets which might well be a plus in some cases) Elektra $149. For my value system, that works out at half the price for (here I’m estimating based on expected orchestral sound and the singers) double the quality and that amounts to a 400% difference. Admittedly, Elektra is a much more static opera than Carmen and more suitable to this semi-staged concept, as was Dutchman (sorry to raise that again).

    Eva Johannson still got the chops? We heard her some years ago now in Die Walküre in Aix, and also Gurrelieder in Bergen. Very committed performances.

    I’m in a minority of one in finding the Beethoven brilliantly played but singularly unmoving – too fast and vigorous therein losing some, for want of a better word, grandesse.

  5. Opera 2014 | Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Carmen, […]

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