Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Classical Opera's 2014/15 London season

Mozart figures highly in Ian Page and Classical Opera's forthcoming season in London. There is his Requiem with soloists Sophie Bevan, Sarah Connolly, John Mark Ainsley and Darren Jeffrey at the Barbican (8/10), soprano Miah Persson singing Mozart and Haydn at the Wigmore Hall (26/11) and a survey of music from the year 1765, including works by Mozart (his first symphony), Gluck and JC Bach (22/1/2015). This latter concert is part of the celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's childhood visit to London. There is an entire weekend of celebrations including five concerts looking both Mozart's music and the music of the era (20-22/2/2015 at Milton Court).

Moving away from Mozart there is an opera by a composer Mozart much admired and was influenced by. J.C Bach's Adriano in Siria is being staged at the Britten Theatre, directed by Thomas Guthrie with a cast including Kitty Whately, Rhys Jarman and Katharine Williams. The opera was premiered in 1765 at the King's Theatre in London, and sets a libretto by Metastasio. In fact the nine year old Mozart would have heard a performance whilst he was in London. The first performance in modern times was given in 1982, conducted by Charles Mackerras at the Camden Festival. but Classical Opera's performances will represent the works first staging in modern times. (14,16,18/4/2014 at the Britten Theatre)

And then on 6 May 2015 at the Wigmore Hall,  tenor Allan Clayton joins Ian Page and the orchestra to celebrate the 300th anniversary of John Beard, the tenor for whom Handel wrote so many great roles. Clayton will be singing arias from Alcina, Berenice, Semele and Jephtha plus music by Boyce, J.C.Smith and Arne.

Further information from the Classical Opera website.

The Rite as you've never heard it before

Stravinsky - Rite of Spring - Les Siecle, Francois-Xavier Roth
Stravinsky Rite of Spring and Firebird; Les Siecles, Francois-Xavier Roth; Musicales Actes Sud
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Period instrument re-creation of the original versions of two iconic ballet scores

I heard Francois-Xavier Roth and Les Siecles perform Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring at the 2013 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (see my review), and the performance was something of a revelation. Now the group has issued a live recording of the work alongside  a live recording of a re-creation of the original 1911 version of Petrushka on the Musicales Actes Sud label.

The sound world that Roth and Les Siecles have re-created is not that far from modern performance, but the differences are just sufficient to make listening to their performance a remarkable event. As might be expected, the strings are far less dominant and there is a great deal more clarity and magic in the performance. Many of Stravinsky's quieter textures are come over quite superbly. In the louder sections, you hear more detail as the woodwind are no longer swamped by string vibrato. And the wind instruments themselves have a great deal more character.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

'Don't you know who I am'

'Don't you know who I am'

I have always got annoyed with people (reviewers, celebrities etc) who use the phrase or something like it, pulling rank at events. I haven't seen it happen very often, I have to admit. But the other day, to my horror, I found myself slipping into that mode when attending an opera performance at a fringe theatre (on press tickets), for a review on this blog.

You start to realise, as a reviewer, that if you have a bad experience it can colour the review or even take over the review altogether. On a blog, you could argue that any experience would be grist to the mill. And in fact some years ago I was commissioned to attend Covent Garden to review for another website, and was seated quite badly. My review was about the performance, but I wrote a very popular blog posting about the event, my grumpiness; I tried not to let the one colour the other, but I can't be sure.

My Beloved's Voice: Sacred Songs of Love

My Beloved's Voice - Signum Classics
My Beloved's Voice: Sacred Songs of Love; Choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge, Mark Williams; SIGNUM CLASSICS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 10 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Wide ranging survey of settings of the Song of Songs in fine performances

This new disc from the choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge, director Mark Williams, on the Signum Classics label, pulls together an eclectic selection of settings of the Song of Songs (with some excursions). The programme mixes early pieces by Antoine Brumel, Matrin di Rivafrecha and Clemens non Papa with 20th century works by Pablo Casals, Healey Willan, Edward Bairstow, William Walton, Gerald Finzi, Edvard Grieg, Patrick Hadley, Maurice Durufle and contemporary pieces by Howard Skempton, Nico Muhly and Robert Walker. Plus a short excursion into the 19th century for SS Wesley.

As on their previous disc, both choirs are represented on the disc. The chapel choir, which is men and boys, and the college choir, which is men and women, with male altos, tenors and basses being common to both choirs. The majority of works on the disc are performed by the college choir, with the chapel choir singing three items, the treble choristers sing one item on their own, and the combined choirs sing three items. There is also an organ solo from Robert Dixon.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Autumn at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Guildhall School of Music and Drama: Milton Court Concert Hall
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Milton Court Concert Hall
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Autumn programme is full of rather interesting things. Their opera is Dvorak's The Cunning Peasant, an early work which will be directed by Stephen Medcalf (3,7,5,10/11). Iain Burnside's new music theatre piece, Why does the Queen Die? is a co-commission with the Oxford Lieder Festival's 2014 Schubert Project, and it explores the connections between Schubert and his Viennese circle of friends (15, 16, 17/10 at the Oxford Lieder Festival). The season opens with performance of Verdi's Requiem at the Barbican Hall conducted by Mark Shanahan, with Elisabeth Meister, Victoria Simmonds, Adrian Thompson and Derek Welton (26/9).

Drama includes Debbie Horsfield's True Dare Kiss, David Hare's South Downs, Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version and Rebecca Lenkiewicz's Her Naked Skin. Further information from the Guildhall School's website.

Prom 37: Steve Reich

Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Steve Reich; Endymion, BBC Singers, David Hill; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Aug 13 2014
Star rating: 5.0

An hour or so of mesmeric phase shift minimalism - Late-night Steve Reich prom

Late night at the BBC Proms on Wednesday (13 Aug) was turned over to the experimentation of Steve Reich (1936-) and an hour or so of mesmeric phase shift minimalism. On the menu were 'It's gonna rain' and 'The Desert Music' performed by the BBC Singers and Endymion, and conducted by David Hill.

First on the bill was a recording of Reich's first work - 'It's gonna rain' which was written as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Composed in 1965 'It's gonna rain' uses a speech of the evangelist Brother Walter recorded the year previously in Union Square, San Francisco. Apparently Reich discovered phase shift by accident because the two recorders he used in the studio to listen to it did not playback at exactly the same speed. But it was his genius that took this accident and ran with it.

Once you had got over the idea of there being an empty stage, and listening to a recording in such a magnificent concert venue as the Albert Hall, the cleverness and precision of Reich's technique, and his vision in producing the work, carry the listener away.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Howard Blake piano concerto

Howard Blake - Piano COncerto
Howard Blake's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1991 to celebrate the 30th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales. It was given its premiere by the orchestra, conducted by David Willcocks, with the composer playing the piano part. The work had been recorded by Sony prior to this performance and this recording was reissued by Sony in 2008.

It is a substantial work lasting over 26 minutes and cast, as you might expect from Blake, in traditional form. Blake's career as a composer has been spent mediating between the traditional and more contemporary elements in the 20th century classical style.

The opening movement starts with an evocative and wistful Lento, a movement to which you might give the adjective filmic. Blake's concert music is fascinating for the way he does not turn his back on his film music but absorbs it and develops it. The music then gathers momentum, and the solo piano part become more strenuous as the Allegro bursts onto the scene.  The writing is tonal, but complex and requires something from the listener. The piano writing is quite strenuous, but the soloist is rather part of the texture in the baroque or classical manner, rather then in combat with the orchestra in the Romantic tradition.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Presteigne Festival

Presteigne Festival
The Presteigne Festival combines musical adventure with a delights of a little town, Presteigne (Llandras in Welsh), in the Welsh Marches in Powys in historic Radnorshire. They have a lively and adventurous commissioning policy, so that it is a lovely place to hear contemporary music. This year's festival runs from 21-26 August, and has Stephen McNeff as the composer-in-residence, a seventy-fifth birthday tribute to John McCabe and something of a Polish theme to the rest of the festival.

A festival commission, Stephen McNeff's oboe concerto receives its premiere and McNeff's opera Prometheus Drowned is being performed in a double bill with Cecilia McDowall's new work Airborne which is a festival co-commission.

Pawel Lukaszewski
Pawel Lukaszewski
The Polish theme includes a celebration of Andrzej  Panufnik's centenary along with music by other major 20th century Polish composer Gorecki, Lutoslawski, Penderecki and the less well known Grazyna Bacewicz. There is also the commission of a new Requiem from Pawel Lukaszewski, for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra, performed by the Joyful Company of Singers and the Festival Orchestra conducted by George Vass, the festival's artistic director.

Festival commissions include Lynne Plowman's unaccompanied choral work The Mariner's Compass, Toby Young's song cycle setting Dylan Thomas, Lie Still, Hilary Tann's string quartet And the Snow did Lie and a work for clarinet and piano by Daniel Kidane. Further information from the festival website.

Prom 36: Vaughan Williams and Alwyn

Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra - © BBC/Sim Canetty-Clarke
Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra
© BBC/Sim Canetty-Clarke
Vaughan Williams and William Alwyn; Janine Jansen, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2014
Star rating: 4.5

RVW's symphonic ballet paired with a rare outing for William Alwyn's first symphony

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's chief conductor, Sakari Oramo has a track record of interest in English 20th century music so it came as no surprise that in this Proms season with the orchestra he would conduct an all English programme. The pairing of works, RVW's symphonic ballet/masque Job and William Alwyn's Symphony No. 1 in Prom 36 (14 August 2014) was by no means obvious and gave us a chance to look at the English symphonic tradition from a different angle. The concert was completed by RVW's overture to The Wasps and The Lark Ascending, when Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were joined by soloist Janine Jansen.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Menotti's The Medium

Julia Stikovetsky and Grainne Gillis in Menotti's The Medium: Operaview at Arcola Theatre / Grimeborn Festival - photo Yannis Katsaris
Julia Stikovetsky and Grainne Gillis
photo Yannis Katsaris
Gian Carlo Menotti The Medium; Operaview, director Natalie Katsou, Musical Director Maite Aguirre; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 14 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Rare outing for Menotti's opera in a small scale production

The Grimeborn Festival is now underway at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, showcasing a wide variety of smaller scale operatic productions. For our first visit to the festival this year we saw Operaview (14 August 2014) in Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, presented in the smaller studio theatre in a production directed by Natalie Katsou, designed by Maria Kalamara and Salome Makaronidou with lighting by Yiannis Katsaris. Maite Aguirre accompanied at the piano. The cast included Grainne Gillis as Madame Flora, Julia Sitkovetsky as Monica, Phoebe-Celeste Humphreys as Mrs Gobineau, Lucy Anderson as Mrs Nolan, Jonathan Alley as Mr Gobineau, with Patrick Holt as Toby and Kahless Giles as Spirit/Bird.

Menotti's short opera (it last around an hour) was premiered in the 1940's; it was his fourth opera and sets his own libretto. The musical style is relatively conservative, but within this the subject matter does allow Menotti to push the boundaries sometimes. The story concerns a fake medium, Madam Flora (Grainne Gillis) who goes to pieces when she experiences something which might actually have been supernatural. Her clients, Mr and Mrs Nolan (Jonathan Alley and Lucy Anderson) and Mrs Gobineau (Phoebe-Celeste Humphreys) remain convinced that though what Madam Flora was doing was fake, what they experienced was real and this reflected some of Menotti's own experiences (described in the programme).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music

Harrison Birtwistle CHamber Music
Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music; Lisa Batiashvili, Adrian Brendel, Till Fellner, Amy Freston, Roderick Williams; ECM New Series
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Aug 08 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Selection of Harrison Birtistle's recent chamber works

The unimaginatively entitled 'Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music' on ECM New Series, with its somewhat dull, blue black cover, does not do this CD justice. Released as part of the celebrations of Birtwistle's (1934-) 80th year it features the trio of Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, English cellist Adrian Brendel and Austrian pianist Till Fellner. The trio is joined by London-born soprano, Amy Freston and baritone Roderick Williams.

All four works on the album have been written in the last 16 years and consequently are in a newer style rather than being representative of the composer's life.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds, volume 1

Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds volume 1 - Devine Music
Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds; EnsembleF2; Devine Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 05 2014
Star rating: 3.5

First volume in a planned survey of Danzi's music for piano and wind

Franz Danzi (1763 - 1826) is one of those names known, if at all, for some vague musical association; in Danzi's case it is his chamber music and wind music which has kept his name just about in the catalogue. This new disc from EnsembleF2, James Eastaway oboe, Jane Booth clarinet, Anneke Scott horn, Ursula Levaux bassoon and Steven Devine forte piano, is the first of a planned series on Devine Music exploring Danzi's chamber works played on period instruments.

Danzi was born into something of a musical dynasty, his father was a cellist with the famous Mannheim Court Orchestra in the 18th century and Danzi would go on to join his father in the ensemble. The movement of the Electoral court from Mannheim to Munich was problematic for the musicians, some like Franz stayed in Mannheim, others like his father moved to Munich but experienced personal and financial problems in the under financed new ensemble. Ultimately Franz Danzi made his career in Munich, before moving to Wurttemberg court in Stuttgart (where he met Carl Maria von Weber) and finally to the Baden court at Karlsruhe.

During his lifetime Danzi was known as a composer as operas, but his extensive output of chamber music has meant that in modern times it is this genre for which he is known. He is particularly known for his wind music, partly because the technology of wind instruments was changing and Danzi took full advantage of the technical advancements.

The new Peugeot Pleyel piano

Peugeot Pleyel piano
You may have thought that Pleyel, the French piano company, had stopped making pianos. But a new one is in the offing. The Peugeot and Pleyel piano has been designed by the Peugeot Design Lab and aims to re-invent the piano in order to improve musical quality. The hammers of the playing mechanism have been lowered so that they line up with the keyboard. Tnis means that you can see the pianist's hands from any direction. 

The young Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell has become the face of the piano. If you are curious, the she has recorded videos and you can see one after the jump. They sound great and the piano looks very stylish, but there are currently only two and I imagine they are expensive!

Benelli Mosell was invited to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen following her recording of his Klavierstucke I-IV. She will also be in concert with Matthew Barley at London’s King’s Place on September 13 in Classical Works; Folk Roots.

Tête a Tête opera festival part 3: Exploring Life and life in the Antarctic

Narrator: Gary Merry, in On the axis of the World by Matt Rogers at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival - photo credit: Claire Shovelton
Narrator: Gary Merry, in On the axis of the world by Matt Rogers
photo credit: Claire Shovelton
As the Tête a Tête opera festival is drawing to a close I managed to get to another two performances. This year the event is hosted by Kings Place and Central St Martin's and continues the tradition of exploration of creativity in opera. Thursday's (7 August 2014) performances were explorations in themselves with Life from Light by Toni Castells, and On the axis of the World by Matt Rogers.

'Life from Light' by Toni Castells (who was interviewed for this blog in 2012) was an epic collaboration involving musicians, vocalists, visual artists, and the award-winning electronic producer Adam John Williams to produce a very slick and professional film with live music exploring the physical and sociological origins of life, with a nod in the direction of war, and environmental issues.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco

Concerto Italiano - Monteverdi Vespers for St Mark
Monteverdi - Vespers for the Feast of Saint Mark; Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano; Naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 29 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative reconstruction using music from Monteverdi's Selva Morale

This new disc on Naive from Concerto Italiano and Rinaldo Alessandrini creates a possible Vespers service for the Feast of Saint Mark at the Basilica of St Mark in Venice, using material published by Claudio Monteverdi during his time there. The Psalms, Hymn and Magnificat come from the Selva Morale. The repeats of the antiphons are replaced by motets by Monteverdi and instrumental sonatas, whilst the antiphons themselves are taken from the liturgy in use in St Mark's at the time.

Monteverdi's Selva morale e spirituale was a large collection of liturgical works published in 1640, anthologising the music which Monteverdi had written for St. Mark's since 1613 and reflecting the high standard of music at the Basilica under Monteverdi. The style of the pieces is mainly the modern style (small groups of solo voices accompanied by instruments), reflecting Monteverdi's brief when he joined to modernise and reform the choir and expand the instrumental ensemble.

On this disc Alessandrini assembles the psalm settings from the Selva Morale to create Vespers for St Mark's patronal feast, always an important occasion. The best known amongst these is the well known Beatus Vir, but the other psalm settings Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi domine, Laudate pueri, Laudate dominum are just as engaging, and they perform the Magnificat Primo a 8 with their own completion of the missing alto and bass parts in the second choir.

Singers needed for masterclass with Rosalind Plowright

Rosalind Plowright
On 15 October 2014, Rosalind Plowright will be giving a masterclass at Cadogan Hall, Chelsea. The masterclass will be part of the Divas and Scholars Study Day. In the morning I will be lecturing on Puccini, his contemporaries and Verismo, then after lunch Rosalind Plowright will perform, talk about her Verismo roles and give a master class for emerging opera singers. The singers will be accompanied by Philip Mountford.

Divas and Scholars is looking for emerging singers to take part in the masterclass. If anyone is interested in participating, then do contact Lucy Woodruff at Divas and Scholars (

Maastricht Undertones: drawing the line between visual art and music

'Everything about you' (2013) by Lyndsey Housden (England, 1980) at Marres House, Maastricht
'Everything about you' (2013) by Lyndsey Housden
Part of the London Concord Singer's foray into Maastricht (covered here) included a visit to Marres House for Contemporary Culture to see part of 'Undertones' an exhibition examining what music we hear in the world around us.

Each of the works I saw was well thought out and executed, and ultimately thought provoking. One highlight was 'Everything about you' (2013) by Lyndsey Housden (England, 1980) - a silent musical instrument with strings spanning the room and opened-out sounding boxes. Touching was encouraged – so you could 'play' it although it made no sound.

Espen Sommer Eide '396Hz at 2000 frames/s – 88BPM at 1000 frames/s' (2013) at Marres House, Maastricht
Espen Sommer Eide
'396Hz at 2000 frames/s – 88BPM at 1000 frames/s' (2013)
Similarly Espen Sommer Eide's (Norway, 1972) set of videos '396Hz at 2000 frames/s – 88BPM at 1000 frames/s' (2013) featured a vibrating tuning fork and a metronome, each silently beating away in slow motion. Aesthetically beautiful, although with their function removed, these images invited the audience to decide for themselves what is important about music and how much a part visualisation plays in our understanding of sound.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was 'Lights flickering-as a documentation of pause featuring Mei-yi Lee' (2014) by Nishiko (Japan, 1981). Here the visual aspect – the flickering lights - had been removed from the equation, and all that was left in the stark white room was the sounds that the lights had been making.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Hot off the press - Miserere mihi

Robert Hugill - Miserere Mihi, Domine
My recently completed motet, Miserere mihi, sets text from Psalm 85 (Have mercy on me, O Lord) which is the Introit for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time which occurs between 28 August - 3 September. 

 The motet is set for six part unaccompanied choir (SSATTB) and is part of my sequence Tempus per Annum setting the Latin introits for Sundays and major feasts. 

Miserere mihi, Domine, quoniam ad te clamavi tota die: quia tu, Domine, suavis ac mitis es, et copiosus in misericordia omnibus invocantibus te.
Inclina Domine, aurem tuam mihi, et exaudi me: quoniam inops., et pauper sum ego.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I have cried to Thee all the day; for Thou, O Lord, art sweet and  mild, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee.
Bow down Thin ear to me, O Lord, and hear me: for I am needy and poor.

The full motet can be downloaded from my website (PDF version)

Contrasting pair - two amusing operas at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival

Alistair Shelton-Smith, Christopher Diffey and Mark Beesley in Edward Lambert's The Catfish Conundrum at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival - photo Claire Shovelton
Alistair Shelton-Smith, Christopher Diffey and Mark Beesley
in Edward Lambert's The Catfish Conundrum
photo Claire Shovelton
Our visit to Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival at King's Place on Sunday 11 August 2014 started as soon as we entered the atrium; our tea and cake was accompanied by the fascinatingly disembodied sounds of one of the pop up operas being performed in the concert hall foyer two floors below. One of the wonderful things about a visit to Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival is that it is an immersive experience, new opera surrounds you from start to finish. 

Leo Geyer's Sideshows at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival - photo Alice Potter
cast of Leo Geyer's Sideshows
photo Alice Potter
Both concert halls at King's Place were playing throughout the afternoon, different operas performed by different groups, so that choices had to be made. We heard Leo Geyer's Sideshows performed by the Constella Ballet and Orchestra conducted by composer Leo Geyer, and Edward Lambert's Catfish Conundrum, performed by the Music Troupe conducted by composer Edward Lambert. In between there was Catlin Rowley's Breadcrumbs, performed in the foyer.

We saw Leo Geyer's opera The Mermaid of Zennor at the 2012 festival (see my review) so I was curious to see this new work; Geyer has just finished the Joint Course at Manchester University and Royal Northern College of Music. Sideshows started out life as a pair of songs, and has been expanded into a theatrical song cycle. It is written for instrumental ensemble with one singer and two dancers. The text is by Martin Kratz, and the show was directed by Joel Fisher, with choreography by Alfred Taylor-Gaunt and costumes by Sebastian Freeburn. As we entered the auditorium for Sideshows we were treated to mood-setting music played off-stage by the instrumental ensemble.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Handel's Rinaldo at Glyndebourne

Karina Gauvin in Rinaldo; Glyndebourne Festival 2014; photo Robbie Jack
Karina Gauvin as Armida
photo Robbie Jack
Handel Rinaldo; Karina Gauvin, Iestyn Davies, Christina Landshamer, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenmment, cond. Ottavio Dantone, direct. Robert Carsen; Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 9 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Revival of Carsen's schoolboy fantasy Rinaldo with a superb cast

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging. For their first revival of the production (seen 9 August 2014), Glyndebourne brought back conductor Olivier Dantone, and assembled a cast which showcased the modern counter-tenor revival by including a total of four in the cast. 

Tim Mead in Rinaldo; Glyndebourne Festival 2014; photo Robbie Jack
Tim Mead as Goffredo
photo Robbie Jack
Unusually for a modern performance of a Handel opera, all the male characters were played by men. Iestyn Davies was Rinaldo, with Tim Mead as Goffredo, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Eustazio and James Laing as the Christian Magus. Christina Landshamer was Almirena, Karina Gauvan was Armida and Joshua Hopkins was Argante. The designer was Gideon Davey, lighting was by Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet, movement director was Philippe Giraudeau and the revival director was Bruno Ravella. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was in the pit.

The basic premises of the staging were set out during the wonderfully crisp and involving account of the overture. A young schoolboy, Rinaldo (Iestyn Davies) was being bullied by his fellows and tormented by a pair of teachers. Suddenly a group of knights appear (dressed in a combination of school uniforms and breast-plates). For the rest of the opera, the setting is the school; Armida's domain is the dormitory, the Christian Magus is the chemistry master. But the action is pure schoolboy fantasy. The Knights are led by the sympathetic teacher, Goffredo (Tim Mead), whilst the two bad teachers, Armida (Karina Gauvin) and Argante (Joshua Hopkins) have a cohort of furies who seemed to be girls from St. Trinian's on LSD. Rinaldo's love interest was a fellow school girl, Almirena (Christina Landshamer).

Iestyn Davies in Rinaldo; Glyndebourne Festival 2014; photo Robbie Jack
Iestyn Davies as Rinaldo
photo Robbie Jack
Any production of Rinaldo needs to be entertaining and spectacular, the plot is full of holes and the way that Handel brought in arias from previous works means that we have some superb music often in unsuitable places. Carsen and Davey brought in spectacle, albeit in unusual ways. The blackboards in the school sported magic writing, and repeatedly seem to form portals to the magic world. Armida made her first entrance through one, and as did the the vision of the sirens.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Classical innovation in the Lake District

Gabriella Swallow, appearing on 10 August in the Four Elements:Fire
Gabriella Swallow
appears 10 August
Creating a classical music concert series in a way which is new, innovative and will attract newcomers to the genre is a talisman for many groups. On Sunday 10 August, a new venture launches at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. There are four concerts themed around the four elements, and rather ambitiously the concerts aim to combine music, dance, poetry and animation. They are promoted by SplashClassics, a Cumbrian organisation founded by Artistic Director Andrew Lucas, who spent 16 years in charge of Lake District Summer Music. The concerts involve a wide variety of artists including Martin Roscoe, Peter Donohoe and Red Priest, and quite a degree of imagination has gone into trying to put together intriguing combinations of music and the other arts.

The first event, Fire, on 10 August combines music from Stravinsky's Firebird improvised by a tango ensemble (!), with Argentinian tango duo Gernan Cuestas and Natasha Leinger, with the sand animator Lindsey McConnochie, known as the Sand Artist. Water, on Sunday 17 August combines the brothers Tom and Jonathan Scott's piano duo in Ravel's Mother Goose Suite with Tom Scott's animations, and danced solos to Schubert's Trout Quintet. Air, on 24 August features Red Priest in Vivaldi's Four Seasons, plus new poetry from Carola Luther the poet-in-residence at The Wordsworth Trust in 2012 and choreography by Kelly McLelland. The final event, Earth, features Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, they are joined by singers Wendy Dawn Thompson and Christopher Diffey for Mahler's Song of the Earth, all danced by Undiscovered Dance Company.

Further details from the SplashClassics website.

Bel Canto drama in Bellini's Norma

Yvonne Howard and Joseph Wolverton, Bellini's Norma at Opera Holland Park; photo credit Fritz Curzon
Yvonne Howard and Joseph Wolverton 
photo credit Fritz Curzon
Bellini Norma; Yvonne Howard, Joseph Wolverton, Heather Shipp, conductor Dane Lam; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 8 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Thrillingly dramatic musical performances in this rare revival of Bellini's great bel canto opera

The challenges of the title role mean that staged performances of Bellini's Norma can be something of a rarity; the last fully staged performance at Covent Garden was in 1987, and ENO has never staged the work. Opera Holland Park first staged Norma in 2004, and they returned to the opera this year in a new production directed by Olivia Fuchs and designed by Niki Turner with lighting by Colin Grenfell. Yvonne Howard sang the title role, with Heather Shipp as Adalgisa, Joseph Wolverton as Pollione, Keel Watson as Oroveso, Rosalind Coad as Clotilde and Jung Soo Yun as Flavio. Peter Robinson conducted the opening run of performances, with Dane Lam conducting the final two with the City of London Sinfonia in the pit.. We caught the final performance of the production on August 8.

Fuchs and Turner set the piece in the present. The setting for both acts was a barbed wire fence enclosure in front of the facade of Holland Park House. This was clearly sort of the internment camp, and the Druids were a hippy-ish cult, with hints of such peoples as the Roma, who were being held under military rule by the Romans in modern army fatigues. During the overture we saw the Roman soldiers being violent to, and raping, the women and throughout the opera the sense of impending violence was palpable. The surtitles were adjusted slightly so that Romans became the enemy, and all mention of God was converted to Gaia, clearly these were an earth-mother cult. Their sacred tree was now just a blasted stump in the middle of the camp.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Italian treat in store for Blackpool and beyond

Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
English Touring Opera will be returning to the Grand Theatre, Blackpool for the first time since 2005 as part of their Spring 2015 tour. The tour, which takes in Hackney, Truro, Poole, Norwich, Sheffield, Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Exeter, Canterbury, Buxton, Durham and Perth, features three Italian operas. A new production of Puccini's La Boheme, directed by James Conway, conducted by Michael Rosewell, will be joined by a new production of Donizetti's rarely performed The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo) directed by Iqbal Khan and conducted by Jeremy Silver. The trio will be completed with a revival of the company's stunning production of Donizetti's The Siege of Calais, conducted by Jeremy Silver and directed by James Conway.

The Wild Man of the West Indies, loosely based on Cervantes Don Quixote, features a cast including Craig Smith in the title role, with Sally Silver and Nicholas Sharratt. La Boheme will include Ilona Domnich and Paula Sides sharing the role of Mimi, with David Butt Philip as Rodolfo, Grant Doyle as Marcello and Sky Ingram as Musetta. La bohème and The Wild Man of the West Indies are both designed by Linbury Prize-winning designer Florence de Maré.

The tour also includes Shackleton’s Cat based on the true story of the tabby cat that accompanied Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-17 Antartic expedition, for children aged 7-11, and Waxwings, ETO’s new opera for children with severe learning difficulties.

Further information from the English Touring Opera website.

What Price Love? Opera North's Autumn season

Opera North autumn season
Opera North's Autumn season contains three fairly mainstream operas, La Traviata, The Coronation of Poppea and The Bartered Bride. But taken together they make an interesting combination of ideas about women and relationships. And with some interesting young singers and directorial choices, there is plenty for both the newcomer and the seasoned opera goer to enjoy.

The young South African director Alessandro Talevi (who directed two of WNO's Tudor Trilogy last year), returns to Opera North for La Traviata with Gianluca Marciano conducting (Marciano conducted this year's La Traviata at Grange Park Opera - see our review), Hye-Youn Lee sings the title role (she sang Blanche in Grange Park Opera's Carmelites last year - see our review) with Ji-Min Park and Roland Wood.

The company's first ever production of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea, which is being sung in an English translation, will be directed by Tim Albery (who has directed Otello and Giulio Cesare for Opera North), and the conductor will be Lawrence Cummings, the artistic director of the London Handel Festival. The role of Nerone will be sung by counter-tenor James Laing (nice to hear it done this way for a change) with Poppea sung by Sandra Piques Eddy, the cast also includes Katherine Manley, Catherine Hopper and James Creswell. One note, the role of Arnalta which is normally sung by a man, is sung by Fiona Kimm. Productions of the opera always involve cuts (the full version is very long), so it will be interesting to see what Albery and Cumings come up with.

The trilogy of operas is completed with a revival of Daniel Slater's 1998 production of Smetana's Bartered Bride, with Slater returning to direct. The production sets the piece in Czechoslovakia in 1972. Kate Valentine will sing Marenka, with Brendan Gunnell as Jenik, Nicholas Watts as Vasek and James Crewell as Kecal. Anthony Kraus conducts. One of the matinees in Leeds will be a schools only performance, the first time Opera North has devoted a whole performance to school groups.

The operas open in Leeds in September and October and then tour to Newcastle, Salford Quays and Nottingham. Further information from the Opera North website.

Prom 28: Beethoven, Brett Dean, Stravinsky

Sakari Oramo
Sakari Oramo
Stravinsky Oedipus Rex, Beethoven, Brett Dean; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo; BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 7 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Prom 28: Oramo's first Proms outing - Stravinsky's monumental opera-oratorio in an eclectic programme

In typical Proms fashion, Thursday 7 August 2014's Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo, making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus and Francesco D'Orazio was the soloist in the Brett Dean. Soloists in the Stravinsky included Allan Clayton, Hilary Summers, Juha Uusitalo, Brindley Sherratt, Duncan Rock, Samuel Boden and Rory Kinnear.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A thing apart

My opinion piece on classical music and its wider relationship to the arts, Classical music is in danger of functioning as a thing apart, is on the Classical Music magazine website.

In Praise of Saint Columba - The sound world of the Celtic Church

In praise of Saint Columba
In Praise of Saint Columba - The sound world of the Celtic Church; Barnaby Brown, Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Geoffrey Webber; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 25 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative exploration of the sound world of the early Celtic church

On this fascinating new disc on Delphian, Geoffrey Webber and the Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge are joined by the scholar and Barnaby Brown to explore the sound world of early Celtic church. The disc isn't so much of a reconstruction as an exploration, looking at the surviving material and trying different sound worlds. The music is all associated with Saint Columba comes from a number of major sources, the antiphons for the Feast of St. Columba come from a manuscript which may have originated on the island of Inchcolm, the mass propers come from the abbeys of St Gall and Einsiedeln which were founded by Irish monks, and the hymns have texts which were written on Iona itself.

The disc starts with Os mutorum, lux cecorum from the Office of St Columba in the Inchcolm Antiphoner. The men of the choir sing chant fluidly and fluently accompanied by a drone from a reconstruction of a Celtic triple pipe played by Barnaby Brown, who also provides an instrumental prelude and postlude. It is a fascinating and evocative sound world, the combination of chant and pipe. The pipe is a reconstruction based on surviving images from manuscripts and carvings.

At a venue near you - Glyndebourne on Tour

Glyndebourne on Tour trailer
This year's Glyndebourne on Tour season includes touring versions two 2014 main house productions, Tom Cairns' production of Verdi's La Traviata, and Frederic Wake-Walker's production of Mozart's La finta giardiniera along with a revival of Jonathan Kent's 2006 touring production of Britten's Turn of the Screw. The tour opens at Glyndebourne on 4 October 2014, before touring to Woking, Norwich, Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Stoke on Trent and Dublin (where they will be visiting for the first time in more than 10 years). 

La Traviata will be conducted by the young German conductor David Afkham with American tenor Zach Borichevsky making his UK debut as Alfredo Germont and Russian soprano Irina Dubrovskaya in the title role. Turn of the Screw is conducted by Leo McFall (McFall conducted Rusalka for Glyndebourne on Tour in 2012) and features Natalya Romaniw as the Governess with Anthony Gregory as Peter Quint, Anne Mason as Mrs Grose and Miranda Keys as Miss Jessel. La finta giardiniera is conducted by Christopher Moulds with a cast including Timothy Robinson, Rosa Feola, Elena Pretorian and Hanna Hipp.

There are six performances of La traviata  and La finta giardiniera for schools, enabling around 9,000 school children to watch live opera, as well as Five Deaths and a Happy Ending an opera for 7 to 10 year olds.

Further information from the Glyndebourne on Tour website, watch a preview video after the jump.