Posts Tagged ‘Liudmyla Monastyrska’

Nabucco, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

31 March, 2013

After Verdi’s dissatisfaction with his second opera he nearly gave up, but thank goodness he didn’t because this third one is magnificent, apart from its rather weak ending. Placing the action in the 1940s rather than the original setting of 586 BC is a good idea, but it never really gelled and I found Daniele Abbado’s new production disappointing.

Va pensiero

Va pensiero

The singing however was quite another matter. Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska was spectacular as Nabucco’s adopted daughter Abigail. Covent Garden audiences who remember her terrific Lady Macbeth from June 2011 will know what to expect, and she certainly provided it, giving huge colour to a bland production. Her recitative, aria and cabaletta at the start of Act II were riveting — her voice so expressive and powerful.

Her fellow Ukrainian, Vitalij Kowljow brought a full rich tone to the bass role of the Hebrew high priest Zaccaria, and Italian tenor Andrea Caré sang beautifully in the tenor role of Ismaele who is loved by both Abigail and her half-sister Fenena. Ismaele loves Fenena and although the heavy presence of Marianna Pizzolato in that role was rather lifeless, she sang with a lovely clarity of tone.

Royal Opera

Conducting by Nicola Luisotti showed great attention to the singers, and the chorus sang superbly, with a lovely Va pensiero in Act III. Leo Nucci as Nabucco showed very well the confusion that Solera’s libretto gives him after he calls himself a god, and then produced a glorious Act IV aria accepting the God of Israel. The cello solo when Abigail shows remorse was beautifully played, and Luisotti produced fine musicianship from the orchestra.

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

From the Amphitheatre the movements of the chorus looked rather contrived, with one group of people waiting to move forward before another group moved aside, though it may have appeared more natural from lower in the House. And the video projections were not fully visible from the front row of the Amphi rendering them only partially visible to nearly half the audience — no wonder it was not liked from the greater heights of La Scala. The fact that it’s a co-production with Milan, Barcelona and Chicago doesn’t surprise me in these days of austerity, but if resources are scarce perhaps we should leave such minimalist new productions to the English National Opera, with Covent Garden concentrating on bringing in world class singers, which they have done here to great effect.

Performances with this cast continue until April 8, and from April 15 to 26, Domingo takes over from Nucci — for details click here. On April 29 there will be a delayed live cinema screening, and it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 8 at 6pm.

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Macbeth, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2011

25 May, 2011

In 1846, Verdi had to decide between Schiller’s Die Räuber, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a new commission in Florence. He produced both in 1847, with the Schiller (titled I masnadieri) going to London, and the Shakespeare to Florence, the choice depending on the singers available. Macbeth needed no leading tenor but it did need a first rate baritone and soprano, and here we had them both in Simon Keenlyside and Liudmyla Monastyrska.

Macbeth and his wife with a witch in the foreground, all photos by Clive Barda

She was a hugely powerful Lady Macbeth, her voice cutting through and soaring above the orchestra and all the other singers, including the chorus. Keenlyside by contrast has a wonderfully warm tone and superb ability to inhabit the roles he sings, but there was a lack of chemistry between the two of them on the first night. He seemed unnecessarily subdued, but after she dies in Act IV, his confessional Pietà, rispetto, amore in the next scene was superbly sung, giving us the Keenlyside I have admired so much in roles such as Rodrigo in Don Carlo.

As Banquo, Raymond Aceto was terrific, reminding me of his superb performance in last October’s Rigoletto as the murderer Sparafucile. In this production he is left lying at the front of the stage after being murdered in Act II, and his little son, Fleance reappears from hiding to go to his father’s body before fleeing the stage. The body remains there for the banquet scene, rising up when Macbeth sees the vision of Banquo’s ghost.

Guards by Duncan's body before Banquo's death

This production by Phyllida Lloyd contains several good ideas, and in the banquet scene both Macbeth and his wife are dressed in gold, reminding us of King Duncan at the start of the opera. The tall sets, and in Act III the appearance at stage rear of multiple golden kings on horses again reminiscent of Duncan, show that Macbeth is caught up in something far larger than he realises, and Keenlyside brought this over very well. The nature of his marriage is intimated by the beds on which he and his wife lie, and her problems are silently illustrated by the children the witches bring onstage to sit on the bed with her. We never quite know what to make of her earlier life and claim to have suckled a child, but this is a point of contact with that aspect of the play.

Macbeth and Macduff towards the end

Among the other performers Dimitri Pittas sang Macduff, a role he also sang in the Metropolitan Opera live relay in January 2008, and I admired Elisabeth Meister as the lady-in-waiting. The chorus was wonderfully strong, and Antonio Pappano conducted this early Verdi opera with a fine sense of energy and sensitivity.

I’ve not seen this production before, but I’m afraid I was somewhat underwhelmed, and not because of the singers. It’s difficult to say why, but for instance if you blinked you missed the murder of Macduff’s children, and the perpetual use of the witches as dark forces involved in the action — hiding Banquo’s son, for example — doesn’t seem to give the dramatic intensity that Verdi’s opera demands. This was his first Shakespeare opera and he was extremely concerned to get the drama right, bullying his librettist Piave to produce exactly the text he wanted, but somehow this production fails to bring out the right intensity of mood. However, it was huge pleasure to hear Liudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth, with her superb vocal technique, and her breathtaking power.

live relay to cinemas will be given on June 13, and a BBC Radio 3 broadcast at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Performances continue until June 18 — for more details click here.

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2011

12 March, 2011

Exiles and refugees in the modern world can take their gods with them, but it was not always so. This production places the action in a very distant past, and when Roberto Alagna as Radames sings in Act III that Aida is demanding he abandon his homeland, and therefore his gods too (Abbandonar la patria, l’are de’ nostri dei!), it was a riveting moment.

Radames being smeared with blood, all images Bill Cooper

In my review last year when David McVicar’s new production was first performed, I was very positive about the fact that it was set in an ancient civilization having nothing particularly Egyptian about it. I appreciated its raw energy, with the stylized masculine combat, human sacrifice, and female sexuality, and this was all very welcome. On a second viewing I found things to criticise that may or may not have been present a year ago. When Aida enters along with other slave women beholden to the princess Amneris, all except Aida hang their heads and droop their bodies in a way that would be more likely to irritate than please a princess, and if Amneris likes to see around her women who are cowed into abject submission, then why does she tolerate Aida being so vastly different? The poses of the ballet dancers as warriors seemed a bit overdone, and the lesbian choreography for the women was dull. When the Ethiopian prisoners are brought on stage, the guards’ over-aggressive poses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence on their part. But these complaints are mostly to do with the movement on stage, and are not necessarily intrinsic to the production.

Michael Volle as Amonasro

The singing and conducting are the main things, of course, and Olga Borodina as Amneris showed enormous gravitas, singing with huge lyrical power. For me she was the star of the show, though I also found Michael Volle terrific both vocally and in terms of his stage presence as Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians and father of Aida. At the dress rehearsal, Roberto Alagna gained ground as the opera progressed, eventually carrying off the role of Radames with utter conviction. Brindley Sherratt gave a powerful presence to the King of Egypt, and I rather like the fact that this production portrays him as blind, or at any rate partially sighted, led round by a slave boy. Vitalij Kowaljov sang strongly as Ramfis the high priest, and in the dress rehearsal that I attended, Micaela Carosi reprised her role of Aida from one year ago, but despite some lovely quiet passages I felt she was too exposed on the high notes, with pitch problems in the loud passages. I gather she was replaced on the first night by Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is due to sing Lady Macbeth in May, opposite Simon Keenlyside.

Conducting by Fabio Luisi was effective, and I loved the off-stage trumpets in the balcony. They played with such power and clarity it was a thrill to hear them.

Kowaljow as High Priest, and Borodina as Amneris

Performances, albeit with various cast changes, continue until April 15. For example, Alagna is replaced by Carlo Ventre after the first three performances, and there are extensive changes in the last three performances, with Brindley Sherratt switching from King of Egypt to Ramfis the high priest — for more details click here.