Winter season

Opera Australia is here for its winter season.

Perversely or obstinately, despite the good cast, I swapped out of Turandot. I’m prepared to leave oft- and recently-seen Puccini to Mr Terracini’s non-“opera club” target audience. By the time I had second thoughts on account of the reputedly strong first cast there were no suitable tickets and so I am letting it pass.

In D’s absence I went on Saturday 11/7 with my old friend Ub to La Traviata. Ub thinks the story is cruel – I wonder if that is a gendered reaction – I just think, yes, that’s the way it was. Ub said she enjoyed it a lot. I sensed she was transfixed by the immersive experience of sitting up close. In comparison to Ub I fear that I have now seen this production enough. It’s not that I have tired of it but rather I take too much of it for granted.

Rame Lahaj was a visually and vocally handsome Alfredo, if perhaps sometimes a bit too placid. Compared to last time, José Carbó was more convincing as his father in terms of looking his age. He is singing better than ever and my only reservation is that, once again possibly because I have seen him so often, he seems nearly always (last act of Masked Ball excepted) to be the same fairly reasonable altogether nice person. I was a bit non-plussed by Lorina Gore. She has been a coloratura soprano and so you would naturally expect her to shine in the Act I stuff, but in fact it was her later acts which impressed far more. I have good memories of Elvyra Fatikhova as a more fragile Violetta – she still features in OA’s poster for this production.

The next Tuesday I went to the opening night of Don Carlos, albeit in a cheap seat. It was a far from full house. There was a kind of bald spot in the front half of the circle on the right hand side as you look to the stage and a smaller gap to the left side. Had the empty seats been set aside for a corporate gang that just didn’t show? The cheapest seats were well filled.

Opera Australia managed with just one interval, which makes the first half a bit of a stretch. The most famous bits are in the second half and I enjoyed it more than the first. It helped that the woman in front of me with the restless child on her lap left at interval.

Earlier this year I went to a rather improbable (though beautifully made) film about the young Schiller. Its hypothesis was that he married one sister but was in love with the other. The big set piece of the film was Schiller delivering his inaugural lecture on universal history but prior to that there was a bit of stuff about Schiller reading from his historical writings, so I’d done a bit of boning up on his take on Spanish Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The conceit of the original play is to attribute to royalty personal feelings from a later age of affective marriage and to attribute to the protestants all the virtues of the enlightenment as they seemed on the eve of the French revolution.

As a result, Carlos, and even more his chum Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa (José Carbó being too reasonable again) are impossibly anachronistically reasonable kinds of chap – a sort of wish fulfilment cake-and-eat it for the audience not unlike the incredibly and incredibly implausibly enlightened Inspector George Gently in the TV program of that name set in 60s and 70s Northumberland. Similarly it is hard to believe that Phillip II of Spain ever harboured any illusions that any of his royal consorts might actually love him – which tends to pull the rug out of his biggest number.

To return to Don Carlos himself, it is hard to warm to a character who as far as I can make out just keeps putting his foot in it again and again.

Princess Eboli’s changes of heart are simply inexplicable.

Doubtless some of that is the necessary simplification of the opera over the original play. I shall try to go with the flow more when I see this again.

When I originally planned my opera going for this year, I decided to see Don Carlos three times. That was on the principle that you have to make the most of rareties (for Sydney) when they arrive and made possible without undue extravagance by the inclusion of a number of works in my set subscription which I was content to forego and exchange. The premium pricing adopted by OA imposed some constraint on that so I was perched in a loge for the first night. If I am to see an opera more than once I always prefer to go from inferior to superior seat. I can’t bear an anticlimax.

Once is enough for D, but as he is away, I was left with a spare ticket for the second outing. Ub was unavailable. I toyed with exchanging the ticket to go myself to Don C a fourth time but hesitated because of my experience last year when a fourth viewing of Masked Ball suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Then came a fortuitous development. I have exchanged sight unseen (but on the strength of last year’s Don G) for a second performance of Marriage of Figaro. This will leave a small credit which I will put towards the now mercifully Alan-Jones-free Anything Goes.

That’s hardly a big finish to the winter season, but approached in the right spirit and with suitably tempered expectations I hope to avoid any anticlimax. Who knows, I could even be pleasantly surprised.

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