Neither Carmen nor Manon would feature prominently, or indeed at all, in any of my operatic programming fantasies, and yet, until Peter Grimes opens (a couple of hours from now) they are the only operas I've seen since arriving in London at the start of this month. Partly because they've been the only operas on offer and partly because of my determination this year to See More Singers and to combat a sneaking sense of complacency by deliberately taking myself to shows which in lazier moments I might let slide.
Carmen certainly could have fallen into that category. I only arrived in town in time for the last show of the run, and given the trouble jetlag has given me in shows I am desperate to see, I was wary of my chances when faced with one of my least favourite heroines and a score which, most of the time, I prefer in short and well-spaced out doses. However, this Carmen had a not-so-secret weapon in the form of cult diva Anna Caterina Antonacci and she did to me, and my feelings about Carmen, exactly what I suspected she might: she made me care and made me listen. Carmen's still not really my kind of girl – sue me, I'm more of a Micaela – but ACA brought me as close as I'm probably ever likely to get to understanding her appeal and, more importantly, to seeing a real, live woman with real, complex feelings behind the I'm-so-sultry façade. I liked her, I laughed with her and I genuinely didn't want her to die – a fairly basic response, I know, but for me, in this opera, rare enough to be remarkable.
Then along came Ermonela Jaho to do something very similar to me with Manon. I booked to see two performances of this months ago so as to hear both the sopranos sharing the title role: the aforementioned Jaho, and Ailyn Pérez, neither of whom I had any prior experience of but both of whom my Royal Opera Guru – and fellow soprano nut – swears by. Well, I won't see Ailyn until Friday, but she sure was right about Ermonela. I believe my words in the first intermission were "I love her, I want to keep her" and this is still more or less the case: she's such an endearing Manon, so skittish and sweet even while she's breaking hearts, that it's easy to forgive her, to chalk all that bad behaviour up to a short attention span rather than anything more sinister.
Frankly, though, as beguiling as both these characterisations were, the best thing about them was that they came in hand with some seriously fabulous singing. I'll forgive an antiheroine practically anything if the lady embodying her does it amazingly well, and that's exactly what both of these ladies did. I don't mean to leave any of their colleagues in the shade – I could write the same post about Matthew Polenzani's sensationally sung Des Grieux, for instance – but on the occasion of this blog's tenth birthday, it seemed fitting to use it for what has always, one way or another, been its primary purpose: the excited praise of sopranos.
Yes, today does in fact mark a whole decade (NZ time) of blogging. If my blog were a child, I'd be guilty of terrible neglect, but I'm hoping that blog-years work similarly to dog-years, and that this one is grown up and self-sufficient enough to cope without me for months on end. I'm still pretty attached to it; it's been with me now for slightly more than a third of my life, and while I might occasionally regret the pretentious Italian title – which nineteen year old me obviously considered the height of witty sophistication – all in all I'm pretty proud of my little ten year old.