There's no word about Harteros's one remaining booking, 11 May, yet, but "acute tonsillitis" is not something that clears quickly. Could we have unwittingly seen her last ever Covent Garden performance already?
Jonas Kaufmann wasn't ill; Anja Harteros turned up. Given that she'd marked half her lines at the general rehearsal earlier in the week (every singer's prerogative of course, but rare here) I had wondered. If success is defined as exceeding expectations, then the opening night of this third revival was a winner even before a note was sung.
"Lianna’s recent roles include Desdemona in Otello for Opéra-Bastille in Paris, Leonora in Il trovatore in Marseille, Amelia in Simon Boccanegra in Lille, Mimì in La bohème for the Grand Théâtre in Tours and Amelia in Un ballo in maschera at the Stadttheater in Bern and the Grand Théâtre in Tours. Her roles during the 2012–13 season include Elena (I vespri siciliani) at the Megaron Concert Hall, Athens; and Vitellia (La clemenza di Tito) for Opéra de Marseille."
A sound production, a spectacular cast, a few roast heretics for supper - this could have been the greatest Don Carlo ever. If only they'd rehearsed it. Following an airing in January, Jürgen Rose's ten year old production was revived for just two nights. Some critics complain that Munich's summer opera festival is not imaginative enough, that it doesn't have new productions coming out of its ears like Salzburg's does. But for out-of-towners like me, one of the main attractions is well-cast revivals of old favourites.
However when the most convincing actor on stage is Ramón Vargas, you know you've got problems. The singing was uniformly terrific, but the cast, to a (wo)man, looked as if they'd been shoved on stage and told to get on with it. It didn't help that the temperature outdoors was a muggy 80-plus degrees, and worse inside. In their heavy period costumes, sweat running down their faces, running around the stage was probably the last thing any of them wanted to do.
Don Carlo - Royal Opera House, 27 September 2009 and 18 September 2009
Every singer (except Plácido) gets sick now and again, and I got Jonas Kaufmann for two out of the three Don Carlo performances I went too, plus the rehearsal, so I can't complain too much. It was clear at the time of Kaufmann's restrained, mostly marked rehearsal performance that Don Carlo lies at the limits of his capacities. He was wise not to put his voice in jeopardy by attempting the part in anything less than 100% health.
But I can't deny it was a major disappointment to arrive at the Sunday matinee and find he'd been replaced by Alfred Kim, who'd played the part recently in Oslo. Kim is competent and likeable. He hits all the notes cleanly, projects well, acts industriously, and truth be told has a much more Italianate and objectively appropriate voice for the part than either Kaufmann or his predecessor Rolando Villazón.
But he just didn't possess that elusive factor that catches your eye when someone walks on stage and draws your ear to their every word. It's something to do with singing from inside the role rather than merely playing it, and it excuses all sorts of other issues. It's why every single major opera house rushes round chasing after the same 20 or so singers, why nothing (except the recent Barbiere - a miracle) is ever ideally cast.
Alfred Kim (top) and Jonas Kaufmann (below) with Ferruccio Furlanetto:
It’s little more than a year since the Royal Opera House premiered this production, but already the temperature has dropped a few degrees.
The main reason is Semyon Bychkov. Pappano was all heart; Bychkov is all head. Where Pappano offered untrammelled passion, Bychkov’s Don Carlo is thoughtfully structured, scrupulously detailed and immaculately performed (the last time the ROH played this well was in Lohengrin for – Semyon Bychkov). His weighty attentions serve the music well, the drama less so. The issue isn't the idiosyncratic tempos – sometimes super attenuated, sometimes dangerously pacy. At least these make you listen in a new way.The real problem is a lack of flexibility and dramatic response. The music feels superimposed on the drama, when it should be the other way round. The great Carlos/Posa freedom duet was more dutiful than ardent; Philip’s ruminative Act 4 monologue had the air of a prepared speech. There is much to admire – and to think about - but I rarely felt drawn in.
The other big change is in the title role. Rolando Villazon’s Carlos was an impetuous boy; Jonas Kaufmann’s is brooding, serious and totally grown-up. Kaufmann’s Carlos has no hesitation in placing his duty to Flanders above his personal desires. But this is the five act version, whose first act narrates the brief meeting of Carlos and Elisabetta. The first act does so much more than contextualise Carlos’s later moping. It changes the story. His joy (Elisabetta's too) is seen as real, but his later obsession as delusory, while her acceptance of her duty is the only pragmatic solution. Playing out the love story diminishes it. We see it ourselves for what it is, a moment of happiness, and not as Carlos presents it, the pivot of his destiny. And then we see the discrepancy between our view and his, and Carlos too is diminished in our eyes. He is merely evading his responsibilities, even if he doesn't realise it.
Jonas Kaufmann has chosen to emphasise the political and idealistic side of Carlos, and while that's right for the four act version, I don't think it works here (for one thing, it makes the first act into a tacked-on appendage). But having said that, and first act simpering aside, he follows through brilliantly. He is every inch the rebel prince, and his singing was out of this world. His ravishingly beautiful mezza voce was used to great effect, but he could turn up the power too. And who else could look that hawt in puffball shorts and pixie boots?
Inevitably this Carlos has more chemistry with Posa than with Marina Poplavskaya’s Elisabetta. She is much improved from last year's outing. Perhaps she really was indisposed all those times she claimed. Her steel-coated power was complemented this time round by smooth grained tone and accurate (if hard earned) top notes, lending Elisabetta's dutiful sacrifice a noble cast.
Simon Keenlyside sounded better than I have heard him for some time. Evidently a summer's rest has done him good. He is not and never will be a Verdi baritone - the heft and depth simply aren't there. Pairing him with the baritonal tenor of Jonas Kaufmann unfortunately emphasises this. But he compensates intelligently and with unquestionable commitment.
Marianne Cornetti is definitely a Verdi singer, but I doubt if Eboli is her best role. She wobbled gamely through the Veil Song, but her voice is simply too weighty to navigate it with the required agility. O don fatale was quite lovely though, and she has the warmth to generate sympathy. Couldn't the make up department have glammed her up a bit more though? - the revelation that Carlos has mistaken her for Elisabetta raised an understandable laugh from the audience.
The most satisfying performance came of course from Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip. Near-perfect. Every note, every gesture conveys absolute authority. He perhaps more than anyone suffered from Bychkov's counter-intuitive pacing though. Unable to linger or rush where the emotions demanded, he was sometimes less convincing than I know he can be. And his showdown with John Tomlinson's unscary Grand Inquisitor didn't pack the wallop it should have done.
Amongst the smaller parts, Robert Anthony Gardiner as the Conte di Lerma really stood out. His singing, most of it terrifyingly exposed, was bright, accurate and rock-solid, and his presence aristocratically relaxed.
I'm going to see a couple more performances, and I'll write more about the production itself then. But suffice to say for now I was surprised at the stagey gesticulation of some of the principals, and at how much fussy micro-managed movement had been imposed on crowd scenes (the auto-da-fé scene was the most egregious example of extraneous chat, clatter and fidgeting). A case of the director working with what was available perhaps, but not quite what you'd expect from Nicholas Hytner.
Rumours that the first revival of the Royal Opera House's Don Carlo was in even better shape than the original were given some weight by yesterday's dress rehearsal. Half the original cast return - Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip, Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabetta and Simon Keenlyside as Posa. The new additions are Jonas Kaufmann (Carlos), Marianne Cornetti (Eboli) and John Tomlinson (the Inquisitor).
But it's the new conductor, Semyon Bychkov, who has the most impact. Some of his tempos are unique to say the least - the great third act ensemble is taken at such a clip the singers struggle to keep up. But it's a probing, intelligent perspective, at times revelatory - I suspect it will be controversial. Jonas Kaufmann's performance may be too. I had some reservations, but they can wait given this was only a rehearsal, things may change, etc.
Poplavskaya and Keenlyside bring a greater depth to their characterisations this time round. (Ferruccio Furlanetto is of course unimprovable). Poplavskaya in particular has matured astonishingly in just a year. Her range has extended upwards so she can now actually sing all the notes, and with what power. When she sings, she changes the temperature of the room.
Marianne Cornetti is a lovely sympathetic Eboli, and although John Tomlinson isn't quite as scary-looking as Eric Halvarson was, he sings with the authority of absolute power.
The sets seemed uglier than I remembered them, the lighting brasher and less forgiving - just a concession to the official photographers snapping away? I hope so.
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.
Naughty Marie-Aude Roux of Le Monde has broken the critics' golden rule and - gasp - reviewed a production before press night. The show in question is La Scala's new Don Carlo, which has its official grand prima on 7 December. Presumably she caught the under-26's preview show on Thursday. Only the stalls and upper levels were reserved for the kids, with journalists joining a select group of guests in the boxes. But they were supposed to be reporting on the youthful quirks of the audience, not the show itself, so a big slapped wrist for M-A.
Anyway, she's not impressed, saying it won't go down in history. The main reason is the pushed and sloppily-styled vocalising of the tenor lead, Giuseppe Filianoti [time to wheel out - not without regret for a once-promising career - my told ya so from June.] Perhaps unknown to Marie-Aude at the time of writing, Filianoti has now pulled out from la prima and unofficially from the rest of the run too.
But she does praise Dolora Zajick as Eboli, Fiorenza Cedolins as Elizabeth, Dalibor Jenis as Posa and the Grand Inquisitor of Anatoli Kotcherga. And she found old-hand Ferruccio Furlanetto's Philip particularly moving.
However Stéphane Braunschweig's staging seems to have sunk under the weight of La Scala tradition. With its sumptuous period costumes and stock gestures, it has none of the rigour and purity which distinguished his Jenufa and Wozzeck for Lissner back at the Châtelet in Paris. Instead it kind of follows on from his recent Siegfried in Aix by exploring the impact of childhood. Silhouettes of Don Carlo, Posa and Elisabetta as children appear at crucial moments, underlying the cruel loss of the paradise of undying love. [This seems odd to me, as they're doing the four act version. And without the lovey-dovey Fontainebleau act added on, the opera's focus is surely on Power and Manly Friendship. But whatevs.]
Marie-Aude finishes by proving she's not a total grouch. She praises the finesse and sensuality of Daniele Gatti's conducting, and says he holds nothing back in the dramatic passages.
The Italian papers are a bit sniffy about all the jeans'n'chucks on display. But they report (with some surprise) that the audience were quiet and attentive, clapped only in the right places, and applauded loudly at the end. Further evidence for my contention that it's the oldsters who cause all the trouble.
GM Stéphane Lissner is apparently so chuffed that something in the House of FIALS has actually run smoothly that he's planning to repeat the experiment in 2009 with Daniel Barenboim's Carmen. Diary date - December 4 2009.
Matti Salminen and Ferruccio Furlanetto at the dress rehearsal:
7 December marks the opening performance of La Scala's 2008/09 season, which for the first time ever will be simulcast live around the world.
This year's Italian job is a new production of Verdi's Don Carlo, directed by Stéphane Braunschweig and conducted by Daniele Gatti. Fabulous Ferruccio Furlanetto plays Philip II, as he did to all-round satisfaction in the recent Covent Garden production. Giuseppe Filianoti, Dalibor Jenis, Matti Salminen, Fiorenza Cedolins and Dolora Zajick bask in the glow of his star powah.
Participating cinemas in London are the Curzon Chelsea and Curzon Richmond. Tickets cost an eyewatering £25 - no wonder they haven't sold out yet - and can be purchased online here.
Below is a list of Royal Opera House productions and co-productions currently expected (*subject to change*) to show at UK cinemas over the coming year.
The Empire chain and the Vue chain are both involved, but specific locations will vary for each production. The full list of cinemas participating in the first screening can now be found on the Royal Opera House website, and I assume details for the later ones will be added in due course.
As a price guide, the Empire Leicester Square is charging £20 for the first screening, and the Vue Islington £15. I gather demand is not expected to be high - both are showing in their most bijou of auditoria.
Live where marked; reheated sloppy seconds if not:
SEPTEMBER 2008UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Madrid live
Production by Mario Martone. Starring Marcelo Alvarez, Violeta Urmana, Carlos Alvarez, Elena Zaremba, and Alessandra Marianelli. Conductor Jesus Lopez Cobos.
26th OCTOBER 2008 TAMERLANO, Madrid
Paul McCreesh conducts Graham Vick’s production of Tamerlano. Plácido Domingo heads the cast, alongside Monica Bacelli, Ann Hallenberg, Isabel Rey, Sara Mingardo and Patricia Bardon.
NOVEMBER 2008 WAR REQUIEM, Royal Albert Hall live
Antonio Pappano conducts Christine Brewer, Ian Bostridge, Thomas Hampson in a concert performance at the Royal Albert Hall, 2 days before the Armistice Day 90th anniversary.
16th DECEMBER 2008 HANSEL & GRETEL, Royal Opera House live
Sir Colin Davis conducts a new production by Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier. The cast includes Diana Damrau, Angelika Kirchschlager, Thomas Allen, Anja Silja, and Elizabeth Connell.
1st FEBRUARY 2009 CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA & PAGLIACCI, Teatro Real, Madrid
Giancarlo del Monaco’s production stars Violetta Urmana, Vincenzo La Scola, Vladimir Galouzine and Maria Bay. Conductor Jesus Lopez Cobos.
22nd FEBRUARY 2009
AIDA, Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcelona
Filmed in 2003 against the historic paper trompe-l’oeil sets painted between 1936 and 1945 by Josep Mestres Cabanes. Performers include Daniela Dessi, Fabio Armiliato, Roberto Scandiuzzi and Juan Pons, conducted by Miguel Angel Gomez Martinez.
29th MARCH 2009CARMEN, Royal Opera House
Francesca Zambello’s production. Starring Anna Caterina Antonacci, Jonas Kaufmann, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo and Norah Amsellem. Conductor Antonio Pappano.
3rd MAY 2009 DON CARLO, Royal Opera House
Production by Nicholas Hynter with Rolando Villazón, Marina Poplavskaya, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Simon Keenlyside, Sonia Ganassi, Robert Lloyd. Conducted by Antonio Pappano.
30th MAY 2009 LA TRAVIATA, Royal Opera Houselive
Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson in a revival of Richard Eyre's production. Conductor: Antonio Pappano.
Don Carlo - Royal Opera House, 3 July 2008 (final performance)
This final performance in the current run of Covent Garden's Don Carlo was also broadcast live and free via big screen to audiences in London and Liverpool. Given the dismally wet weather all day, I was glad to be sitting in the comparative comfort of the Royal Opera House, even if my cheapie slips seat gave a less than perfect view of the proceedings.
I found myself even less impressed by the production's visuals than I had been first time round. Partly the near-vertical viewing angle no doubt, and I also suspect some of the lighting effects had been eliminated to accomodate broadcasting requirements, but most of it looked as depressingly cheap as a railway station waiting room.
Hytner's production is an intelligent one though. The first act of this five act version is not just a bunch of extra tunes. The last act ends with the final parting of Carlos and Elisabetta; this first act explains at length how they meet. As well as dramatic symmetry, it provides the premise of the whole story. A production which emphasises the wider political element of the opera might be acceptable for the four act version, but here Hytner correctly concentrates on the relationships.
Ferruccio Furlanetto's Philip was if anything even better than his stupendous performance on the first night. Can we have him back again soon pls? In fact everyone sang better at a technical level, Poplavskaya in particular enjoying largely perfect intonation and a clean upper register. And by casting relatively light voices throughout, a rare balance was achieved.
And the furry-browed question mark himself, Rolando Villazón, fell off his 'horse' with a couple of major wobbles - both may I note at moments of extreme emotion rather than technical challenge - but otherwise delivered a thrilling, passionate and heartfelt performance. Villazón's most wonderful and precious gift is to make you believe every word he sings. It's something few singers can do, and surely worth the price of the odd slip. My only regret is that I didn't get to see more performances in the run.
Anyone still wondering whether Villazon can really hack Don Carlos might want to check out this recording of Dio, che nell'alma infondere, recorded in Vienna on 28 June, with Domingo as Posa. Incidentally it shows how very different the lazily-labelled 'new Domingo' and the not-so-new Domingo sound:
"It is true that it was the first big premiere since the break. As much as I tried not to think about it, it was even more stressful (than normal),"
"I think it was high-intensity nerves, especially towards the second half"
The piece goes on to note that "applause on the night for Villazon ... was warm and loud, but several critics were less generous" with Richard Morrison of the Times finding Villazon's voice "more and more pressurized" as the evening progressed, and George Hall in The Stage thinking him "stressed and even out of tune. It's a role too big for his lyric tenor".
So who's right? Is it all over for Rolando?
Well, there was the odd crack, and an occasional hint of strain at the top. And I stress occasional. These were scattered flaws, barely worthy of comment, in an intensely committed performance of great musicality and dramatic conviction.
It sounded to me as if he was perhaps not in perfect health (his own comments about nerves make perfect sense). But he certainly wasn't in terminal vocal meltdown either, and it's wrong to assume that these issues detracted in any major way from the impact of his own performance, let alone the show as a whole.
I'm going back for a later show in the run, so I'll reserve my final judgement till then, but honestly? - I think the audience who gave Rolando such a warm hand at the final curtain had the measure of things.
As Anna Netrebko's great fan Carlos kindly informs below, not only was Anna Netrebko found in the least glamorous of the Royal Opera House's bars at last night's Don Carlo premiere, she even sat in the cheap seats!
Seats in amphitheatre row B, from where Carlos says she watched her old mate Rolando Villazón bringing down the house, cost less than a quarter of the posh ones downstairs.
The seats are narrow and armless, the legroom limited. If Anna found herself sitting next to anyone vaster than Kylie Minogue, she would have had to squeeze her dainty elbows into her hugely pregnant belly all night.
And from that distance, if Rolando had wrinkled his nose adorably in her direction, there's not a chance in hell she would have spotted it without binoculars.
But the acoustics are vastly superior to those in the expensive boxes - indeed many including myself believe the amphitheatre front rows have the best sound in the house. Anna, surely, could have bagged herself a freebie in any seat she wanted. But she chose instead to sit with the people who come to every show, and experience the Pappano magic at its most awesome. Respect!
(Any further Anna sightings last night? Let me know!)