Slightly deceptive describing this as live, since it was on a half hour delay, but it doesn't really make a difference. I didn't watch all of it — Spicks & Specks took rightful precedence from 8.30 to 9. Were Jennifer Byrne and Chris Taylor really the best the ABC could come up with to host? I like them both quite a lot in their usual hosting gigs (Tuesday Book Club and The Chaser) but they both seemed a bit ill at ease and not very well informed. Where's Virginia Trioli when you need her?
As we know, I wasn't much taken with opening night of this mini-season. Which is actually why I watched this: I wanted to give it a chance, and more particularly, to give Antoinette Halloran a chance, to be better. And they were. It was still patchy, but not nearly so ragged as opening night. Most importantly, Antoinette made me smile again. Her voice will never be beloved of everybody, I realise that now. The naysayers (there have been several, and occasionally they've been vicious) have probably ensured that I'll never again hear her with wholly uncritical ears, which is good for my credibility, I suppose, but bad for my soul. But whatever the criticisms, and however valid they may be, I like her. I just do. Tonight she sounded much closer to the Antoinette whose Stella (and first Mimi) I adored. Especially in the final scene, where she seriously pulled it together and tore my Bohème-hardened little heart apart. I have to give her kudos for her cough as well, which sounds frighteningly genuine. I only cough like that when I'm actually sick. She does it in between singing: how, I've no idea.
The rest was improved too. Altogether a tighter, better show. Not riveting, but that was never really on the cards. Carlo Barricelli still seems a bit unruly: fabulous when he's good, not when he's not. I suspect he might be happier in a different environment: bigger, more full-blooded orchestra, slightly more extravagant (and Mediterranean) production and so on. They've been describing him as "Australian-Italian" so I assumed he was like Australia's other Italian tenors, Rosario La Spina and Aldo di Toro — Australian, with an Italian background and name. But no. He's was born here, but he's very very Italian, with limited (adorable) English. In the intermission interview he had José Carbo ready to interpret. Speaking of that interview...it can't be a good sign when I tune in to find José detailing the challenges of staying in sync with the conductor. And indeed, that does remain a challenge. Cunéo's own interview has given me far greater respect for him. It's still a pretty dreary reading, but I get the sense that he, as much as the singers and orchestra, is a victim of seriously short preparation time. Besides, he's only starting. There's plenty of time; and since he spoke so eloquently on the opera and its place in the canon, I'm willing to indulge him.
I hope plenty of people watched. TV broadcasts of opera are an excellent idea and ought to be encouraged, even if it is La bohème. No. I shouldn't be like that about it. I understand that, for the time being at least, if they're going to put Opera Australia on TV, it has to be operas like Carmen and La bohème; that it's all about (a phrase I hate) "bringing music to the masses" and those are the works that fit the bill. But oh, if the world were fair, if it was all about presenting interesting, provocative and just plain amazing arts content to the screen, regardless of its crowd-drawing potential...well, just think of what they could show? La bohème is alright, but this season has contained far better advertisements for the talent and thrills on offer at OA. A broadcast of Billy Budd — now that's something I'd really be excited about.