When Rodolfo sounds more consumptive than Mimì, you’ve got a
problem. Post-surgery, Rolando Villazón has had his ups and downs, but he was
singing much better in Salzburg this summer than he could manage last night in the 999th revival of John Copley's La bohème.
The notes were (mostly) there; the volume wasn’t. Despite Mark Elder’s
considerate restraint, the orchestra often washed over him, and he bottled a
few key phrases, not to mention their money notes. I can only hope for Rolando’s
sake it was just an off night, perhaps a touch of the respiratory lurgy that
seemed to afflict half the audience.
I wonder when Rolando Villazon was taking his first tentative steps towards a career in opera if he ever dreamed that one day he'd find himself beneath the searing lights of a Salford theatre with a microphone clamped to his jaw, Hayley Westenra at his side and HRH the Princess Royal tucked away somewhere in the audience.
Last night's Royal Variety Show, all four hours of it, was recorded by ITV to be shown in an edited version (i.e. possibly Rolando-less) on 14 December. Personally I think you'd have to be a very, very big fan.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann - Nationaltheater Munich, 12 November 2011
For all its garish wallpaper, vintage frocks and toy animals, this new production is not a lot of fun. You can forget about the gondolas for a start.
Richard Jones takes a decidedly sober view of what might make someone hit the bottle. Jones's own youth informs much of his work, so perhaps it's not surprising he shows Hoffmann's creative identity to be moulded by past experiences.
Hoffmann is not the usual garrulous taproom raconteur, but a depressive alcoholic at a artistic standstill. Rolando Villazon, playing against type, tones down remarkably effectively - the clown behind the mask, and not just the clown. (And yes, it was Just Acting - he reverted to the usual japes at the curtain call.) He makes a tough act for Barry Banks to follow when the show comes to ENO next spring.
It doesn't take long for Rolando Villazón to prove he's not off whatever he's usually on in this Bavarian State Opera video. It's an introduction to Richard Jones's new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (the one that's coming to ENO next spring), which opens in Munich tomorrow night.
The title role is the most demanding thing Rolando has done since his recent operation - but even more impressive is Diana Damrau's assumption of all three lady parts.
Production photos by Wilfred Hösl for Bavarian State Opera below.
Wednesday's Werther, the third night of the run, found Rolando Villazon more relaxed than he was on opening night, and singing a lot better as a result. Next to the big, easy voice of Sophie Koch he still sounded underpowered, but he found a better balance between control and tension.
The orchestra again played brilliantly. Pappano kept them on a tighter leash this time, which helped Rolando - and the splashing fountain was banished, hopefully never to return.
I found the view from the right hand side of the auditorium more expansive than the left, where I sat on the first night (both restricted view). Not much of a bonus with sets this bland, though.
And interviewed by Opéra magazine about his directorial debut with Werther in Lyon later this month, Rolando Villazón confirmed he's still expecting to sing the role himself at the Royal Opera House - and record it too.
He said of his own Lyon production, where the title role is to be filled by Arturo Chacón-Cruz:
"I don't want it to be 'my' Werther, but my interpreters'. The one I'm going to record soon, and portray at Covent Garden in May in Benoît Jacquot's production, will be very different. "
Here's a brief and not very revealing Lyon promo (thanks Teresa59 for uploading):
If Rolando changes his mind, it's worth noting that Andrew Richards (who deputised successfully for Jonas 'sicknote' Kaufmann in the same production in Paris recently) seems to be free in May.....
Having recently cancelled two opera performances in Munich, struggled through another one, and managed just seven minutes of a recital in Copenhagen, Rolando was keen to divert the interviewer to his work as a clown doctor. Perhaps he would have been smarter to train as a gastroenterologist though - he eventually revealed that his recent problems have been caused by gastric reflux [an uncomfortable condition which can inflame the oesophagus].
Looking forward, in 2011 he will focus on Mozart, with Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Il Re pastore. But Tales of Hoffmann, one Massenet production (he doesn't say which one) and eventually, a Tosca [!] are all included in his future plans.