A flurry of activity, and a trip to Switzerland, meant I never had a moment to capture thoughts on the two final performances of 2013/14 ROH season: both on the same day, La Bohème and Ariadne auf Naxos. Both were splendid.
We hadn’t gone for the supposedly ‘starrier’ cast, with Gheorghiu reprising her Mimì and Vittorio Grigolo playing Rodolfo, largely because I’ve become rather apathetic towards Gheorghiu, her cancellations and her increasingly staid artistry, especially after a most disappointing La Rondine a couple of years back. Instead, we went for the pairing of Ermonela Jaho and Charles Castronovo, both on fine form and taking part in a revival of John Copley’s production that was revived with a very welcome attention to the details. It’s ironic that the revival that comes immediately before its final outing next year should appear so fresh. Jaho captured Mimì’s vulnerability wonderfully; Castronovo was in fulsome voice; Cornelius Meister made a great impression, with a reading of warmth and drama. The ensemble came together finely for the comic shenanigans, Markus Werba in particular a fine Marcello and the Musetta of Simona Mihai being more successful than many an exponent of the role, making Quando m’en vo more than a minor diversion. A wonderful afternoon.
After some mooching around the shops, then a bit of dinner, it was back to the opera house for a second viewing of the latest revival of Christof Loy’s (to my mind) wonderful production of Strauss’s warmly intelligent opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, with the magnificent Karita Mattila heading another excellent ensemble. Having been a loyal devotee of Mattila over the years, both for her gripping, extrovert stage presence and expressive voice, I was still unsure quite what she would bring to Ariadne’s lyrical alternation of lament and ecstasy. She was spectacular: stealing scenes as the terse and impatient Prima Donna of the first act, and bringing a vivid energy and yearning to Ariadne. Her Es gibt ein Reich had every well-worn phrase re-sculpted anew. Her Bacchus, Roberto Saccà, heroically charged into the ungrateful role and saw it through to the end, retaining an attractive, ringing tone. Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta was a detailed portrayal, injecting flashes of the character’s thought processes into the coloratura of Grossmächtige Prinzessin, but was vocally on the small-scale side. One of the production’s great virtues is how it treats Zerbinetta at the close of the opera, and Archibald captured beautifully her crushing rejection by Harlekin in counterpoint to the elation of Ariadne and Bacchus. Ruxandra Donose contributed a distinguished and histrionic Composer. Sofia Fomina, Karen Cargill and Kiandra Howarth had great fun and blended beautifully as Naiad, Dryad and Echo (their Töne, töne, süsse Stimme has to be one of Strauss’s great operatic atmospheric effects). Jeremy White, Wynne Evans and Paul Schweinester, joined by Markus Werba as Harlekin in his second role of the day, even managed the feat of not letting the boys’ antics outstay their welcome. Once again, Pappano proved himself a great Straussian, with transparency in the score’s details, a full, grand sound and a buoyant forward energy that never allowed it to collapse into a lush, über-Romantic soup.
And that was 2013/14 brought to a close. 16 July 2014 had seen my 20th anniversary of first setting foot in the Royal Opera House, for a performance of La Fanciulla del West with Gwyneth Jones. It’s great to reflect on what the ROH has contributed to my musical enjoyment over those two decades: I am currently cataloguing my programme collection (complete, bar one performance of Faust in about 2004!) and will probably pull it into a Blurb book as a way of ‘gathering things up’ – will put something up here when I get that done.