This concert happened at the Royal Opera House last Wednesday. I bought a programme, but they run out and a lot of people were unhappy. As a result, the (revised) programme is available for download from the website. I say revised, because unfortunately Erwin Schrott had to withdraw due to illness. Considerably the large number of people performing and knowing how these things can go, I was pleasantly surprised that no other singers found reasons to withdraw.
I am not a reviewer, I'm not paid to review, and I certainly don't get free tickets, so I don't intend to go through a detailed review. And I decided not to take any photos because my seat, in row H of the amphitheatre, was so far above the stage that I know that they would be just shots of the top of people's heads, I have 300 unedited photos on the PC and I didn't fancy going through dozens of dismal shots trying to salvage something usable. I wasn't quite sure what the people two rows in front hoped to capture with their phone cameras! And, as I write, they appear to have no photos available on their Facebook or Flickr sites.
I was, by and large, pleased with the way the concert was programmed. Apart from starting, suitably, with the Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg every other piece was sung, and the transition between pieces was smoothly executed with no long pauses after the applause had died away. Certainly no near neighbours found time to read the newspaper as we waited for the next act. And there was a reasonable variety of pieces, although nothing post-Puccini and nothing pre-Rossini. Also, this being badged as part of the London 2012 Festival, the absence of English pieces was an oversight. In short, less bel canto and a token nod at Handel would have been welcome, but with Tony Pappano conducting, this was never going to happen.
I found the Bellini and Rossini pieces boring beyond words and I won't insult the doubtlessly fine singers by commenting further, because this was undoubtedly due to my personal feelings about bel canto, and anything further is unhelpful to you.
My personal highlights were, unsurprisingly, the Wagner excerpts, which by default makes Nina Stemme my outstanding singer. Indeed, as she took up Du bist der Lenz from Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond I spontaneously burst into tears. Up until then I had felt rather disillusioned, but the magic of the music grabbed my emotions. Not least, flooding me with memories of some wonderful performances of this opera and this excerpt in particular. I especially remembered being here two days after London had won the Olympics, one day after it had been bombed, the incredible spirit of that day, and reflecting that we were now just two days away from London 2012. I also loved her Dich, teure Halle.
My other highlights took me slightly by surprise: Sonya Yoncheva's Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier's Louise was moving. A strong and expressive voice. I also loved Joseph Calleja's Nessun dorma; I don't believe I have ever heard it performed live. It's the opera aria that everybody knows, and it can sound tiresome and clichéd when over-used or used out of context. But it was a stirring performance.
And Plácido Domingo, I can feel you ask! His appearance was pretty low key, actually. I enjoyed his Wintersturme but felt that his voice wasn't fully warmed up, and it seemed a shadow of previous times I have heard him sing it, in opera or in concert. His Nemico della patria was impressive, although it's not an aria I can warm to. In the Rigoletto excerpt I was transported by what I suppose you'd call stage presence or his immersion into the character.
All in all, an enjoyable evening, somewhat marred by the anti-social behaviour of certain audience members near me - the woman next to me insisted on talking to her husband through the opening bars of every piece, the person who hummed along with Wintersturme, the person heard snoring through Nessun Dorma, and the woman behind me who exclaimed loudly about Joyce DiDonato "She's changed!" - she had sung a female role in a dress before the interval and had, seemingly, defied time and space to change into trousers for a trouser role after the interval. Perhaps this person had never attended an opera or a concert before where singers change their outfits!
Also, from where I was sitting, there were various times when I was struggling to hear various singers over the orchestra. Simply because, being a concert, the orchestra were on stage, not sunk into the pit. But it wasn't a major problem, certainly not enough to diminish my enjoyment.