The Royal Opera is putting on some compelling works on back-to-back nights this season.
Bryn Terfel touches down, giving an insightfully sung, dramatically edgy portrayal of a role that's a relative rarity for him, Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca take over the next night and give virtuoso performances in an opera that's not staged very often anywhere these days, Bellini's "I Capuleti e i Montecchi."
Singing the title role of Wagner's "Die Fliegende Hollaender" at Covent Garden for the first time following his role debut with the Welsh National Opera three years ago, Terfel was harried and haunting, along the lines of Jon Vickers' frenzied fisherman in Britten's "Peter Grimes."
Dressed in dark clothes and wearing dark gloves, he entered Sunday night towing a long rope attached to his haunted ship and launched into his opening "Die frist ist um" (The time is up)," an aria that earned him Lieder Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989. His eyes were baggier than Sweeney Todd's. The bass-baritone's German diction was precise, filled with woe and lament. He was very much a human figure, not a mythic one.
He had angered The Royal Opera in autumn 2007 when he withdrew from what was to have been his first complete performance of Wotan in Wagner's Ring Cycle because one of his sons badly injured a finger. But the sides have made their peace, and Terfel again showed London how formidable a Wagnerian he is. The next thresholds are his first Hans Sachs in "Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg," scheduled for next year at Cardiff, Wales, and a complete Ring at the Met in New York, unfolding from 2010-12.
Surrounding Terfel was an outstanding ensemble that included Hans-Peter Koenig (Daland), Anja Kampe (Senta), Torsten Kerl (Erik), John Tessier (Steersman) and Clare Shearer (Mary).
Kampe, a rising Wagnerian soprano, showed off a sweet voice that soared, one matched by warm acting. Koenig's heartfelt Daland felt for the Dutchman's plight and Kerl's frustrations as Erik came through in Tim Albery's direction.
Michael Levine again used compelling less-is-more design. The single set was a raked stage that folded up and out a bit as if it were a ship on its side, with light shining through the circular windows. The sewing factory descended onto it from above, and the ship opened toward the audience as if a crocodile's mouth to create the space for the chorus at the sailors' party.
Constance Hofmann garbed the women in bright party clothes that brought to mind hipsters of the 1950s and early 1960s. The singing of the chorus was moving throughout. David Finn's horror film-style lighting made Terfel that much scarier.
Conductor Marc Albrecht had a rough time during the prelude, when entrances were tentative and the horns shaky. He got better throughout the 2 1/2-hour performance, played without interval, but never quite whipped the orchestra into stormy abandon. The unrevised 1843 Dresden version of the prelude was used for this new production, which opened Feb. 23 and runs through March 12.
A revival of Pier Luigi Pizzi's 1984 production of "Capuleti" opened Monday night, featuring Garanca's role debut in the trousers part of Romeo and Netrebko's first Giulietta for Covent Garden. Bellini's version is not performed as often as Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette," primarily because it requires a soprano and especially a mezzo who can make sparks fly. Netrebko and Garanca were just the right pair.
A 32-year-old Latvian, Garanca's voice has both coloratura and some lyric heft, and her death scene was warm and compelling. She matched Netrebko charm for charm in the duet "Ah! mia Giulietta!"
Having returned to the stage in mid-January, four months after giving birth to a son, Netrebko is just getting back into stage shape.
Her voice, though, was in fine form, a warm sound that soared and paired well with that of Garanca. The rest of the cast supported them ably, especially sweet-sounding tenor Dario Schmunck (Tebaldo) and silky bass-baritone Eric Owens (Capellio). They were joined by bass Giovanni Battista Parodi (Lorenzo).
Conductor Mark Elder kept the pace lively and drew a thick sound from the chorus. Pizzi's production, directed by Massimo Gasparon, is a realistic period piece in a manner that might seem a bit dated to some. There are seven more performances through April 11.
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