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Alarm bells ringing for L’étoile

5 Jan

Happy new year to everyone.  The ROH has managed to wreck mine with the announcement that there are to be two “additional roles” in its new production of Chabrier’s L’étoile – see  http://www.roh.org.uk/news/chris-addison-to-perform-in-the-royal-operas-letoile.

I’ve nothing against Mr Addison and I’m sure he’ll do whatever he’s meant to do brilliantly.  I must also guard against dismissing something before I’ve seen it, but this announcement made my heart sink.  Particularly the bit which said: “The double Perrier Award-nominated stand-up has been cast as Smith in Mariame Clément’s production, an acting part the director has created to provide a stereotypically English commentary on the opera’s absurd events”.  It gets worse.  There’s also going to be a  French actor (Jean-Luc Vincent) who will “comment on the action from a French perspective“.  Again, I’m sure M. Vincent will do this superbly.  I just wish he didn’t have to.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to see L’étoile twice – the Opera North production was a particular joy.  The Gardiner recording gets to my CD player pretty regularly.  It may not be well known, but it’s a coherent, zany, absurd comic opera.  It’s Offenbach on speed – a sort of French take on The Mikado – supported by some gloriously wistful, frothy, tuneful, very funny music (I think it was Saint-Saens who had to be carried out of the premiere helpless with laughter).  It is very French, but so are Manon, Carmen, and La belle Hélène, none of which, last time I saw them, were in need of a commentary from any perspective – and, for my money, L’étoile is in their league.

Even if you don’t think as highly of the piece as I do, I think that it’s possible to agree that adding characters or texts to operas is a Very Bad Idea.  Cutting can be acceptable (even a very good idea), updating dialogue can often work very well (as in Pelly’s productions of Offenbach and, indeed, La fille du régiment).  But I can’t think of a single occasion where adding things has helped anything.  I remember a particularly vile production of Entfuhrung at Opera North narrated by a slave girl (who subsequently dressed as a panda), an additional dialogue for Rocco in an ENO Fidelio and some pretty dire concert narrations of a plot when doing the dialogue would have worked just fine.  Even where operas have needed a bit of help (Le roi malgré lui, Oberon, Princess Ida), the adaptations haven’t survived.

I would bet quite a lot of money on the new material in this opera being embarrassing, patronising and, undermining of the opera.  It screams that Mariame Clément is scared that the opera either isn’t strong enough to cross the channel or that the ROH audience won’t be able to cope with it.  Which begs questions about why she’s doing it.

As I write this two questions nag me.  One is that I haven’t seen it and it may prove to be brilliant.  I’ll take that risk.

The second is in working out why I feel so much more strongly about this than I do about “radical” productions.  Is there any different, you may say, between inserting a text that Chabrier and his librettist didn’t envisage in the opera and, say, a rape scene that Rossini didn’t envisage in Guillaume Tell?

I suppose it all comes down to my approach to opera.  I wasn’t upset by the rape scene because I bought the argument that Rossini was writing about a tyranny where that sort of thing probably happened and where the action wasn’t a million miles away from the spirit of that scene.  Michielotti there was at least engaging with the dramatic situation.

What appears to be planned for L’étoile seems far more like the sort of production that really enrages me – ones “about” rather than “of” the opera.  Ones like, say, La donna del lago or Idomeneo or Onegin at the ROH where you feel that the director simply isn’t trusting the piece because they’ve super-imposed an additional narrative on the opera.  So why do it?

I was really looking forward to seeing this.  There’s a super cast; Elder conducting and Clément should be a great director for it.  I’m not any more and feel irritated that I’ve bought some good seats for it.

Heigh ho.  I’ve got that off my chest and, you never know, it may be fabulous.

 

 

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RIP Rodney Milnes

17 Dec

I’ve just come across the news that Rodney Milnes died earlier this month.  I didn’t know him (though the immediate quality of his writing made me feel that I did) but the thought that there won’t be any more of his pieces in OPERA magazine or elsewhere for me to read means that my world will be a less comforting, less amusing, less interesting place.

I first came across him in 1974.  I was an earnest 11 year old fascinated by opera and all it held.  My father bought me a copy of OPERA magazine and, in it, was a review by Milnes of a revival of Jenufa at the ROH.  It began “Janacek is like Mozart in one respect if no other: when asked which your favourite Janacek opera is you can only answer that it is the one you have heard most recently.”  I’m not sure that I agree with any of that now but, then, to someone who had never heard any Janacek and who was a bit nervous of him, putting the two composers in the same breath this was surprising; it caught my interest.

And it was that ability to catch your interest, make you laugh, think, nod in agreement or throw the magazine across the room in disagreement, that was his essence.  He made bold statements, he’d say things that he’d later recant and cheerfully admit it and it was this very humanity and fallibility that made him so engaging.  He wrote as he spoke – reading him was like being in a conversation with someone tolerant and passionate, irascible and patient – a human being.

I didn’t agree with him about everything.  In principle, you shouldn’t need surtitles but for those of us who don’t have time to study libretti and scores and whose German, Italian or Czech isn’t as good as it might be, been they help a lot.  But I think we are all allowed our prejudices and it’s the passion behind those that made his writing immediate and entertaining.

The comfort about him was that, whereas with some music and theatre critics you have a feeling that opera is a peripheral to their interests possibly even a curiosity, to him it was centre of his interest and that it mattered as an essential part of human existence.  When I read him, I felt that was at the core and, as a result, I took what he said seriously.  And I don’t think I ever read anything he wrote that didn’t have some grain of an argument behind it.

Of that generation, Rosenthal might have been more encyclopedic, Porter more erudite and academic and Greenfield more gentle, but Milnes’s individuality, his personality and passion mad him the one I felt closest to as a reader.

So thank you, Rodney Milnes, for introducing me to new operas, for your passion and your wit.  I will miss you.

 

Friends’ Schemes: Playing on Greed?

7 Nov

I had an email this week from the Edinburgh Festival.  It told me that, at the next Festival, Cecilia Bartoli would be singing Norma in the Salzburg production for only three performances.  It helpfully set out the booking dates and pointed out that priority booking for Festival Supporters began in a week’s time with a useful link to help you pay £60 if you want to become a Supporter and get that priority booking option.

The message wasn’t stated but it was pretty clear.  This is going to be the hot ticket for the Festival; we can probably fill the Festival Theatre at least three times over for these performances. If you give us £60 you stand a better chance of getting a ticket.   This makes quite a hefty surcharge on seats that cost between £30 (for “no view”!) and £140.  And I imagine quite a lot of Bartoli and Norma fans will pay up just to improve their chances of getting a seat.  Of course, they can’t guarantee that you will get that get ticket and, if this marketing scheme is successful, presumably the chances will be even slimmer.  And is it, in fact, right for arts organisations to be marketing the Supporters schemes in this way.

This led me to think about the reasons why I join these schemes.  I’m a member of the equivalent schemes at Covent Garden, Glyndebourne, the Wigmore Hall, the South Bank Centre, the Barbican, the RSC, the National Theatre and Chichester.  I’ve joined them for a mixture of four different reasons: a general feeling of benevolence to the organisation, to get information so that I actually know what’s on, to take advantage of priority booking and because of occasional discounts (if a couple of you go to half a dozen shows at Chichester, with the right combinations, you can save the cost of the membership).

How far those different reasons apply in individual cases will vary.  Priority booking is generally more important at the ROH, the Wigmore, Glyndebourne and the National either because of the shortage of tickets (the Wigmore) or the ability to choose seats in particular places and prices (the remainder).  Awareness of what’s going on is more important at the South Bank, the Barbican or the RSC where, generally, it’s not too difficult to get seats (though there can be exceptions – think about the Cumberbatch Hamlet).  However, all of them are places that I attend reasonably regularly and want to support.

And this was the original idea of most Friends/Supporters schemes.  They were intended for people who had more than an occasional relationship with the organisation – were regular visitors and who it was appropriate to reward with some benefits in return for that support, whether those be advance bookings, discounts, access to rehearsals or whatever else.  First, you’re getting a quick buck but will it be a lasting one?  The operatic fair at Edinburgh has been pretty mixed in recent years: I might pay the money for a chance to get to hear this Norma but I probably won’t stay.

More seriously, you may be offering something that you can’t deliver.  Being a Friend of the Wigmore Hall doesn’t deliver me all the concerts that I’d like (most times, I find that at least one is sold out).  Being a Friend of the Barbican still had me keeping an eye on the queue on one window of my computer for four hours an indifferent Cumberbatch Hamlet – it was lucky I didn’t have meetings that morning and could delay lunch.  And I decided that I needed to upgrade my membership of the Friends of Covent Garden to be sure of getting the tickets that I wanted (I’m pretty sure that the additional cost is offset by the savings, I make but, naturally, I don’t broadcast this fact).  I’ve been fortunate at Glyndebourne in my small number of years as a member of the Festival Society, but I wonder if that will extend to Meistersinger next year.

I don’t know how many people are Edinburgh Festival Supporters but I’m not naive enough to think that paying £60 is going to be enough to guarantee me seats.  But if I were an existing supporter, I’d be pretty irritated if my chances of getting a ticket to this have been reduced by people joining the scheme just for that very show.  They may be alienating the people who will be the continuing supporters.

And, also, isn’t there enough of a problem with opera’s image as a socially exclusive art form without, in effect, suggesting that you may need to pay a surcharge of between 40% and 200% of the face value of the ticket to increase your chances of getting one?

So I have strong doubts about whether that was an appropriate way of marketing the Supporters scheme.  I would be very interested to see Bartoli as Norma – a special singer and an opera I love. I could afford the £60 and I’d probably use the opportunity to see a couple of other things at the Festival. But I can’t really say that I’m a Festival Supporter – I’ve been to something once in the last 10 years, dislike the city at Festival time and, while there’s some attractive stuff there, it’s not usually enough to make me think it’s worth the journey from Sussex and to pay Festival accommodation prices.  Am I really the sort of person they want as a supporter?  Or is getting the money in more important than the values side?

I’m not sure what I’ll do.

The booing debate

30 Jun

I don’t often go to first nights at the ROH and this may be why I haven’t experienced booing as vigorous and unpleasant as I did at the opening night of Guillaume Tell on 29th June. Until then I had been broadly on the side of booers – I think that if you really dislike a performance then booing at the end can be a helpful outlet, a good way of letting the director and the company know what you think. Having paid for your seat, you’re entitled to expect to enjoy yourself and there is little so frustrating as sitting there, watching a show that you really hate.  They’ve been taking up four and a half hours of your life that you’ll never get – surely you have a right to let them know.  I still think, broadly, but the booing last night raised questions in my mind.

You could sense that the audience weren’t sure about the production. What caused the booing was a passage during the Act III ballet music where we watched a group of soldiers abusing a woman, stripping her and attempting to rape her. As they got her on the table a man started booing – he was in the lower slips on the left hand side – and I wonder whether he could actually see what was going on, given the placing over said table. A number of others joined in. It stopped when the singing started, then continued after the Act finished. There was even a boo for Finley after sois immobile and then heavy booing at the end of the Act. There was an attempt to disrupt the opening of the fourth act with someone shouting “Shame on you Tony” as the music began, loud snoring and a bit of disruption until the rest of us made it pretty clear that enough was enough. I didn’t wait for the curtain calls.  I don’t imagine that Damiano Michieletto, the director, got a standing ovation.

Now I felt that the booing during the music was inexcusable. Aside from the sheer rudeness to the performers and the distraction this must cause them, it’s incredibly rude to the rest of the audience. By doing it, booers prevent them from concentrating on the performance and hearing the music. There’s an incredible arrogance about assuming that you are can impose your views on everyone else like that.  Just because the director may be ruining an opera for you doesn’t make it right for you to ruin things for everything else. That needs to stop.

But it stirred other questions.

1.  Why is it always the people in the cheaper seats who boo? I don’t think I’ve ever heard booing from the stalls. Is it because people in the expensive seats are inherently more civilised or because they’ve paid so much they don’t want to show that they’re not enjoying it? Do people in the cheap seats come more often so feel they know more? Or are they just inherently boorish? Does the fact that you’ve contributed least to the performance make you feel you have an entitlement to boo? Or does the fact that you are in the cheap seats make you feel alienated and out of it?

2. Why does nobody boo the bits that really irritate me – those little things that distract you from the singing or the mindless, thoughtless, bland direction? Like that Ballo in maschera.

3. Why is it often the scenes of sex and violence that cause it? There seems to be an idea that opera is beautiful and inherently civilised and that you cannot possibly have explicit sex and violence on the stage. It’s for nice people and nice people don’t go for that? That seems to be the psychology of it and seems to ignore the fact that many operas are about incest, illicit sex and mindless violence and revenge. I blame the fact that it’s sung in a language people don’t understand.

4. I don’t really believe that most directors actually want to be booed, just as I don’t think most people go to the theatre hoping to boo. I’m ignoring some established vendettas for these purposes, but I’m pretty sure this holds, at least in London. But this is an expression of real anger at what is seen.

5. Why does it happen much more often at the ROH than at ENO where, on the whole, far greater liberties are taking with operas and the direction and what does that say about my theory about people in cheap seats?  I don’t think I’ve every heard booing in the straight theatre and I’ve seen far more shocking and poor quality performances there than I’ve ever seen at the ROH.  Is it about the language?

6. I’m all for opera directors challenging audiences and I don’t think that the ROH Tell was that bad but, if I were Holten and the ROH Board, I’d be getting worried about what feels like a high proportion of productions that are getting this treatment. Is it the booers or the House that are out of line?

Or am I just taking it too seriously?

The looks debate

22 May

Being of the fuller figure myself, I hesitate to enter the debate sparked by recent reviewers of the Glyndebourne Rosenkaverlier and their comments on Tara Erraught’s Oktavian.  I’m going to see it on 12th June and will be better placed to comment then.  For readers who have not been following the controversy, there has been universal praise for Ms Erraught’s singing but visually, apparently, she does not conform to most people’s conceptions of the role – a number have commented that she is more Just William, or even Billy Bunter, than Sir Lancelot.

What has been interesting is that singers have been fighting back – see, for example,Alice Coote at http://slippedisc.com/2014/05/alice-coote-an-open-letter-to-opera-critics/. Norman Lebrecht echoes her and demands a public apology from the critics.  Those of us who have read his comments on the looks of a number of individuals in Covent Garden: The Untold Story  (Lilian Baylis is “Stout, bespectacled, thick lipped and almost execrably ugly”) may diagnose a strong case of pots and kettles.

The essence of the argument has been that what is really important is the voice and the way people sing rather than their looks and that, in some way, critics should ignore physical appearance for fear of offending the singer.

I don’t condone offensive remarks.  Equally, I suspect that critics may well have been giving voice to what was going through the minds of a number of people in the audience and I think that it is wrong to ignore this.

The fact is that opera is about the only art form where the tension between looks and voice arises.  When was the last time there was a Juliet or Romeo who caused critics to remark on their size or physical unsuitability for the role?  That has nothing to do with theatre critics being politically correct or politer and everything to do with the fact that casting directors can pick and choose on looks.  Indeed, I seem to remember that when Simon Russell Beale did Ariel the comments were that he managed to be convincing despite a less-than-classically Ariel-like figure.

Opera asks for a massive suspension of disbelief for audiences.  We have to accept that people sing rather than speak and we have to accept that singers will take roles which, ideally, would call for people significantly younger or more conventionally attractive than they are.  And I don’t think that we would be human if we weren’t aware of this.  It has also been an occupational hazard for singers to receive comments on their physique.  This applies to men as well as women: I’m guilty of finding Joseph Calleja a rather comfortably proportioned Faust (and I’m not the only one) and Pavarotti and Sutherland both had to cope with this (it’s a danger that must apply to any averagely proportioned Mimi or Violetta), let alone Rita Hunter and Deborah Voight.  It does require some artistry to get over that: I never saw the mature Pavarotti, Bergonzi or Gedda as Nemorino but I remember Mirella Freni convincing me that she was teenage Tatyana and, when Anja Silja did Emilia Marty at Glyndebourne, I felt that she could go on as Juliet whenever she chose, but these were exceptional performances.

Also, it’s a regrettable fact that, if you put yourself up onstage as someone whom it is right for people to pay large sums of money to hear, then you cannot censor their thoughts.  It is all very well for Alice Coote to demand that critics be kind to singers and, like all of us, of course they are human, but critics do nobody any favours if they gloss over the duff performances that singers can put in.  And I think that they are entitled to comment on how convincing a figure that singer presented.  This doesn’t mean that the singer has to be classically beautiful or to meet the conventional demands of the role, but the singer does have to convince you that they are right for the role.  And a critic does nobody a service if he or she ignores what may well be going through the minds of fellow members of the audience.

I’ll be better placed to comment when I see it, but I suspect that Dame Kiri te Kanawa got it right on the Today programme when she suggested that the real problem was with the costuming and the direction rather than with the singer’s figure – men and women come in all shapes and sizes.  Maybe the criticism ought to been more forcibly placed in that direction.

 

 

Steps towards putting the “National” back in ENO?

29 Apr

The ENO’s plans have been announced today – http://www.eno.org/news/listing-14-15

It makes an interesting mixture of the conventional but worth seeing (Otello with Skelton, Gardner and David Alden, a Richard Jones Fanciulla with Susan Bullock and Jones’s WNO Meistersinger with Iain Paterson), the interestingly off-beat (Peter Sellars doing John Adams and The Indian Queen and Mike Leigh doing Pirates of Penzance) – and, more than ever, work at other venues that the Coliseum.  Two things interest me.

The first is the duplication of repertory between ENO and the Royal Opera House.  London is going to have at least three runs of Boheme in the twelve months – the Copley production has two outings at the ROH (with quite desirable casts) and the Miller production is coming back for fourteen performances in between.   The same applies to La traviata – after this year’s series at the ROH, it returns there for another double cast run next May (with rather less desirable casts, unless it is your heart’s desire to see Domingo as the elder Germont) and then we have the Konwitschny production back in between.  Is there the audience in London simply for those two?  And is it fair to audiences that the choices here should be so limited?

The third duplication is Montiverdi’s Orfeo.  The ROH will be doing this in January at the Roundhouse; the ENO will be doing this in April at the Bristol Old Vic.  And it’s this move outside London that interests me most.

In recent years the ENO have given over the Coliseum to ballet in April and done smaller scale work at other places – the Young Vic, the Hampstead Theatre and the Barbican in particular.  It’s given a welcome opportunity for them to do stuff that doesn’t really fit at the Coliseum.  And the ROH has taken steps to follow suit with this years’ Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and next year’s Orfeo.   This year, ENO will be working at three outside venues: the Old Vic for a children’s opera (Joanna Lee’s “The Way Back Home“) in December; the Barbican for Tansy Davies’s Between Worlds in April and, also in April, thats Orfeo.  This must be the first time the ENO has performed in the UK outside London since they stopped touring in the 1980s.

In the old days the Sadler’s Wells Company, as it then was, had two companies that cox and boxed it between London and the provinces.  That ended in the late 1960s and the company ended its season at the Coliseum in March and then went on tour for the next couple of months.  Those tours gradually got whittled down until by, I think 1983, they came to an end.  Doubtless money was a problem but there was also the sense that touring was an inconvenience and standards couldn’t be as high as in London.

I am old enough to remember those tours when they visited Newcastle and Sunderland.  My first proper opera, The Barber of Seville was part of that (Derek Hammond-Stroud as Bartolo) and I’ve very happy memories between 1972 and 1979 of my first visits to Merry Widow, Fledermaus, Mary Stuart (with Sarah Walker), Carmen, Belle Hélène and, most wonderful of all, the Ring (Remedios, Elizabeth Connell, Aage Haugland) , as well as Patience, Cosi, Figaro and Vie Parisienne.  I wasn’t critical enough then to be able to judge what the standard was like and memory plays tricks.  I do remember being able to hear the words and having a really good time.  Had I been older and my parents richer, I could have seen Trovatore, Katya, Makropoulos Case, Gloriana, Semele, Entfuhrung, Butterfly, Boheme, Traviata and Tosca.  There was some overlap with Scottish Opera but it was rare.

The point was, first, that I got the opportunity to see these pieces but also that we were seeing work which was relatively new: this was what was going on in London, even if the casts weren’t always the same.  We felt that we were getting something for our subsidy.  It almost certainly isn’t practical now – the company was a huge ensemble and could credibly double cast productions from its own resources.  Productions were more practical to tour.  But I felt that something was lost when they stopped touring (even though I suspect that the company members were delighted).

So I think that it’s great that ENO is taking work to Bristol.  Live broadcasts to cinemas are better than nothing, but they can’t be the same as the experience in the theatre.  I hope that this will be the first of a number of projects for ENO outside the metropolis and that, perhaps, ENO may actually be able to justify the National in its title.

Buying CDs – How I collect

13 Apr

I was listening to CD Review on Radio 3 last Saturday and they were talking about Decca’s new celebration of Pavarotti – 11 operas, the Verdi Requiem and three recitals on 27 CDs. One of the presenters asked who would buy it, given that most fans of Pavarotti would have the operas anyway. I’ve heard this question asked before in respect of the increasing number of large compilation sets that are coming on the market – a few weeks ago they were asking the same question about the DG complete Richard Strauss set.

Of course, to an extent he’s right.  This set includes the recordings with Sutherland of Lucia, Elisir, Puritani, Fille du Régiment, Rigoletto and Turandot, together with the Karajan Boheme and Butterfly.  You’d have to be quite a determined Pavarotti-avoider not to have at least a couple of these in your collection and serious Pavarotti and Sutherland fans probably will indeed have the majority.  But the rest of us may not and I tend to feel that it’s for the likes of me – the haphazard collector – that sets like this were created.

My collection of CDs has grown eccentrically and I suspect this is true of many collectors.  I started, to show my age, with LPs when I was in my early teens and the collection grew from a mixture of Christmas and birthday presents or odd ones that I could pick up with pocket money.  My parents tended to buy with an eye to price rather than reputation – I still have quite a lot of the early 1950s Cetra recordings which nobody would name, even when they came out, as first choice recordings, but which did. As I got more discriminating, or started to read more, I became more demanding – if they were going to get me a Don Carlos, could it please be the Giulini and, if Norma, it had to be Callas (I wasn’t prescriptive about which).  But it was not methodical: I did not have a pre-planned pattern of recordings that I meant to buy or singers that I had to collect.

And when CDs came along, I did not necessarily want to duplicate my LP collection.  If I had the Giulini Giovanni, Figaro and Trovatore on LP, why get the operas on CD, even in different performances, when I still didn’t have all of the core repertory and there were attractive things, such as the Gardiner Les Brigands, coming out freshly?  This view didn’t last long as the advantages of CDs in terms of life and shelf-space became apparent – but my buying was haphazardagain, often depending on what was on offer at the Music Discount Centre or what struck me as particularly desirable.  And it was informed by a view that preferred Callas to Sutherland, Muti or Serafin to Bonynge, Domingo to Pavarotti, Carlos Kleiber or Giulini to almost everyone – unless Simon Keenlyside or Thomas Allen happened to be in the cast.

And then I began to prove to myself that collections don’t stop.  Don Carlos was the case in point.  My partner had arrived with the Solti recording (which I now prefer to the Giulini) but you clearly also need one in French – there was just the Abbado at the time when I bought it.  And then Pappano came along. And then the Opera Rara reissue of the BBC broadcast (really good) and I realised that I also wanted to have Christoff and Gobbi in the opera.  And then the Chandos version in English was a nice souvenir of the Opera North version. And then there were seven.

Then, of course, I like Mackerras in Mozart and so his Teldec recording of Figaro seemed a good choice.  But then Jacobs came along with Simon Keenlyside and rave reviews.  And then came one of those huge boxes of Colin Davis conducting.  And then the Gardiner series came along at a ridiculously cheap price, so I had to get that.  And, of course, there’s still the Busch Glyndebourne recording, and the Gui…

So what these huge sets do is to give me a chance to enjoy hear recordings that I don’t own  and to learn more.  And I reckon that, if I happen to have the odd duplicate, it’s probably worth it. When I’m  listening to opera I’m not just listening to the work, I’m listening to the interpreters and the joy is having access to lots of them. It’s also remarkable have few perfect recordings there are – in the 1970s and before reviewers often wanted to take individuals from two recordings and fuse them together. That’s pointless – but you can, in the course of your collecting lifetime grow up a collection to enable you to have both Callas and Sutherland in their duplicate roles, together with Tebaldi, Scotto, Caballé and Price.  And why not?

So I think I’m the person at which these huge boxes are aimed at. The Davis set introduced me to his Cosi fan tutte and the joy of Baker and Caballé as the women.  In the last year I’ve gained a lot of pleasure from exploring two huge boxes of Verdi from Decca and EMI – comparing the Muti and Levine Vespri, getting Jon Vickers as Otello, discovering the marvellous Mehta/Nilsson/Corelli Aida, getting back some old friends from LP days (the Gobbi Falstaff and the Merrill/Solti Rigoletto).  It’s fun sampling them and having the luxury of thinking whether I want to hear Rameyand Zancanaro or Raimondi and Milnes doing the duet from Attila.

And so to the Pavarotti set.  I only possessed two of the recordings included – Fille du Regiment and Turandot – and I’ve been having a lovely time over the last few days rapidly revising all my prejudices.  Is there a better Duke of Mantua on disc? – I’ve always been a Kraus fan, but Pavarotti is even more beguiling.  I still probably prefer Gobbi and Callas in the other roles, but it’s a pretty close run thing.  I really enjoy the Muti/Caballé/Kraus Puritani but I have to admit that, even if Muti conducts better, Sutherland and Pavarotti are very special indeed.  I’ve rediscovered Beatrice di Tenda and, while I probably just prefer Callas in Lucia with Bernstein, I have to admit that Sutherland and Pavarotti are pretty marvellous – and the sound is better.  And I paid £50 for it on Ebay – and can probably make something from selling on my duplicates.  That’s just over a fiver per opera.

So, if you’re like me, you could do a lot worse than get this – though it’s a bad size for your CD shelves.  It may not leave your other CDs in the cold, but I found myself succumbing to all that I’ve heard and I know the set won’t be far from my CD player.