A real treat to see such an opulent production of a rarely-performed opera
If I were asked whether L'Africaine as an opera is a masterpiece, my answer overall would be no. There is nothing wrong with the music, it is very melodious and expressive, not just the masterpiece that is O Paradiso, but also Selika's mad/death scene and Inez' big aria. And I think the characters while not the most compelling or memorable characters in opera history are good enough and all have moments where they shine.
It is for me some of the story, I love the basic love story and how intimistic it is, but some of it is hokey and old-fashioned sometimes in storytelling and structure and I also seen complaints of historical inaccuracy in which I can understand in a sense.
Still, this 1988 production of L'Africaine is a real treat, whether you are familiar with the opera or not.
Visually I cannot fault this L'Africaine. The costumes are very colourful and the sets are wonderfully opulent. This is all helped by picture quality of good clarity, assured sound(if you forgive the background noise) and excellent video directing. The orchestra do a superb job, especially in O Paradiso and the confrontation between Selika and Inez, and while there are one or two moments where it is a tad leaden the conducting is fine.
The effects are appropriately grandiose, and the chorus are balanced and pitched with care. I have little to fault the performances either. I have always been a huge fan of Placido Domingo especially as Otello, Caveradossi, Don Jose and Canio. Here as Vasco Da Gama he is wonderful, he is in superb voice and proves once again to be an outstanding actor.
Shirley Verrett was a performer who I wasn't familiar with until recently, but the times I have seen and heard her I have been so impressed with her. She makes an imposing figure on stage, and I just love her voice, her high notes have real ring to them yet she also has a dark yet appealing mezzo-like quality to her voice. Plus she manages to do something special with her mad/death scene, which is very moving.
Ruth Ann Swenson is great as Inez. She sings beautifully in her big aria, and really comes into her own in her confrontation with Selika in the last act.
The only lead performance that I had mixed feelings on was Justino Diaz as Nelusko. Now he is a very strong presence, and while he does sing very well and has moments of power, there are points in the production where he is not quite as striking or exciting as he can be(like he is in the roles of Iago, Escamillo, Sparafucile).
Overall, a great production and a thumbs up. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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