Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 21 February 2010

A night at the opera

It's one of those commonplaces that people who live in a city too rarely take advantage of all the things it has to offer: it's too easy to follow the same old rat-runs to and from work and the couch in front of the telly.

But on a whim, from reading a rave review, I found it took only a handful of mouse-clicks to look up availability, choose a seat and pay for it. Which is how I came to spend Thursday evening in the over-the-top gilding of the Coliseum watching a drama of love across the chasm of family feuds, marriage by trickery, madness, murder and suicide. Just like EastEnders, but with better singing.

I could quibble about some of the production details: this style of opera tends to make everything stop for the Big Numbers, so in the wedding scene, the man who knows his bride has been offered for political reasons and suspects she might not be too willing, only to find the long-disappeared rival bursting in at the crucial moment, is given next to nothing to do for quite some time (I don't think that would happen down Walford way).

It can't be easy to find a suitably non-speaking way to have everyone else make "Corblimey, whatever next?" faces and movements through ten minutes or so of arias. To cover it, the principals seemed to be doing rather too much climbing on the furniture for no apparent reason; and at one point one of them was made to do the exact opposite of what the words said.

It was also over-egging it a bit to imply that Lucia's brother had some sort of suppressed incestuous passion for her, rather than just being the standard domestic tyrant. But I did like the way they managed to suggest that both the brother and the forbidden lover were, in their own way, not much further away from impetuous adolescence than the heroine. And there was a very impressive thunderstorm.

All that said, the heart of it all was Lucia's plight, and the beautifully convincing performance by Anna Christy. You can't but be moved at how, for once, the tour de force coloratura singing actually serves the psychology of Lucia's final fantasy. Here's Natalie Dessay, one of the current stars in the role:

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