Posts Tagged ‘Rolando Villazon’

Werther, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2011

6 May, 2011

He’s an anguished young man in love, but Werther lacks the red-blooded energy of Des Grieux (Manon) or Athanaël (Thaïs), and his unrealisable love for Charlotte turns into a suicidal obsession. The opera is based on Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, which can be seen as a cautionary tale where Werther dies alone, yet Massenet’s opera gives us a more glorious ending with the lovers united as Charlotte cradles the dying man in her arms. There they are in a lonely room within the stage, while snow falls outside, and the red shawl Charlotte wrapped around her white dress before rushing to Werther’s side matches the red blood on his white shirt. It’s a sad and lovely scene, and the audience roared their approval of Rolando Villazon in the title role, supported by Sophie Koch as an enigmatic Charlotte.

Act IV, Werther and Charlotte

Villazon seems ideally suited to this role, and though sounding a trifle underpowered he commanded the stage with his poetic anxiety. It was a super performance. The irony of this sad tale is embodied in a clash between the aristocratic sensitivities of Werther, and the simple small-town life personified by Charlotte, and her relations: her fiancé, later her husband, Albert, and her younger sister Sophie, along with the other characters and the children, who appear at the start and are heard again at the end during the death scene. Charlotte serves as their mother, sharing her love between them, but she cannot share love between Albert and Werther. She has different feelings for the two of them, well expressed in Act II when Albert asks her if she is happy and without regrets. Her response that if a woman has by her side such an upright and kind-hearted man, que pourrait-elle regretter? That says it all.

Bailli and children in Act I

This opera has an excellent libretto, the music is wonderful, and the orchestra played it beautifully under Pappano’s direction. Yet I feel it doesn’t grip audiences today in the way that Goethe’s 1774 story gripped sensitive souls of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We live in a rather different world, foreshadowed by the children whose happy singing is heard at the beginning and the end. Their appearance worked well in this fine production by Benoit Jacquot, with its excellent costumes by Christian Gasc, well matched by Charles Edwards’ lighting and set designs, which show a grey background to the scenes in the open air, making it appear that only the here and now matter. Werther’s tragedy is his suffering in the here and now, which he expresses in Act II when he sings that in dying you cease to suffer and merely pass to the other side. But while Massenet’s music for Werther brings out huge emotions and stress, he gives Albert a much simpler line, strongly sung by Audun Iversen. The other, un-tormented characters were all well portrayed, with Eri Nakamura delightful as Sophie, and Alain Vernhes suitably dull and cautious as the Bailli.

One thing, however, disturbed the calm atmosphere of Act I. From the Amphitheatre the sound of water was persistent and intrusive, and other people I spoke to felt the same way. There is a pipe and water trough on stage but no water flows so the noise was confusing, and clearly heard even in orchestral high moments. Could this be Tennyson’s Babbling Brook? But that poem ends For men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever — yet fortunately it ceased after Act I.

There are five more performances, ending on May 21 — for more details click here.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Royal Opera, November 2008

30 November, 2008

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This was opening night, so Rolando Villazon can be forgiven for starting out rather weakly as Hoffmann, particularly as he strengthened during the performance and did a fine job of the final scene at the tavern. This opera is an intriguing work, where Hoffmann describes three earlier loves, Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia, all of whom portray aspects of his current lover, the opera singer Stella. The well-dressed Count Lindorf appears in the tavern and is determined to detach her from Hoffmann. He then appears first as Coppelius, creator of Hoffmann’s first lover, the mechanical doll Olympia; second as Dappertutto the confidante of Hoffmann’s next lover, the courtesan Giulietta; and third as Dr. Miracle, overseeing the death of Hoffmann’s other lover Antonia. She has a beautiful voice, inherited from her late mother, but her father blames Miracle for the death, forbids Antonia to sing, and bans Miracle from the house. But Miracle enters, persuades her to sing, and she dies in Hoffman’s arms. The three thaumaturges and Count Lindorf are one and the same, and these four incarnations were well sung by Gidon Saks, though I would have preferred a darker voice and presence.

As to the ladies, Olympia was sung and acted to perfection by Ekaterina Lekhina. It is difficult to imagine a better performance, and I shall always remember this as the highlight of the evening. Giulietta was Christine Rice, Antonia was Katie van Kooten, and Stella was Olga Sabadoch. None could compare to the first one, a feature that would have been avoided by having one soprano for all four roles, as Offenbach intended, though I realise a suitable singer is hard to come by. The strange house servant for all three of the young ladies destroyed by Hoffmann’s attentions was extremely well sung and portrayed by Graham Clark, and Kristine Jepson was good as Hoffmann’s companion. Antonio Pappano conducted with superb lyricism, and this was a fine performance.

The original production was by John Schlesinger, and I suppose it was his idea to eliminate the end of Act II, so Giulietta simply sails off in a gondola instead of drinking the poison that Dapertutto has prepared for Hoffmann. She should die in Hoffmann’s arms, like the other two. He holds the doll as it disintegrates, and holds Antonia as she dies. I was very disappointed that they missed the final music for this act, and Dapertutto’s, “Ah, Giulietta, maladroite!”, which for me is one of the high points of the opera.

Highly recommended, but losing the end of Act II partly loses the plot, because Hoffmann, allied by the magus, destroys his lovers, and in recalling these destructions he is ready to let Stella go. By forcing Hoffmann metaphorically to see himself in a mirror, the magus, alias Count Lindorf, wins the woman who combines all three lovers. And that is a good reason for going back to Offenbach’s original order for the three acts: Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, where the final one of these uses a mirror to capture Hoffmann’s image. It is a great shame that Offenbach died before the first performance, as this has given other people the excuse to monkey around with his intentions. Can we please get back to the original!! Yes, it’s long, but if we use the original spoken dialogue instead of recitative, we won’t need the cuts. Sets designs by William Dudley were excellent, as were the costumes by Maria Bjoernson, and the lighting by David Hersey was superb.

This opening night was dedicated to Richard Hickox, who conducted the previous performances in 2004, and had died suddenly a few days earlier.