Diva details

The current revival of La traviata at the Royal Opera House could easily have been one of the great performances ever staged there. Richard Eyre has returned to direct his 1994 production, with its staggeringly wonderful, lavish sets by Bob Crowley (the sight of the elaborately grotesque yet beautiful décor of Flora's Act II scene 2 salon alone is worth the price of a ticket)  and magical lighting by Jean Kalman. Moreover, Alfredo is sung by the Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja, who makes the transition from chest to head voice and back again so smoothly that there is not even a hint of gear-changing. Thomas Hampson sings Germont père at Covent Garden for the first time, and is a total wow, handsome both to look at and to hear. Violetta is a genuine diva, Renée Fleming.


Flora's salon in Act II, Scene 2

        With her luxuriant red hair (when I met her once, a few years ago, her hair was the same colour, but I think this was a wig, as it was inconveniently long for someone who travels as much as a soprano at the top of her game), her voice as beautifully coloured as her hair,  her figure looking youthful and lithe in Crowley's sumptuous costumes, and her considerable gifts as an actress, Ms Fleming is the diva in every detail.
Antonio Pappano conducted his own Royal Opera  orchestra with aplomb and passion, and with the attention to both overall phrasing and dynamics we've come to expect from him and them.
So why wasn't this a perfect performance?  Some years ago I had the good luck to watch Sir Jonathan Miller give an acting masterclass for young opera singers, at Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. It was one of the most impressive moments of theatre I've ever seen, for he boiled down the entire secret of directing opera to a simple maxim: Remember that in opera you are always singing to someone. On very rare occasions it is the audience to whom you are singing; but in most cases you are singing to another person, or group of people, on the stage. This doesn't mean the singer can never look at the conductor. A moment of eye-contact is often sufficient to establish this bond with the other character(s) - but it has to be there, for in that connection is the essence of the drama. 
      If only Richard Eyre had insisted on this, we'd have seen a great historical performance, rather than the very good one I much enjoyed.

June 28, 2009 11:19 AM | | Comments (0)

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