Royal Opera House, London Until March 23
Richard Eyre’s take on La Traviata celebrates its 25th birthday with performances through until late March, with four different Alfredos seducing five different Violettas.
What a banker this has been for the Royal Opera. It can pack the place out without even having to offer the kind of cast that made the first night in 1994 so exhilarating. I know; I was there.
Sir Georg Solti, then in his 80s, astonishingly, was conducting his first Traviata, or so he claimed.
Hrachuhi Bassenz (above with Liparit Avetisyan) sounded really shaky in Act I. She rallied a bit in Act II, without ever suggesting she had the vocal allure, and certainly not the physical allure
And among an experienced ensemble, he found an unknown Romanian soprano to sing a hugely charismatic Violetta. Her name? Angela Gheorghiu, who won golden opinions everywhere.
Many predicted a lasting star status, which has only partially been achieved. Yes, a star name, but sadly not always turning out star performances. However, she’s a lot better than Armenian Hrachuhi Bassenz.
These revivals are getting a bit like going to the Women’s Singles at Wimbledon. Lots of eastern Europeans with impenetrable names, and who, more often than not, you never want to see again.
It’s sadly true of Bassenz, who sounded really shaky in Act I. She rallied a bit in Act II, without ever suggesting she had the vocal allure, and certainly not the physical allure, to do serious justice to a courtesan who was the toast of Paris.
The public enjoyed the show, though. Indeed, I have rarely heard so much applause after key arias and ensembles.
IT’S A FACT
La Traviata is the most performed opera in the world, and the role of Violetta is a favourite among star sopranos.
Sadly, a pivotal moment in Act II, when Violetta, who knows she is dying, bids a tearful farewell to Alfredo, passed seemingly without notice. Maria Callas used to bring the house down at that point.
But then she was a great singing actress. Bassenz plainly isn’t, and on this evidence never will be.
Her Alfredo, another obscure Armenian, Liparit Avetisyan, has a pleasant enough voice but zero charisma. He did nothing memorable all night. In fact, when the most compelling singing in Act I comes from the Marquis d’Obigny (the always enjoyable Jeremy White) you know it won’t be a great night.
Act II was better because Simon Keenlyside came on and brought a touch of class to gruff old Father Germont, one of the most awful characters in opera. Instead of toning down his awfulness, Keenlyside positively revelled in it. Great stuff.
In the pit lurked Daniel Oren, a boring and sluggish time-beater, as far away from the visceral intensity of Georg Solti as it’s possible to imagine.
Oren keeps coming back. Why? Two outstanding British conductors, Edward Gardner and Richard Farnes, have led barely a handful of Royal Opera productions between them, yet Oren has been returning over and over for what seems like decades.
Time for a change. Either get rid of Oren, or remove the person who picks him.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Complete Beethoven Recordings Archiv, out now
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s recordings of Beethoven, comprising the two Masses, the symphonies, the piano concertos, the Violin Concerto, and Leonore – Beethoven’s first stab at what finally emerged as Fidelio – have been packaged up into a 14-CD bargain-priced box to celebrate Beethoven’s upcoming 250th.
A bonus 15th CD contains interviews with the conductor, who is as compelling a talker as he is on the podium.
Gardiner began his Beethoven cycle in 1989 with an award-winning Missa Solemnis and ended up with the Violin Concerto (with soloist Viktoria Mullova) 13 years later. The sound is excellent throughout.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s recordings of Beethoven (above), comprising the two Masses, the symphonies, and Leonore have been packaged up into a 14-CD bargain-priced box
Listening to these often inspired and always totally professional performances is a real pleasure. Unlike the founders of some original-instrument bands, who are better musicologists than they are performers, Gardiner, who works extensively with traditional orchestras as well, is top class throughout and inspires all his hand-picked singers and players to give of their best.
Some of the tempi are controversial, such as the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, a bit too quick at 12 minutes. But overall, this box will give enormous pleasure, as listeners revel in Gardiner’s assurance and authority.
If you want period-informed recordings, this set, which I found on the net for £34, is a serious snip.