Opera: Shiver me timbres

He arrived with some aplomb, a decisive move downstage, yes, even the hint of a spring in his step. From every corner of the house, the relief was almost palpable. There he was, the living legend, on stage, on time, moving well, and looking... impressive? Kingly? Ample. So far the world's most famous tenor had made it from upstage centre to downstage centre without incident. The house breathed easier. But now the voice. That's what the Covent Garden glitterati had paid big bucks to hear. Luciano Pavarotti is 60 this year. And that in itself is remarkable. That makes him a collector's item, that makes hearing him in the theatre, live and unamplified, a status symbol. The prices can only get higher.

But is it really too late to be hearing him? That's a moot point. All things considered, the voice is still in amazing shape. The timbre is distinctive and full, no edge, no stridency, great presence. The Italians have a word for it: scoperto ("open air"). And that it is. The bright trumpet-toned top is still there, but sparingly displayed on this occasion. His choice of Gustavus III in Un Ballo in Maschera - Verdi's darkest and most mysterious score - was shrewd. This isn't a splashy, declamatory, just-you-wait-for-the-top-notes kind of role. It's about suavity and style: fine legatos, deft articulations, and the intrigue of a mellower cast of voice. Pavarotti has that now. It's not just his physical girth that has filled out: he actually has more possibilities in the middle and bottom range. But that's not what the punters came to hear, and you could sense their disappointment at the lack of tenorial fireworks.

But they should at least have appreciated his attempts at finesse, the way those Italian vowels curl around the musical line, the way he'll taper away the sound to sustain the full length of a phrase, the often beautiful cover over his ascents into mezza voce. He can no longer slip effortlessly in and out of the head-voice, and the "sweet songs" of the King's youth recalled in his big number in scene two was actually a bit of a croon. But that's more than some tenors half his age can accomplish. His recent bout of bronchitis was plainly still inhibiting him: glasses of water were usually to hand. In one priceless moment, mid-way through the love duet, his precious Amelia was left marooned on stage while he took off into the wings, ostensibly to check for spies in the shadows, but actually in search of urgent lubrication.

Not that even that seemed in the least out of place in this ludicrous revamp of the old Otto Schenk staging. Talk about turning the clock back 50 years or more. Talk about operatic taxidermy. There was Florence Quivar's Madame Arvidson looking for all the world like a gypsified Tina Turner; there was the heroine, Deborah Voigt, glimpsed through mottled gauzes, her hands outstretched imploringly like some silent movie Madonna. Presumably we're expected to leave our theatrical sensibilities in the Crush Bar on these occasions.

But I'll not leave my musical sensibilities there, too, and the big man's supporting cast gave us precious little to shout about vocally. Quivar was good value as the fortune teller, her rich, smoky production compensating for a certain lack of dramatic bite. But Voigt's Amelia was disappointing. The age-old litmus test is her first golden phrase which failed to arch in the true Verdian manner. She gave us plenty of voice (a whopping top C at the crest of her Act 2 aria), but not the beseeching long-breathed and floated phrases that are the hallmark of the great Verdi soprano. Giorgio Zancanaro (Anckarstrom) was once a great Verdi baritone: here he sounded dry and constricted. Which left us with a spirited Oscar for Lillian Watson and sturdy direction from Edward Downes. And the big man. A whole army of extras were on hand to make him comfy in his death throes. A Royal exit? I think it's time.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week