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The Royal Opera: Live in Concert review - Italianate fizz with a patch of flatness | reviews, news & interviews

The Royal Opera: Live in Concert review - Italianate fizz with a patch of flatness

The Royal Opera: Live in Concert review - Italianate fizz with a patch of flatness

A glorious orchestra and chorus under their inspiring music director are back in style

Vito Priante as Rossini's Figaro struts his stuff in rehearsal before the Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus

What could be better than Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro to celebrate the Royal Opera’s next step on the path out of lockdown? Ideally, the rest of the opera, especially remembering Antonio Pappano’s lively interaction with his singers playing the continuo role.

But the unavoidably touchy-feely action, even in a semi-staged performance, still can’t be realized, so what we got on Friday night was a starry(ish) gala instead – always a tricky act to sustain.

First, the real cause for celebration: the full Royal Opera Orchestra filling the stalls area and the Chorus in the boxes and stalls circle. No-one conducts the Italian repertoire better than Pappano, and if the Figaro Overture felt ceremonial rather than human-vivacious, with just one dodgy moment of co-ordination, the rest was perfection from an orchestral point of view. Sheer sparkle carried us along with Vito Priante’s Rossini Figaro – tough on him not to have a proper audience to address, but the Royal Opera forces were in front of him, and gave due applause – the Act One Adina-Nemorino duet from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore with (Italian) Americans Charles Castronovo and Lisette Oropesa, complete with elixir-bottle and a mixture of gravitas and fireworks in the final scene of La Cenerentola.

Aigul Akhmetshina (pictured below), graduate of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, is a happy international treasure, but could have done with some direction to give due seriousness to Cinders’ acknowledgement of her unhappy recent past. Later her Carmen seemed to be laughing at Don Jose’s desperation, when surely the point is that our heroine stands firm and proud and simply refuses to lie when she’s fallen out of love. Aigul AkhmetshinaStill, Akhmetshina sustained the spirit. Oropesa as Bellini’s sleepwalking Amina shone in the most perfect of bel canto finales, always better excerpted (perhaps along with the Act One duet) so that we don’t have to sit through the whole thing. The dip began, and a note of strain to what needed to seem effortless crept in, when Castronovo returned to sing Ricardo’s last-act aria from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera; in any case, is this anyone’s favourite? Gerald Finley settled in to Iago’s “Credo” after a touch of insecurity right at the top; he’s now an accomplished villain, an eyebrow-raising satyr, and villainous was his one note of the evening, the nihilism of Otello’s tempter matched in the grand final with the cupidity in church of Puccini’s Scarpia.

It might have been better to stick to the Italian repertoire throughout. Kristīne Opolais as Dvorak’s Rusalka didn’t fit, and though she is an instinctive stage animal, the dramatic soprano voice has suffered some wear and tear (less problematic in her Tosca, pictured below with Finley). I could have done without the Offenbach (Priante again as diamond-wielding Dapertutto) and Massenet (Oropesa in Manon’s Gavotte). Act 4 of Bizet’s Carmen from the Toreador Chorus onwards raised the temperature again and allowed the chorus to really let rip; ditto the Te Deum of Tosca, the flamboyant return of grand opera to Covent Garden. First act duet from ToscaSome have lamented the lack of a British star in this fourth livestreamed evening from the Royal Opera House, but the national presence has already graced the first and second concerts, while the third showcased the Jette Parker young artists, so no complaints there. Only praise, too, for the sound and look of the thing (backdrop from Bob Crowley's designs for the well-wearing production of La traviata) Pappano pointed out, in one of the more interesting chats with presenter Katie Derham - a few too many of those - that shifting quarantine rules had made booking artists tricky; he lost six in one day. All the more credit, then, to the end result; but if you haven’t seen it yet – and I still recommend you do – you might like to skip the less successful numbers so that the champagne properly flows. And watch this space for some kind of return to audience life at Covent Garden: not too long to wait now.

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