Must get these reviews out of the way before I forget (or get distracted.)
The Sunday Met broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier was fantastic. As you guessed, perhaps, from my Strauss raptures the other night. Angela Denoke is unquestionably a Very Important Marschallin. Even sharing the limelight with Susan Graham, she shone. A beautiful pure sound, sensitivity to the music and the character; and the ability, even in the midst of that great billowing orchestra, to sing quietly and simply and nevertheless rivet the attention. Sometimes I thought she would simply disappear into the orchestra but she never ever did, and the tension was something quite special.
My heart, unlike Octavian's, never once belongs to anyone but die schöne Feldmarschallin. I have a soft spot for little Sophie, however, and Laura Aikin was very nice. I mean, she's no Lucia Popp but who is? Laura's Sophie was a sweetheart, and especially touching in Act Three. And her Octavian was a gorgeous Susan Graham. Seems Octavian is her operatic destiny, and she well and truly fulfilled it here. She lacked, perhaps, a little of that earnest enthusiasm which can be appealing in an Octavian but such singing: quite irresistible. Speaking of which: Peter Rose's Baron Ochs! Generally I don't much like Baron Ochs vocally any more than I do as a character. .But here he sounded so good I almost (gasp) liked him! I wasn't just sitting there thinking him unworthy to breathe the same air as the Marschallin - I was enjoying his singing. He's still awful, naturally, but I couldn't help forgiving him a little when he sounded like this.
Now, on to the English National Opera Xerxes which was on TV on Monday night. Interesting. Xerxes isn't exactly the pinnacle of Handel's operatic achievement, perhaps: but even average Handel is better than most things, and Xerxes is far from average. Anne Murray in the title role was spectacular. Things got off to a shaky start, with a train wreck of an 'Ombra mai fu' but she redeemed herself almost immediately and never looked back. She was captivating - about as convincingly male as Marlene in her tux, but no matter. If the opera had just been a three-hour one-travesti-show, that would have been just fine. Although there would be one significant drawback: the absence of Lesley Garrett. Yes, I can hardly believe I'm saying this of the Crossover Queen, but she was stunning. Why, Lesley? Why didn't you keep doing this? Why all the 'Soprano in Hollywood', 'Soprano Inspired', 'Soprano Dragging Horse Along the Beach' rubbish? Lesley's Atalanta was (apart from Anne) the star of the show. Gorgeous singing and phenomenal coloratura, plus a genuine sense of Handel singing which seemed to elude some others in the cast. Surely they must have watched her and thought "Oh! That's how it's done! I had no idea!". She truly was a delight. She was also adorably channelling the spirit of Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks With Love - quite appropriate actually, given the plot of the movie (kid sister in love with blonde older sister's goofy boyfriend.)
I thought, though, that Atalanta should have ended up with Xerxes. In this production, anyway. Lesley and Anne were getting on so well together, and despite all her machinations, this Atalanta came across as a genuinely nice person. Besides, I'm sorry, but Amastris is pointless. I mean, it's nice to have yet another mezzo in this already soprano-friendly opera, but why is she there? If a reason does exist, Jean Rigby wasn't much help finding it. Nice enough voice but honestly, every time the vocal fireworks started up, she looked like she couldn't wait to be home in bed. Newsflash: no matter how twisted and florid that coloratura gets, you are still singing a word. Dear me. Even worse was Valerie Masterson's Romilda. What a mess. True, she was always going to be a problem for me, simply by virtue of Not Being Yvonne Kenny. The liner notes for Yvonne's Handel Arias include photos of her in this very production. So to begin with I was annoyed with Valerie for not sounding like Yvonne. But as time wore on I was just annoyed with her for not sounding like an opera singer. When shouts of "Sing properly" come involuntarily from my mouth, it really isn't a good sign. Sometimes I thought she was just going to lose it all together and give up. Perhaps she ought to have. Besides which, she was the most profoundly unlikeable Romilda you could imagine. Part of this, no doubt, was down to the director, and it's a reasonable angle. But she was even unpleasant during the parts evidently designed to soften her up: "Chi cede al furore" was bland and emotionless - no mean feat, given the fabulous music. When I think what Yvonne must have been like in this part...
But it was an excellent production nevertheless, thanks to Anne, Lesley, the stage director and the sets and costumes. I'd certainly watch it again. I might just nap during the Romilda parts.
And now, dilette amiche, I'm off to that distraction.