Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An affectionate tribute, sort of

Have a listen:

It was sounds faintly reminiscent of this that sent us scurrying ignominiously out of Covent Garden at half-time yesterday after getting the giggles in Simon Boccanegra. Second-rate Verdi isn't always my tasse de the, and it needs to be very well done to come off. We booked yonks ago when Nina Stemme was listed as Amelia; she dropped out a while back (perhaps she knew something we didn't?) and was replaced by two different ladies, alternating. Reviews were generally good (it's a nice traditional production, which is all most of them want), so we decided to go anyway. Word on the ground has it that No.1 cast Anja Harteros is sensational. We saw No.2.

I forget her name, but I hope she is OK. If she had flu or a Big Personal Crisis, someone else should have gone on, or they should at least have made an announcement. It wasn't just lousy, it was hilarious; and I couldn't help feeling sorry for the poor girl when her big aria was greeted not by applause but by stunned, disbeliving silence.

Nor was the soprano - strained, squally, out of tune and unmusical as she was - the only problem. Lucio Gallo as Simone started off well, but by the interval he was sounding nearly as forced and unhappy as his leading lady. The best voice on stage was Ferruccio Furlanetto (Jacopo Fiesco) who was a stand-in himself. The tenor, one Mr Haddock, did his best under trying circumstances, but there was something fishy about the whole thing. The chorus was behind all the time. The orchestra, under John Eliot Gardiner, occasionally made some beautiful sounds - supple and persuasive strings, chocolatey clarinet, a good effort towards elan - but does that add up to good operatic accompanying? Was it a coincidence that everyone on stage (except Furlanetto) seemed to be forcing their voices? My resident fiddler, who has played this work many times, grunted uncomfortably: "Why are they playing so loudly? Why doesn't JEG take them down a few notches?" Probably, I suggested, in order to drown out the soprano.

There's a minimum standard you expect at the ROH and this wasn't it. Come back, Florence Foster Jenkins, all is forgiven.

Not sure whether to file under Conductor Does Wrong Repertoire, A Case of Mistaken Identity in the Casting Office or just These Things Happen, but we sloped away home for an early night.