Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

A Masked Blah

July 06, 2009

Dalibor Jenis and Angela Marambio
Photo: Catherine Ashmore/ROH 2009

I hate thinking about opera as a sport. And by this I mean taking opera as a purely physical activity where the joy comes from watching performers complete certain acts with their body, in this case their vocal chords, in ways that border on the superhuman. There are those opera fans for whom the excitement of the physical singing process is the end-all-and-be-all of the experience – Did so-and-so hit the note exactly dead on? Did they accomplish it with the correct technique? Was their breathing appropriate? etc. I’m not expert about vocal technique, I’ll admit it. I have opinions, as uninformed as the next guy’s, and I do dislike some performer’s vocal mannerisms more than others. But as much as I may deplore the zealous attention to vocal performance in opera espoused by others, I must admit, sometimes, you just can’t get around it. Especially when it's completely missing or just plain bad.

Which leads me to the rest of my weekend in London and the Royal Opera House. After a thrilling against-all-odds performance from Joyce DiDonato as Rosina on Saturday, I was greeted with the ever familiar evidence of human failings on Sunday when I arrived for the matinee of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera to find that Ramon Vargas, who was cast as Riccardo, had called in sick with a cold. (I just knew I should have taken those Glyndebourne Rusalka return tickets when I had the chance, but no….) Vargas’ replacement was Roberto Aronica whom I recall hearing around here and there over the years, but not having fond memories of. Within minutes of appearance, however, I knew it was going to be a long afternoon. He nearly completely fell apart. I don’t just mean cracking or a few missed notes, I mean teeth clenching out-of-control. Now in all fairness, the audience was informed at the start of Act II that Aronica was suffering from allergies and begged our indulgence. What the allergy was is unclear. (I know I had some of the same issues myself since arriving in London.) But, there was undoubtedly plenty more indulgence to be begged over the next two hours.

Things did get a little better. Especially after the focus shifted to his cast mates Dalibor Jenis, who sang Renato, and Angela Marambio, the evening’s Emelia. Jenis was solid and often exciting, and when he wasn’t shouting, he was fairly watchable. But this is not what you would call fun. And after the disastrous Barbiere staging from the night before, to see this 2005 Mario Martone production was only mildly relieving – kind of like going out of the fire and into the frying pan. Scenery was minimal, drab, and uninspired. The whole show is essentially a build up to a singly visual trick in the ball scene that is put to so little use in an opera with so many possibilities, it was puzzling at best. A giant mirror, which is initially honed in on the auditorium, was lifted to provide viewers a complete view of the stage floor, back to front. While ball goers in their purported colonial American gowns wandered about the black empty downstage area, the reflection offered a view of a sunken pit immediately behind them upstage with a red floor, several doors in and out of the area and two staircases on either side leading to the upstage area. Then Martone and his team promptly ignore the set up. All of the activity between the characters takes place downstage with short moments of supernumeraries running up steps from below. The point of it all is beyond me. Nice trick, but the action everyone is focused on in the climactic scene is happening elsewhere.

It wasn’t a total loss, Maurizio Benini conducted the Royal Opera Orchestra with zing and real flair. But while they are quite worth hearing, I’d check about any cast cancellations if you’ve got tickets before heading to the theater in this run if I were you. All right, it's time for me to move on to Munich.

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So, was it you the guy with the "LA RING" t-shirt at the Ballo???

If I remember correctly, it very likely was me in the LA Ring shirt. I know I had it with me on the trip and believe I wore it that day. I tend to dress down in the theater even when I'm abroad due to the LA in me. Plus carting around more formal wear can be such a hassle. Glyndebourne always adds about 10 pounds to the luggage overall.
Dammit, we coincided in both the Barbiere and the Ballo. And yes, u were wearing the LA RING tshirt coz I was sooooo jealous when I saw it hehehehehe.
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