According to the Sunday Times (£££), Aleksandra Kurzak was recently hospitalised after a Nozze di Figaro rehearsal at the Royal Opera House. David McVicar, standing in for Count Almaviva, "had pressed his charms on her a little too energetically in rehearsal, so she had fallen backwards and hit her head on the piano."
Afterwards McVicar "was hugely apologetic and bought her a lovely present".
Il turco in Italia, it has to be said, is not Rossini's strongest work musically. There are endless yards of tiddly-pom, and even the arias are not his most melodic or memorable. The reason it's so widely-performed has to lie in the ingenious plot and superb dramatic pacing.
A strong production can paper over the weaknesses, and as they've demonstrated with their Covent Garden La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser have a special affinity for Rossini's cruel wit. For Il turco in Italia, here on its second run, the broad-stroked humour is again echoed in the bold colours and sharp lines of the early sixties, where Aleksandra Kursak's gloved and girdled Fiorilla is fomenting her own sexual revolution, regardless of her hapless husband Alessandro Corbelli's protests.
Here first! - a full list of all the Royal Opera House's main stage productions for the 2009/10 season.
The 2009/10 Covent Garden season opens with neither bang nor whimper but with a credit-crunching concert performance on 7 September (repeated on 14 September). Makes a change from last year's Sun readers' special I suppose.
The opera in question is Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, and the conductor is bel canto genius Mark Elder. The cast includes potential Next Big Things Stephen Costello, Eglise Gutierrez and Luciano Botelho, plus the incomparable Alessandro Corbelli, the first of several welcome appearances this season.
The first staged opera of the season is Nicholas Hytner's lego-loving Don Carlo, with - OMG!- Jonas Kaufmann !!! in the title role. John Tomlinson joins him as the Grand Inquisitor, and the rest of the cast is lifted straight from the first run - Marina Poplavskaya, Simon Keenlyside, fans' favourite Ferruccio Furlanetto, Sonia Ganassi and Pumeza Matshikiza.The conductor is Semyon Bychkov.
This season's contribution to the 2013 Wagnerversary is a new Christof Loy production of Tristan und Isolde. Antonio Pappano conducts Ben Heppner, Nina Stemme, Matti Salminen, Michael Volle and Sophie Koch.
Neigh! Francesco Zambello's ghastly Carmen returns in October, with the latest Covent Garden favourite Elina Garanca back for the title role, fighting off Roberto Alagna, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, and a farmyard full of furry friends. Bertrand de Billy conducts. It's resuscitated again in June 2010 with a distinctly 'B' cast.
October also sees one of Richard Jones's more subtle and effective efforts back on stage - and attractively cast. The shouldn't-work-but-it-does double bill of Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole (Christine Rice, Yann Beuron, Christopher Maltman, Andrew Shore and Bonaventura Bottone) and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (Thomas Allen, Maria Bengtsson and Stephen Costello) is conducted by Pappano.
Francesco Zambello steps into Tchaikovsky's The Slippers in November. The new production will be conducted by Alexander Polianichko and features some serious talent fresh from the Mariinsky - Olga Guryakova, Vsevolod Grivnov, Larissa Diadkova, Vladimir Matorin and Maxim Mikhailov.
John Schlesinger's elderly Der Rosenkavalier is dusted off in December. Kirill Petrenko conducts and the cast includes Soile Isokoski, Sophie Koch, Thomas Allen and Lucy Crowe.
Littering the December and January schedules is the inevitable La Bohème. This time Andris Nelsons conducts most of the double-cast performances, which begin with Piotr Beczala and Hibla Gerzmava and end with not a few tbc's.
Robert Lepage's intermittently effective Rake's Progress returns in January 2010. Ingo Metzmacher, Toby Spence (a Tom Rakewell tdf), Kate Royal, Kyle Ketelsen and Stephanie Blythe promise much on the musical side.
Female conductor alert! Top Lisboan Julia Jones wields the baton over Jonathan Miller's Cosi fan Tutte in January. The cast includes Charles Castronovo and Sally Matthews.
A new Richard Jones production of Prokofiev's The Gambler in February is conducted by Pappano, with a cast including Roberto Sacca, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson and Jurgita Adamonyte.
Plácido Domingo's first appearance of the season is as a tenor. Graham Vick's acclaimed production of Handel's Tamerlano(recorded in Madrid and availableon DVD con Plácido) makes its first visit to Covent Garden in March with Christianne Stoijn, Sara Mingardo and Christine Schäfer. Baroque specialist Ivor Bolton conducts.
Bill Bryden's family-friendly The Cunning Little Vixen returns in March with Emma Matthews, Christopher Maltman and Emma Bell, though the presence of Charles Mackerras on the podium has to be the main draw.
Caurier and Leiser's lovely Il Turco in Italia is back in April, with Maurizio Benini conducting, and Aleksandra Kursak, Colin Lee, Alessandro Corbelli, Thomas Allen and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo in the cast.
Aida is subjected to the David McVicar magic in April. His new production is conducted by Nicola Luisotti and features Micaela Carosi, Marcelo Alvarez and Luciana D'Intino. Bare naked elephants?
The last of the Big Three, Richard Eyre's subtly intelligent La Traviata, makes its annual appearance in May and July. This time her name's in the programme - Our first Lady of the Camellias is the fabulous former Netrebko sub Ermonela Jaho. Joining her in her long-awaited return to Covent Garden in May are Saimir Pirgu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. July's 'B' Violetta is Angela Gheorghiu, who makes do with James Valenti and Zeljko Lucic. Yves Abel conducts.
Laurent Pelly's now-legendary La Fille du Régiment returns in May with the unbeatable original cast of Juan Diego Flórez, Natalie Dessay, Alessandro Corbelli and Felicity Palmer back in place. Bruno Campanella conducts.
What would tempt Sir Colin Davis back into the pit? How about David McVicar's Le Nozze di Figaro? Erwin Schrott, Camilla Tilling, Maruisz Kwiecen. Annette Dasch, Soile Isokoski and Christine Schäfer head the strong cast.
Antonio Pappano conducts Laurent Pelly's new Manon, coming to Covent Garden in June with the announced cast including Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. Anyone fancy a bet?
In one of those rare operatic fairy stories, June sees a baritone with less than a year's experience thrust into a leading role at Covent Garden. Yes, it's Plácido Domingo again, and this time he's Simon Boccanegra. Antonio Pappano conducts a strong cast including Marina Poplavskaya, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Joseph Calleja. It's the 1991 Elijah Moshinsky production by the way, not the Ian Judge one seen last year.
The season ends in July 2010 with the first revival of David McVicar's controversial Salome. Angela Denoke takes the central role, with Johan Reuter as Jokanaan. Hartmut Haenchen conducts.
Matilde di Shabran - Royal Opera House, 6 November 2008
My third and last visit to this production. And possibly - who knows? - the last time I'll ever see it. Until the trees start sprouting tenorinos, it's an opera that needs nothing less than Mr Rossini Pants himself, Juan Diego Flórez, not to mention the equally gifted soprano that Aleksandra Kurzak has provided here.
It's fascinating to see how performances change from night to night.
This was the eighth, and the acting, particularly from JDF, was so much more assured than it had been earlier. Just little things, an angry glance, a simpering smile, these made all the difference. Sadly he again sounded rather tired and weedy in the first act, just as he had on the opening night.
But Alfonso Antoniozzi (Isidoro) and Carlo Lepore (Ginardo) were more on the mark vocally than either of the previous performances I heard. Antoniozzi has had a rough ride from the critics. It's true his singing is far from spot-on, but in many ways he held the show together with his exquisitely-timed comedy. And it's only fair to point out he got a huge ovation from the audience each night.
Not that front row guest the inscrutable Mr Hytner seemed to care one way or the other. No expression whatsoever. And he never made it back for the second act - who knows why. Carlo Rizzi's conducting perhaps? It was the most disappointing part of the evening, seemingly careless more often than not, and frequently drowning out the singers. Perhaps the weeks of endless tiddlypom have finally taken their toll.
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.
Matilde di Shabran - Royal Opera House, 23 October 2008 (opening night)
Matilde di Shabran isn't really top drawer Rossini. Dramatically, its three-plus hours alternately drag and baffle as Rossini dawdles through irrelevances and skips key points in the preposterous plot. And Johnny Ramone would have admired its economy of chordage. Although Rossini went back and partially rewrote it after its hurried debut, it's tempting to say he didn't go nearly far enough. No wonder it's such a rarity on the schedules. But, with the right cast, it has enough tonsil-bending coloratura and other vocal Everests to gratify those of us who like that sort of thing. A 'singers opera' in other words.
The star attraction of this production is Juan Diego Flórez, whose stock in London is so high that he got a round of applause simply for walking on stage. (And I do hope that won't become a habit here).
Now, I <3 JDF greatly, but I didn't feel he was on the toppest of form tonight. Not that he did anything wrong - it's just that I've heard him better. Perhaps he was simply, wisely, conserving his fire - Corradino, the comic villain-turned-hero of the piece, is a long, arduous part, and he has five more performances to go.
Anyway, the sound didn't come out with its usual ease, and(surprisingly) lacked projection initially, though he did seem more relaxed and expansive in the second act. To be fair, there were far more pluses than minuses, and I am simply comparing his performance to my expectations of it. His technique is fabulous, and that steel diaphragm of his punched out every rapidfire note with precision.
Strangely (considering what his fame rests on) it was in the lyrical passages that he really convinced, displaying a greater conviction and breadth of palette than I've ever heard from him before.
Aleksandra Kurzak personified the flirtatious, cunning Matilde with charm and wit, skipping up and down double octaves with outrageous insouciance and deadly accuracy. Not hard to believe she could melt the flinty heart of the grouchy Corradino with a few bats of her eyelashes. Bar a couple of screamy moments at the top, this is the best singing I've heard in her several Covent Garden appearances. And she's somehow developed a real star presence, something that draws the eye even when there's competition for attention like Juan Diego Flórez.
Vesselina Kasarova too gave a standout performance. Edoardo is a bizarrely written part, roaming over three octaves, and Kasarova, with her pronounced register breaks and ripe, dusky sound made it seem even odder.
But she brought her own special brand of emotional conviction and outstanding technical control, and made a convincing teenage boy. Her two arias contain some of the opera's most attractive arrangements, including a beautifully-taken horn solo in the second, and one could almost sense the orchestra's relief at the break from the relentless rum-ti-tum.
But Matilde majors on ensemble pieces rather than arias, and it was clear that great attention had been paid to getting these perfectly co-ordinated and balanced. The singers in the minor parts may not have had Florez-standard finesse solo, but in ensemble they were perfect. The chorus too, always reliable anyway, seemed to have a special polish tonight.
Mario Martone's production, imported from the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, is unremarkable but inoffensive - in other words, exactly what's required for this opera.
Some of the performers, notably Alfonso Antoniozzi and his sketchily-sung but waggishly-acted Isidoro, clearly have the acting skillz in spades; others could perhaps have benefitted from more directorial attention in this area.
It seemed Martone's efforts had been focussed on careful blocking around the centrepiece, a (rather noisy) pair of metal spiral staircases - which incidentally had to be rebuilt for the Royal Opera House, as the Italian originals were so heavy they would have bust the ohso delicate English stage. Some of the performers enter the stage via the audience in the stalls - a tired idea in straight theatre perhaps, but something that's rarely done in opera, and it worked well from my perch in the amphitheatre. Some of those in stalls circle right got rather closer to the show than they expected though.
and here's a video from the first outing of this production, in Pesaro 2004 (with Juan Diego Flórez in top form):
Le Nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera House, 2 July 2008
I usually prefer to go to shows on opening night. On the downside, there may be little problems that will get ironed out later on, and first night nerves may mean singers aren't at their technical best. But the Royal Opera House generally allocates enough rehearsal time to make 'settling down' redundant.
The real difference between the first show and the later ones is that performers are always conscious of walking a tightrope between triumph and failure, and the fear of tanking it first time round can introduce a frisson that may not be recaptured in later shows. Anyone who's seen the difference between a final rehearsal and the opening show will know exactly what I mean.
This night was mid-run, and although every aspect of the performance ran as slick as greased owl pewp, there was an indefinable lack of sparkle. That's not to say it it was in any way flawed or disappointing, just easier to admire than to love.
As far as individual performances went, it was yet another occasion this season that the bus pass brigade have snaffled the performing honours from the hot young thangs. Tonight it was Robin Leggate's deliciously camp Don Basilio, Robert Lloyd's gravely comic Bartolo and Ann Murray's feisty Marcellina who made the most impact.
Kishani Jayasinghe's spirited Barbarina could have been up there with them and further, but her otherwise lusciously creamy voice developed a scratchy cast towards the end. Nothing more than a touch of tiredness I hope - not only does she perk up every production I've seen her in, however small her part, she also has the makings of a truly memorable voice.
The big revelation was Anna Bonitatibus. She's already shown her versatility recently in London in the poles-apart roles of Zerlina at the Barbican and the low-mezzo Medoro in Handel's Orlando at the ROH. And here she made an utterly convincing Cherubino, all knock knees and unmet eyes. Her crystalline vibrato-free tone was convincingly boyish, definitively Mozartian, and her Voi che sapete was the moment of the night.
She outshone Aleksandra Kurzak's sparky Susanna and Barbara Frittoli's dignified Countess, even though they were perfectly judged, and evenly enough matched for the element of conspiratorial sisterhood to ring true.
I warmed more to Peter Mattei's baffled and put-upon Count than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's manipulative Figaro, despite D'Arcangelo's dense velvety ear-caressing tone. That's partly a function of David McVicar's subtly dark production, which plays with the audience's sympathies in a rather more even-handed way than usual.
Superficially, it's conventional enough for the fustiest of audiences, with its period look and very literal adherence to text. Although it doesn't skip any of the comedy (all of which is genuinely funny here, not remotely teeth-gritting), he doesn't shy from exposing the self interest of the protagonists at every moment either, and the undercurrent of rumbling discontent, the lower orders rattling the bars of their cage, is more than usually apparent.
Talking of bars, I was seriously impressed that certain thirsty orchestra members managed to survive the 90 minute second half without a rest break after their copious interval refreshments at the White Lion. But then again, perhaps it contributed to the relaxed, unhurried sound Charles Mackerras drew from them. Despite his unrelentingly furious pace, there was wit and charm in abundance, and the finely-nuanced response of the orchestra does them great credit.
It says a lot for production standards that the only blemished performance was canine. The Count's 'hunting dog' (though he looked more like a slipper-chewer to me) entered tail-first, tugged at the leash for his minute on stage, and danced a circle of joy the second he was released back.
I do love animals, especially with gravy, but as ever if [insert composer] had really wanted a [insert species] in [insert opera], don't you think he would have written a part for one?