Nights at the opera

The Sydney winter season of Opera Australia is upon us, advertised this year as running from Jun 28 to September 1. After that, Evita.

I have been so far to Lucia and Rigoletto.

The big story about Lucia was the homecoming of Jessica Pratt in the title role. It wasn’t such a bad thing to have Michael Fabiano as Edgardo and Opera Australia took advantage of the presence of a strong Enrico, Giorgio Caoduro, to reinstate the “Wolf Creek” (Dulwich-Hill-gangster joke) scene. That wasn’t included on this production’s first outing in 2012.

In my recollection, Emma Matthews (the 2012 Lucia) was more affecting than JP, even while I’m sure Jessica was more vocally spectacular. It could be that in 2012 I had a better seat (my old music teacher, E, who had s better seat, thought JP was terrific): when you perch up on the side you are as good as in the wings and some ways and you (well, I) become a bit more conscious of the mechanics and the way in which any opera performance is an incredibly intricate and scripted colour-by-numbers operation. This tends to drag down the necessary suspension of disbelief.

By the end, however, possibly because he had the advantage of singing so much of the last act, it was Fabiano’s night.

Not that it is a competition. Really.

Reading over my 2012 post it seems that the chorus has had a little cutback from 24 to 18 each gender .

Perched up high and on the side the one thing I missed was the woodwind. With the newly configured pit the orchestra has reverted to its longtime configuration which has them at the back (only the percussion are further back), right under the lip of the stage. When the mad scene began, I wondered at how faint and distant the flute was – it was so distant I didn’t even think to listen more carefully to ascertain whethr (as in 2012) we were being treated to some simulacum of the glass harmonica.

I thought about this some more when I went to Rigoletto. Burying the woodwind so far back obliges singers to rely on the conductor almost entirely for their ensemble with any wind obbligati.

For example, whilst all ears were on the complicated cello part in Rigoletto’s Act II aria, you could hardly hear the cor anglais line and there was reason to doubt that either the c.a. player couldn’t hear Dalibor Jenis or vice versa. If it wasn’t this spot it was one like it:

Rig cello n ca

Something similar happened in the famous quartet, with Maddalena’s offbeat figure, (though not only there and not only her – I have heard tidier quartets):


By then I’d moved opportunistically down to an empty seat at the end of the front row, so the issue with the woodwind being so deeply buried was no longer one of their being obscured to me. But they still seemed further away than they were even when placed at the back in the past. I’d like to see and hear them brought back up to the front. And I think they’d be happier there too. I guess then the violas and celli will be stuck back into the depths but I think it would be worth it all the same.

Meanwhile, from my new vantage point I was blown away by leader (for the night) Huy-Nguyen Bui’s rendition of this lick in the subsequent storm scene trio:

rig scale

He dashed this off with such a dazzling sprezzatura (I’m dodging the right technical term as I have no idea if it was spiccato or sautillee or just plain staccato) that I thought (but surely imagined) that he was playing demisemiquavers on each note.

My friend Ub came to Rigoletto. I told her that there was a surprise in the last act. I meant the Fiat bambino that Rigoletto “drives” on to the stage. Unfortunately, at least with the first-night crowd, that has by now (the production first aired in 1991) lost any surprise value. I suppose that’s the thing about old productions becoming, as they say “tired” – it’s the audience which can tire rather than anything shabby on the stage.

I still like this production, and I remain a sucker for any vehicle on stage (the tram was a highlight of Golem). I still laughed at Gilda hurriedly putting out her cigarette when her father came home and fanning the smoke out the window, and the beauty of that (as well as her magazines) is that it is a foretaste of the trouble she is going to give her father.

Mind you, not all the business makes sense, at least to me. Rigoletto seems to lock Gilda in when he goes out. So why do the seducers (who come in an upstairs window with the ladder that Rigoletto is tricked into holding) then simply come down the stairs and open the door from within? If they had the key, why the ladder? And couldn’t Rigoletto smell the cigarette on Gilda’s breath? Maybe he didn’t want to notice it.

PS 19 vii: At Aida last night the woodwind were back up the front.

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