It's been quite a week...
May 7: Die Walküre at the Met
Huge success. For everyone, my tenor included. Fabio Luisi had, happily enough, heard my telepathic wish for a slightly slower "Winterstürme", which was a lovely bonus in a generally excellent show. (I mean, it was beautiful the first time round too, but I'm always happy for extra basking time in that aria.) Bryn brought the house down, and rightly so. I was so pleased to have this second chance to see and hear this show – not to mention a second chance to worry needlessly about the Brünnhilde double in the final scene – and to say another quick hello to New York. So quick, in fact, that with the show running until after 11pm, and a cab to the airport arriving at 6.15am – not to mention the small matter of dinner in between – we didn't actually sleep until we were airborne. Not to worry. It was worth all the exhaustion.
May 10: Véronique Gens at Wigmore Hall
In the last few years it's been quite an extraordinary experience to finally see live performances by the singers who dominated my CD collection for years. I've ticked quite a few of them off the list – more than I could have hoped for in fact – but Véronique had eluded me until last Friday. I could hardly have wished for a more ideal first encounter than this, a recital of French songs. Débussy, Hahn, Chausson and Fauré...are you drooling yet? I was, and with good reason. She was as divine as I imagined she would be – and then she made life even better by singing one of my favourite songs in the world, French or otherwise, as her encore: Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour". And while I was still wiping away my tears from that, she followed up with Fauré's "Les roses d'Ispahan", another song to which I have a bit of a sentimental attachment. Thanks for reading my mind so completely, Véronique.
May 12: La bohème at the ROH
I had no plans to see this while in London because Royal Opera tickets are expensive, the show was pretty much sold out anyway, and besides (pardon the heresy) it's one of my least favourite operas. My plans changed thanks to the unexpected generosity of the lovely Madeline Pierard – New Zealand's Own! – who, as the ROH announced earlier in the day, was going on as Musetta in place of an indisposed Nuccia Focile. So, with permission from you-know-who to ditch that night's performance of Dutchman at the ENO, I took myself to Covent Garden for what turned out to be the best live Bohème of my operagoing career to date. Joe Calleja was a genuinely loveable Rodolfo, to whom I award a special citation for his incredibly upsetting (and totally believable) reaction to Mimì's death; Carmen Giannattasio's oh-so-Italianate Mimì had my attention from note one; and Madeleine was first hilarious and then heartbreaking as Musetta. By the time she reached her prayer in Act IV, I was wished she had a sequel to herself. Rodolfo's bohemian buddies were all very charmingly played too. And as ever, despite earlier hard-heartedness, I succumbed in the end to Puccini's exceptional powers of manipulation and spent the last twenty minutes sniffling along with the rest of the audience.
May 13: Madam Butterfly at the ENO
My favourite Puccini opera. Very nearly my favourite opera. I love it madly. And yes, if I'm honest, I'd probably prefer to hear it in Italian, but it doesn't really matter: that score is what it is, and it makes mincemeat of me no matter what the language. Imprinting and diva worship being what they are, my heart will always belong in the final reckoning to Cheryl Barker and to Moffatt Oxenbould's exquisite Opera Australia production; but I was still enchanted by both Mary Plazas's tiny, porcelain Cio-Cio San and by Anthony Minghella's mesmerising production. And it was just wonderful to see and to hear Pamela Helen Stephen as Suzuki. I last heard her in Australia, when her late and much-missed husband Richard Hickox was chief conductor of Opera Australia. She was lovely then, and she's even lovelier now: a completely captivating Suzuki, which is no mean feat given how little Puccini gives her to work with. The ENO orchestra, who had been playing the living daylights out of Dutchman, were once again sensational, this time under Oleg Caetani. We were close, and it was loud, and I was in heaven. Oh, Cio-Cio San.