Ravenswood “re-visited”. Lucia at the Sydney Opera House Wed 24th October 2012
I found myself back at my old Wednesday night subscription series, yet how things have changed! There were empty seats in all reserves. I noted that only one seat in the whole of Loge Y was sold, both a tragedy and a travesty in my view. Why do such good value seats not go on sale until the day of the performance? If tin-pot airlines can fill seats, why can’t an opera company which is putting on half-decent opera? I bought a $65 seat in Loge A, well forward of the front row of the dress circle, albeit on the side.
This was operatic vocalism at its best despite a lacklustre production shared with Houston Grand Opera. Chorus and principal singing were exemplary and there were goose-bumps aplenty for those subject to such responses (like me!).
I have never heard Lucia’s Act I cadenza (Quando rapito in estasi) in its entirety until this production. Even Joan Sutherland did not sing it all in the second half of her career.
I ran into a few other long-time subscribers (‘survivors’). One said that he and his wife were enjoying the performance but they had not really appreciated just how good Joan Sutherland was in this role all those years ago. This was in the second interval and while Emma Matthews is NO Joan Sutherland, like a true trooper, she was saving herself up for Act III in which she “let fly”. Emma Matthews gave us the full mad scene, blood, guts, sex and all. It was as if the vocal governors were removed and throttle enhanced as we had almost fifteen minutes of unparalleled vocal dynamism.
The production, however, put her in several ludicrous positions including hand washing in a champagne cooler filled with blood, lying under the banquet table, holding a mock-baby and another quasi-obstetric pose which was beyond good taste and some would say grossly offensive. The chorus ‘reactions’ were robotic and non-responsive and thus lacked any sense of alarm at the unfolding homicidal lunacy. Yet they sang to perfection.
The production’s grey-cloud simplicity was overshadowed by frequent ‘disconnects’ with the story line. Furthermore, the ubiquitous representation of grey storm clouds were neither realistic nor beautiful, looking more like a lunar landscape than swirling storm portents. Projections would have looked more atmospheric but the static grey templates were just boring to this viewer, especially as matching flats were raised and lowered ad nauseam to no particular purpose - except to end each act (which did not time correctly, three out of three).
American tenor James Valenti sang beautifully but there were a couple of exposed high notes towards the end as he appeared to tire … just on his highest legato register as he briefly sounded slightly reedy and lost the innate beauty of his marvellous voice. Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro sounded fully in control, just as he did on opening night … hitting some phenomenal terminal high notes, G natural or even A flat nailed to perfection (and more goose bumps). Almost as exciting as Robert Allman who did this part so often in the ‘Sutherland days’.
The opera company management has now largely moved on or passed away but a sorry decade has seen opera standards fall precipitously (present production happily excepted - may there be more!). There have been statements from the company which were derogatory to subscribers. Plus a continued emphasis on the importance of performing Wagner’s Ring, something obviously well beyond the capabilities of this emasculated company. Other ‘side shows’ such as harbourside opera have been associated with a lack of concentration on the standard repertoire so it is no surprise that seat sales are still dropping. I was told by a company insider that subscriptions had dropped by 15% each year for a number of years and this could not be sustained (obviously).
Despite all this, or perchance as a portent of improvements, it was a privilege to be attending such high quality opera in our small and distant backwater. Love Sydney!
Comments by Andrew Byrne ..
Opera blog: http://andrewsopera.blogspot.com/
My sympathies to those affected by the terrible storm in North America.