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Photo by Antoni Bofill
Le Nozze di Figaro
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Photo by Javier del Real
Il Burbero di Buon Cuore
Sometimes I am asked why I see the same opera or ballet over and over again, even just weeks apart, when I would never read a book six times in one year. The answer is that, leaving aside the glory of the music, each production has its own personality and each performer brings a different perspective to the role. And the great opera houses of the world all have their own character and pursue the same goals in very different ways. Which is why some of us are opera and ballet groupies every bit as intense as the followers of The Grateful Dead in their day.
Barcelona’s Gran Teatre de Liceu, one of the aforementioned great opera houses, has made a point of both digging up buried treasure and presenting often-played favourites in original ways. Sometimes, admittedly, the originality can overwhelm the opera. I struggled, some years ago, to concentrate on the music of Mozart’s Don Giovanni when confronted with Calixto Bieito’s version, in which Simon Keenlyside played the Don as a 20th-century drug-dealer. And I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to see a production at the Liceu that does not contain a nude.
The first four offerings of this season are very much in keeping with Liceu tradition. Donizetti’s little-known Linda di Chamounix, which runs until January 8th, should be a tuneful evening for even the occasional opera-goer. Written at about the same time as the more famous Lucia di Lammermoor, it also contains a mad scene (Donizetti must have found them stimulating), but manages to reach a happy ending instead of blood-covered tragedy. As it often does, the Liceu offers two casts, the A cast being more expensive and generally more famous. In this case, the leads are played by mega-stars Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez. But the attraction of the B cast, quite apart from its affordability, is that we sometimes get an early introduction to young singers who go on to become great.
The next two productions run in tandem until the first week of February: a buried treasure, Il Burbero di Buon Cuore (The Kindhearted Grump), by Vicente Martín y Soler, and a top favourite, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Mozart actually figures in both operas, because after the death of Soler, he added a couple of arias to Il Burbero. In both operas, the plots revolve around headspinning romantic complications; always a pleasure if you are not personally involved.
As a change of pace, the operas will be followed by a very short season of ballet (only four performances in February). Angel Corella, artistic director of the Corella Ballet Castilla y León, is bringing Swan Lake to the Liceu. One of the world’s greats, Corella is adored on at least two continents (he was a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater until offered the opportunity to run his own company here). I can’t wait.
Linda di Chamounix, until January 8th
Il Burbero di Buen Cuore, January 27th to February 6th
Le Nozze di Figaro, January 28th to February 3rd
Swan Lake—Corella Ballet Castilla y León, February 9th to 12th