Giovanna d'Arco - Felsenreitschule, 13 August 2013
Verdi's version of the Joan of Arc story may differ from the one you learned at school. For operatic purposes, the Maid of Orleans stirs the loins of the King of France. Believing she has reciprocated, her shamed father betrays her to the English enemy and denounces her as a witch. Sentenced to the stake, she escapes with her remorseful father's aid, only to die in battle. Or almost, pending a brief mid-funeral revival. You can see why nobody dares to stage it.
This concert version, the hot ticket of the Festival, was perfectly cast. Anna Netrebko lived the role, splendid in command and heartbreaking in distress, swathed in a sari-like gold Irina Vityaz gown. With few pesky vocal gymnastics required, her plush, dark voice soared up to her top D flat and floated in ravishing pianissimo. And all that in the grip of some punishing corsetry, outlined beneath the sparkling iridescent fabric of her gown.
Placido Domingo, playing his age for once, slipped easily into the role of her spiritually tormented father. While not quite in their class, the ringing tones of Francesco Meli were impossible to fault in the role of the French king Carlo, once played by a much-younger Domingo.
The Münchner Rundfunkorchester - only fourth on the Munich orchestra pecking list - made a pleasant surprise after the deadbeat fumblings of the Vienna Philharmonic the previous night. They responded with zest and precision to the assured baton of Paolo Carignani, a natural Verdi conductor whose return to Covent Garden is long overdue. This may not be Verdi's most inspired score, but Carignani made every second of the drama tell, maintaining momentum despite lengthy and numerous ovation-breaks.
A joy from start to finish.