Magazine article The Spectator

Old Favourites

Magazine article The Spectator

Old Favourites

Article excerpt

Opera

Romeo et Juliette; La Boheme

(Royal Opera)

Old

favourites

It looks as if the period of teething troubles at the Royal Opera is over, and all concerned must be relieved that the schedule has now reverted to long-standing favourites in well-oiled productions. It would be nice if the repertoire could have been a little more adventurous, and if it could have contained some indisputable masterpieces of the first order, as opposed to the second-rate if house-filling fare we are getting at present. Yet to have a level of thoroughly competent professionalism is at any rate at present something to be relieved about, if not exactly grateful for.

The very opening bars of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, for instance, showed that with Charles Mackerras in the pit the orchestra was a transformed body from the scrawny collection they had sounded under Gelmetti in Otello. There was a warmth and sheen to the string tone that I had almost despaired of hearing from them, and though the pacing of this prolix piece was on the leisurely side for my taste, most of what can be made of Gounod's pallid inventions was, so far as the pit goes.

What everyone was there for, though, was to see how the love-birds of opera are performing these days. They do seem to have got to the stage where they do their thing, relating to one another on stage in an all-purpose young doomed lovers mode. Not that this particular, particularly crepuscular production gives them much chance to do anything else, but the way in which they do what they have to suggests that they are content to act out their reputation, as it were. Angela Gheorghiu has no trace of the maidenly about her, she seems to have settled for a rather determined, mature persona, both in her movements and her singing. Her voice is now quite hard, though she has the flexibility to despatch 'Je veux vivre' with aplomb, if not with charm. Roberto Alagna, giving her lessons in French enunciation, still sounds as if he would be enjoying himself more in Italian, the ardour, and the volume, being more appropriate to Mascagni's Sicily than Gounod's Verona. Most of the appeal of his singing comes from its strenuousness, though occasionally his tone is fined down to a whisper, or croon. He still looks good, and his agility is impressive; but I fear he may be going the Carreras way, and might be operating only on overdrive in a few years time. …

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