Saturday, 28 June 2008

Country House Opera

In this month's Opera magazine, the editor addresses the issue of country house opera, particularly in relation to the planned move of Garsington Opera from its current home. In his editorial he says, 'Its Elgar Howarth-David Fielding Strauss cycle apart, Garsington has generally resembled English Touring Opera with better champagne facilities'.

Though critics generally regard country house opera with disdain, it is unusual for them to be so very direct in print. In fact critical reaction to Garsington Opera over the years has tended to disguise both the limitations of the company and the venue. In some reviews you felt reviewers were charmed by the champagne, the lovely house and garden, and liked the pleasant journey out of London and so were prepared to be a little forgiving if standards slipped a little or if the weather was not kind.

By contrast Grange Park Opera has come in for quite a bit of critical flak, some reviewers giving the impression that they resented schlepping out to Hampshire and felt out of place amidst the well-to-do locals enjoying their champagne on the portico of the ruined mansion. In fact in one of their Festival supplements Opera Magazine referred to Grange Park Opera as the UK's most unnecessary opera festival! Grange Park Opera is something of an offshoot of Garsington in that Wasfi Kani, who co-founded Grange Park, was previous the assistant to Leonard Ingrams who founded Garsington Opera.

Garsington Opera was founded in 1989 and Grange Park Opera in 1997. It is only in recent years that Grange Park Opera has had the money to ensure that standards of performance are raised to a consistent standard, particularly by having a named orchestra in the pit rather than a pick-up band. It would be interesting to go over the early reviews for Garsington to see whether or not they had the same start-up problems. What the 2 companies have in common is a reliance on funding from local sponsors, no dependence on public subsidy and an artistic policy which mixes the well known with the more outre, both in terms of repertoire and production style. Leonard Ingrams at Garsington seems to have played neatly to critical prejudices by specialising in Strauss leavened with some unusual Rossini; generally critics liked his choice of unusual repertoire. At Garsington Wasfi Kani was more varied, she has consistently championed rare Slavic operas, giving us Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress, Prokofiev's The Gambler, along with French rarities like Massenet's Thais, Chabrier's Le Roi Malgre Lui and Messager's Fortunio. These have sparked rather less critical appreciation, in some reviews you could feel the critical hackles rise as the review has trekked out to Hampshire to see a rather undercooked production of Le Roi Malgre Lui, an opera which requires everything going for it for it to work properly.

What both these opera companies have in common is that they sell tickets and people come back for more. The Editor of Opera implies, in his article, that the audiences for these opera companies lack critical faculties and kid themselves that they are getting a Glyndebourne experience. But, as he points out, Glyndebourne is no-longer country house opera, it is an opera house in the countryside. Pre-rebuild you could just about convince yourself that you were seeing opera in a country house setting, but this has gone with the increase in size of the new house. I don't think that people attending Garsington, Grange Park or any of the other country house opera companies are lacking in critical faculties. They are out to combine pleasures, lovely surroundings, good food, good company (many people use these occasions for entertaining) and good music, all on your own doorstep. This latter point is important, many of the audience at Grange Park, for instance, have not schlepped down to Hampshire, they live there and Grange Park is local to them.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Pilgrim's Progress

I first made the acquaintance of RVW's opera The Pilgrim's Progress in the 1970's as a student, eagerly devouring Meredith Davies's wonderfully cast boxed set; even today I can hear Ian Partridge's lovely tones as the Interpreter.

I was lucky enough to see the opera when it was staged by the Royal Northern College of Music and also went to see Richard Hickox's semi-staged performance at the Barbican, mounted after proposed performances at the Royal Opera House fell through. Both these performances had much to recommended them and the staging at the Royal Northern College of Music was particularly moving.

But both performances seemed to suffer when it came to some of the voice types used. RVW wrote his opera for a generation of English singers who still combined singing Handel with singing larger scale works, for whom focus and line were the watchwords rather than vibrato and spread of tone. This meant that in the more recent revivals of this opera, there was sometimes a noticeable lack of blend between the voices. With this new production Hickox has used not just young voices, but lyric singers who are often happy alternating between 19th century music and baroque period performance. The result was a performance which combined commitment with the beauty of tone and blend which RVW requires.

Having just conducted the opera in Australia, Hickox is back in London conducting The Pilgrim's Progress as the centrepiece of the Philharmonia Orchestra's year long celebration of the composer. The opera was performed at Sadlers Wells Theatre in a staging by David Edwards. It was billed as a semi-staging; true the chorus remained seated and sang from scores, but the large cast of costumed soloists all sang off the book and were given a substantial acting area in front of the orchestra.

Not unnaturally the Philharmonia Orchestra took centre stage, with the pit covered, and the singers made their entrances and exits through the orchestra.

Matthew Rose's Evangelist and Robert Hayward's Herald both wore dark suits, like some sort of functionary, but the Shining Ones (Susan Gilmour Bailey, Sarah Tynana and Pamela Helen Stephenson), the Interpreter (James Gilchrist), the Heavenly Beings (Sarah Tynan and Pamela Helen Stephenson) and the Celestial Messenger (Andrew Kennedy), all wore white Indian style garb.
Edwards also provided the cast with a repertoire of hierartic gestures which enabled them to convey the unworldly nature of the Pilgrim's journey in a consistent and satisfying manner.

As can be seen from this list, the roster of names involved in the production was an impressive one. Not mentionned so far, Timothy Robinson (Timorous, Usher), Richard Cozon (Pliable, Mr By-Ends), Gidon Saks (Apollyon, Lord Hategood) and Neal Davies as Bunyan. All the cast were impressive, singing without scores and without prompt, throwing themselves into Edwards's concept so as to give us an involving and believable theatrical experience.
In the Vanity Fair scene, which was done in modern dress, all involved conspired to give us a convincing account of what can be a problematic scene and RVW was depicting not the corruption of real evil but the corruption of everyday lax folk. Andrew Kennedy was particularly impressive as the good-time playboy Lord Lechery.

But it is in the title role that this opera can stand or fall. The Pilgrim is on stage for most of the evening, Roderick Williams sang Pilgrims music in firm, mellifluous tones and conveyed Pilgrim's dilemma and spiritual journey with a convincing intensity. There were moments during the lovely prison scene when he seemed to be tiring, but he recovered to give us a radiant and brilliant end.

The other hero of the evening was the orchestra, RVW includes a great many orchestra interludes so the orchestra was often at the fore. Individual players contributed some fine solos and the whole group played as if they too were on Pilgrim's journey.

Hickox, of course, loves this music but also has the measure of it so that it works well in the concert hall and theatre.

There was a libretto and house lights were high enough for this to be followed. But frankly, I didn't need to; the cast's diction was so uniformly excellent so that you could follow the words at all times.

This was an inspiring and entrancing evening, convincing one again that RVW's morality is a stageable and stageworthy work. The only down side was that there were only 2 performances, would that it could have been caught on DVD.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Tonight we are off to the Philharmonia Orchestra's performance of RVW's The Pilgrim's Progress at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Everyone seems to be celebrating RVW this year in a relatively small, Riders to the Sea is cropping up quite a lot. So it is heartening to see that not only are Hickox and the Philharmonia doing all the symphonies but they are doing these semi-staged performances of RVW's longest opera, one that I have long enjoyed. I am luck enough to have seen the staging at the Royal Northern College of Music, but also Hickox did semi staged performances at the Barbican as well.

Then tomorrow we are off to Grange Park Opera for our 2nd visit, this time taking in La Fanciulla del West and Russalka.

Reviews of these will, of course, appear in due course

Muerte, Danza y Ensalada

To the Chelsea Festival for I Fagiolini's programme 'Muerte, Danza y Ensalada - Death, Dance and Salad', which performed Spanish music from the 15th century, culminating in a pair of Ensaladas, the Salads of the title.

Just 4 singers, a harpist and a guy doubling on lute and vihuela but the results were magical. Each half ended in one of the long Ensaladas. La viuda and El Fuego. This latter was dramatised and included an exorcism, with 2 brave members of the audience.

I Fagiolini are a wonderfully communicative group and even though doing the concert in the sober surroundings of St. Luke's Church n Chelsea, managed to conjure the right atmosphere.

Robert Hollingworth provided enlightening and witty introductions to each group of songs. The group's diction was such that it was easy to follow the Spanish/English texts provided for the audience. Towards the end of the evening the house lights were brought up, at Hollingworth's suggestion, to allow the audience to be able to read their texts.

The only blot was that the concert was nearly 20 minutes late starting. Perhaps it was because the audience seemed unable to arrive; at the advertised starting time the church was nearly empty and people were still arriving at 7.50pm. But it might also be because the Festival ran out of copies of the texts of the songs, rather an oversight; so they had to send someone to copy more.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Comments

A comment on one of my previous posts responds to my comments about singers like Danielle De Niese and David Daniels. My references to technique were mostly about the way that they sing fast notes, passage-work. My preference is for fast, light even passagework in Baroque opera. De Niese and Daniels both seem to use uneven stresses on notes, De Niese's passage work is heavier and more emphatic than I feel is necessary in Handel. Daniels seems to shape his semiquavers in groups which seem to be entirely 19th century in manner. To a certain extent they are responding to the likings of people like my anonymous commenter.

I must confess that I also find too much vibrato rather uncomfortable when used in passagework, it gets in the way of the runs. Also my correspondent refers to singers singing legato and letting their voices vibrate naturally. Unfortunately for me, there is a fine dividing line between a natural vibrato and a wobble which obscures the fundamental pitch of the note, thus obviating any feeling for legato.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Original and best?

We were lucky enough to visit Grange Park Opera for 2 years running before they rebuilt the theatre. Whilst the new theatre is a wonderful achievement and a perfect space for staging small to medium scale opera, I am still glad we experienced the smaller, more difficult (no wings, no backstage), more intimate theatre.

Similarly with Garsington. I imagine that the existing out-door theatre has a multiplicity of disadvantages, so that when they move they will hopefully transfer to an improved location. So experiencing the existing theatre in Ottoline Morrell's garden in starting to come high on the list of things TO DO. Next year they are staging Fidelio, La Cenerentola and Mirandolina (Martinu). The Martinu will be the opera's UK premiere.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Vivaldi

Vivaldi's operas seem to be in the air at the moment. Garsington have premièred his comedy, L'Incoronazione de Dario, to rather mixed reviews. Fiona Maddocks in the Evening Standard (always a critic whose opinion I respect), made an interesting comment about the work. She enjoyed the music but seemed in two minds about the opera, though she added that we still did not quite understand how to stage these operas. That we are in the position with Vivaldi which we were in with Handel 30 years ago. So expect more experimental Vivaldi productions and more articles about whether his operas are theatrically viable.

That they are is confirmed by a sparkling new DVD of Ercole s'ul Termodonte from the Spoleto Festival, directed by John Pascoe and conducted by Alan Curtis (with his Complesso Barocco in the pit). It is an intelligent and imaginative re-thinking of a traditional staging of a baroque comedy which takes the work serious and does not resort to broad comedy or slapstick. The fact that Zachary Stains, in the title role, spends virtually the entire opera naked is entirely a bonus!

Friday, 13 June 2008

What is it about this time of year? Our diaries for the next few weeks are full of exciting events: we've just seen Andreas Scholl (review to follow), the Chelsea Festival is happening (we're off to see I Fagiolini next week), on the horizon are RVW's The Pilgrim's Progress at Sadlers Wells, La Fanciulla del West and Rusalka at Grange Park Opera and Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House.

But despite this, there are numerous events that we wont be going to through lack of time. Its still uncertain whether we will manage to catch the exciting new production of Weill's Street Scene at the Young Vic. For yet another year we won't be going to Garsington, despite their brave revival of Vivaldi's L'Incoronazione di Dario - note to self, we must find time to go before they move.

We won't be getting to the Buxton Festival, again. This year we are missing the triple bill which includes RVW's Riders to the Sea and Handel's Samson. We will, however, be going to the Verona Arena for the first time. My choir, London Concord Singers, are doing a couple of concerts in the Verona and Lake Garda area so this means that we can see Tosca at the Arena as well.

And for the first time in a long time we are going to a slew of Proms, its the first time in a few years that I've felt inspired by the programming. The presence of so much RVW is a draw, not only the symphonies but the Piano Concerto (always high on my list and a work I've never yet heard live). Plus some other interesting bits and pieces such as a Stanford Piano Concerto. Unfortunately we'll miss Ethel Smyth's concerto for horn and violin, but thanks to the BBC's listen again facility we will manage to catch it.

So all in all, a plethora of lovely events - only why are they all compressed into a couple of months!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

From this Month's opera

Gleanings from this month's Opera magazine.

In an interview with Stephen Langridge and his father Philip, Stephen makes the interesting comment that when young and going to concerts sung by his father he was exposed to either 'really wacky modernism or Schütz, Scheidt and Schein.'. Later, when SL was doing work experience at Opera Factory he was living in a squat and used to phone singers to tell them when their call was for the next day from a payphone with the help of a bag of 10p pieces given him by the stage manager.

In another interview, Ferrucio Furlanetto comments that in 1977 when he got his first big break, as Don Giovanni, it was almost unheard of for a 27 year old to be cast in this opera. Whereas nowadays it is getting increasingly difficult to hear older singers in these roles. That said, he comments that he is no longer doing Figaro on stage, having seen a 55 year old colleague on stage looking like a 55 year old Figaro.

Evidently Furlanetto with be singing in Verdi's Don Carlo when the new Hyntner production is revived in 2010. He also sang in the French version in the previous Luc Bondy production, though as native Italian speaker he prefers singing the work in the Italian translation rather than the original French. The article goes on to comment that scholars (and some listeners!) prefer the French whereas singers prefer the Italian translation.

One of the few roles that Furlanetto has yet to do which he'd like to is Baron Ochs, now that's an interesting idea.

Still on the subject of age, 85 year old Franco Zefirelli is evidently miffed that the Met. plan to replace some of his productions. Having seen his over-cooked, over decorated La Traviata I'm surprised they've lasted so long.

The controversy surrounding the completion of Turandot continues. One letters correspondent comments that there is still a need for an authentically Puccinian solution which refers to the Puccini sketches which Alfano did not use. Oh well, we can but hope. I have only just recently heard the full Alfano completion live, thanks to Midsummer Opera, and this confirms me in my belief that full Alfano is preferable to the truncated Toscanini/Alfano currently in use.

There is now also a new conclusion by Han Weiya, but Julian Budden does not sound as if he was too impressed when he heard it in Beijing. And Shang Hai opera are going to be the first Chinese company to tour an original language Western opera to the west (to Dalhalla and Savolinna). At the performance in Shang Hai the company omitted the organ, which gave an interesting slant on Verdi's orchestration in the storm scene.

La Forza del Destino in Vienna, with Preziosilla as a Las Vegas cow girl! Still in Vienna, the first performance of Marin Marais's Alcione since 1771 - amazing what treasures are still remaining to be found. Gluck's Orfeo made it to Stockholm in 1773, only 11 years after its first performance. The opera has just returned, in Berlioz's 1859 version (with a cadenza by Saint-Saens written for Pauline Viardot) with Orfeo portrayed as an elderly, paunchy figure (production by the choreographer Mats Eck).

And in Berlin, an American Aida which had the 2nd Act danced by cheer leaders and the triumphal scene as an apple-pie eating competition.

And in Antwerp, a new opera by Luc Van Hove based on Fellini's La Strada, why try to improve on something like Fellini's film.

CNN opera has found its way to Chile, where a new piece by Sebastian Errazuriz bases itself on a 2005 tragedy where 45 soldiers died in a mountain storm.

Mixed reviews of the new production of Herold's Zampa from the restored Opera Comique in Paris. I have happy memories of playing the overture in the school orchestra and would have great curiosity to see the complete opera.

More curiosities. Leoncavallo's Edipo Re performed with Cav. in Thessaloniki - its not a hidden masterpiece evidently. And Gounod's La Nonne Sanglante performed in Osnabrück - evidently an opera worth investigating, based on an episode from Lewis's Gothic novel, The Monk.

And in Chicago a revival of Il Barbiere included the rarely performed final aria for Almaviva, something I'd love to hear live.

In New York, Martin Bernheimer seems less than enamoured of Satyagraha, his comments echoing my thoughts on the opera.

Christopher Morley in his review of L'Incoronazione di Poppea from Birmingham Conservatoire admits something which no-one seems to want to say; that the opera has stretches of tedium within the score.

In We hear that.. I see that Jonas Kaufmann is doing his first Lohengrin next year. And that Colin Lee will be singing Argirio in Tancredi at the Theater an der Wien.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Review of Der Rosenkavalier

My review of Der Rosenkavalier in David McVicar's new production at the London Coliseum is here, on Music and Vision.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Review of Bluebeard

My review of Grange Park Opera's new production of Offenbach's Bluebeard is here, on Music and Vision

Friday, 6 June 2008

Grange Park Opera 2009

We were at Grange Park last night for the first night of Bluebeard in Stephen Langridge's Bond themed production, a review will appear shortly. We'll also be returning later this month for Rusalka and La Fanciulla del West.

Next season's plans for the Festival sound exciting. Clare Rutter is singing Norma; the other two staged operas will be The Cunning Little Vixen and Cavalli's Eliagabalo, with male soprano Michael Maniaci in the title role. Plus a concert performance of The Flying Dutchman with the Welsh National Opera orchestra.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Opera North 2008/09 season

Having premiered Jonathan Dove's Pinnochio this season, Opera North are continuing their roll and presenting a further premiere next season. This new seasons completes their Shakespeare season and continues to extend the company's repertoire. In the see-saw world that is UK opera, Opera North seem to be on a winning streak as compared to Scottish Opera's brave work clawing their way back to success. November 2008 will also see the completion of work on the Grand Theatre, Leeds, with the restoration of the front of house features and the re-instatement of the Assembly Rooms as a small scale venue. This is definitely an exciting time for Opera North.

David Sawyer, whose first opera From Morning to Midnight was presented by ENO in 2001, is writing an operetta to a text by Armando Iannuci. It is a comedy set in a cosmetic surgery and is described as a darkly-comic satire. The new work, Skin Deep will be directed by Richard Jones and stars Geoffrey Dolton and Janis Kelly.

Sawyer's first work was promising, but seemed to have spent a little too long in the ENO workshops with a dramaturg. Hopefully this new piece will have a streak of unpredictability thanks to Iannuci's comic genius.

In October 2008 they are concluding their Shakespeare season with a new production, by Orpha Phelan, of Bellini's Capuleti e Montecchi with Sarah Connolly and Sara Tynan. Definitely a production to look out for, it tours to Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Salford in the Autumn.

The other two new productions are a pairing of Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing with Let em Eat Cake. Of Thee I Sing is premiered in the Autumn to co-incide with the American Presidential elections (the subject of the operetta), then both pieces will be performed together in the Spring. Both productions will be directed by Caroline Gawn and will start William Dazely as Wintergreen, a part he sang in Opera North's semi-staged production in 1998. The pairing tours to Sadlers Wells Theatre in February.

The final new production of the season is The Abduction from the Seraglio, sung in English in a production designed and directed by Tim Hopkins.

Also in the new season, a revival of David Pountney's production of Shostakovich's Paradise Moscow, revival of Christopher Alden's production of Tosca with Takesha Meshe Kizart in the title role and Tim Albery's production of Don Carlos making its first appearance since 1998. The Don Carlos is being recorded for the Chandos/Peter Moores Foundation Opera in English series. Julian Gavin sings the title role, Janice Watson and Susannah Glanville share Elisabeth, Alistair Miles repeats his Philip II and Richard Farnes conducts. This is definitely a performance to catch and tours to Leeds, Salford, Nottingham and Newcastle in June 2009. I caught the production in the 1990's and have always been very taken with Albery's claustrophobic take on the piece, with Hildegard Bechtler's strikingly stylish designs.

The company is also giving concert performances of Elektra with Susan Bullock in the title role with Richard Farnes conducting. Rebecca de Pont Davies takes the role of Klytemnestra.

Including these concert performances, the orchestra of Opera North will be giving an impressive 24 concerts during the season in a variety of venues around the company's core areas.

RVW Royal Festival Hall

Saturday 31st May saw the second concert of the Philharmonia's Ralph Vaughan Williams festival at the South Bank, an event which lasts from now until November and encompasses all the symphonies, staged performances of The Pilgrim's Progress at Sadler's Wells and a number of smaller scale events and talks. In addition to the complete programme being presented in London, large portions of it are being given in various other locations around the country. All of the concerts are being conducted by Richard Hickox.

The Festival opened with the Sea Symphony and the Sinfonia Antarctica, Saturday's concert presented the 2nd and 8th Symphonies, plus The Lark Ascending with Andrew Marwood as the solo violin.

I have always found RVW 8 and 9 rather puzzling and one of the benefits of this series was that I will get to hear both of them live, something that I have never been able to do before. The Philharmonia performance of RVW 8, with all its tuned percussion and Bartokian type division of the middle 2 movements into one for the wind and one for strings, was coherent and convincing, it certainly didn't feel like a work rarely played. Hickox relished the score's unusual colours and brought out its strain of mysticism.

Marwood's performance of The Lark Ascending was ravishing.

After the interval came the 2nd Symphony, the London Symphony, in the original version. Hickox brought out the multifarious continental influences in the score, so that this was well and truly a symphony to sit beside continental models such as Mahler.

The original version, which is some 20 minutes longer than RVW's preferred revised version, has some stunningly lovely passages though it does ramble a little. At around an hour the symphony is long, but Hickox and the Philharmonia never made you feel they lingered unnecessarily and Hickox had a good feel for the overall structure. His performance always seemed to be going somewhere. There were one or two moments when the symphony took me by surprise as a familiar passage led to enchanting but unfamiliar details.

The Royal Festival Hall wasn't full but there was a very large and very enthusiastic audience including rather more young people than I would have expected. The next instalment in the festival is The Pilgrims Progress in June.

Review of Cendrillon

My review of Chelsea Opera Group's performance of Massenet's Cendrillon is here, on Music and Vision.

Monday, 2 June 2008

So it isn't just me

On Saturday morning, Berta Joncus discussed recent Handel recordings on the CD Review programme on BBC Radio 3. Here selection of recordings included Handel's Alcina from the Bavarian State Opera under Ivor Bolton and Danielle de Niese's recent recital record with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Joncus played de Niese's account of Tornami a vagheggiar and compared it with the same aria from the Bavarian State Opera recording. She complained that de Niese's version was slower and heaver than the Bavarian account, suggesting that de Niese sang this music with an essentially 19th century type technique, adding that on stage de Niese's personality was dazzling so that you forgave her these musical issues, but that on disc the problems were more noticeable.

It was interesting to hear somebody articulate what I had felt about de Niese's singing. As soon as Joncus made her comments I realised that it made a great deal of sense to me. There are number of singers on the circuit, David Daniels is another, who often seem to attach the baroque repertoire in the same way that they would sing Rossini. It seems that for much of the time this goes uncommented.

Scottish Opera new season

Scottish Opera's 2008/09 season does not contain anything quite as exciting as their evening of short contemporary operas, but it is still a creditable and interesting season. There are 5 operas, 2 are relatively small scale - Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage and Smetana's Two Widows. The Cimarosa opera has a strong cast which includes Rebecca Bottone as Caroline; the opera will be sung in English which makes a great deal of sense in this character driven comedy. Smetana's comedy will star Kate Valentine and Jane Irwin as the two widows and will be conducted by Scottish Opera's new musical director, Francesco Corti; it is being designed by Tobias Hoheisel and directed by Hoheisel in tandem with Imogen Kogge so should be striking and stylish.

David McVicar is doing a new production of La Traviata, he is very much becoming a house flavour both here and at the London Coliseum, but it is good to see that he is continuing to support the Scottish company, even though they can hardly be paying him the sort of top level fees that he could surely command elsewhere. McVicar and his designer Tanya McCallin promise an authentic take on the opera, with a 19th century setting. Carmen Giannattasio and Federico Lepre sing the lovers.

McVicar re-appears in Cosi van tutte as his Opera National du Rhin production is revived in Scotland for the first time. Marie McLaughlin gives us her sparkling Despina and Peter Rose is Don Alfonso, Caitlin Hulcup sings Dorabella.

The other big new production is Massenet's Manon. This is being directed by choreographer Renaud Doucet and conducted by Francesco Corti (Corti is in charge of 2 of the 5 operas in the season). Doucet is a choreographer and we are promised a very full version with choreographed ballet scenes. Anne Sophie Duprels sings Manon and Paul Charles Clarke sings Des Grieux so this should certainly be a production worth catching. Scottish Opera are performing it in Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

South Bank Centre new season

Is it only me, or do other people find the London SouthBank Centre's publicity system rather annoying. First of all, their leaflets are now published on horrible, thick paper (I know, I'm being petty). Secondly, we no longer seem to get the Monthly digests giving ALL the concerts which are one, now its just a monthly newsletter. Instead there is a hugely thick book, detailing all the Classical Music for 2008/09. Like the Barbican, they seem to have gone for multiple series and each series opens booking in advance so that we are considering booking for concerts next year.

That said, there are some tempting morsels hidden amongst the rather standard classical orchestral repertoire (no I don't plan to do any Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven or Rachmaninov).

The Sixteen are bringing their programme of music dedicated to the Virgin Mary (from Palestrina to Elgar by way of Grieg, Liszt and Cornysh), but I can't help thinking that hearing them do it in a Cathedral would be more fun. Then next year the Sixteen reappear with a program which mixes music by Purcell and James MacMillan, including his O Bone Jesu, which was written for the Sixteen (as a companion to Robert Carver's motet).

There seems to be something of a Tchaikovsky event. The Moscow Conservatory Chamber choir are bringing Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The London Philharmonic are doing Iolanta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are giving his orchestral pieces an authentic look, performing both the first and last versions of Romeo and Juliet.

RVW comes in for quite a lot of platform time. The Philharmonia under Richard Hickox doing two concerts covering symphonies 3,4,5 and 9. The Bach Choir under David Hill are doing Sancta Civitas, definitely a concert to note as this lovely work is rarely done (it needs too many choirs), they are being joined by Westminster Cathedral Choristers and Winchester College Quiristers. The concert also includes Howells' Sir Patric Spens and Howells's Te Deum.
The Bach Choir crop up again next Easter with the annual St. Matthew Passion, Evangelist being James Gilchrist. I must confess to being old enough to remember these performances with Robert Tear and Dame Janet Baker, under Sir David Willcocks.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are also doing a Matthew Passion with Mark Padmore as the Evangelist. They have spent quite some time doing the John Passion together, so expect some interesting insights. Listing simply gives 8 singers, no choir so I am unclear whether this is going to be a solo ensemble performance or one with a larger ripieno group of singers.

Other unusual choral repertoire includes the LPO doing Dvorak's Requiem with Neeme Jarvi and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment doing Haydn's The Return of Tobias with Sir Roger Norrington.

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Robin Ticciati are doing an early Romantic programme, with Schumann's enticing Konzertstuck for 4 horns (one of my favourite pieces), Mendelssohn's 3rd Symphony and a rare, rare, rare outing for Sterndale Bennett's overture The Naiads.

Opera Rara are sponsoring 2 concerts with the LPO, Donizetti's Parisina with Patrizia Ciofi and Jose Bros and Rossini's Ermione with Carmen Giannatasio, Patricia Bardon and Colin Lee. I look forward to both recordings!
Zurich Opera are bringing Handel's Agrippina with a good cast including Vesselina Kassarova, Marijana Mijanovic and Malin Hartelius; I only wish they were giving us a more unusual opera, or one of the more serious, bigger boned mid-period London ones, there seems to have been quite a glut of Handel's slightly comic operas.

Philippe Jaroussky is doing a song recital of music by Faure, Massenet, Debussy, Saint-Saens and Chausson - quite an interesting mix for a counter-tenor.

Finally, in June next year Mark Padmore is doing Winterreise directed by Katie Mitchell in a programme which will include Samuel Beckett's poetry. Padmore will be singing the Schubert in a new translation by Michael Symmons Roberts.