Thursday, 29 September 2005
Wednesday, 28 September 2005
Tuesday, 27 September 2005
I celebrated the new season by doing lots of web admin, I got all our web-pages up to date with concert dates and works to be performed plus sending off our concert information to the various useful sites which list them:-
Monday, 26 September 2005
The Royal Opera's production was new in 1977, it was intended to celebrate the American Bicentennial but arrived a year late. At the time he worked on the production, designer Kenneth Adam had also been working on production design for the James Bond movies. He and director Piero Faggioni came up with a hyper realistic setting. The production was heavily refurbished for this outing, in fact there had been rumours of its demise. The good news it that it still looks good and that the production values remain high.
It is easy to send up Puccini's spaghetti western and over-do all the character acting in the small roles and it is a tribute to the Royal Opera that the production still remains firmly realistic, taking itself seriously and never sending itself up. This sort of opera, with a host of small roles, is one that Covent Garden does well. The characters who inhabit Minne's bar were all strongly cast from Young Artist Robert Murray playing Harry to Robert Lloyd as Ashby and Francis Egerton as Nick. Egerton has been performing at the Royal Opera almost as long as I have been going and I am pretty sure that he played the barman Nick in the first performances of this production. His voice is certainly showing signs of age, but his performance remains a strong one.
But of course, not only needs a strong supporting cast but strong principals. As the bandit Dick Johnson/Ramirez Jose Cura might not have looked sufficiently dangerous, Gary Cooper he ain't, but his voice was another matter; for the entire evening he produced a gorgeous stream of sound, truly sexy. As Minne, Andrea Gruber looked a bit Mumsy, which is perhaps a valid view of Minnie. In the more dramatic scenes her big, vibrato laden voice paid off and she was a fine partner for Cura; but in the opening act, when Minnie has to be more low key, her voice was less suited to the part and you missed a greater sense of line.
As the sheriff, Mark Delavan made a very human villain so that in the early parts of the opera one could be sorry for him. Delvan cut a very impressive figure on the stage and turned Rance into the larger than life figure that he should be. All in all the three principals made a finely balance team, which is something that you can't always say in opera nowadays.
The disadvantage of this production were obvious from the beginning of Act 1, the wooden floor of the bar might be realistic but it is also noisy, any major chorus movement was accompanied by the creak of floorboards. Goodness knows what it sounded like on Radio 3 (Saturday's performance was a simultaneous broadcast). The opera is a substantial 3 act affair, but the problems changing the scenes meant that the intervals were billed to last 35 minutes each and in fact over-ran. After the first interval we returned to our seats to find that we could still hear the whine of an electric drill.
My partner David, who was seeing the opera for the first time, commented that he felt that designer and director could have been a little more imaginative and used the revolve somewhat, to give us a production which was realistic but whose scene changes were rather simpler. Still, it was a great evening. The orchestra, under Pappano, played well and from the opening notes Pappano gave us a performance which combined impetus with flexibility. I'm not sure that I need to see this production again in a hurry, but it has made me think about buying a recording again. I must see what is available.
Saturday, 24 September 2005
The scene reminded me again how, for me, one of the most moving parts of the entire Tetralogy is not a vocal scene, but the orchestral section after Brunnhilde has stopped singing when the Rhine innundates the stage. The Rhinemaidens' theme in the orchestra is counterpointed with other themes from the cycle, providing almost a potted summation of the Ring. I find the moment when the 'Redemption through Love' theme returns most magical.
We're off to see La Fanciulla del West tonight at Covent Garden; more redemption through love. After all, the opera is about a barmaid who loves a bandit.
I've been updating my own web site (http://www.hugill.demon.co.uk) so it now has all the correct news. It was woefully out of date. Having been experimenting with Audioblog, the 1st 4 audio blog tracks are now published on the site here.
Tuesday, 20 September 2005
The audience was distressingly thin, especially as this was the first night of the new season and the premiere of a new opera by a popular composer. Whilst I did not enjoy the opera as much as some of the other reviewers, Sean Doran's season is full of good things and it would be a shame if further goodies were jeopardised by poor audience. So we must hope that attendance picks up; there were a significant number of people there who were very enthusiastic at the end.
Saturday, 17 September 2005
The first is a fine disc of Tallis from the Oxford Camerata. Not unnaturally this includes Spem in Alium in a performance which was probably highly reminiscent of the one we heard at the Edington Festival only, on the disc I was less enamoured of the way the engineers had caught the acoustic of All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, where the pieces were recorded
The second is fascinating, if not for everyday listening, a complete performance of the Jewish service, the First S'Lihot, sung by Cantor Benzion Miller. For someone brought up in an entirely different religious tradition, this is fascinating indeed.
Thursday, 15 September 2005
We are planning performances of 2 of my pieces, In the Barbarian's Camp and Elegy; this latter is a substantial setting, for Baritone and orchestra, of Rilke's Second Duino Elegy. I have set it in the original German so am relieved that a German baritone friend is going to sing the solo-part; perhaps having a native speaker will help correct some of the errors I have made in setting the German. Despite singing in German and speaking it (very badly), I found setting it surprisingly difficult; hard to get it feeling natural without losing my own distinctive voice.
So I have just been back to the scores; having sent a set off to the conductor and I preparing a piano reduction so that the baritone can try the piece out with a pianist. I generally work directly into short score, so any piece I write has to be re-transcribed for piano reduction - a rather tedious but necessary process. Finale can do this automatically, but I generally find that the results do not look very well on the page nor lie easily under the fingers; not that my own efforts in reduction are likely to be too much better.
Revisiting the score has made me realise how much work there is to do to tidy up the full score so that I can produce well ordered instrumental parts. Much of it needs phrasing added and there are parts which need distributing between 1st and 2nd wind players to allow players time to breathe etc. I have found in the past that the more work I put in at this stage, the more time we save later. The problem with having an electronic music publishing system is that it is easy to produce badly thought out and badly laid out parts at the touch of a button. I'm hoping not to do this.
Wednesday, 14 September 2005
More problematically, a rather disappointing disc of Jewish choral music from the Vienna Boys Choir is here.
Tuesday, 13 September 2005
This feeling that an audience has a right to applaud whenever they are impressed is now creeping into orchestral music. It is becoming more common for audiences to applaud at the end of a movement, completely ignoring the composer's intentions regarding dramatic structure; as if the acknowledgement of the listener's presence and appreciation is more important than the composer's intentions.
Effectively audiences are asserting their right to participate in a performance rather then dumbly sitting there. Unfortunately many audience members are thereby displaying their lack of understanding of some of the fundamentals of musical construction. This is nowhere more obvious than in 19th century opera with the pairing of cavatina and cabaletta. This construction, where a slow-ish short-ish solo number is followed by/interrupted by some dialogue which changes the mood leading directly into a bravura cabaletta, has its origins in opera seria. The structure was developed by composers like Handel as a means of keeping the leading singer on stage for longer. In opera seria the convention was that the singer left the stage after each major aria; by introducing a short, strophic number before the main aria the singer was thus kept on stage for longer. That the construction was statisfactory is shown by its large-scale adoption by 19th century Romantic opera composers. Unfortunately audiences repeatedly disregard the music's structure and applause after the cavatina, thus completely breaking the mood. Understandable in less familiar operas, this is profoundly annoying in more familiar operas such as Verdi's La Traviata, where the majority of the audience must surely know what is coming.
It would of course, be unfair to artists to ban applause entirely. But I do feel that we should start to try and educate audiences rather than blindly letting them clap whenever they want to. Unfortunately this sort of education treads on the toes of current concerns, raising issues of audience rights and the spectre of elitism as it is becoming increasingly unfashionable to know something about anything. Or am I just being cynical
Monday, 12 September 2005
Thursday, 8 September 2005
I am also working on a leaflet to publicise my collection of motets, Tempus per Annum; I'm hoping to send these out during this month along with CD's of the 4 advent motets, recorded at my birthday concert this July. I am also putting these recordings on the web. I've already posted 2 to this blog, using AudioBlog and will be doing the rest this week, or early next. They will also go on my own website as I plan to have a radical overhaul of the midi and mp3 files, in the light of the facilities provided by AudioBlog (http://www.audioblog.com)
Wednesday, 7 September 2005
The cultural Season starts next week. We are off to the opening night of Gerald Barry's The Bitter Tear's of Petra von Kant at the London Coliseum on Friday 16th. I'm looking forward to it, though my only reservation is that Barry has evidently set Rainer Werner Fassbinder's play uncut, which means that the opera is likely to be rather wordy.
I found this with The Silver Tassie, even though Amanda Holden had done a superb job filleting the Sean O'Casey's play. Turnage set the words in a naturalistic manner and the result came over, to me, as more of a radio play with musical accompaniment than real opera. I'll be reviewing Barry's opera and will report back.
Tuesday, 6 September 2005
Monday, 5 September 2005
We were sitting at the top of the circle in a very full Royal Albert Hall; I'm not really sure why this particular Prom was so popular. But as the concert progressed, the heat became intolerable and I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Whatever else they have done whilst renovating the Hall in recent years, they have not introduced cooling to the upper reaches. So, for the first 3 movements of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique I could only intermittently enjoy the performance, but in the last 2 movements the students relished the more outrageous of Berlioz's demands and the performance seemed to take off, or perhaps just my interest in it.
The orchestra had a huge string section, which sounded brilliant, but I was slightly worried about balance; something that I have felt in other Colin Davis performances. When strings were playing full pelt the completely dominated the woodwind, and I am not sure that either Berlioz or RVW would have wanted this.
Sunday, 4 September 2005
Saturday, 3 September 2005
Friday, 2 September 2005
The concert finished with a performance of Tallis's Spem in Alium so Harry Christophers had quite a large choir to play with and play with it he did. Rather than thinning it down for the other items, he used quite a large group and selected voices from it for the different sections of the pieces. So that in Cornysh's Salve Regina we had small scale semi-chorus sections contrasted with large scale pieces. This approach worked wonderfully in the echoing spaces of the Albert Hall. Where it became a little annoying was in the performance of Tallis's 9 Psalm Tunes from Archbishop Parker's metrical Psalter; the most famous of which was the tune used by Vaughan Williams for his Tallis Fantasia. For the Psalm Tunes, all short pieces, Christophers had the members of the choir constantly on the move into different groups, for no apparent reason.
Still, all was redeemed by a sublime performance of Tallis's Gaude Gloriosa, but the reason why the hall was so very full was the final item in the programme, Spem in Alium. Interestingly, the performance included at least 1 singer who sang at Edington last Saturday (the choir also included 2, if not 3 pregnant women). Whereas Jeremy Summerly at Edington used 1 soprano, 1 alto (male or female) with male voices on the lower parts in each choir, Christophers uses 2 sopranos, 1 alto (male), 1 tenor, 1 bass; I think they sang the piece in a higher key I think, though nothing was said in the programme. They also used 2 chamber organs for continuo (which is probably authentic). The performance seemed lighter, swifter (and higher) than at Edington. Lovely, but not as moving but then Edington was a far smaller venue. Christophers and his group seemed to be moving their interpretation more in the direction of the Clerkes of Oxenford and their astonishing performances.
Thursday, 1 September 2005
I look forward to revisiting I Vespri, though I'm not planning any changes; I'll leave looking at it till the first rehearsal when it will be a nice surprise. When so much time has elapsed it is almost as if the music was written by some other guy, and whilst he gets some things wrong, he gets some things right as well! The piece also exists in a 30 part version, but I'm not holding my breath about getting that performed.