Verdi's Luisa Miller at the London Coliseum, 15/02/2020
Luisa Miller is not one of Verdi's better-known operas. It dates from 1849, the beginning of his so-called 'middle period' during which he morphed into an international hit-machine with the likes of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata.
I shan't go into the plot - you can google it, or of course wait for it to come along on Handel's Guide to Opera, which it surely will do later in the year.
I'd like to talk about the staging first. Having read a few reviews before I went (never sure whether this is a good idea or not) I was expecting it to be completely batshit. And it most certainly was. It's the work of Barbora Horakova, making her first (and if the critics have anything to do with it, last) contribution at ENO.
The set consists almost entirely of plain white walls, which as the opera progresses become more and more streaked and daubed with black paint. The chorus are dressed (or should I say half-dressed) variously as clowns, goths and other things indescribable.
And Ms Horakova has invented a few characters which are not to be found in Verdi's and librettist Salvadore Cammarano's script. The two children who run on towards the end of the overture and appear at various other stages are clearly sort of childhood ghosts of Luisa and Rodolfo, OK I can see that. But then there's the boy, dressed only in his underpants, dragged onstage in a plastic bag by the Count and then covered in black paint - who's he supposed to be? And then another clown, fully dressed this time but hanging upside down and subsequently pelted with arrows? Answers on a postcard.
I have to report that Mrs Handel was unimpressed by this aspect of the performance. But to be honest, I don't have a problem with this sort of thing. You shouldn't mess with the plot (which actually she did, a bit, right at the end), but otherwise don't just copy what's been done before. If it's a bit bonkers, well so what, most opera is a bit bonkers anyway, it's part of why I love it.
ANYHOW regardless of how you view the staging, nothing can detract from the most wonderful singing right across the cast - Elizabeth Llewellyn and David Junghoon Kim as Luisa and Rodlolfo, the two Americans James Cresswell and Soloman Howard as the dastardly Count Walter and his equally unpleasant sidekick Wurm, and Icelander Olafur Sigurdarson as Miller. All marvellous. The chorus and orchestra were on top form, and everything expertly marshalled by conductor Alexander Joel.
I'd not been to the Coliseum for a long time. Maybe you've never been and are wondering what it's like. It's not really posh or intimidating, hardly anyone dresses up, you could even do jeans. Well decent ones anyway. But whilst it's a snip compared with the really upmarket gaff a few blocks away, it's still not cheap. Our good-but-not-the-best seats came in at £120 each. Ouch. OK, you can hang from the rafters for a tenner but my days of doing that are in the rear-view mirror by at least two decades. Views from the cheaper seats further back should be mostly OK (I did a bit of research during the interval) but avoid the back three or four rows at each level as the top of the stage is cut off and you can't see the captioning.
Which brings me to my last point. ENO has always sung everything in English, and they've always made a big deal out of it, it's supposed to make opera more accessible. Which is a fair point. But now, like most of the big opera houses, they've embraced captioning. Which, especially for a deaf old fart like me, is a godsend, I can never pick out all the words anyway. But if they're going to do this, is there any longer any point in singing in English? Isn't Verdi going to sound better in Italian? Again, answers on a postcard.
I'll not be doing this regularly, I can't afford it, but as a once-in-a-while treat it's just lovely. Give it a try some time.