Saturday night at the New York’s Met, well Vue cinema Plymouth actually. A surprisingly large attendance, but the average age was let’s say over 60 – as usual. I really think a younger age profile would enjoy Opera so much. I was only introduced to it in my sixties, and am trying to make up for lost time. It’s great. Now I had never heard of Donizetti’s ‘La Fille Du Regiment’ but as soon as the excellent orchestra and conductor played the overtures you wondered why not. A breezy introduction to what followed set just the right mood for this comic opera. The usual corny back-story….here’s the Met’s summary…..
The Tyrolean mountains. On their way to Austria, the terrified Marquise of Berkenfield and her butler, Hortensius, have paused in their journey because they have found the French army blocking their way. When the marquise hears from the villagers that the French troops have at last retreated, she comments on the crude ways of the French people (“Pour une femme de mon nom”). Hortensius asks Sulpice, sergeant of the 21st regiment, to let the marquise continue on. Sulpice is joined by Marie, the mascot, or “daughter,” of the regiment, which adopted her as an orphaned child. When Sulpice questions her about a young man she has been seen with, she explains that he is a local Tyrolean who—though an enemy—once saved her life. Troops of the 21st arrive with a prisoner: this same Tyrolean, Tonio, who says he has been looking for Marie. She steps in to save him, and while he toasts his new friends, Marie sings the regimental song (“Chacun le sait”). Tonio is ordered to follow the soldiers, but he escapes and returns to declare his love to Marie. Sulpice surprises them, and Marie must admit to Tonio that she can only marry a soldier from the 21st.
The Marquise of Berkenfield asks Sulpice for an escort to return her to her castle. When he hears the name Berkenfield, Sulpice remembers a letter he discovered near the young Marie when she was found. The marquise soon admits that she knew the girl’s father and says that Marie is the long-lost daughter of her sister. The child had been left in the care of the marquise, but was lost on a battlefield. Shocked by the girl’s rough manners, the marquise is determined to take her niece to her castle and to give her a proper education. Tonio has enlisted so that he can marry Marie (“Ah, mes amis”), but she has to leave both her regiment and the man she loves (“Il faut partir”).
The marquise has arranged a marriage between Marie and Scipion, nephew of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Sulpice has joined the marquise at the Berkenfield castle, recovering from an injury and supposed to help her with her plans. The marquise gives Marie a singing lesson, accompanying her at the piano. Encouraged by Sulpice, Marie slips in phrases of the regimental song, and the marquise loses her temper (Trio: “Le jour naissait dans la bocage”). Left alone, Marie thinks about the meaninglessness of money and position (“Par le rang et l’opulence”). She hears soldiers marching in the distance and is delighted when the whole regiment files into the hall. Tonio, Marie, and Sulpice are reunited. Tonio asks for Marie’s hand, declaring that Marie is his whole life (“Pour me rapprocher de Marie”), but the marquise declares her niece engaged to another man and dismisses Tonio. Alone with Sulpice, the marquise confesses the truth: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter whom she abandoned, fearing social disgrace.
Hortensius announces the arrival of the wedding party, headed by the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marie refuses to leave her room, but when Sulpice tells her that the marquise is her mother, the surprised girl declares that she cannot go against her mother’s wishes and agrees to marry a man that she does not love. As she is about to sign the marriage contract, the soldiers of the 21st regiment, led by Tonio, storm in to rescue their “daughter.” The noble guests are horrified to learn that Marie was a canteen girl, but they change their opinion when she describes her upbringing, telling them that she can never repay the debt she owes the soldiers. The marquise is so moved that she gives her daughter permission to marry Tonio. Everyone joins in a final “Salut à la France.”
As is normal with these live broadcast events there is an opera star to introduce things and talk to set designers, producers, etc and also to the stars taking part – during the interval, in the middle of their performances, which is quite something. All very American and very enjoyable. The other quintessentially American thing was the lavishing of praise on the main sponsors. It does make one think how generous American benefactors are compared to their British equivalents – something I have been reading about recently.
The main leads were terrific, astonishingly good, even though Sulpice had a cold. The South African soprano Pretty Yende was Marie. She could have been the star of the show but wasn’t only because tenor Javier Camarena was so so good.
The opera is renowned for it being a feast of bel canto vocal fireworks—including the show-stopping tenor aria “Ah! Mes amis … Pour mon âme,” with its nine high Cs. This took the real Met audience by storm and they were standing and shouting for more, and so sustained was this and so full of the moment was Javier that the tears started to trickle down his face. No acting there! An encore was called for and given. An amazing feat in opera apparently, and we could see why. In some senses Javier with his short stature and ordinary looks is such an unlikely hero but wow did he steal the show. It was a real privilege to see this performance and massively enjoyable. Apart from the singing it was brilliantly staged and there was even an old big-screen star – Kathleen Turner – to enjoy in her speaking-only part. Her duel with the conductor was memorable. We enjoyed the music, but an Italian composer bulling up the French post-Napoleon? We discovered afterwards that Donizetti left his patron the King of Naples because he was being censored and felt free to do as he wished in Paris. All in all a wonderful evening. And back in time for Match of the Day.
This weekend to an unknown (to us) Met opera at Vue cinema in Plymouth. The thing about this particular opera for us was that there were absolutely no tunes or melodies throughout. Everything seemed like speech that was sung in one plane as it were. Yes, the singing yet again was admirable and amazing in its power and intensity, but the plot was light and, as I say, no tunes to be hummed on the way home. Not at all memorable. The divas get huge praise in the press however.
Adriana Lecouvreur unfolds in Paris in 1730. The setting reflects a nostalgia for the Rococo era that swept over Europe and the Americas around the turn of the last century when Cilea was composing, evident in other operas (for instance, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut) and in architecture.
Paris, 1730. Backstage at the Comédie-Française, the director Michonnet and the company prepare for performance, in which both Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival, Mademoiselle Duclos, will appear. The Prince of Bouillon and the Abbé de Chazeuil enter, looking for Duclos, who is the prince’s mistress. They encounter Adriana and compliment her, but she says that she is merely the servant of the creative spirit (“Io son l’umile ancella”). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter to someone and arranges to have it intercepted. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet confesses his love to her, only to be told that she is in love with Maurizio, whom she believes to be an officer in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio enters, declaring his love for Adriana (“La dolcissima effigie”), and the two arrange to meet after the performance. Adriana gives him a bouquet of violets as a pledge of her love. During the performance, the prince intercepts the letter from Duclos, in which she asks for a meeting with Maurizio, who is in fact the Count of Saxony himself. He is to meet her later that evening at the villa where the prince has installed her. Determined to expose his seemingly unfaithful mistress, the prince arranges a party at the villa for this same night. Unknown to him, Duclos has written the letter on behalf of the Princess of Bouillon who was having an affair with Maurizio. Maurizio, receiving the letter, decides to meet the princess who has helped him pursue his political ambitions. He sends a note to Adriana to cancel their appointment. Adriana is upset, but when the prince invites her to the party and tells her that the Prince of Saxony will be one of the guests, she accepts in the hope of furthering her lover’s career.
The princess anxiously awaits Maurizio at the villa (“Acerba voluttà”). When he appears she notices the violets and immediately suspects another woman but he quickly claims they are a gift for her. Grateful for her help at court, he reluctantly admits that he no longer loves her (“L’anima ho stanca”). The princess hides when her husband and the Abbé suddenly arrive, congratulating Maurizio on his latest conquest, who they think is Duclos. Adriana appears. She is astounded to learn that the Count of Saxony is Maurizio himself but forgives his deception. When Michonnet enters looking for Duclos, Adriana assumes that Maurizio has come to the villa for a secret rendezvous with her. He assures her that the woman hiding next door is not Duclos. His meeting with her, he says, was purely political and they must arrange for her escape. Trusting him, Adriana agrees. In the ensuing confusion, neither Adriana nor the princess recognize each other, but by the few words that are spoken each woman realizes that the other is in love with Maurizio. Adriana is determined to discover the identity of her rival, but the princess escapes, dropping a bracelet that Michonnet picks up and hands to Adriana.
As preparations are under way for a party at her palace, the princess wonders who her rival might be. Guests arrive, among them Michonnet and Adriana. The princess recognizes Adriana’s voice as that of the woman who helped her escape. Her suspicions are confirmed when she pretends Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana almost faints. She recovers quickly, however, when Maurizio enters uninjured and entertains the guests with tales of his military exploits (“Il russo Mencikoff”). During the performance of a ballet, the princess and Adriana confront each other, in growing recognition that they are rivals. The princess mentions the violets, and Adriana in turn produces the bracelet, which the prince identifies as his wife’s. To distract attention, the princess suggests that Adriana should recite a monologue. Adriana chooses a passage from Racine’s Phèdre, in which the heroine denounces sinners and adulterous women, and aims her performance directly at the princess. The princess is determined to have her revenge.
Adriana has retired from the stage, devastated by the loss of Maurizio. Members of her theater company visit her on her birthday, bringing presents and trying to persuade her to return. Adriana is especially moved by Michonnet’s gift: the jewellery she had once pawned to secure Maurizio’s release from prison. A box is delivered, labeled “from Maurizio.” When Adriana opens it, she finds the faded bouquet of violets she had once given him and understands it as a sign that their love is at an end (“Poveri fiori”). She kisses the flowers, then throws them into the fire. Moments later, Maurizio arrives, summoned by Michonnet. He apologizes and asks Adriana to marry him. She joyfully accepts but suddenly turns pale. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that the violets were sent by the princess and had been poisoned by her. Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms (“Ecco la luce”).
Before going to Vue we had a bit of time to kill so, for a coffee and exploration, we drove to the Royal William Yard which we had not visited before. It was a revelation…………………..an historic piece of Plymouth restored with sensitivity but very grand. Constructed between 1825 and 1831, Royal William Yard is in fact considered to be one of the most important groups of historic military buildings in Britain and the largest collection of Grade I Listed military buildings in Europe. Pretty impressive credentials.Described as the grandest of the royal victualling yards, ‘in its externally largely unaltered state it remains today one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country’. Released by the MOD as recently as 1992, Urban Splash have transformed the buildings into mixed-use restaurants, shops and flats, and it is all pretty special, although you do get the impression that it is not as well-visited as it ought to be.Bistrot Pierre where we had our coffee was pretty good too, an excellent looking menu, and they have just opened two of the buildings across the square as hotel rooms. They look swish.Yesterday back to Vue Plymouth this time to see the film ‘Stan and Ollie’. Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie were absolutely brilliant and with oodles of preparation took to their parts with perfection. ‘Stan & Ollie’ tells the story of how Laurel and Hardy, with their golden age long behind them, embark upon a tour of the music halls of Britain and Ireland in 1953.
Despite the stresses of the tour, past resentments coming back to light, and Hardy’s failing health, the show must go on: in the end, their love of performing – and of each other – ensures that they secure their place in the hearts of the public. It’s about love, passion and comedy. You come out of the cinema just loving their humour but at the same time feeling for them….when up becomes down it’s tragic to see. For once all the five star reviews are thoroughly deserved. If you get chance, watch it…….