Thrillingly sung, and brilliantly acted – but why have we had to wait so long to see this superb English singer?
Well the good news is that it’s happened at last. One of the country’s leading dramatic sopranos has finally appeared at The Royal Opera – and by any standards this was a hugely auspicious debut – but why have we had to wait so long to see Catherine Foster here? For over 15 years she’s been thrilling audiences on the continent in the most demanding roles in the soprano repertoire – Brünnhilde, Isolde and Elektra to name but three – at some of the most prestigious opera houses in Europe. She triumphed at Bayreuth as Brünnhilde in the 2013 bi-centenary Ring, going on to sing the role in every subsequent revival of Frank Castorf’s audacious staging, and has won plaudits for her Isolde and Elektra wherever she’s appeared.
“One of the country’s leading dramatic sopranos has finally appeared at The Royal Opera”
Yet we’ve had to wait until now for her to appear at the UK’s most prestigious opera house, and that happened by chance, due to a celebrated Russian diva’s withdrawal from this series of Turandot performances. But the wait has been worth it. Foster’s debut as Puccini’s titular princess was nothing short of sensational – both musically and dramatically. This was the first time I’ve heard her live, and I was taken aback by how fresh and youthful her voice sounds. Given she’s surmounted the most taxing operatic roles written for the soprano voice, there were no signs of wear and tear – her voice was meltingly beautiful in the middle register, yet showed flashes of steel in the high-lying passages. Nothing was forced, her top notes were gleaming – her phrasing immaculate. Dramatically she never put a foot wrong either, charting the character’s development from haughty imperiousness to emotional vulnerability faultlessly. It is to be hoped that the powers that be now recognise her artistry and invite her back soon – conductor Antonio Pappano was all beaming smiles when she brought him on for his curtain call, which can only be a good sign!
The other major cast change from the first night was Ermonela Jaho, whose affecting, heartfelt Liù was sung with pathos and plenty of exquisitely floated high notes. The rest of the cast was as before (reviewed here). If anything, Pappano’s interpretation had grown in stature, whilst the singing of the chorus and orchestral playing were beyond reproach. Although now the oldest staging in its repertoire, Andrei Serban’s 40 year old production still looks as fresh as it did back in the ‘80s when it was new. At some point the company will have to have a fresh look at this opera, but there’s plenty of life left in it yet – especially when revived as impeccably as this run was by Jack Furness.
• Details of future performances can be found here.