Three hits in two weeks: La Rondine by Puccini, Othello by Verdi and Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti. And we are not at the Santa Fe Opera. These are re-broadcasts of previously live performances at our local theater. I guarantee that if you like opera at all, you will love the whole new medium of broadcast opera. No, it is not the same as being in the opera hall; for me it is better. First of all the investment is $12 for the rebroadcasts. Live broadcasts during the season run around $30. Compare that to the $150 to $250 a ticket we pay for really good seats at the opera hall. We get to see operas we would never see, with first class performers. I get to eat an apple during the performance (if I want). One time, a friend and I brought a picnic for the interval and ate at the tables outside of the theater. To find where this is happening near you, Google Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, or Royal Opera broadcasts. They also broadcast ballet and theater from the National in London.
La Rondine was so wonderful that I purchased the disks to listen again and again. This is a “lost” Puccini, swallowed by the start of WWI. It is beautiful and a relatively easy opera to stage – it should be performed more often. Many don’t consider it “serious” enough as Puccini originally designed it to be an operetta, but changed his mind. I rather enjoyed the lighter nature of the plot. This production from 2009 starred the soprano Angela Gheorghiu and the tenor Roberto Alagna.
Othello starred Johan Botha and Renée Fleming. But the real star was the bass-baritone Falk Struckmann’s forceful yet subtle Iago. Solemn, malignant and unassuming, Struckmann conveyed chillingly how Iago manages to wreak such havoc while eluding suspicion. This 2013 production was panned by the NYT because there was no chemistry between Botha and Fleming. Ok, she’s about 5’5” and weighs about 150 and he’s over 6’ and weighs 400+. Give us a break. This Othello did not need to play the race card to account for his problems. Also Botha’s emotions range from A – B. His one facial expression is a scow - but who cares with his voice! We loved it. It’s Verdi - so lush, lyrical and grand. I’m a big fan of duets, trios, quartets, etc. Verdi uses these devices to show different thoughts going on inside the minds of the characters. So, even though they are involved in a duet, they are not really communicating. Lovely, but strange.
And then there is The San Francisco Opera's Lucrezia Borgia, starring Renée Fleming as Lucrezia and Michael Fabiano as her long-lost son. This is a Donizetti opera, so lots of bel canto vocal flourishes and ensemble singing. Fleming sort of “swanned” through the role, but Fabiano as Gennaro, breathed life into the role's improbable conflicts and sang with both graceful lyricism and full-throated ardor. The fact that he is rock star sexy only enhanced his appeal. As his boon companion, Maffio Orsini, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, in a trouser role, was excellent and their duets were spell-binding. The real star was bass-baritone Vitalij Kowaljow, who gave a thrillingly robust and commanding account of the all-too-brief role of Duke Alfonso, Lucrezia's jealous husband. However, it has hard not to laugh when the director toyed with the affections of Maffio and Fabiano, adding bits of feigned homo-erotic lust and nose-rubbing. Really? They saved the best till last when Renée appeared in a Barbarbella costume for the third act. With a butch haircut. Really? Based on my little review, you may think I did not like this production, but it was wonderful. The minor imperfections only made it more appealing.
The 2014 - 2015 Met season begins in October. Here's the link.