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10 January, 2007

Sydney La Traviata (are they in competition with the Met?!)

Sydney Opera House

Wednesday 10th January 2007

Violetta ValeryElvira Fatykhova
Alfredo GermontRosario La Spina
Giorgio GermontWarwick Fyfe
Baron DoupholShane Lawrencev
FloraDomenica Matthews
CondGiovanni Reggioli
DirectorElijah Moshinsky
DesignerMichael Yeargan

Dear Colleagues,

Just as the Met had a La Traviata revival in January, so too did Sydney. And the Sydney Moshinsky/Yeargan production proved an enjoyable outing indeed with several high points.

I thought the orchestral parts were as sensitively played as I have ever heard them whether live or on record. The prelude and third act introduction music were both taken rather more slowly than is traditional - to great benefit musically.

Miss Valery was played to perfection by Elvira Fatykhova. She imparted joy, vulnerability, anger and inanition very well. Looking beautiful in the first two acts, she was suitably morbid by the end. Her voice is large and well focussed yet she is able to use pianissimo to tasteful advantage. Her full-flight ‘Sempre libera’ included a full bodied exciting and sustained penultimate E flat.

Tenor Rosario La Spina started out weakly, I thought, seeming tentative and insecure. By the second act he had come into his own rather well, choosing not only to sing the cabaletta ‘O mio rimoso’, but ending on a stunning high C. I was told that he was thrown by a nasty case of sunstroke, a victim of Sydney's stop-start summer, perhaps. The duets were expressive and credible in my view. Also due to sing Calaf in the Parks Concert in the Domain this month, Mr La Spina is one busy singer. The opera company would be lost indeed without his unique tenor voice. One hopes he is practising his French with upcoming Hoffmann in the winter season.

Our papa Germont was Warwick Fyfe who has a very loud voice. He was a little stiff and failed to impart the warmth we normally expect. Yet the senior Germont character, like that of his son, is far from impeccable. His demands on the behaviour of others are rather high and he could be painted as something of a villain, intent on destroying others’ lives for his own vanity and family pride. So we had a 'Di Provenza' which 'worked' but was not warm and full, but rather dry and superficial, something like good quality advertising, and consistent with the rest of his unusual characterisation (the Germont you love to hate).

Flora, Baron, soloists, guests and orchestra were all just fine to my eye and ear.

The season to date has been packed out and opening night had summer VIPs en masse but without a guest of honour, unless Malcolm Turnbull, Bronwyn Bishop or the annual visitor Geoffery Robinson QC might step into such august shoes in the absence of Vice Royalty.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

03 January, 2007

Marriage of Figaro at the Sydney Opera House - fine opening to summer season

Sydney Opera House

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

FigaroJoshua Bloom
SuzannaTiffany Speight
Dr BartoloJud Arthur
MarcellinaAdele Johnston
CherubinoSally-Anne Russell
Count AlmavivaJosé Carbó
Don BasilioGraeme Macfarlane
Countess AlmavivaLeanne Kenneally
c.Alexander Briger
p.Neil Armfield.

Dear Colleagues,

Having been strongly critical of the national company recently (and there have been some awful gaffs), I also should give credit where it is due. So ten points out of ten for the premiere of Nozze di Figaro in Armfield and Ferguson's 'vinegar and brown paper' revival.

I was told that conductor Alexander Briger is a nephew of Sir Charles Mackerras. He clearly has an excellent 'handle' on Mozart yet he is apparently prepared to countenance some liberties both in tempi and vocal ornamentation. We heard Sally-Anne Russell as Cherubino singing ‘Voi che sapete’, one of the most perfectly constructed arias in the canon. But it was gilded with ever-increasing ornamentation, including grace notes, triplets, runs and possibly acciaccaturas, each to no apparent purpose, and losing some of the grand simplicity and symmetry of the work. For the countess, ‘Porgi amor’ was sung ‘come scritto’ but its parallel number, ‘Dove sono’ was ornamented slightly, once again, one wonders to what effect. Did somebody think they would improve the original Mozart? Some of my knowledgeable correspondants are persuaded that Mozart actually approved these versions, but I am still not used to them.

Yet these are small criticisms of an otherwise marvellous operatic night at the theatre. Figaro, after all, is a moral comedy about sex, fidelity, identity, humiliation and comeuppance. Its first lines are about the placement of a wedding bed, a gift from a rival who lives in the next room! Taken too seriously, this opera's drama, like Magic Flute, can drag on interminably, despite the wonderful music, starting out with one of the best-ever overtures.

José Carbó sang Count Almaviva with great flare. He was bare chested in act I and suitably regal in military black velvet for his formal scenes. He may have also taken some liberties with his third act aria. Joshua Bloom again showed himself to have what it takes both vocally and dramatically with a totally convincing Figaro. Like Cherubino in act I, he was required to simulate sex on stage, lowering his baroque pantaloons more than once in the last act (at least he was married by then!). His dramatic and comic sense were a perfect foil for his substantial and pleasant baritone voice.

Leanne Kenneally played an elegant and conservative Countess (Rosina). Her 2 big arias were creditable - as was her stage sense and recitatives - she is a great asset to the company.

Tiffany Speight, a one-time Cherubino, sang and acted an excellent Suzanna on this outing. Her last act ‘Deh vieni, non tadar’ was admirable. Sally-Anne Russell was fine on this occasion in the gender-bender role of Cherubino. She was especially good in the difficult ‘Non so piu’ aria. The other supporting principals were also finely cast and performed well, as did the chorus and orchestra. For once, the voices, stage, orchestra pit and auditorium all seemed appropriate in size.

Being in two halves, the evening was robbed of an interval, saving some funds for both orchestra and perhaps some contract baby-sitters at home. I think Nozze should have two intermissions but I may be in the minority. I would also not be averse to more cuts in the longer scenes.

Hats off to the company for a great start to another year of grand opera in Sydney and Melbourne.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..