Posts Tagged ‘Nuccia Focile’

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.

Cocteau Voices, Linbury Studio, ROH2, Covent Garden, June 2011

18 June, 2011

The main attraction was La Voix Humaine by Poulenc, brilliantly performed by Nuccia Focile with the Southbank Sinfonia under the direction of Garry Walker. It was given in English, and Ms. Focile’s enunciation was extremely good, which was important since there are no surtitles at the Linbury. The fact that she retained my attention for her 50 minute solo performance speaks for itself. Poulenc’s opera is a musical rendering of Jean Cocteau’s one-person drama of the same title, showing a woman suffering nervous exhaustion and depression as she talks on the phone to her ex-lover. Or at least that is what she is trying to do, but it all starts with a wrong number, is interrupted by crossed lines, losses of connection and panicky reconnections to the operator. Even when Poulenc wrote his opera in 1958, twenty-eight years after Cocteau’s original play, the French telephone system was still notoriously unreliable. The disconnect with her ex-lover is well shown by her overly anxious self-pity, her desire to hide her state of mind, and her sprawling on the bed, lying about what she is wearing. Well done to Nuccia Focile for her engagingly strung-out performance.

Nuccia Focile in La Voix Humaine, all photos Tristram Kenton

Tom Cairns directed this, as well the first part of the evening, a half hour dance piece by Aletta Collins, which is based on a work Cocteau wrote for Edith Piaf and Paul Meurisse, dissecting their failed relationship. Its title Le bel indifférent was translated into English as Duet for One Voice, but this seems an odd title for a work performed by five dancers with no vocal accompaniment. Cocteau based his work on an earlier radio play titled Lis ton journal (Read your newspaper), and a sixth performer sits in a chair behind a copy of Le Monde. The dancers gave strong performances, showing anguish and inability to communicate, but the whole effect left me nonplussed.

Duet for One Voice

The background soundscape by Scott Walker included the noise of growling animals and barking dogs, and at one point when someone in the audience coughed continuously I wondered whether that was part of the sound effect. Clearly it wasn’t, as the same person gave the same cough in the second part of the evening during the Poulenc opera, but what I really couldn’t stand was the deafening nature of the sound at some points. One acquaintance of mine said she had no intention of ruining her hearing, and blocked her ears, but I think the Royal Opera House has a duty to inform the audience if the composer deliberately produces electronic sound effects above a reasonable decibel level. The acoustics of the Linbury Studio probably render different sound levels at different points, but they should all be checked. As it was I awoke in the middle of the night with my ears ringing, so anyone who decides to attend the first part of the evening should take ear plugs.

Performances continue until June 25 — for more details click here.