Shortly after their marriage in 1996 Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna appeared together in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Opéra de Lyon. At the time she was 31 and he was 33 so pretty much ideal for the roles. The production was directed by Frank Dunlop. It’s straightforward, set in the 1920s and essentially traditional though there are a few nice touches. It’s what the recent COC production might have been if the asinine attempts to be “relevant” had been ditched.
Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur isn’t performed very often and, when it is, it’s usually because some great diva of the day wants to do it. That’s the case with the 2010 Covent Garden production which was created by David McVicar for Angela Gheorghiu. Actually I am a bit surprised it’s not done more often. It’s not a great masterpiece but it’s no worse than a great many commonly done pieces and, if the plot is a bit implausible, it’s not as offensive as half of Puccini’s output. I would have thought it would have great appeal to that opera middle ground to which I don’t belong.
Puccini’s Tosca doesn’t seem to lend itself to Regie type treatments. Even quite adventurous directors seem to mostly stick to the very specific time and place of the libretto (even though, as Paul Curran pointed out to me, the plot makes no sense in the Rome of 1800). In the 2012 Royal Opera House recording Jonathan Kent certainly takes very few liberties with the piece; the church is a church, the palace a palace and the castle a castle. There are a few deft design touches. Both Cavaradossi and Tosca wear very bright colours indicative of the new dyes that became available at the period (actually I think this is a slight anachronism – must check with the fashion lemur) whereas Scarpia is more conservatively attired. Generally though it’s pretty straightforward.
The 2007 recording of Verdi’s La Traviata from Milan’s Teattro alla Scala is extremely traditional but very satisfying. Liliana Cavani’s production is set in the mid 19th century with entirely conventional sets and costumes (with the obligatory cleavage) and nothing in the direction that adds up to an original concept or idea. Act 1 is set in a glitzy ballroom. Act 2 scene 1 takes us to a slightly odd sort of country house bedsit with billiard table In Act 2 scene 2 we are back with the glitz with actual gypsies and bare chested matadors. Act 3 is set in a suitably dark invalid’s bedroom. Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta goes from ballgown to nightdress to ballgown to nightdress while maintaining Ange levels of, you guessed it, cleavage. The guys are all in evening dress or operetta dress uniforms. It’s all pretty and doesn’t distract from the music. Continue reading →
Puccini’s La Rondine has a plot that’s lightweight even by opera standards but it also has some really good tunes and plenty of opportunities for a star tenor and soprano to show off. In 2009 the Metropolitan Opera presented it as a vehicle for on again, off again couple Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. Judging by the body language on and off stage this was definitely an “on again” phase. The production (Nicolas Joël), staging (Stephen Barlow) and design (Ezio Frigerio) don’t have a single thing in them that would cause concern to the most conservative of opera goers. The whole thing oozes old fashioned opulence. It’s the first time I’ve heard an audience applaud the sets! (Baldrick, you’ld laugh at a Shakespeare comedy). So no Regie here!
What we get is a beautifully sung and played performance. Gheorghiu sings gorgeously throughout and Alagna is not far behind. Their acting hows off some real sexual chemistry and if Gheorghiu tends to play the dive, well it’s that sort of role and that sort of production. They get well supported by Marius Brenciu, as the poet Prunier, and Lisette Oropesa, as the maid Lisette. These two basically provide the comic relief to the slightly cloying romantic main plot. Monica Yunus, Alyson Cambridge, Liz DeShong and Samuel Ramey take the other important roles and all are perfectly competent and true to character. The only aspect of the staging that doesn’t quite come off is the bar scene in Act 2. It’s all a bit too busy and there is some not very well thought through “drunk” choreography. Otherwise it’s basically a drawing room drama so not too, too hard to pull off. The orchestral playing is unsurprisingly good with the kind of music the Met orchestra excels in and Marco Armiliato conducting.
The video direction by Brian Large is OK. Given how much of the piece is two people talking, snogging or groping close ups seem a perfectly reasonable choice much of the time. The approach doesn’t work so well in Act 2 where a little more distance would have helped. Technically the DVD is an absolutely standard EMI treatment of a MetHD broadcast. The picture is very good 16:9 and the DTS 5.1 soundtrack is clear and spacious (LPCM stereo available too). English, French, German, Spanish and Italian subtitles and rather basic documentation in English with French and German PDF versions on the disk. Renée Fleming does the interval interviews which are about as revealing as usual (not at all).
All in all, it’s a lightweight piece but enjoyable and it would be hard to imagine a much better performance.