Fine. Warhorse after warhorse, Turandot after Turandot, then I leave the country and look — NZ Opera is doing Jenufa. Well, never mind; I got to hear Cheryl sing it so woe is not exactly me. Anyway, I am very pleased indeed to see NZ Opera producing something which is (for them) not exactly standard repertoire — let us hope it is a sign of things to come. Naturally it's balanced out by the biggest warhorse of them all, La bohème. Fair enough.
What does strike me as slightly odd about their 2008 Bohème, however, is that both Mimì and Musetta will be sung by Australian sopranos. Now, I'm all for opera-as-international-experience. Of course I am. But does the current generation of New Zealand singers really not contain a single soprano capable of singing either of these bread and butter roles at that level? I find it difficult to imagine that this is the case. Still, I'm pleased for New Zealand audiences that they'll have what the NZ Opera website refers to, slightly cannibalistically, as "their first taste" of both Antoinette Halloran and Tiffany Speight. The two Stellas — Tiffany was cast for Streetcar until (so I believe) health issues forced her to withdraw and Antoinette took over. I'm looking forward very much to Antoinette's Bohème here, and Tiffany was a lovely Susanna. Oh and one further thing — I can't help but hope that at some point the promotional image for La bohème is changed. Their frail blonde Mimì is very sweet, but Antoinette's who everyone will actually see, and she's even more photogenic.
In truth, though, I'd say the potentially starriest cast for NZ Opera next year is that for their touring production of Hansel und Gretel. Ana James sings Gretel and Anna Pierard is Hansel — two rising New Zealand singers who I'm sure will bowl their regional audiences over. They'd bowl cosmopolitan audiences over too. Good move, too, casting Helen Medlyn as the Witch. I said once, having heard her sing a couple of seduction arias, "If this was temptation, it was of the gingerbread house variety", so now everyone's happy.
And meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Natalie adorata opened in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met. The (blog) reviews aren't all in love with her, but I still am. And I do hope that everyone who is (totally justifiably, don't misunderstand me) ambivalent nevertheless appreciates how mindblowingly fortunate they are to have the opportunity for such ambivalence. What luxury, what privilege, to be at leisure to only sort of like Natalie (and then maybe go and see Anna Netrebko sing Juliette a few nights later). Ma foi.
However, my jealousy has been assuaged just a bit by the glorious wonders of modern technology. Thanks to, in order, Peter Gelb's new multimedia Met, NatalieTube (the videos seem to have disappeared now, but know, operatennisfan, that I will love you for all of my days), KeepVid, Videora and my brand new and very pretty little silver iPod Nano (whose name is Mirella, incidentally), within a couple of days of the Lucia prima, I had Natalie's mad scene to watch on the train to work. I know I belong to a generation which is meant to be rather blasé about such technological wonders, but I'm still blown away by what's possible.
Of course there was never any possibility that I would be ambivalent about Natalie. She's my diva, my brain doesn't work that way for her. She's a miracle by definition. So hardly surprising, then, that I loved her, but I did. So much. What I especially love is that when her Lucia speaks to an invisible Edgardo, her words are not the distracted rantings of somebody on madwoman autopilot, but rather a palpable hallucination in which she believes completely. She sings "Alfin son tua" just as she would if he were there and the crowd wasn't. She's so small and so disturbing and so tragic and so perfect. And I suppose while the way she sings isn't for everyone, oh, it is for me. The disappearance of the flute cadenza is a genius touch too. Not sure about the shot in the arm but as for the coloratura and the ornaments it supposedly elicits — yes please. Natalie's reign in my heart continues.