Funny how things come full circle. I still remember the afternoon, almost four years ago, when I listened to a Met broadcast of L'Elisir d'Amore. It was actually sunny enough to sit outside — rare for a Dunedin summer — so I moved the speakers near to an open window and listened from the verandah. Well, until I got sick of the port wind trying to blow my libretto. I blogged about it, too — said all sort of things — and then that was that, and I doubt it even crossed my mind that I might one day be moved to revisit either my blogged opinions or the performance itself.
But here I am doing just that, and goodness me, how things have changed. In 2006, I had yet to properly connect with the world of the male voice. I was better with them than I had been, but nevertheless, the most fabulous tenor in the world couldn't move me like even a decent soprano could, and baritones? Forget it. In 2009, I acquired (let's not dwell on how) this recording of L'Elisir because — are you ready? — I wanted to hear the Belcore. Never mind that when I heard it back then, I dismissed this Belcore as "a bit stiff for me" and more or less left it there, pausing only to wonder why the name of this baritone from Geelong seemed so familiar.
I never did figure that out, but perhaps it was a rift in the space-time continuum — because of course, the Belcore was Peter Coleman-Wright, and these days, well, I'm a bit of a fan. Enough of a fan to go trawling for faintly illicit Donizetti, apparently; this is what his Pizarro, Balstrode and Mahler have done to me. Besides which, baritones generally are just far more my cup of tea than they used to be, so that a character who once seemed a bit of a necessary evil (give Gianetta more to sing, she whined) becomes a source of positive pleasure. And so he is. To be fair, Peter's Belcore still sounds more or less as I remembered; but my response is different. "A bit stiff"? Well, yes, perhaps, but appealingly so; and it's also a funny and strongly sung performance. That's probably helped by my now having some sense of his stage presence, but in any case, he's a delight, and I'm so very happy I had the chance to come back and give him another go.
This, however, was only the start of my little voyage of rediscovery. (He is only a baritone after all.) Then and now, it's the beautiful Ruth Ann Swenson who is the heart of this Elisir — and whatever my initial motivation for listening, with her very first note (which precedes Belcore's) she became my primary and happiest focus. Ruth Ann, Ruth Ann, Ruth Ann. It seems impossible I should forget how lovely she is, and yet I must have, just a little, because her Adina still managed to take me by surprise. Back in 2006 I was quite subdued about her. I described her voice as "an old friend". I said — oh dear — "Ruth Ann has never been a knee-weakening passion for me, but all the same I've had a calm and abiding affection for her for years." And, even worse, "I'm never destined to rave about Ruth Ann as I might (and have) about some others..."
Wrong, wrong and wrong. Well, not entirely. Her voice is an old friend to me. But all this "calm and abiding" stuff doesn't do her justice. I adore Ruth Ann. And I am entirely prepared to rave about her as I might (and have) about some others. Ruth Ann Swenson is a drop dead gorgeous soprano. I've loved her since before I loved opera and I don't intend ever to stop. She is sweet, stylish and heavenly to behold. I've now had the privilege to hear her in person, and she enchanted me all over again — so much so that I'll confess now what I might not have before, which is that, despite seeing Natalie's Lucia twice on the same trip, it was Ruth Ann's Ginevra which gave me the greatest pleasure during my time in San Francisco. I think four years ago I was ill-equipped (in terms both of my own faculties and of the stereo equipment at my disposal) to appreciate just how delicate and ideal Ruth Ann's Adina was. An object lesson in bel canto style, and a lesson in the unlearnable art of charm. Resist her, I dare you. You can't. She's irresistible, and so are those pearly high notes.
There are more words to eat, or at least to nibble at. My three-sentence flurry of enthusiasm for Ramon Vargas was not unwarranted — he's a very good Nemorino — but at the same time, I can't help thinking what I wrote was more wishful thinking than anything else. If I wrote as if susceptible to the charms of tenors, perhaps I'd become so. It didn't work out that way, and even now that I am susceptible, Vargas does not exactly loom large in my world of devotion. Whereas the other "Mexican RV tenor" whom I implicitly dismissed definitely does; for all his current difficulties, I remain very fond of Rolando Villazon. I also did my best to damn the opera itself with faint praise, but this time around, I felt quite differently — I was struck by just how full of colour and life L'Elisir d'Amore is, by what a tuneful and utterly likeable opera it is. I still have issues with Don Pasquale (I can't quite get past the inherent cruelty of its premise) but I'm re-adjusting my feelings about L'Elisir now, having just had so much fun with it.
The moral of the story? There isn't one especially. I just find it intriguing to see how things change (and how other things remain constant). And don't worry, I don't intend to start revisiting and rethinking every single post in my archives. It was interesting to do so this once, though; after all, one of the reasons I'm pleased I have this blog is the opportunity it affords to remind myself of how I once thought — I tend to forget old opinions once they're replaced. Part of me wants to point at my former self and mock; but it's also heartening to feel that my appreciation of this multifarious world really has deepened and expanded in the last half-decade — despite my propensity to be waylaid by singular fixation.
Is that a bit too deep and meaningful for a post about L'Elisir d'Amore and how I feel even sillier about Ruth Ann Swenson than I did a few years ago? Probably. Well, never mind. The main thing is that I got to listen to a totally delightful performance of L'Elisir — my little exercise in compare-and-contrast just added to the fun.