Posts Tagged ‘Marianne Cornetti’

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2010

28 April, 2010

If you yearn for an Aida with rich Egyptian tapestry, animals, jugglers, and massive processions, this is not for you, and that may be why several audience members booed the production team at the end. But if you want the drama Verdi and his librettist created then this performance certainly gave it. David McVicar’s fine new production strips away the Egyptian baggage and places events in an ancient time of masculine combat, female sexual energy, and human sacrifice. Verdi had been pestered for an opera for the new opera house in Cairo, hence the Egyptian setting, but apart from using a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia as a background to the libretto, there is nothing particularly Egyptian about this story. It’s a drama about love, loyalty, jealousy and power in an ancient martial setting, and this production is reminiscent in some ways of the warrior culture in ancient Japan. The director is anxious it not be thought of as Egypt, and by stripping away that backcloth, he gives us a more abstract interpretation devoid of sentimental attachment to any particular time or place.

Act II, scene 2, Royal Opera photo Bill Cooper

Perhaps the people who booed objected to the lesbian orgy, or the intercourse between ten women and one man, or the ritual murder of men by women who have just embraced them. Any one of these things may seem over the top, but they fit the visceral energy of this production, whose integrity allows the singers to give their utmost.

All the principals sang strongly:  Micaela Carosi as Aida, Marco Vratogna as her father Amonasro, and Giacomo Prestia as Ramfis the high priest, but three performances were outstanding. Robert Lloyd came over extremely well in the minor part of the king, and Marianne Cornetti gave a rip-roaring portrayal of his daughter Amneris, dominating the stage with her voice and her presence. It was a memorable performance, as was that of Marcelo Alvarez as Radames, the military leader who loves Aida but is loved by the jealous Amneris. He sang so naturally, with effortless power and lyricism, it felt as if he were simply talking — what an extraordinary ability. This was the first night, so there are further performances if you can get tickets, but when the Royal Opera revives this production in less than a year’s time, Marcelo Alvarez will be a hard act to follow.

His first serious aria, which sweeps into the well-known Celeste Aida, appears very early in the opera, so it’s not easy to pull off well, but he started calmly and built up with terrific effect. He was helped by Jean-Marc Puissant’s designs, which left him entirely alone on stage in front of a large screen. The screen has a rotating base that can be turned to introduce or exclude other performers, or it can simply be lifted out of the way, and the effect is to create a space that might be intimate at one moment or open to a large crowd of performers at others. There were roughly 150 performers in total, so plenty of work for the wardrobe department, and I loved the costumes by Moritz Junge. Likewise the relatively dark lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and I liked the way Aida was portrayed more as a princess than a mere slave to Amneris.

Production aside, the opera would be nothing without its music, and Nicola Luisotti did a superb job with the orchestra. Their playing was well matched with what was happening on stage, and just to take one example, the cellos sang with enormous suppressed energy in Act III as the priests, dressed in greyish beige robes with enormous grey headdresses, paraded slowly across the stage. It’s just a small vignette, but there are many more such things, all very carefully thought out. With a production of such integrity, along with excellent singing and superb musicianship from the orchestra pit, this is arguably the finest Aida I’ve seen.

Performances continue until May 16.

Don Carlo, Royal Opera, September 2009

13 September, 2009

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Imagine a Christian Taliban in Spain, putting men, women and children in Flanders — all heretics — to the sword. Add to this the Spanish King Philip II taking as his new wife the French princess betrothed to, and loved by, his son Don Carlos, and you have the background to Schiller’s drama, made into such a wonderful opera by Verdi. Thankfully this was the original five act version, where Act I shows Carlo and Elizabeth de Valois meeting and realising they are in love with one another, before she is purloined by the king.

The performance at the dress rehearsal was absolutely terrific, and Semyon Bychkov as conductor gave the music a dramatic intensity I’ve never heard equalled. Of course the singers helped enormously, and this was a dream cast. Jonas Kaufmann as Carlo, and Marina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth, sang and acted their parts to perfection, and with Simon Keenlyside as Carlo’s friend Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa, and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II we could not ask for better — they were wonderful! Philip II’s soliloquy at the start of Act IV was brilliantly done, and John Tomlinson in the relatively small part of the Grand Inquisitor was absolutely riveting with his commanding presence and sightless eyes. As Princess Eboli we had Marianne Cornetti, who sang beautifully, but why is it that Eboli always seems to be dumpy and frumpy, when in real life she was considered one of the most attractive women in Spain. I rarely comment on the chorus, but they were superb, and the actors also did a fine job. In the auto da fé scene I particularly liked the spoken demands to the heretics that they pray forgiveness and embrace the true faith before being burned to death — this was surely an innovation since the original production by Nicholas Hytner last year.

That wonderful production, which I wrote about in my blog of June 2008, has a raw power that suits sixteenth century Spain, and shows the burning of the heretics, suddenly lit behind a screen. It portrays the king as an old man, but that is partly due to Schiller and Verdi — in fact he was still in his late thirties, but why let history spoil a good story? I love the way the depth of the stage at Covent Garden is used to give a feeling of space and power, and my only quibble is right at the very end. The ghost of Charles V appeared in human form looking simply like another character in the plot, rather than a spirit materialising from the darkness, and the magical intensity of the scene was suddenly lost.