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Focal to the success and appeal of this Heritage Opera production were its central pair, Mimi and Rodolfo, sung by Serenna Wagner and Richard Williams. Here was a pair which easily earned one's sympathy. Williams has a remarkable tenor voice, astonishingly firm and secure in areas of the higher registers where others, in La Bohème, often strain. By contrast, he seems to arrive there effortlessly, producing a richly individual if fractionally monochrome voice that communicates generously. And his peak is surely yet to come. The youth in the voice speaks, even where the phrasing or transitions sound a fraction mechanical. You feel Williams could stand in the open air, a bit like Farinelli in the film, and let out a tenor top D at no notice at all: quite a useful asset for a Rodolfo, whose most passionate outpourings are all relatively high-placed by Puccini.

Still hopeful that things may yet work out - Rodolfo (Richard Williams) and Mimi (Serenna Wagner) in Act 3. Photo © 2007 Sebastian Fattorini, Skipton Castle
Still hopeful that things may yet work out - Rodolfo (Richard Williams) and Mimi (Serenna Wagner) in Act 3. Photo © 2007 Sebastian Fattorini, Skipton Castle

Wagner too has a warmth of tone that lent her shy Mimi an extra vulnerability. It's a voice that can sound remarkably mellow: comfortably embracing, almost as if she were the one poised to set off and fetch the muff for someone else. As a result, her exchanges and occasional duetting with Musetta provided particularly good moments: the purer, quite refined yet edgier tone of Bloom's Musetta contrasted with the vocal warm cushion of Wagner's cherishable Mimi rather like an oboe with a clarinet. Yet the tone and the demure presence suited the character well.

Sadly time is now running out - Mimi (Serenna Wagner) and Rodolfo (Richard Williams) in Act 4. Photo © 2007 Sebastian Fattorini, Skipton Castle
Sadly time is now running out - Mimi (Serenna Wagner) and Rodolfo (Richard Williams) in Act 4. Photo © 2007 Sebastian Fattorini, Skipton Castle

The gentleness and almost guilty resignation of Mimi regarding her physical decline came across strongly, and she provided a self-denigrating foil for Williams's Rodolfo to feel irresistibly drawn to. There was plenty of poignancy, but no oozing with sentiment, and as a result this production, seen as it were in close-up in the intimate side-hall of Skipton Castle, gained added strength.

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Copyright © 15 April 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK

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All Risks Musical - an irreverent guide to the music profession by Alice McVeigh