Hats, coats, gloves and scarves came off for a seat at Slovenian National Opera's evening in wintery Paris for Puccini's perennially popular work, La bohème. Popular it is, but still there were quite a few empty seats in Ljubljana's compact house for director Vinko Möderndorfer's now 10 year-old production.
|Act 2, La bohème, Slovenian National Opera and Ballet|
Marko Japelj's sets were simple and serviceable with Act 1 and Act 4's spacious grey stud-walled garret with side-stage stair taking the appearance of being someplace back-of-set. Slavic lace-making skills got a good workout in Alenka Bartl's cuffed and colourful satin 'clown' costumes but the bohemians were thankfully outfitted in more subdued tones and attire. Annoyingly, the staging was hampered by poorly cued lighting.
Starting tentatively, Martina Zadro's Mimi leaned on the dull and demure side but her rich and bright soprano blossomed pleasingly. Branko Robinšak gave Rodolfo warm-rounded appeal, solid projection and sang with conviction, though he seemed creepily more like Mimi's father and the sparks rarely appeared to jump from one to the other.
|Martina Zadro as Mimi|
Maybe a lack of budding little songsters among Ljubljana's ankle biters accounted for the sadly missed kids chorus but, despite the gaudy costumes, the men and women of the chorus shone appealingly. Down below, however, was where the best was happening. Excellence was sustained in the pit under conductor Jaroslav Kyzlink's sympathetic, never grandstanding approach.
But overall, the dots weren't really joining in Ljubljana's La bohème even though the music breathed marvellously and worthy vocals sprouted. It's high time the 'clowns' move on.
Slovenian National Opera and Ballet, Ljubljana
10th November 2016
Taking its audience somewhere warmer on a cold and wet Ljubljana evening, Slovenian National Opera's newish 2015 production of Carmen by British director Pamela Howard would prove a welcome and highly satisfying escape.
Directed and designed with great care, detail and expression, Howard's vision magnified the stage and keenly struck many emotional cords. In particular, Howard showed depth of skill at crowd management - Act 4's spectacle of almost 80 singers on stage was presented with pulsating reality. It was also great to see Ljubljana's children on stage after missing their jollity in La bohème the evening before and another welcome luxury with English surtitles posted.
Blessed with superb musicianship, conductor Jaroslav Kyzlink repeated his superb form after the prior evening's La bohème by delivering a Carmen plump with clarity, polish and ongoing tension.
|Nuska Drascek Rojko as Carmen|
As Don José, Aljaž Farasin performed superbly, giving him great complexity, vulnerability and pent up aggression. It wasn't a big voice but Farasin sang with charismatic warmth, shapeliness and a tender sweet vibrato. A distinguished Escamillo came with Jože Vidic's hearty meat-and-gravy baritone but the upper register tended to stretch out unattractively. As an unflattering and peasant-dressed Micaëla, honeyed soprano Andreja Zakonjšek Krt made an admirable, if not absorbing mark.
When you get crowd scenes so alive with wide-ranging mannerisms and vibrant, unified singing to go with them, you have to applaud all involved. The men, women and children of the chorus deserve credit indeed.
Ljubljana's Carmen from Slovenian National Opera might not have lavish wealth behind it, but it undeniably has the impact to drive home its tragedy in riveting form. Nuška Drašček Rojko is a major stake in its success and following her engagements should certainly come with rewards.
And as it turned out, I also got to hear Jaroslav Kyzlink conduct Smetana's The Bartered Bride just a few days later in Prague and the musical richness continued with similar ebullience and feeling. There's a conductor I'd like to hear again.
Slovenian National Opera, Ljubljana
11th November 2016