Covent Garden Theatre. Orginal prodcution by Andrei Serban
This production of Puccini’s last opera manages to be at once stark and magnificent. The scenic qualities are lavish, yet the staging and choreography are so clear, precise, and boldly stated, and the Covent Garden stage is so wide, deep, tall, and generally accommodating, that everything fits comfortably and without the crowding of resources onto the stage that is sometimes the bane of grand opera. The singing was almost but not quite uniformly fine. Hei-Kyung Hong was lovely and affecting as the slave girl, Liu, who kills herself to save Prince Calaf, and Andrea Gruber was vocally and physically up to the title role. But the Calaf, Vladimir Galouzine, blessed with a powerful dramatic tenor with nearly the dark timbre of a baritone with a tenor range, seemed to run out of steam a little; by the beginning of Act III, in the celebrated aria “Nessun dorma,” he was pretty clearly saving himself to get through the rest of the opera. He was “rewarded,” as a result, with comparatively lukewarm applause at the curtain call, whereas Hei-Kyung Hong was favored with shouts and “bravas,” deservedly so.
We had seats well up in the Amphitheater — the highest perch I’ve ever had in an opera house; but the sightlines and acoustics were equally fine. In fact the whole marvellous spectacle was faultlessly clear and crisp. Perhaps Covent Garden has always been a good place to hear an opera; at any rate it is faultless, from that vantage point, vertiginous though it be, since the thorough refurbishing of this house accomplished a few years back. It is a small — not large — miracle of red plush and gilt. We stopped on our way back down the stairs, ducking in at the first level up from the stalls, and gained a view of the now nearly empty auditorium. It was grand, at once comfortable and spacious, and put us nearly head-on to the stage. You could see Die Walkyre or Magic Flute from there (the next offerings of the current season) for a mere £175 or £150 top. We felt we got at least our money’s worth from much further up for £41. This is the real thing, and it is a keen pleasure just to be in this house, let alone to be so well entertained and deeply impressed with what the awesome forces of such a theatre can combine to present.