Jonathan Pell, Summer of Opera, Part 11

by Megan Meister

Today’s auditions were a mix of singers already under management and then several members of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Program.  I only heard a total of 12 singers today because people were ill which led to several cancellations.

The most interesting singer today was an Estonian mezzo named Kai Ruutel, who is already set to make her Metropolitan Opera debut next year. ( I just hate it when they get there first !)  She was tired from rehearsing all week for a new production of CENDRILLON that opens on Monday, in which she plays one of the step sisters,  but I still felt that she has something really  special.

I then had a quick bite to eat with Joel Thomas, an artists manager with Britain’s largest agency Askonas Holt.  Among his many clients are Stephen Costello, who just made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival earlier this month as Nemorino in THE ELIXIR OF LOVE to glowing reviews.  Stephen’s wife, Ailyn Perez, is another of Joel’s clients, but she is in Santa Fe, where she is getting ready to open next week as Marguerite in a new Stephen Lawless production of FAUST.

Tonight I attended a performance at the Royal Opera House of MADAME BUTTERFLY which was to star Patricia Racette, but Pat took ill the first week of rehearsal and had to withdraw from the production.  I understand that she is better now, which is a huge relief since she is due in Dallas in October for KATYA KABANOVA.

Her replacement was an exciting discovery though, a Latvian soprano about whom I have been hearing wonderful things, but had not yet had the  pleasure of experiencing in the theater.  Her name is Kristine Opolais, and she was terrific in the role.  If you wonder how Covent Garden found her, I think she may have had an inside track.  The production’s conductor, Andris Nelsons is her husband.

James Valenti was the dashing (and dastardly) Lieutenant Pinkerton and was good naturedly booed at his curtain call for playing such a cad.

Maestro Nelsons conducted with a real symphonic sweep, but never drowned out the soprano.  If he had, I am sure he would have heard about it when they got home.

I wasn’t crazy about the production, though, staged by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier.  It was a minimalist set, essentially an open white box that was maybe half the height of the proscenium. It didn’t change much throughout the evening,  except sections of the rear wall were raised from time to time to show some images on the cyclorama at the back of the stage.

The final image, however was lovely.  When Butterfly stabs herself the entire rear wall was lifted to reveal a large branch of a cherry tree and the blossoms blew off in a gust of wind.  Pinkerton was just heard from off stage but never appeared, so the final moment was just Butterfly and her blindfolded son, obliviously playing nearby.

Tomorrow night is TOSCA.

The curtain call Wed night performance of MADAME BUTTERFLY at ROH, Covent Garden

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