Magazine article The Spectator

Plazas in Pain

Magazine article The Spectator

Plazas in Pain

Article excerpt

Letters of a Love Betrayed

Linbury Studio


Royal Opera House


Royal Festival Hall

A hectic operatic week, three down and two (to be reviewed next week) to go, began lamentably with what I'm in danger of coming to think of as the archetypical Linbury experience. That hideous place, a kind of operatic Nibelheim under the Valhalla of the Royal Opera, has seats so cramped and uncomfortable that I can only think that their point is to ensure one stays awake, as one witnesses another premiere which seems destined to be also a derniere. Eleanor Alberga's Letters of a Love Betrayed, with libretto by Donald Sturrock from the story by Isabel Allende, received in many, though not all, ways a better performance than it deserved from Music Theatre Wales, with Mary Plazas, a superb and committed artist, giving yet another portrayal of pain turning to agony, with arbitrarily contrived final happiness, unusual for her, at the end. The rest of the fully competent cast wasn't up to her level, an exalted one, and the set, a large room with tiny doors, made them all look like giants and Plazas like a dwarf, as in those drawings in psychology textbooks. The story is one of orphanage, deceit and miserable marriage. Alberga, a Jamaican, uses some of the indigenous idioms to create a general effect, but has no other idioms to create any special effects, indeed there aren't any.

The music played by a chamber ensemble moves on its way, while the singers produce their lines in a mode that seems to bear very little relationship to what is accompanying them. The libretto is wordy, repetitive, overexplicit, and the only favourable thing I can find to say is that the performers are archprofessionals.

The Royal Opera's Carmen is revived in Zambello's unilluminating production, with those parody-settings of Tanya McCallin, but the performance is gripping, mainly thanks to the stupendous Don Jose of Roberto Alagna, one of the most striking impersonations I have ever seen on the operatic stage, rising to unforgettable greatness in the final scene - just where Bizet fails to deliver the goods, Alagna more than makes up for the inadequacies of the musical material by his intensity, naturalness and perfect sense of stage qtiming. He was in fabulous voice, too, and all told made more sense of the character, in one reading of it, than anyone I can remember.

I was expecting Elina Garanca to be the Carmen I've been waiting for, but she turned in a low-key, under-energised account, which left me unstirred, even in the Card Song. …

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