Danielle de Niese performed from Glyndebourne
Danielle de Niese performed from Glyndebourne

As the first opera houses tentatively think about reopening, the online offering continues to strengthen. For this gala, eight of Europe’s opera companies joined forces to present a show of solidarity in the face of the invisible enemy that is destroying their business models.

OperaVision is a collaborative project supported by the EU’s Creative Europe programme. Its members are 29 companies from 17 countries and the OperaVision website offers a wide range of complete operas free to view, new additions arriving at a rate of two or three a week.

These are mostly recent staged productions, but this gala was a live concert, direct from eight European centres. Each of the participants — Rome, Glyndebourne, Warsaw, Madrid, Amsterdam, Stockholm, the Opéra-Comique in Paris and the Komische Oper in Berlin — provided one or two singers, adding up to a well-integrated, two-hour programme.

Presentation is at least half the battle online. Coronavirus restrictions make it difficult to create the atmosphere of the theatre when there is no audience present, and generally no orchestra (except in lockdown-light Stockholm). Performances displaying a bit of imagination came off best.

Top of the list was Dutch National Opera. On the empty stage of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and baritone Thomas Oliemans stalked each other around the stage, at first lovingly in an excerpt from Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe, then more ominously as Westbroek sang her way powerfully into Weill’s brooding “Wie lange noch”. A solo violin added to the mix and Oliemans doubled as accompanist towards the end. The concept was also his.

This was more fun than singers standing in front of a blank auditorium, though Paris and Stockholm boasted the advantage of glamorous interiors and Warsaw threw in panoramic lighting effects.

The rest of the singers were left to their own devices. At Glyndebourne, Danielle de Niese showed how it can be done, radiating infectious joy as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust. Young Polish baritone Andrzej Filonczyk did not quite justify his long slot in Warsaw and Rosa Feola, who has shown such promise, was a touch disappointing in Rome. The Komische Oper, Berlin, whisked us away to the world of Yiddish operetta, an entertaining novelty, at least for the allotted 15 minutes. The gala’s outstanding singer was French tenor Cyrille Dubois, who seduced the ear with his poetic singing in Messager’s delightful Fortunio from the Opéra-Comique in Paris.

It was left to the Royal Swedish Opera to provide the gala’s climax. After a short group of songs by Stenhammar, Nina Stemme was joined by an orchestra for the “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. There was no staging, and the orchestral forces were reduced, but here at last was opera in its orchestral panoply — hugely welcome after a three-month hiatus and a tangible promise of a return to something like normality.

★★★★☆

The summer opera gala is free to view at operavision.eu

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