It really seems like every time I head to the cinemas for my dose of opera and ballet it is raining. Which just makes it a perfect match.
This rainy Saturday afternoon it was the production of La Boheme from Teatro Real Madrid. As much as I love the Puccini opera I have to admit that this outing was a disappointment. Partly because of the casting of Rodolfo, the squat and rotund Aquiles Machado, who was so far removed from my expectation of a romantic lead that it coloured my impression of his singing. Inva Mulva was much more believable as the innocently coquettish Mimi and her wan face in the final act was loving and poignant.
The other reason the screening didn’t match other shows I’ve seen was because of the sound. Somewhere between Act 1 and 2 someone hit the mute button, so the rest of the performance sounded like it was being played through a plaster wall. Which made Puccini’s soaring melodies and those high notes sound like an echo from a faraway valley.
In my view there’s no better way to spend a rainy weekend that to immerse yourself in the beauty of ballet. The Royal Ballet production of Frederick Ashton’s La fille mal gardee (The Wayward Daughter) starred my favourite ballerina Marianela Nunez with Carlos Acosta, and it was a frothy comedy full of pretty colours and rustic charm. The story is simple – Lise and Colas are in love, but Lise’s mother has married her off to a rich was dimwitted Alain. Obviously it all ends well for the lovers and in between there are beautiful dances with satin ribbons, clogs and even a Shetland pony makes an appearance at one stage. It’s a pastel macaron of delight.
The second of my forays into World Opera and Ballet was the lovely 2006 production of Giselle by the Royal Ballet. Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru was deservedly promoted to the top rank of Principal after this performance of Giselle – her bright smile and blithe spirit were perfect for the innocent Giselle, her technique was superb (such control on the extensions and lightness in her landings) and her tragedy was plainly evident on her delicately pretty features. I’d not seen her performance much in real life when I visited the Royal Opera House (my ballet and opera partner preferred the Carlos Acosta/Tamara Rojo pairing), and I wish I had now becuase I fell in love with her on screen. Her Count Albrecht was her usual partner Johan Kobborg who was competent but definitely not as exciting to watch as either Cojocaru or my favourite male dancer Acosta.
Initially, I was uncertain as to how much I would enjoy opera on the big screen. Now, I have to admit that watching the performance in high definition and with surround sound is really not a bad compromise to the real thing. The camera can capture every flicker of emotion in the singers’ faces, which I would never be able to see from my ampitheatre seats. Bizet’s sumptious melodies, comprising many of opera’s greatest hits, obviously helped the experience.
The ROH’s 2007 production of Carmen was superb – vibrant, earthy and perfectly cast. Dark-haired Anna Caterina Antonacci was utterly believable as the sultry and volatile Carmen who uses her sensual charms to entrap the hapless Don Jose. As well as singing beautifully, Antonacci was a fantastic actress who never hammed up her emotions and was able to convey her disdain for Don Jose with a mere sideways glance. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, astride on his (live) horse, was proud and authorative as the toreador Escamillo. My favourite tenor, handsome Jonas Kaufmann, sang poor bewitched Don Jose, tortured with unrequited love and reduced to rags and pleading with Carmen not to leave him. Their last scene, full of tense drama and passionate physicality, had me holding my breath.
The only problem with not being at the ROH was that I wasn’t able to yell Bravo! as the curtain went down.
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