|Kim Begley (above centre, as Vere), with Darren Jeffrey (l) and Jonathan Summers (r) (Photo: Henrietta Butler)|
|Matthew Rose as Claggart (photo: Henrietta Butler)|
The one main gripe about the casting must involve Benedict Nelson's Budd. There's no doubting he's an outstanding talent, and the voice itself can be very beautiful indeed. But it only seems to be so within limits, with notes at the top, in particular, coming across as noticeably manufactured--especially so in the otherwise excellent scene before his execution. But, more seriously, it's a voice that lacks the volume and bite to carry this show, often getting swallowed up. I wondered, too, if a certain exaggeration in his physical performance was designed to compensate. Otherwise the cast, a compendium of British vocal talent (the ever-green Gwynne Howell still going strong as a touching Dansker at one end of the wide age spectrum), has no weakness. And, while I'm not sure this is quite the knockout show it should be, it's certainly got plenty to make it worth seeing.
Finally, here's a quick word about yesterday evening's La Bohème at the Royal Opera House. I'm writing it up for OPERA so can't give away much about the show itself, which was the first of two to reunite Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu as the ill-fated poet and manually-challenged seamstress. But there was some unexpected drama when, after two attempts, the house curtains remained stubbornly closed. Twice an unsurprisingly sheepish member of the technical team came out to apologise, then after a quarter of an hour, in a master stroke of positive spin, it was announced the curtains would be removed, and we'd witness open scene changes, a treat usually reserved for school children. John Copley's famously lavish and realistic production, we were additionally told, was about the best staging to see being openly changed. Repeated attempts to raise the burgundy-velvet beasts were met with 'ooohs' and 'aaahs', as if Rooney had just narrowly missed a free-kick.
When finally we got under way (about 30 minutes behind schedule), the largely jolly audience cheered as if he'd finally scored. And, as promised, it was indeed engrossing to see the first scene change in all its glory. The garret was whisked away to reveal Cafe Momus, slightly squished together with all its lavishly-dressed chorus and extras secreted behind, before the whole lot slid silently towards us. After being opened out a bit and given a few extra tweaks, we got going again. (It made me wonder why we don't see more productions with fluid, 'open' scene changes at the Royal Opera--there's not much in theatre that's more seductive). Things seemed relatively back-to-normal after the interval, but no risks were taken: there was a black out at the end, ahead of the curtains being gently closed. At this star-driven show, though, it was nice to be reminded of the immense amount of backstage work involved to bring things together. But, since the performance was given to mark the famous couple's 20 years at the Royal Opera, here's a little bit of them.