Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Calleja’

La Bohème with Calleja and Giannattasio, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

1 May, 2012

This production by John Copley, first staged in 1974, has been revived twenty-four times so far — not surprising since it just gets everything right. So indeed did Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, bringing real depth and lyricism to the role.

From the very start Calleja exhibited a catching youthful energy, and after taking Mimi’s cold hand in his and launching into Che gelida manina he hit a wonderful high point when he sings of her pretty eyes as two thieves stealing his jewels (Talor dal mio forzieri …). Suddenly this is no longer some bohemian inhabitant of Paris but Rodolfo the poet, a thaumaturge of romantic invention whose soft notes floated like birds on the wing.

At the Café Momus, all images ROH/Hoban

In Acts I and II, Calleja sang everyone else off the stage, but following the first interval, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi warmed up after a nervous start. She was making her debut in the role at Covent Garden, and finally hit the mark in her Act III duet with Marcello when she seeks him out at the inn. By Act IV she had become a fine match for Calleja, and in her curtain call she bent down to kiss the stage.

The other bohemians all did well, with Fabio Capitanucci engaging as Marcello the painter, Thomas Oliemans attractive as Schaunard the musician, and Matthew Rose singing a fine bass as Colline the philosopher, who sells his coat to help poor consumptive Mimi. Nuccia Focile sang Musetta with rather heavy vibrato, and her stage presence failed to match the sparkle needed for her big role in Act II. Conducting by Semyon Bychkov was restrained at the start, but things warmed up musically later, and I loved the drawn-out silence just before Mimi dies in Act IV.

Act III: early morning outside the inn

That final act pitches merriment against tragedy as the four bohemians clown around before Musetta and Mimi arrive, and when Matthew Rose used a bat to hit the bread rolls for six, the audience applauded spontaneously. All great fun, but when Colline goes off to sell his coat, and Rodolfo and Mimi are left alone, Calleja and Giannattasio sang beautifully together, recalling the time they first met. When Colline returns, and Rodolfo suddenly realises something is amiss, Calleja’s distraught cries brought the house down. This is a Rodolfo not to be missed.

Finally after the curtain calls, Tony Hall came on stage with a fiftieth birthday cake for the director John Copley, celebrating a half century of brilliant work with the Royal Opera.

Performances with this cast continue until May 17 when it will be shown live on Big Screens throughout the country — for performance details click here.

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2010

30 June, 2010

Verdi was brilliant at expressing father-daughter relationships, as this opera makes abundantly clear. Before it starts, Simon Boccanegra has seduced a young noblewoman, and taken their illegitimate daughter away to be cared for, earning him the undying hatred of the young woman’s father, the powerful Jacopo Fiesco. Placido Domingo as Boccanegra, and Feruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco, formed a powerfully opposing duo, whose meetings in the Prologue and again at the end of the opera remain etched in my memory.

Domingo and Poplavskaya in the recognition scene

Boccanegra returns to Genoa after years of piracy to be elected Doge, only to find that his previous lover, Maria the daughter of Fiesco, has died. Boccanegra has tragically lost track of their daughter, unaware that she was later adopted under the name of Amelia Grimaldi. A quarter of a century later, the recognition scene between the two, with Marina Poplavskaya as Amelia, was simply superb. Her voice showed plaintiveness and purity, yet firm resolve, and their singing and body language melded beautifully together. The acting of Domingo, Furlanetto and Poplavskaya was simply wonderful — I cannot imagine better. Add to that the singing of Joseph Calleja as Amelia’s beloved Gabriele Adorno, and this was a terrific cast — Calleja sang like a god.

Amelia’s other passionate admirer, Paolo, is Boccanegra’s chief of staff, a man instrumental in making him Doge. This part was sung by Jonathan Summers who played the same role in some of the original 1991 performances of this production by Elijah Moshinsky. The production is excellent, with large sets by Michael Yeargan that use the stage to create wide open spaces, and I loved the addition of an old navigational instrument in Boccanegra’s quarters in Act II. Costumes by Peter J. Hall are wonderful, and Moshinsky obviously returned to direct this revival — the first since 2004 — appearing on stage with the cast at the end.

Adorno wrongly accuses Boccanegra of abducting his beloved, while the real culprit Paolo stands on the right

The Council chamber scene was memorable, and musical direction by Antonio Pappano was gentle, sensitive, yet immensely powerful when necessary. As Boccanegra calls on Paolo to find out who is guilty of Amelia’s recent abduction, the five trombones played like thunder.

Boccanegra dies, supported by Amelia and Adorno, with Fiesco in the background

When I compare this production and performance to the opening night of the new, rather cold, production of Manon a week ago, I am thankful for the warmth and sincerity of this marvellous experience. It’s a sell-out, but if you can get hold of tickets, don’t hesitate. At the end the entire main floor gave it a standing ovation.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009

20 December, 2009

The main character in this fascinating opera by Offenbach is Hoffmann himself, gloriously sung here by Joseph Calleja. He first appears in a tavern where the menacing Count Lindorf is determined to steal his lover, the opera singer Stella. Lindorf has stolen a letter from her to Hoffmann, who entertains the company by describing three earlier loves, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta, all of whom portray aspects of Stella. In the ensuing story, Lindorf first reappears as Coppelius, creator of Hoffmann’s first lover, the mechanical doll Olympia, brilliantly performed here by Kathleen Kim. His second transformation is as Dr. Miracle, overseeing the death of Hoffmann’s second lover Antonia, beautifully sung by Anna Netrebko. Miracle once oversaw the death of Antonia’s mother, and though banned from the house he manages to enter and persuade Antonia to sing. This leads to her death after she has just promised to marry Hoffmann. Lindorf’s third transformation is as Dappertutto, confidante to Hoffmann’s third lover, the courtesan Giulietta, who was sung by Ekaterina Gubanova. Dapertutto attempts to destroy Hoffmann by getting Giulietta to steal his image from a mirror, after which she disappears in a gondola. Hoffmann then finds himself back in the tavern where he loses Stella to Lindorf, leaving him to his muse and his drink.

Lindorf and the three thaumaturges are one and the same, and were all excellently sung by Alan Held. He, Joseph Calleja, and his muse, sung by Kate Lindsey, were the driving forces behind this fine performance, well aided by James Levine in the orchestra pit. Alan Held’s presence was suitably dark, and Kate Lindsey was outstanding as both a beautiful muse and Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse, who is mysteriously present throughout. They are powerful forces of despair and recovery for Hoffmann, and Joseph Calleja performed that difficult role with glorious singing and a sympathetic stage presence.

This production by Bartlett Sher is powerful in its representation of the imagery behind Hoffmann’s passions, and is well aided by Michael Yeargan’s sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and choreography by Dou Dou Huang. I particularly liked the fact that Hoffmann’s lovers were in the correct dramatic order, though so many other productions switch the order of Antonia and Giulietta. They do that because the producer finds the music for Antonia stronger than that for Giulietta, but the drama of the mirror in Giulietta’s scene is crucial because it allows the magus, alias Lindorf, to show Hoffmann that his image of himself is but an image that can be wiped out, leaving the poet to his muse and his companions.

My only complaint with this production is that it lacks the ending of the Giulietta scene when she drinks poison prepared for Hoffmann, and Departutto cries out, Ah, Giulietta, maladroite! With this ending to the act, Hoffmann has destroyed all three representations of Stella and is ready to live again for his muse.

Review — La Traviata, Royal Opera, June 2009

16 June, 2009

latraviata[1](1)

The last time I saw this fine Richard Eyre production was in January 2008, but this time it was better, for several reasons: the preparation, the singing and the conducting. It seems Richard Eyre himself rehearsed the revival, which explains the excellent acting from the entire cast; the principal singers were Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, and the conductor was Antonio Pappano.

Renée Fleming gave a superbly sensitive performance as Violetta, brilliantly showing her fragility and death at the end, and Joseph Calleja sang like a god as Alfredo. I saw him perform the same role at the Lyric Opera in Chicago in October 2007, where I commented that his voice was full and romantic, perfect for the part, but on that occasion his acting was very wooden. Here he acted the part, and along with Thomas Hampson as his father, Giorgio Germont, we had a simply wonderful trio of top singers. Hampson interacted well with Violetta, cool and aloof at first, but warming to her as he began to believe her sincerity. Between father and son the interaction was powerful, and the father even threw the son to the ground at one point in the country house where he lives with Violetta.

With three brilliant principals carrying things off to such thrilling effect it seems hardly necessary to mention anyone else. But Sarah Pring was very fine as Annina, the maid to Violetta, and I much liked Richard Wiegold as Doctor Grenvil. Then of course the conducting of Antonio Pappano was sensitive and full of emotional energy. This was a terrific performance of Traviata, and if Renée Fleming omitted some high notes, it was only the dress rehearsal.

Finally I would just add that this is what the Royal Opera should be doing, giving the audience a production in which great singers can express themselves and provide the audience with a convincing account of an operatic masterpiece. It is sadly the case — and the recent Lulu was a striking example — that the Opera House occasionally hires a director who convinces the senior management that his unusual way of presenting an opera will somehow shed new light of matters that many members of the audience already understand very well. By a process of hyper-intellectual argument the director loses the plot, and the audience find themselves infuriated by un-theatrical nonsense. This was the perfect antidote. Thank goodness for Richard Eyre.