Joyce Di Donato as Romeo
Photo : C. Leiber/Paris National Opera 2008
Ever have one of those experiences where your regular “whatever” is unavailable so you make do with a substitute only to find the substitute does a better job? Well, although, it is a completely unfair comparison on many levels, I’m sure there were more than a few people in the audience for tonight’s penultimate performance of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi
at the Bastille Opera in Paris disappointed over the absence of Anna Netrebko. This turned out to be one of the three performances that the now very pregnant performer begged out of. And while I’m a huge Netrebko fan, I’ve seen her 10 times in 7 different roles where I have only seen the most excellent and highly underrated Patrizia Ciofi once before
as Gilda in London last year. In case you’re wondering, while she may or may not be a super-vixen, she was spectacular. Someone needs to buy her a plane ticket to the U.S. and put her center stage in a big role right now.
It was also a treat in that Ciofi was performing with a close colleague, Joyce DiDonato, with whom she has previously recorded a CD
of opera duets. DiDonato again donned the pants in the family for her turn at Romeo. That she was outstanding was not a surprise. What did surprise me was how these two performances can take a minor bel canto work to begin with and elevate it to something enjoyable. In fact it was the best thing I’ve seen in Paris this week hands down. I should also give credit to Evelino Pidò, the conductor, who is an old-hand at this game and, in fact, led the original performances of this same production in Paris during its only appearance here in the last 20 years (with Laura Claycomb and Vesselina Kassarova). The supporting cast was adequate with Matthew Polenzani rounding out the cast as Tebaldo and, while he has not always been my favorite, he was better here than I’ve thought recently.
The other refreshing thing tonight, besides the large group of pre-teens who, sitting behind me, exhibited flawless manners (of which I somehow don’t feel I’ve yet to see from American equivalents) was the revival of Robert Carsen’s minimal production for this outing. Although it’s over ten years old and very sparse, Carsen seems to have overcome many of the problems that other directors have succumbed to with this kind of approach this week. Graham Vick, take a lesson – you’ve got to give your cast things to do while they are singing. Good acting can carry almost anything and an empty stage can make it a lot more powerful. The red and the black contrast looks somewhat dreadful in photos of this production, but on stage it was eye-catchng without being overwhelming. So that’s it for Paris and now it’s off to Vienna.
Labels: Opera Review 07/08, Out of Town