Tuesday, 20 February 2018

UK premiere of the first version of Bartók's second violin rhapsody

Barnabás Kelemen
Barnabás Kelemen
Béla Bartók wrote two Rhapsodies for violin and piano, virtuoso works which he completed in 1928 and wrote without commission. The first was dedicated to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the second to Zoltán Székely who premiered the work. In 1929 Bartók orchestrated the second rhapsody, and would later return to the work and revise it, producing a revised orchestral version in 1935 and a revised version with piano in 1945. Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen is giving the UK première of Bartók’s Rhapsody No 2 for Violin and Orchestra with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Thomas Dausgaard in Glasgow City Halls on 22 February 2018, in an afternoon concert which also includes more Hungarian music, Zoltán Kodály's Summer Evening, Bartók's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin and Violin Concerto No. 1.

Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1 was written for the violinist Stefi Geyer, with whom the composer was in love; Geyer did not reciprocate Bartók's feelings and did not play the concerto, which was not played until after Bartók's death. The sexually charged ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin was written between 1918 and 1924, based on a short-story by the Hungarian Jewish writer Melchior Lengyel. Though the ballet was premiered in Cologne in 1926, though its sexual content caused problems and something of a scandal.

Full details from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's website.

Gerstein plays Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F

Kirill Gerstein - Gerswhin
George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Piano Concerto in F; Kirill Gerstein, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, David Robertson; Myrios Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 19 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Performances which combine jazz sensibility with classical virtuosity

George Gershwin's symphonic music, the Rhapsody in Blue, the Piano Concerto in F and the Second Rhapsody exist on the cusp between popular jazz and classical. As such the works can have a variety of interpretations, and it says something for the remarkable strength of the Rhapsody in Blue that it can stand up to a wide variety of approaches. The problem comes when classical artists venture too close to jazz, and the results can sometimes seem strained.

This new disc from pianist Kirill Gerstein and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, conductor David Robertson, has an interesting pedigree because Gerstein's training in fact spanned the classical and the jazz, which makes his interpretations well worth hearing. Recorded live, we have a pairing of Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F, plus a selection of Earl Wilde's Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin, a piece by Oscar Levant (a composer/pianist much associated with the later recording history of the Rhapsody in Blue), and Gershwin's Summertime.

As a young man in Russia, Kirill Gerstein was much influenced by his parents' jazz record collection, and at the age of 14 he moved to the USA to study jazz piano with Gary Burton (who plays vibraphone on the Oscar Levant piece on the disc) at Berklee College, and only later did Gerstein decide to focus on classical piano.

Philip Glass's Satyagraha at the London Coliseum

Philip Glass: Satygraha - Toby Spence & ENO Chorus - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
Philip Glass: Satygraha - Toby Spence & ENO Chorus - English National Opera
(Photo Donald Cooper)
Philip Glass Satyagraha; Clive Bayley, Charlotte Beament, Nicholas Folwell, Stephanie Marshall, Anna-Clare Monk, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Toby Spence, Sarah Pring, Eddie Wade, dir: Phelim McDermott/Julian Crouch, cond: Karen Karnensek; English National Opera at London Coliseum, London
Skills Ensemble: Philip Edolls, Janet Etuk, Charlie Folorunsho, Alex Harvey, Nick Haverson, Nesreen Nabil Hussein, Tina Koch, Vic Llewelyn, Charlotte Mooney, Kumar Muniandy, Caroline Partridge, Rob Thirtle

Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Feb 14 2018 Star rating: 4.0
English National Opera’s stunning production of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha makes a welcome return to St Martin’s Lane

Philip Glass: Satygraha - Sarah Pring & ENO Chorus - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
Sarah Pring - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
The first performance of this production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha by English National Opera (ENO) (intelligently directed by Phelim McDermott assisted by Julian Crouch responsible also for set design) fell in April 2007 and celebrated the 60th anniversary of India’s independence from Great Britain as well Philip Glass’ 60th birthday. For this revival (seen 14 February 2018) the production was conducted by Karen Kamensek and featured Clive Bayley, Charlotte Beament, Nicholas Folwell, Stephanie Marshall, Anna-Clare Monk, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Toby Spence, Sarah Pring and Eddie Wade.

Forming part of a trilogy comprising Einstein on the Beach and Akhnaten, they all tell about men who have changed the world and, therefore, Satyagraha (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘truth-force’) is most definitely about politics.

The scenario surrounds Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa (from 1893 to 1914) and his development of non-violent protest into a political tool. His philosophy was such that it galvanised a whole political movement in South Africa which later greatly influenced the work of Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, 19 February 2018

West Green House 2018 - Candide. Ba-Ta-Clan and Madama Butterfly

The lake at West Green House at night
The lake at West Green House at night
West Green House's 2018 season includes Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Bernstein's Candide and Offenbach's operetta Ba-ta-clan. Candide will be performed in the version created for the National Theatre in 1999, and features Fflur Wyn as Cunegonde, Robin Bailey as Candide and Ben McAteer as Pangloss, the production will be directed by Richard Studer and conducted by Jonathan Lyness (the two are also artistic director & music director of Mid-Wales Opera).

Puccini's Madame Butterfly features Robin Lyn Evans as Pinkerton, and Katie Bird as Butterfly with Catherine Backhouse as Suzuki and Robert Davies as Sharpless. Richard Studer directs and Jonathan Lyness conducts.

The final opera is Offenbach's Ba-ta-clan, his first significant and commercial success. The opera will be directed by Morag Joss and conducted by James Sherlock. A satire on French political life in the 19th century, Morag Joss will be creating a new English version with contemporary satire.

Full details from the West Green opera website.

Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Alison Buchanan
Alison Buchanan
Pegasus Opera is presenting a pair of one-act operas by the American composer Philip Hagemann, a double bill of Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, both showcasing women in the lead roles. Directed by Eduardo Barreto and conducted by Philip Hagemann the productions will be at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (the Actors' Church) from Wednesday 28 February 2018 to Sunday 4 March 2018.

Ruth is based on the biblical tale, whilst The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is a lighter piece based on George Bernard Shaw's play which imagines William Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth I. The productions feature a cast including Alison Buchanan, Byron Jackson, Kamilla Dunstan, Sarah Champion, Annabelle Williams, and Oliver Brignall.

Pegasus Opera is the leading multi-racial touring Opera Company in the UK and was founded in 1992 by Lloyd Newton. Following his death in 2017, soprano Alison Buchanan took over as Artistic Director.

Further information from the Pegasus Opera website, tickets from TicketSolve.

Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall

Handel at Vauxhall
Handel at Vauxhall, volume 2; Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
London Early Opera returns to Vauxhall with a further evocation of the garden's musical charms

Bridget Cunningham and London Early Opera have followed up their Handel in Vauxhall with a second volume, on Signum Classics, which explores the music of Vauxhall Gardens. The disc presents music by Handel and his contemporaries and is in the format that was typically used for concerts at Vauxhall, so we have Handel's Concerto in A minor Op.6, No.4 and his music for Comus, alongside music by William Boyce, John Stanley, Thomas Gladwin, John Lampe, and Johann Adolph Hasse, performed by Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell.

One of the features of Cunningham's Handel in Vauxhall series is the debunking of the idea that the music performed at Vauxhall Gardens was largely trivial. In fact, though there is a wide variety, there is no stinting on the more serious items. So we have Handel's Concerto in A minor from his great Opus 6 set, and in fact the proprietor of Vauxhall, Jonathan Tyers, subscribed to four sets of the original publication.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall

Helen Grime
Helen Grime
Robert Schumann, Helen Grime, Mahler, Ives, Britten; Ruby Hughes, Joseph Middleton; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 15 2018
Star rating: 4.0

Ravishing textures from Helen Grime's new song cycle in a programme themed on mother-hood

What female composers there were in the 19th century tended to operate within the confines of the male expectations of society at the time, so that Fanny Mendelssohn's works were published as her brother's and Clara Schumann was a pianist, wife and mother before she was a composer. All this means that we have very little music on motherhood and parenthood from a 19th century woman's point of view. The prime example still remains a male production, Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, where the limitations of Adelbert von Chamisso's texts are to a certain extent transcended by Schumann's music.

So for a concert themed around motherhood and parenthood given at the Wigmore Hall on Thursday 15 February 2018 by soprano Ruby Hughes and pianist Joseph Middleton, as part of the hall's Seven Ages festival, the centrepiece was Helen Grime's new song cycle Bright Travellers, a welcome setting by a female composer of poems by Fiona Benson about the joys and pains of motherhood, from the first scan to registering the child's birth.

Fiona Benson
Fiona Benson
Ruby Hughes and Joseph Middleton complemented Grime's new piece with Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. At least Robert Schumann did, to a certain extent, support his wife's compositional activity whereas Mahler actively prevented his wife, Alma, from pursuing her career. By contrast to Adelbert von Chamisso's texts, which commentators decry as 'the impersonation of a woman by male culture', at least Friedrich Ruckert's texts as set by Mahler were the fruits of agonised personal experience.

Sensibly Hughes and Middleton had divided the programme into a German and an English half, performing Charles Ives songs and Benjamin Britten folk songs alongside the Grimes. Whilst these provided an element of contrast, it was a shame we could not get a 20th century woman's voice.

Helen Grime's Bright Travellers sets five poems by Fiona Benson about the experience of motherhood. The poems move from the first scan, Soundings, to considerations of the new being within, Brew, the reaction of others to the baby, Visitations, the baby's reactions to feeding, Milk Fever and a visit to the registrar, Council Offices. I can understand why Grime was attracted to the poems, they have a conciseness and directness which speak of personal experience. Motherhood is not cast in a rosy glow. Benson's voice is often sharp and uneasy, prey to uneasy thoughts about foetuses aborting or other women's still births, and moments of disturbed sleep. How to set such strong texts to music?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire

Vadim Gluzman
Vadim Gluzman
The Ukrainian-born Israeli Violinist Vadim Gluzman was recently in the UK to perform Leonard Bernstein's Serenade with David Charles Abell and the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of the Total Immersion event devoted to Leonard Bernstein at the Barbican on 27 January 2018. 

I was unfortunately unable to attend the concert, but was lucky enough to be able to catch up with Vadim a week or so later, when we talked about the Bernstein Serenade (a work he is performing a lot this year), the importance to him of contemporary repertoire, his training under both the Soviet and Western systems and being mentored by Isaac Stern.

In an article before the concert, Gluzman said that he thought it was one of the greatest 20th century violin concertos. When we spoke, he explained further saying that it comes down to a matter of taste, the Serenade is a work that he likes, he finds in it an enormous range of emotion and technical variety. But also he finds it brilliantly written, making it abundantly clear how important both soloist and orchestra are, so that it is a wonderfully conversational work. This is a quality that he appreciates in concertos, having little interest in those concertos with an overly exposed solo line and little orchestra contribution.

Bernstein rated the Serenade as his strongest serious classical work, yet for a long time it was rather neglected. Vadim feels the work is being played more than it was 20 years ago (he is playing it quite a number of times this centenary year), but it is still not being played enough though is slowly becoming part of the repertoire.

Mentored by Isaac Stern

Vadim Gluzman (Photo Marco Borgreve)
Vadim Gluzman (Photo Marco Borgreve)
As a young man Vadim was mentored by Isaac Stern, who premiered Bernstein's Serenade with the composer conducting, so inevitably one of the works they discussed was the Serenade. Like many other people, Vadim was interested in the connection (or lack of it) between the work and Plato's Symposium, but Stern's advice was to 'just think about love'. Vadim feels the connection is there, but it is not that literal, and he points out that Bernstein had been rather forgetful of the original commission and ended up putting the work together in a huge hurry.

For most of the time, whilst he was being mentored by Isaac Stern, Stern simply talked to Vadim, he was one of those people who made Vadim realise quite how much he did not know. Vadim was barely 16 when he first played for Stern, and each time he played Vadim would think 'this time I have got it, now I can show him'. But each time Stern showed Vadim doors which he never knew existed, and it was this which inspired the young Vadim.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Artists as Citizens

Robert Lindsay as Citizen Smith in the 1970s comedy
Robert Lindsay as Citizen Smith in the 1970s comedy
From 20 to 23 February 2018, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama will be hosting its fifth international Reflective Conservatoire Conference: Artists as Citizens. Performers, professionals, teachers and researchers from all over the world to address the key issues in Higher Education within music and drama, this year covering the themes around the artist as citizen.

The term Artistic Citizenship is perhaps a term too much redolent of academic-speak, but it is clear from the topics being considered that the conference will be discussing issues which are at the core of artistic practice today - inclusive approaches to opera and music theatre, music and health, the role of the librettist in the future of opera, theatre censorship, social responsibility, multicultural perspectives.

Full details from the Barbican website and the Guildhall School website.

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate - Gawain Glenton, In Echo - Delphian
Music in a Cold Climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe; Gawain Glenton, In Echo; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Illuminating the shared musical culture which crossed the sea routes of Hansa Europe

Until the late 17th century, the Hanseatic League was an important trade linkage in Northern Europe and the resulting sea routes provided cultural as well as mercantile links. So a flow of composers and their music travelled the seas. Music in a Cold Climate: sounds of Hansa Europe, from cornetto player Gawain Glenton and his group In Echo on Delphian, explores the music which was crossing the sea routes during the 17th century with pieces by Nicolaus a Kempis, William Brade, Antonio Bertali, Heinrich Albert, Johann Sommer,  Thomas Baltzar, Dietrich Becker, Melchior Schildt, Antony Holborn, Johann Staden, Johann Schop plus a new work, Andrew Keeling's Northern Soul which was written in 2016 for Gawain Glenton and In Echo.

Some of the composers featured on the disc travelled and found employment ate the other end of a sea route. Violin virtuoso Thomas Baltzar travelled from Lübeck to London. Both William Brade and John Dowland found employment at the court of King Christian IV of Denmark, as did Melchior Schildt and Johann Schop. Brade and Schop both left Copenhagen to avoid the plague and both would end up in Hamburg. Hamburg-based Dietrich Becker travelled both to Sweden and other German towns like Lübeck. The 30 years war inevitably caused probems and Heinrich Albert would be held captive by Swedish soldiers for a year.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Morphs and Magpies

The Ligeti Quartet
The Ligeti Quartet
The Ligeti Quartet's latest programme Morphs and Magpies premieres at the Rudolf Steiner Hall on Saturday 17 February 2018, and features music by György Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, Gregers Brinch, Tanya Tagaq and John Zorn. The programme's title comes from that fact that all the works borrow and transform existing material. 

Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet No. 3 quotes Beethoven’s Große Fuge, Lassus’s Stabat Mater, and uses the Shostakovich cypher DSCH, integrating the fragments into the harmonic language of the quartet. John Zorn's Cat O'Nine Tails uses all sorts of quotes and genres, Paganini, Death Metal, even Looney Tunes. György Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1 is a set of variations and Tanya Tagaq's Sivunittinni, given in an arrangement by Garchik, transforms Inuit throat singing into music for string quartet.

The Ligeti Quartet are City Music Foundation Artists (2016-2018) and are Ensemble in Residence at the Universities of both Sheffield and Cambridge.

Further information and tickets from EventBrite.

War, Peace, Assassination and Amnesty: Welsh National Opera 2018-19

Janacek: From the House of the Dead - Welsh National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Janacek: From the House of the Dead - Welsh National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Welsh National Opera has announced its plans for the 2018-19 season. Bold ones they are too, and to be treasured all the more warmly because this is David Pountney's final year as artistic director. The season opens strongly with a new production of Prokofiev's War and Peace, conducted by Tomáš Hanus, alongside revivals of David McVicar's production of La traviata conducted by James Southall, and Joan Font's production of Rossini's La Cenerentola conducted by Tomáš Hanus. Spring 2019 sees the second of Pountney's Verdi trilogy, Un ballo in maschera conducted by Carlo Rizzi with revivals of Dominic Cooke's production of The Magic Flute, and a welcome return of Alessandro Talevi's production of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux conducted by Carlo Rizzi. The summer season is something different an amnesty themed season with semi-staged productions of operas involving the main company, youth opera and community chorus.

War and Peace will be given in a performing version based on Katya Ermolaeva and Rita McAllister’s new critical edition of Prokofiev’s original score, and will be sung in English. Lauren Michelle (last seen as Jessica in Andre Tchaikowsky's The Merchant of Venice) will be Natasha with Jonathan McGovern as Andrei and Mark LeBrocq as Pierre.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tarra Erraught will be singing the title role in La Cenerentola with three Italian singers making their WNO debuts, Matteo Macchioni (Don Ramiro), Fabio Capitanucci (Don Magnifico) and Giorgio Caoduro (Dandini). The title role in La traviata will be shared between Anush Hovhannisyan (who created a strong impression in the role with Scottish Opera last year) and Linda Richardson with Kang Wang as Alfredo and Roland Wood as Germont.

In the Spring season, the role of Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera will be sung by Gwyn Hughes-Jones (who made a strong impression in this year's La forza del destino) and Sara Fulgoni will be Ulrica. In the revival of Roberto Devereux, Joyce El-Khoury will be Elisabetta, with Justina Gringyte as Sara and Gary Griffiths as Nottingham.

During Autumn 2018 there will be further performances of Elena Langer's Rhondda Rips it Up! Also in the Autumn, David Pountney's production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead will be performed at the Janacek Brno Festival.

Further information from the Welsh National Opera website.

Spices! Perfumes! Toxins!

Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! - ARS Produktions
Avner Dorman Spices! Perfumes! Toxins!, Paul Dukas L'apprenti sorcier; Dan Townsend, Aron Leijendeckers, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Markus Huber
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 10 2018 Star rating: 3.0
An approachably melodic percussion concerto is the main interest in a slightly awkward pairing of works

This new disc rom ARS Produktion features the intriguing combination of Avner Dorman's 2006 percussion concerto Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! with Paul Dukas' 1897 scherzo L'apprenti sorcier with Dan Townsend and Aron Leijendeckers (percussion), the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie (based in Ostwesfalen-Lippe, Germany), conductor Markus Huber. As the percussionists only feature as soloists in the concerto the link between the two works is perhaps the composers' colourful use of orchestration.

Born in Israel in 1975, Avner Dorman studied initially in Tel Aviv and then in the USA with John Corigliano at the Julliard School. His output includes concertos for saxophone, for mandolin and the percussion concerto Frozen Time. His opera Wahnfried premiered in Karlsruhe in January 2017. He wrote Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! for the Israeli percussion duo PecaDu in 2006.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Late Feldman and Nono at Principal Sound Festival

Luigi Nono (Photo Graziano Arici 1983)
Luigi Nono (Photo Graziano Arici 1983)
In 2016 the Principal Sound Festival at St John's Smith Square explored the music of Morton Feldman, and the festival returns on 16 February 2018 for three days of music curated by Sam Wigglesworth exploring the late works of Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono. Performers include the vocal ensemble Exaudi, the Bozzini Quartet, Explore Ensemble, George Barton (percussion), Siway Rhys (piano), Mark Knoop (piano) and Aisha Orazbayeva (violin).

The festival opens on 16 February with a showcase concert featuring performers from across the festival in a programme of Nono, Schoenberg and Feldman, and the festival closes on 18 February with James Weeks directing Exaudi in a programme which includes music by Sciarrino, Kurtag, Nono, Cage, Linda Caitlin Smith, Rebecca Saunders, John Croft, Feldman and Rihm, plus Guillaume de Machaut.

Other works in the festival include Nono's last completed work, “Hay que caminar” soñando, and Feldman's last work for piano Palais de Mari, Nono's Fragmente Stille, an Diotima and Earle Brown's Hodograph I which was commissioned by Nono for the Darmstadt Festival.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

A Triptych: Irrational Theatre in three one-act comic operas

A Triptych of Comic Operas  - Irrational Theatre
A Triptych, John Whittaker, Peter Reynolds, Offenbach; Irrational Theatre; The King's Head
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Feb 11 2018 Star rating: 3.0
Three contrasting one-act operas in intimate surrounds

It is always a pleasure to see little known works, but you never know quite what you’re going to get. Irrational Theatre came to the King’s Head yesterday evening (11 February 2018) with A Triptych, an interesting mix of three handers directed by Paula Chitty: John Whittaker’s The Proposal, Peter ReynoldsSounds of Time and Jacques Offenbach’s Le 66 with varying results.

The singers Laurence Panter (tenor), Lucy Elston (soprano) and Andrew Sparling (baritone), sharing the roles, were all uniformly good, although poor Andrew Sparling did seem to have an aversion to props. There was some fine, not to say nimble, support from Julian Trevelyan, John Whittaker (pianists) and Abi Clark (flute).

Topsy-turvy fun: Cal McCrystal directs G&S's Iolanthe

G&S: Iolanthe - English National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
G&S: Iolanthe - The Fairies - English National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Gilbert & Sullivan Iolanthe; Samantha Price, Andrew Shore, Yvonne Howard, Ellie Laugharne, Marcus Farnsworth, Ben Johnson, Ben McAteer, Barnaby Rea, dir: Cal McCrystal, cond: Timothy Henty; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2018 Star rating: 5.0
A joyful and witty re-invention of G&S which preserves the work's essential Victorianism whilst adding spice

G&S: Iolanthe - Yvonne Howard, Samantha Price - English National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Yvonne Howard, Samantha Price - ENO (Photo Clive Barda)
G&S seems to be making something of a welcome come-back, last year English Touring Opera gave us Patience, Opera North performed Trial by Jury, and English National Opera revived Mike Leigh's production of The Pirates of Penzance, whilst in 2016 Scottish Opera presented The Mikado. Not that G&S ever went away, but for some time there was rather dearth of their operettas on opera company stages. Now English National Opera has followed up The Pirates of Penzance with a joyful new production of Iolanthe directed by Cal McCrystal (best known for One Man, Two Guv'nors).

Designed by (and dedicated to) the late Paul Brown, Cal McCrystal's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe opened at English National Opera at the London Coliseum on Tuesday 13 February 2018. Conducted by Timothy Henty, the production featured a strong cast with Samantha Price as Iolanthe, Andrew Shore as the Lord Chancellor, Yvonne Howard as the Queen of the Fairies, Ellie Laugharne as Phyllis, Marcus Farnsworth as Strephon, Ben Johnson as the Earl Tolloller, Ben McAteer as the Earl of Mountararat, Llio Evans as Celia, Joanne Appleby as Leila, Flick Fernando as Fleta, Barnaby Rea as Private Willis, Richard Leeming as the page boy and Clive Mantle as Captain Shaw. Lighting was by Tim Mitchell, choreography by Lizzi Gee and additional material written by Toby Davies and Cal McCrystal.

G&S: Iolanthe - Marcus Farnsworth, Ellie Laugharne  - English National Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Marcus Farnsworth, Ellie Laugharne & sheep  - ENO (Photo Clive Barda)
The run of G&S operettas which I mentioned above has another thing in common, all of them (more or less) take the pieces seriously and eschew radical reinvention or re-working. G&S works best when you take Gilbert's world of topsy-turvey seriously, but that doesn't mean presenting it straight. Cal McCrystal's production kept the essential Victorian-ness of the piece, with McCrystal taking the view that Gilbert's targets in his libretto were just as relevant today without any updating. So no Brexit (or hardly any), and no mining of the trope of elderly men and young girls could easily be implicit. In this production the elderly Lord Chancellor really is in love.

But that does not mean that the production was po-faced. Recognising that the London Coliseum is a big theatre, McCrystal trimmed some of the dialogue and introduced some rather ripe jokes (of an end of pier variety which worked well with Gilbert's punning humour). He also introduced a layer of physical comedy. For a start the piece was highly choreographed, as it should be, with an all singing all dancing cast, which extended to giving the characters particular physical traits, so that Samantha Price's Iolanthe expressed herself in words, music and gesture. Two extra actors, Flick Fernando and Richard Leeming brought in a layer of physical comedy as well, so that in the Lord Chancellor, Earl Tolloller and Earl of Mountararat's Act Two trio, the very traditional D'Oyley Carte-style choreography for Andrew Shore, Ben Johnson and Ben McAteer was offset by a series of spectacular prat-falls by Richard Leeming.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The music of New France: Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal at St John's Smith Square

The conquering of the Americas by Europeans in the 17th century led to the importation of Western European music, and this led to some rather interesting cross-polinations with indigenous cultures. Music from South America has become relatively familiar, but that from the French colony in North America, New France, less so. There is a chance to explore this rare repertoire on Thursday 15 February 2018 when the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal perform a programme of French Canadian choral music at St John's Smith Square.

The ensemble will be performing songs in Abenaki, an indigenous language nearing extinction which was taught specially to them by one of its last living speakers, alongside the earliest motets and plainchants composed in French North America and polyphony brought by the first French settlers. The only surviving sources for these latter are the libraries of historic Québec City.

The programme also includes the European premiere of a new work, Ja de longtemps, by Maurice-G. Du Berge, a setting of Marc Lescarbot’s eyewitness accounts of Samuel de Champlain’s exploration of the St. Lawrence River, in search of a trade route to China.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Old-fashioned passion: Benjamin Godard's Dante

Benjamin Godard - Dante
Benjamin Godard Dante; Edgaras Montvidas, Veronique Gens, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Ulf Schirmer; Palazzetto Bru Zane on Ediciones Singulares
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 07 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Conservative in style, Godard's opera receives a welcome outing on disc in this passionate performance

The French composer Benjamin Godard is best known for the Berceuse from his opera Jocelyn, and despite him being a prolific composer few works of his are in the catalogue. This new recording of his 1890 opera Dante from Palazzetto Bru Zane on Ediciones Singulares provides welcome opportunity for re-assessment. Ulf Schirmer conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Edgaras Montvidas, Veronique Gens, Jean-Francois Lapointe, Rachel Frenkel, Andrew Foster-Williams, Diana Axentii and Andrew Lepri Meyer.

Benjamin Godard studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Napoléon Henri Reber, Massenet's teacher, and listening to Godard's music on this disc you can hear links with Massenet (born seven years earlier than Godard) and the plot of Dante has links to that of Massenet's Werther (premiered two years after Dante), perhaps because librettist Edouard Blau worked on both operas. But there are important differences between the music of Godard's opera and that of Massenet. Godard disapproved of Wagner, both the man (Godard was of Jewish origins) and the music. Godard's music relies on that of a pre-Wagnerian era so it lacks the harmonic sophistication and richness of Massenet's music.

It is rather easy to play spot the influence in Godard's music, and it does have rather an old-fashioned cast; it is difficult to quite believe that Dante premiered just 12 years before Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. But Dante is a well-made piece and Godard's handling of the orchestra, in his own way, is very notable; one of his major works was the dramatic symphony Tasso and it is this symphonic handling which is significant in Dante.

The plot is, frankly, a bit of a farago.

Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt at the Semperoper, Dresden

Korngold: Die tote Stadt - Semperoper, Dresden (Photo David Baltzer)
Korngold: Die tote Stadt - Semperoper, Dresden (Photo David Baltzer)
Erich Korngold Die tote Stadt; Florian Daum, Grace Durham, Burkhard Fritz, Tahnee Niboro, Timothy Oliver, Michael Porter, Manuela Uhl, Tichina Vaughn, dir: David Bösch, cond: Dmitri Jurowski; Semperoper, Dresden
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Feb 2 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is a big hit in its first staging at the Semperoper, Dresden

Korngold: Die tote Stadt - Burkhard Fritz, Manuela Uhl - Semperoper, Dresden (Photo David Baltzer)
Burkhard Fritz, Manuela Uhl (Photo David Baltzer)
Written during the First World War by the teenage Korngold, already an internationally-successful composer, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) is based on the 1892 Symbolist novel, Bruges-la-Morte, by the well-known Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach and set to a libretto by Paul Schott, a collective pseudonym for the composer and his father, Julius Korngold. By the time of its première, Korngold was just 23 years old. David Bösch's production, the first time the work has been given at the Semperoper in Dresden, debuted in December 2017. On 2 February 2018, conducted by Dmitri Jurowski the performance featured Burkhard Fritz and Manuela Uhl as Paul and Marietta, with Sebastian Wartig as Frank/Fritz and Tichina Vaughn as Brigitta.

Mahler described Korngold as a ‘musical genius’ and recommended him study with the celebrated Viennese-born composer, Alexander von Zemlinsky. Richard Strauss also spoke highly of him, too. Praise, indeed!

Overcoming the loss of a loved one, the theme of Die tote Stadt, resonated with contemporary audiences of the 1920s who had just come through the trauma and grief of the First World War. This most probably fuelled the opera’s success.

It was certainly one of the biggest hits of the 1920s and now a big hit at the Semperoper. And within two years of its première Die tote Stadt travelled the world receiving a host of performances at The Met while the Berlin première took place in 1924 with the two central characters, Paul and Marie/Marietta, performed by Richard Tauber and Lotte Lehmann. The conductor was George Szell.

Although often performed in Germany this was the first time that it has been staged at the Semperoper. Sadly, it’s rarely seen in the UK. The Nazi régime didn’t help in sustaining the opera’s popularity and banned it because of Korngold’s Jewish ancestry and, therefore, following the Second World War, it fell into obscurity. Key post-war revivals were at the Vienna Volksoper (1967) and New York City Opera (1975).

Monday, 12 February 2018

Britten, Bernstein, America and The Invisible: Aldeburgh 2018

Leonard Bernstein
The centrepiece of this year's Aldeburgh Festival, which runs from 8 to 24 June 2018 is the premiere of Emily Howard's opera To See The Invisible. Based on a short story by Robert Silverberg with libretto by Selma Dimitrijevic, the opera is a study of isolation based on the story of The Invisible who is cast adrift from society. The production is directed by Dan Ayling and conducted by Richard Baker with a cast including Nicholas Morris, Anna Dennis and Anne Mason. Emily Howard's orchestral work Magnetite is featured in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' concert with conductor Mark Wigglesworth when violinist Vilda Frang will be the soloist in Britten's Violin Concerto.

A theme running through the festival is Britten, Bernstein and America with concerts by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Wilson (who is Artist Residence) and by Oliver Knussen featuring music from Britten's wartime experiences in America including the Sinfonia da Requiem alongside music by Bernstein and his contemporaries, including Copland's Appalachian Spring. And there will also be music by Morton Feldman, plus the premiere of Philip Cashian's The Book of Ingenious Devices with Huw Watkins (piano). Feldman crops up again when Ensemble Vide perform Feldman's For Philip Custon at Sunrise!. Oliver Knussen conducts the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble in a programme which mixes Feldman and Stravinsky with Debussy and Birtwistle.

There are strong links between Britten and Bernstein even though, interestingly, they very rarely met. John Wilson will also be conducting his own orchestra in excerpts from a number of Bernstein's Broadway shows from the wildly successful West Side Story to the flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenua. As part of her piano recital Tamara Stefanovich will be playing Copland's Piano Variations and Ives' Sonata No. 1. The Sixteen's concert with Harry Christophers will feature Copland's In the Beginning alongside music by Britten and his British forbears, and Ben Parry conducts Aldeburgh Voices in Bernstein's Chichester Psalms plus music by Britten, Finzi and Walton.

Lucy Schaufer soprano, Marcus Farnsworth, baritone, and pianists Christopher Glynn and Lana Bode will be performing Britten's Cabaret Songs along with Bernstein's Arias and Barcarolles, plus music by John Musto, Michele Brourman, and Randy Newman.

Look back to earlier repertoire, visitors to the festival include Fretwork, Herve Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel. Other Artists in Residence are violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and she has programmed the final days of the festival with the Ojai Music Festival where she is the 2018 Music Director, the beginning of a developing partnership with the Ojai Music Festival, and flautist Clare Chase. This year's featured composers are Michael Hersch and Simon Holt.

Full details from the Aldeburgh Festival website.

Contemporary music for viola and piano

Rosalind Ventris
Rosalind Ventris
In addition to its regular chamber music series at Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham Music Society runs a contemporary music series. The second of these this season, on Sunday 11 February 2018, featured viola player Rosalind Ventris and pianist James Willshire in Prince Michael Hall, Dean Close School, Cheltenham. We were there to heaar Ventris and Willshire premiere my Three Pieces from the Book of Common Prayer, but the whole programme was an imaginative selection of contemporary music for viola and piano, sometimes together and sometimes separate, showing the remarkable variety of chamber music being written today, with music by Robert Saxton, Arvo Pärt, Edwin Roxburgh, Rory Boyle, Huw Watkins, Howard Blake, Toru Takemitsu, Thomas Ades, Paul Patterson and myself.

We started with Robert Saxton's Invocation, Dance and Meditation which was written for Paul Silverthorne and John Constable and premiered at the 1991 Lichfield Festival, and then continued with Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel. Edwin Roxburgh's Monologue for Solo Viola was written specifically for Rosalind Ventris in 2010, a remarkable and powerful piece.  Similarly Rory Boyle's piano solo Reeling was written specifically for pianist James Willshire in 2001. The first half finished with Huw Watkins' Fantasy for viola and piano.

Rosalind Ventris opened the second half with Howard Blake's Prelude from Benedictus, this solo viola piece is taken from Blake's remarkable oratorio which traces the journey of a novice in a monastic order. Toru Takemitsu's A Bird came down the Walk is a wonderful work for viola and piano from 1994, and James Willshire followed this was Thomas Ades piano solo Darknesse visible, an explosion of John Dowland's lute song In Darkness Let Me Dwell. My own Three pieces from the Book of Common Prayer were originally created for viola and string orchestra, based on solo motets I had written in the 1990s. Finally we heard Paul Patterson's Elegiac Blues from 2005.

Powerful stuff: Verdi's La forza del destino in Cardiff

Verdi: La forza del destino - Luis Cansino, Gwyn Hughes Jones - Welsh National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Luis Cansino, Gwyn Hughes Jones - Welsh National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi La forza del destino; Mary Elizabeth Williams, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Luis Cansino, Miklos Sebestyen, Justina Gringyte, Donald Maxwell, dir: David Pountney, cond: Carlo Rizzi; Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 10 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A new productions brings focus and remarkable urgency to Verdi's large-scale drama

Verdi: La forza del destino - Mary Elizabeth Williams - Welsh National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mary Elizabeth Williams - WNO (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
With its large cast, sprawling dramaturgy and taxing solo parts, Verdi's La forza del destino is not a common visitor to the UK operatic stage. The opera was chosen as the first of three Verdi operas Welsh National Opera is co-producing with Theater Magdeburg. La forza del destino opened at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on 2 February and we caught the performance on 10 February 2018.

Directed David Pountney with set designs by Raimund Bauer, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, lighting by Fabrice Kebour and choreography by Michael Spenceley, Mary Elizabeth Williams was Donna Leonora, Gwyn Hughes Jones was Don Alvaro, Luis Cansino was Don Carlo di Vargas, Miklos Sebestyen was il Marchese di Calatrava and Padre Guardiano, Justina Gringyte was Preziosilla and Curra, Donald Maxwell was Fra Melitone, Wyn Pencarreg was the Alcalde, Alun Rhys-Jenkins was Mastro Trabuco and Julian Boyce the surgeon.

La forza del destino was written for St Petersburg in 1862. As the excellent programme book explained, the opera was due in 1861 but was postponed due to the illness of the soprano, and Verdi would revise it for the 1869 performances at La Scala, but in fact each of these dates saw the opera in a different state as Verdi and Piave struggled somewhat with the subject and the structure. [ Verdi's 1862 version is available on disc from Opera Rara].Following La traviata in 1853, Verdi's operas began to change. Having written Les vepres Siciliennes for Paris in 1855 Verdi seems to have become interested in larger scale historical subjects, the operas of this period often lack the tight focus of the middle period operas.

Verdi: La forza del destino - Justina Gringyte - Welsh National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Justina Gringyte - WNO (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
For La forza del destino Verdi saw Preziosilla and Fra Melitone as important characters, and the diverse almost Shakespearean nature of the plot was something deliberate. No version of La forza del destino is perfect, that is part of its fascination as we watch composer and librettist trying to create a new type of operatic drama.

WNO's new production was an impressive achievement, and whatever details of David Pountney's production might annoy or puzzle, there is no doubting the overall focus and remarkable urgency of the resulting drama. Parts of Act Three did sag, but that is almost inevitable, but overall Pountney and conductor Carlo Rizzi very successfully transformed this somewhat sprawling work into something powerful and urgent.

The production was abstract, a series of movable screens creating the right atmospheric spaces with visible war damage in Act Three, though the constant moment of the set by stage hands could be distracting. Costumes moved between periods, the subject was war at any period. David Pountney's main innovation was to double roles, Justina Gringyte played Preziosilla and Cura, Miklos Sebestyen played the Marchese and Padre Guardiano, and in each case virtue was made of necessity. Padre Guardiano was deliberately like the Marchese in looks, as Pountney evoked the sense of Leonora searching for a father replacement. Preziosilla and Curra were merged into a fate figure so that Justina Gringyte stalked the stage controlling events. An interesting idea, but costuming Justina Gringyte like the bad fairy Carabosse seemed unhelpful and I wondered how many people understood her role.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Caught in the Treetops - new music in Manchester

Psappha (© Psaphha)
Psappha (© Psaphha)
Psappha's forthcoming concert, Caught in the Treetops, on 15 February 2018 showcases a new generation of talented composers with music by Charlotte Bray, Anna Clyne, Robert Reid Allan, Lucy Armstrong, Michael Cryne, Will Frampton, Bethan Morgan-Williams and James Williamson. The concert takes place at St Michael's, Psappha's home in Manchester. The concert will feature Charlotte Bray's Caught in the Treetops for solo violin (Benedict Holland) and ensemble, a work which responds to two contrasting lunar poems. Also in the concert is Anna Clyne’s immersive soundscape Paintbox which combines recorded voice, breathing and other sound loops with a sonorous cello line, and a number of works selected from Psappha’s emerging composer schemes.

Based in the North-West, Psappha specialises in the performance of work by living composers and in music of the 20th and 21st centuries.The ensemble is unique in its artistic offering as the North of England’s only stand-alone, professional contemporary classical music ensemble. Further ahead, the ensemble's concerts include Boulez's Le Marteau sans maître alongside music by Takemitsu and Berio plus the premiere of a new work by Tom Harrold (22 March at St Michael's), a concert with jazz guitarist Mike Walker at Chetham's Stoller Hall (28 April), and a musical tour through the Whitworth Art Gallery (17 May) with music by Judd Greenstein, Michael Gandolfi and David Fennessy.

Full details from the Psappha website.

A Portrait: composer Dai Fujikura introduces the music at the forthcoming Wigmore Hall concert

Dai Fujikura (© Milena Mihaylova)
Dai Fujikura (© Milena Mihaylova)
The composer Dai Fujikura has a portrait concert at the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 17 February, a rare chance to hear Dai's music in London. Japanese born but based in the UK for the last 25 years, Dai has a busy career and is one of those composers who are able to devote their career almost entirely to composing. The concert at the Wigmore Hall has a fine line up of performers, many long-time collaborators, and the music ranges from recent pieces right back to music written when Dai was an undergraduate.

Dai Fujikura (© Seiji Okumiya)
Dai Fujikura (© Seiji Okumiya)
I recently met up with Dai to find out more; he is lively and articulate company, with fascinating things to say about both the process of composition and the effect of being a Japanese-born composer in a Western European country.

When we meet, Dai gives me a copy of a new CD out Chance Monsoon, which has some repertoire in common with the forthcoming concert. Dai produces recordings on his own label, Minabel. Chance Monsoon is all in Japanese (the information is available in English from his website), he explains that it is being issued as a CD in Japan (licensed through Sony) but is available as a digital download elsewhere (see Dai's website). This is because CDs are still hugely popular in Japan (and account for 85% of total music sales) and the country still has over 50 Tower Records stores (remember those!).

When producing and recording Dai is concerned not just with the way the music is played but the way it sounds on the disc. Since he was in his 20s he has edited and mastered his own recordings. Essentially he hears the music in his head and wants it to sound just like that on disc. He dislikes the typical sound of classical music recordings, where you have to turn the volume up to hear the strings playing pianissimo and then are in danger of being deafened by the timpani.

His concert at the Wigmore Hall, Dai Fujikura Portrait in the Avex Recital series, came about because Avex, a big Japanese entertainment and record group, asked him. Dai comments that because he has now turned 40 he seems to be getting  lot of portrait concerts around the world, including one at the Lincoln Center in New York two years ago. The Wigmore Hall concert forms a welcome chance to hear Dai's music in the UK, where performances have been relatively rare nowadays. He is aware of the irony of this as he has lived in the UK for 25 years, since he came here at the age of 15 to study for his GCSEs, and he feels more than half British.

People with whom he has a relationship so that all have long familiarity with his music

Friday, 9 February 2018

Mortal Voices: Handel cantatas & more from Academy of Ancient Music

Palazzo Bonelli in Rome (now the Palazzo Valentini)
Palazzo Bonelli in Rome (now the Palazzo Valentini)
where Il Duello Amoroso was premiered
Handel wrote a profusion of cantatas during his stay in Italy during the period 1707 to 1710, they were an ideal medium for performance in the semi-private salons of Handel's Italian patrons and the young Handel used them to experiment and learn. Music from this fertile period re-occurs in later works. We do not hear enough of the cantatas, and they are certainly not the major draw that they should be. The Academy of Ancient Music is performing a pair of them in the concert Mortal Voices at Milton Court on 15 February 2018, with soprano Keri Fuge and counter-tenor Tim Mead, directed by Christian Curnyn.

Both Handel's cantatas Ah! che troppo ineguali, HWV230 and Il Duello Amoroso HWV82 were written in the period 1707/1708. Il Duello Amoroso was probably performed at a conversazione in the Palazzo Bonelli, Rome in October 1708. Amarilli's part was sung by soprano Margherita Durastanti, whose association with Handel would last for a very long time (her final roles for him were in England in 1733/34) and Daliso was sung by alto castrato Pasqualino. About Ah! che troppo ineguali we know slightly less, just that it is a sacred cantata (so performed in Church rather than in the salon) from the 1707/08 period.

The Academy of Ancient Music will be pairing these cantatas we two other Italian works, Corelli's Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 1 in D major (published in 1714, a few years after Handel left Italy) and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, written in 1736.

Following the London performance the programme then tours to West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (16/2), The Apex, Bury St Edmunds (20/2), the Assembly Rooms, Bath (23/2),  and Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton (1/3). Full details from the Academy of Ancient Music website.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Semperoper, Dresden

Wagner: The Ring - Semperoper, Dresden - Andreas Schager (Siegfried), Petra Lang (Brünnhilde) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)
Wagner: The Ring - Semperoper, Dresden - Andreas Schager (Siegfried), Petra Lang (Brünnhilde) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen; Albert Dohmen, Vitalij Kowaljow, Petra Lang, Christa Mayer, Andreas Schager, Gerhard Siegel, Kurt Streit, Georg Zeppenfeld, dir: Willy Decker, cond: Christian Thielemann; Semperoper, Dresden
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Jan 2018
Willy Decker’s Ring cycle is truly loved by the opera cognoscenti of Dresden

Born in the 1950s, German theatre director, Willy Decker - who, by the way, staged the world premières of Hans Werner Henze’s Pollicino (Montepulciano, 1980), Antonio Bibalo’s Macbeth (Oslo, 1990) and Aribert Reimann’s Das Schloss (Berlin, 1992) - delivered a stunning, innovative and telling (but spartan) production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Produced in partnership with Teatro Real, Madrid, the production - returning to the stage of Dresden’s Semperoper in January 2018, a jewel of a house - featured such acclaimed Wagnerian singers as Albert Dohmen, Petra Lang, Christa Mayer, Andreas SchagerVitalij KowaljowGerhard Siegel, Kurt Streit and Georg Zeppenfeld.

And the man in the pit - and a great statesman for Wagner - Christian Thielemann, took charge of the Staatskapelle Dresden of which he’s the musical director with firmness, passion and gusto. His trade-mark, I guess! A busy man, too, he’s also music director of the Bayreuth Festival and of the Salzburg Easter Festival.

Wagner: The Ring - Semperoper, Dresden - Stephen Milling (Hagen), Albert Dohmen (Alberich) (Photo © Klaus Gigga)
Stephen Milling (Hagen), Albert Dohmen (Alberich)
(Photo © Klaus Gigga)
The Ring, modelled after ancient Greek dramas, was originally presented as three tragedies and one satyr play. Therefore, the Ring proper begins with Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and ends with Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods) while Wagner called Das Rheingold a ‘Vorabend’ or ‘Preliminary Evening’ and Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung were subtitled First Day, Second Day and Third Day respectively. The works are loosely based on characters from Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs), a German epic poem written in the early 13th century by an unknown Austrian from the Danube region.

Dresden, however, harbours a special place in the history of the Ring inasmuch as Wagner first thought about writing about the legend of the Nibelungen while working in the city as Kapellmeister to the Saxon court. In fact, it was at Dresden that the first reading of the draft libretto took place.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to see a Ring production in this city. The production - which is truly loved by the opera cognoscenti of Dresden - worked for me hands down. It was first seen at the Semperoper over fifteen years ago with Das Rheingold and Die Walküre receiving their premières in 2001 while Siegfried and Götterdämmerung followed a couple of years later.

When the curtain went up on Das Rheingold the audience was met by row upon row of theatre-style seating covering the whole area of the Semper’s stage in a wave-like pattern clearly representing the running waters of the Rhine. Here Wotan and his fellow gods were seen scurrying into their seats to witness the unfolding drama of the Rhinemaidens.

Shaven headed and attired in long white-coloured robes they told the legendary tale of the Rhine’s secret treasure portrayed in this production as an enormous golden ball while tantalising and teasing poor old Alberich, chief of the Nibelung, to bursting-point with their seductive and alluring charms. The famed trio - Christiane Kohl (Woglinde), Sabrina Kögel (Wellgunde) and Simone Schröder (Flosshilde) - sung and acted their roles as near perfect as one could get capturing the empathy of their respective characters so well.

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