Archive for the ‘Verdi’ Category

Renee Fleming: world-class

July 7, 2009

Last night’s London performance of La Traviata was a spellbinder.

The Royal Opera House tends to specialise in world-class productions; this gig was right up there – one of the top shows I’m ever likely to witness.

Verdi’s La Traviata is over two hours of seamlessly melodic, memorable arias, duets, trios and choruses, following each other in dizzying succession.

Its plot and social context might be iffy to modern sensibilities, the action a trifle melodramatic, but the finesse of the music – and the libretto – makes this Verdi’s (and opera’s) most popular work. But it’s a difficult opera to get right: I’ve seen two other productions which were underwhelming.

With leads like last night’s – Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja were all outstanding – faultless direction and a house band at the top of its game, this was the kind of gig that most opera buffs dream about.

American diva Renee Fleming confirmed her status as Music for Grown-Ups’ favourite soprano, with an immense, nuanced performance. Her voice surpassed all the demands made on it, her creamy mid-range tone complemented by angry lower range notes and some sublime highs. Her subtle changes – slightly tipsy after swigging from a bottle or two, increasingly frail near death – were the hallmarks of a great musician. Fleming’s acting, as the doomed tart with a heart (and, alone in this company, a moral code) – was exquisite throughout.

Renee Fleming: a world-class soprano.

Gerry Smith

Roberto Alagna, Barbican: disappointing

May 5, 2008

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. 


After a run of outstanding gigs, I expected another at London’s Barbican on Friday.  After all, Roberto Alagna is one of my favourite tenors.  And the programme was entirely Verdi.  The omens were good.


And if you went by the delirious reaction of the pension-age faithful, this was an Earth-shattering gig.  As the doe-eyed fan proudly confessed to me after the gig: “Roberto’s marvellous … he can do no wrong… “.


Despite my predilection for the singer – I’ve always been impressed by Alagna at Covent Garden, and warm to his easy, affable Sicilian  manner (he acts more like a Palermo midfield ball-winner than a precious keeper of the operatic flame) I felt Friday’s concert gig was well below the standard of other recent concert stagings I’ve seen, notably Bartoli and Fleming.




1.    setlist – some poorly chosen Verdi

2.    use of full orchestra and choir – Alagna had to compete with well over 100 other musicians on stage; at times, he was drowned out

3.    orchestra and choir had too many songs, sans Alagna

4.    performance – some of his tempi and pitch were hit and miss; he seemed to pull out of a few top Cs

5.    the singer’s shameless guying to the crossover popopera audience

6.    the fourth encore – a Sicilian pop song devoted to his lovely wife Angela, seated in row 10 – he will love her till he dies, apparently.  FerChrissakes, Roberto!


I really wanted to dig this gig, but it left me disappointed, despite four encores. It won’t stop me booking for Alagna every time he appears at the Royal Opera House, though.



Gerry Smith