It was only two weeks ago that I saw Jonathan Kent’s ninth revival of Tosca at the Royal Opera House with Joseph Calleja, Gerald Finley and Adrianne Pieczonka (my thoughts here). Now I’m reporting about another production of Tosca based in a different continent. One cannot deny how Puccini’s music enraptures us and that’s one of the major reasons why Tosca has remained a repertoire staple for many international opera houses.
The Met HD live performance of Tosca was like a Super Bowl event. This Saturday, Sonya Yoncheva headlined the lead role in her first ever performance of Puccini’s Tosca. Vittorio Grigolo also made his debut and melted our hearts with a photograph of him as the shepherd boy with Pavarotti, as Cavaradossi, in Mauro Bolognini’s production, taken almost 30 years ago.
The opera broadcast streamed to 900 cinemas and figures, confirmed on Sunday night, claimed it had grossed $2 million at the box office. It’s a proud figure for the Met Opera, but it raises questions about the price of the cinema tickets. Watching it from the capital, Londoners paid between £30-37 for Met HD tickets, which is more than its sister opera house across the pond at London’s Covent Garden, showcasing live ballet and opera performances for £20-23.
‘Don’t trip. Don’t trip and fall on your face.’ Tonight (January 16th, 2018), the Royal Opera House shall broadcast director David McVicar’s revived production of Rigoletto live to cinemas across the UK and abroad, and its conductor Alexander Joel tells me what he hopes won’t happen on his first Live Cinema event. ‘I’m excited, but the cameras won’t be on me anyway. I don’t like cameras on my face. They’ll probably film me for those first five seconds I come into the pit… and then the orchestra will start.’
Alexander Joel has performed multiple times at the Royal Opera House since his debut in 2013, conducting La bohème. He was invited to conduct again at the Royal Opera House in 2015 and 2016 for their productions of La Traviata and Carmen. He has also performed a wide range of pieces from operas, ballets and symphonies in various countries and worked with many international orchestras including the Vlaamse Opera orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, to name a few.
Looking at Salome through a post-Weinstein veil
Ten years ago I saw David McVicar’s production of Salome. Back then it was brand new not only to the Royal Opera House and also to me. I was 23 years old, developing my knowledge of opera productions in London and working my way through a checklist of operas I wanted to see. Between now and then, I’ve seen Salome performed by Swedish soprano Nina Stemme in a semi-stage production at the BBC Proms and another performance by British soprano Allison Oakes at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I remember the production well for its strange stage design — a green, modern day tie store. (I didn’t buy it.) I also recall a small yet exceptional physical theatre production by Théâtre Libre at the Space Arts Centre. From these productions alone, I learnt that the character of Salome — based on the biblical text — most certainly symbolises seduction, power and lust.
Given Oscar Wilde‘s emotionally charged portrayal of Salome, his French play became a success de scandal in 1891. This was similarly the case for Richard Strauss‘s opera in 1905 in Dresden. The Lord Chamberlain banned the play and opera in London until 1907, while the Vienna State Opera was far more ruthless and didn’t perform the opera until 1918. In 1903, Strauss composed his novel, groundbreaking opera accommodating a 100-piece orchestra in Berlin, and in the space of two years it was successfully performed over 50 times after its premiere in 1905.
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