Matilde di Shabran - Royal Opera House, 27 October 2008
Matilde di Shabran may not be a great opera, but the performances alone made it worth a second visit. When again will we get the chance to catch Juan Diego Flórez, unquestionably the world's finest tenore di grazia doing what he does best, and doing it for three hours no less?
And tonight JDF was firing on all cylinders. No trace of the illness or tiredness or whatever that had slightly flawed his first night performance. Just endless yards of scintillating fioritura and sky high top notes casually popped out, no effort at all. Even suspended from the rattling banisters with Carlo Rizzi's orchestra racing away a naughty half beat ahead, he made it look easy. Though with, again, a section of the audience applauding him simply for coming on stage, the crowd was never going to be that hard to please.
Aleksandra Kurzak and Vesselina Kasarova had another terrific night. Kasarova's idiosyncrasies are never going to be to everyone's taste, but Aleksandra Kurzak's charm had the audience eating from the palm of her hand. "I think I'm in love" sighed the gentleman behind me.
Marco Vinco's sonorous Aliprando aside, the rest of the cast weren't quite up to the mark vocally. But if any opera needs a little comic relief to leaven its dramatic improbabilities and economical scoring it's this one. Alfonso Antoniozzi's Isidoro provided most of the energy and nearly all the laughs on stage. OK, his coloratura was rarely even close to pitch, but parlando and speech were impeccable and, more importantly, funny.
Some reviewers were critical of the chorus streaming on stage via the front row aisles. But from my stage-side perch, all I could see on front row faces was delight. (OK, maybe a little fear too). But it was far more gracefully handled than a similar manoeuvre in the National Theatre's current Oedipus - and looked fresher too.
This may be a less than a perfect production of a less than perfect opera, but it's something more than a Juan Diego Flórez star vehicle.