I'm used to waking up of a morning to Concert FM. But this morning the experience was rather more special than usual. Instead of somebody's nine millionth piano concerto, or Armenian folk music, I woke up this morning to Renée Fleming in recital. How's that for luck? It was a lieder recital, and although admittedly I prefer Renée so far in operatic mode, it was still an excellent waking-up treat: songs by Marx (not the communist I gather), Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss, with the gorgeous 'Marietta's Lied' from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt as an encore. There aren't many better ways I can imagine to spend the last morning of my holidays.
And things just got better, the longer I listened. After Renée has finished being wonderful, a programme called 'Pressing On' provided some Händel (the oratorio Saul) and some Nellie Melba (it's 100 years since her first recordings were made).
Then at 3 was the Sunday opera. Usually I forget about the Sunday opera, or I don't bother with it because none of my sopranos are in it, or something similarly inexcusable. But when I heard them saying who was in it, well, I could hardly refuse. I love a good coincidence, and today's opera, a New Zealand production of Verdi's Falstaff included as Meg Page none other than Carmel Carroll- the star of last night's post. And as if that weren't enough, Nanetta was Deborah Wai Kapohe, my absolute favourite New Zealand soprano. The Bardolfo was Brendon Mercer, who I've seen live three times now: in Die Fledermaus and Madama Butterfly (both here in Dunedin) and as a soloist in an all-Berlioz concert in Wellington. The rest of the cast, excepting Ford, Anne's jealous husband, was from New Zealand too. The only other name I recognized was Helen Medlyn, who was singing Mistress Quickly.
Falstaff, let it be said, is in no danger of overtaking La traviata as my favourite Verdi opera. But still, I enjoyed it. Knowing my tendency to let things fade into the background, I actually sat at the computer throughout the opera with the libretto in front of me. It hurt my eyes a little but it did help me to actually listen and concentrate. There don't really seem to be any arias as such in this opera. Sometimes one person sings by themselves for a while, but I still wouldn't call it an aria. This wasn't a problem, the music was still great and so was the singing, although there was the odd moment, especially for the soprano singing Anne Ford, that I realised how much better she might sound with a nice conventional chance to let her voice soar.
Carmel Carroll didn't disappoint me after last night's brief experience- she's very very good. But the star for me, as I knew she would be, was Deborah Wai Kapohe. Deborah has two singing careers: one in opera and one as a singer/songwriter. I absolutely and overwhelmingly prefer her in the former role; so even though she clearly likes doing both I tend, selfishly, to wish she would devote herself entirely to opera. It's not to be however, so I content myself with the fact that at least she does some. And she does it stunningly, beautifully well. Nanetta is such a small part she didn't really have time to steal the show, but she got as close as possible. Every moment she was singing, my spirits lifted: and the best line Nanetta gets, melodywise, which fortunately she sings three or four times- "Anzi rinnova come fa la luna"- was meltingly gorgeous. I can't say enough wonderful things about Deborah. There's a Kathleen Battle-ness to her voice, but with more depth or something to it as well. Hard to explain, but as you can see I'm a big fan.
In the end though, it was probably a good thing that Deborah was there to keep me listening properly. I liked the opera, but without her I probably would have lost energy halfway through and kept it playing while I did something else. Unfortunately not everyone was as compelling as Ms Wai Kapohe. Brendon Mercer seemed to me to be straining a little- I never quite felt that he was happy in his part; Nanetta's lover Fenton was rather unconvincing, something made clearer by Deborah's excellence; and Helen Medlyn was probably fabulous on stage (this, like all Concert FM Sunday operas, was a live recording) but the comic effects she added made her difficult to listen to at times: I think when I see something on stage, the most important thing really is that it's in some way compelling to watch; when all I'm doing is listening, the drama is important but I like to above all to be beautiful.
So the verdict? A very good performance of a very good opera, although nothing about it is likely to make any top ten lists any time soon. Except Deborah of course; if only Nanetta was a bigger role.
Cd du jour: Deborah Wai Kapohe:Canciones españolas. Unfortunately this is Deborah's only classical CD so far. I hope there are more to come, but for the time being this one will have to do. Luckily it's packed full of great stuff. And for most of it, she accompanies herself on guitar- she's not only a fabulous soprano, she's also an unbelievably good classical guitarist. Apparently there's no end to what this woman can do.