Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Autumn premieres

Rather excitingly I've got two premières coming up in London this autumn. An introit motet, Thou, O Christ will be premiered at 6pm Evensong on Monday 12th October at the church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL. The motet will be sung by the choir of St. Botolph’s church, conductor Timothy Storey. Thou, O Christ is a setting of an English translation prayer by St. Symeon the New Theologian, a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church who lived in the 10 th century. I was commissioned to specifically write a setting by St. Symeon for the choir of St. Botolph's Church.

On Saturday 19th December, the Latin motet Videte Miraculum will be premiered by Chapelle du Roi, conductor Alistair Dixon, at St. John’s Smith Square, London, SW1P 3HA. The performance forms part of their concert, New Lamps for Old which takes place as part of St. John’s Smith Square’s 24 th Annual Christmas Festival. The motet uses the same text and structure as Thomas Tallis's Respond of the same name, which will also be included in the concert.

Further details from the press release here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Buxton Festival 2010

An interesting trio of works are being planned as the festival's own productions in Buxton in 2010. Stephen Medcalf will be directing Verdi's Luisa Miller, Alessandro Talevi will direct Cornelius's The Barber of Baghdad, plus Richard Strauss's arrangement of Mozart's Idomeneo.

Peter Cornelius was friendly with Liszt and Wagner and his comic opera The Barber of Baghdad was written whilst he was staying in Weimar, where Liszt conducted the première (which was a failure). The opera is unusual for a German comic opera in that it is through composed, rather than using spoken dialogue.

Review of "Don Carlo"

My review of the recent revival of Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House is here, on Music and Vision.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Don Carlo

To the Royal Opera House on Sunday for a Matinee performance of Verdi's Don Carlo. This seems and eminently sensible way to perform such operas as the evening lasted from 3pm to 7.25pm. We have attended many such matinees in Paris but so far, London has failed to follow suit; thank goodness the Royal Opera have twigged. As might be expected, the performance was popular with older people with the Amphitheatre seemingly full of elderly opera lovers. The only cloud on the horizon was the absence of Jonas Kaufman due to illness (full review will follow in due course).

We will be following this up with a visit to the matinee of the new production of Tristan und Isolde in a few weeks time.
Music Theatre Wales are premiering a new opera this week, a co-commission with the Royal Opera House. Eleanor Alberga and Donald Sturrock's opera Letters of a Love Betrayed receives its premiere at the Royal Opera House on Friday 2nd October and after 3 more performances there goes on tour to Oxford, Cardiff, Manchester, Huddersfield, Mold, Edinburgh and Aberystwyth; a total of 10 performances being admirable exposure for a new opera. It seems to be Alberga's first opera, though her period as Music Director of London Contemporary Dance Theatre will have given her the sort of experience necessary.

The piece is based on a short story by Isabel Allende, adapted by librettist Donald Sturrock. Sturrock is Artistic Director of the Roald Dahl Foundation, which perhaps seems a strange qualification for a librettist. But Sturrock is trying to accumulate a library of orchestral pieces and operas for children based on Dahl's stories and he and Alberga have already worked together on a previous piece. So the augury's seem pretty good for this new piece

Not just for porn?

A new web-site has been launched, ClassicalTV.com which allows you to stream videos of Opera direct to your PC. In a market where streaming video seems to be dominated by fluff, let us hope that ClassicalTV manages to make find its niche. The site is pay per view, and generally reasonable. A quick glance at their offerings suggests a reliance on the broadcasts from the Met, but this does mean that anyone who is curious about Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly, which had its origins at the London Coliseum, could easily find out what the production was like. There's also Jonathan Miller's new La Boheme from the London Coliseum, Gluck's Orfee and Offenbach's La Belle Helene from the Chatelet.

According to a recent article in the LA Times, the site features some 20% of their content at anyone time. So it sounds worth giving it a go.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Dove Birthday celebrations in Cambridge

Jonathan Dove is 50 this year and as part of the celebrations, the Cambridge Music Festival is performing one of his recent works. On 17th November, in King's College Chapel, his 2003 Far Theatricals of Day of 2003 will be performed by three Cambridge choirs and Onyx Brass, conducted by Christopher Robinson. The work was commissioned by the estimable John Armitage Memorial Trust, who are co-sponsors of this performance. For those unable to get to Cambridge, the work is being repeated at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster on 18th November. The work sets verses by Emily Dickinson and the title comes from a line from one of her poems, the work represents the gradual unfolding of a day.

(Looking further ahead London Concord Singers performance of Dove's I am the day on Dec 17th at the Grosvenor Chapel forms a further little celebration).

Friday, 25 September 2009

Towards a new opera (2)

Reached the 50 minute mark in the new opera and got over the hurdle of the first really big emotional moment. Currently wrestling with whether quarter tones are acceptable or not; whether they will make the piece a bit too fearsome. Do violinists routinely play quarter tones? What about singers?

Here I have a confession to make, I'm actually not entirely sure how to notate them and definitely have no idea how to make my music writing program play quarter tones back to me. I know that it all OUGHT to be in my head, but I do find it useful to play stuff back repeatedly and this helps generate the new ideas. In the old days this required a great deal of bashing on the piano (luckily I have usually had tolerant neighbours).

My problem at the moment is that I am torn between giving the dialogue the weight it needs which means delaying the flow of the piece, or keeping the momentum going. In a dramatic confrontation, you feel that it ought to just keep going on, but opera is not a realistic medium and sometimes there is the need to pause and consider things.

Of course, only having two characters doesn't help. For the big emotional moments I have entirely failed to work out how to include the chorus, so that it is just my two protagonists going at it together. Which is really what it should be.

I still have got quite a chunk of the libretto to get through, so we are not out of the woods yet. I am also starting to print out a fair copy of the music so far, so that I can start the next phase of work. Revising and correcting - which does require me to endlessly bash the stuff out at the piano.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Dido and Aeneas Ticket Give-away

As part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, Les Arts Florissants will be performing Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Barbican on Saturday 10th October with performances at 7pm and 9pm. As might be expected from this group the casting is imaginative with Malena Ernman as Dido, Luca Pisaroni as Aeneas and Hilary Summers as the Sorceress.

To celebrate the event I have been provided with two tickets for the 7pm performance to give away. All you have to do is answer the following question:-

In 1700 the opera was incorporated into an adaptation of a Shakespeare play given by Thomas Betterton's troupe at the Lincolns Inn Fields Theatre. What was the play?

Email your answer to competition@hugill.demon.co.uk
Answers must be received by 7am UK time, Wednesday 30th September 2009
The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries.

[The Small Print: Blog editors decision is final, no cash alternative, tickets to be collected on the day]

Sunday, 20 September 2009

CD Review - Land of Hope and Glory

Decca have issued another one of those hopeful compilations which is intended to try and capture something of the essence of the Last Night of the Proms. The disc is a two CD set, the backbone of which are a series of recordings by Barry Wordsworth with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society. The full CD includes a generous 27 tracks in all and has items by artists such as Dame Janet Baker (O had I Jubal's lyre from Joshua), Sir Thomas Allen (Drake's Drum), Bryn Terfel (Danny Boy). As can be seen the selection wanders from the Last Night of the Proms into more an evocation of Englishness.

I listened to highlights made available via their on-line downloading system. This opened with Land of Hope and Glory arranged from the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. For this arrangement to work, the chorus have to sing with passion and commitment, something that the Royal Choral Society fail to do. Their rather flat delivery contrasts markedly with the brisk, up-beat account from Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. If you are going to do this choral arrangement (rather than the composer's original) then it surely has to be convincingly flag-waving for it to work.

Handel's Zadok the Priest, given by such rather large-scale forces evokes not only pomp and circumstance but also recordings from an earlier age. The chorus work hard to match Wordsworth's crisp and brisk tempi, and they make a decent fist of the runs. But the spine-tingling magic of the piece just escapes Wordsworth. Parry's Jerusalem is a different matter, here both chorus and conductor manage to give us the sort of commitment missing from the earlier pieces.

They are joined by Della Jones for Rule Britanna, a slightly blowsy choral sound contrasts with the more focused tone from Jones, who contributes some rather amazing ornaments in the later verses.

Wordsworth starts Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in a rather brisk fashion, though it is impressively played by the BBC Concert Orchestra. This mood seems to continue though and the nobilmente sections never seem to achieve the mood required.

In I vow to thee my Country, based on an arrangement from Holst's Planets, the Royal Choral Society again turn in a fatally routine performance, but the whole is lifted by the solo contribution from Della Jones at the end.

Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs is given a delightful performance which captures the charm and humour of the piece and the BBC Concert Orchestra contribute some lovely solo moments.

The next track was the Academy of St. Martin in Fields account of RVW's Greensleeves, under Sir Neville Marriner. A well known version of the piece, which is simply beautiful.

Back to Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra for a brilliantly crisp and rhythmically incisive account of Walton's Crown Imperial. Granted, Wordsworth is rather too brisk in the Elgarian nobilmente middle section, but he brings it all to a wonderfully exciting close.

The Scots Dragoon Guards contribute a version of Amazing Grace which suffers badly from over-production; I longed for the backing chorus and orchestra to disappear and leave the pipers to get on with doing what they do best.

Finally a perky account of Eric Coates Knightsbridge March from his London Suite.

This 2CD set is pretty good value and has some very attractive tracks on it, especially the older recordings. If the choral performances by the Royal Choral Society had been a bit more inspiring I think I could have given it a more wholehearted review. As it is, this Land of Hope and Glory just lacks the commitment needed.

Full CD Listing:-
LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY
The Ultimate Classical Celebration

CD1
1. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 1 (“Land of Hope and Glory”)
2. Handel: Zadok the Priest
3. Parry: Jerusalem
4. Arne: Rule Britannia
5. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 4
6. Holst: I Vow To Thee My Country
7. Elgar: “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations
8. Coates: The Dam Busters March
9. Alford: The Bridge on the River Kwai (“Colonel Bogey”)
10. Walton: The Battle of Agincourt
11. Grainger: Shepherd's Hey
12. Handel: O Had I Jubal's Lyre
13. Stanford: Drake's Drum
14. Parry: I Was Glad



CD2
1. Wood: Fantasia on British Sea Songs
2. Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
3. Walton: Crown Imperial (Coronation March)
4. Clarke: Trumpet Voluntary (The Prince of Denmark's March)
5. Walton: Orb and Sceptre
6. Coates: The Three Elizabeths - Halcyon Days
7. Scottish Medley (feat. “Flower of Scotland”)
8. Danny Boy
9. Land of My Fathers
10. Elgar: Chanson de Matin
11. Amazing Grace
12. Coates: London Suite - Knightsbridge March
13. The National Anthem (arr. Gordon Jacob)

Performers include:
Bryn Terfel
The Philip Jones Ensemble
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
The Royal Choral Society
The Fron Male Voice Choir
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
London Festival Orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra
The BBC Concert Orchestra / Barry Wordsworth

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Case of the Disappearing Soprano

There is something about the programmes of the last few ENO seasons which makes you wonder whether they've gone off dramatic sopranos. The sort of female voice who would normally have Elektra, the Dyers Wife, Brunhilde and perhaps Ortrud in her repertoire.

A sign of this lack of interest might be taken from the casting of the title role in the forthcoming new production of Turandot. For ENO the role will be sung by the German soprano Kirsten Blanck, Blanck was originally a lyric soprano and has recently been singing more dramatic roles. I await Blanck's performance with interest but by not casting an established dramatic soprano in the role ENO seem to confirm their distinct lack of interest in the mature dramatic soprano voice (hoch dramatisch sopran).

In the relatively recent Ring cycle, Brunnhilde was sung by Kathleen Broderick, a soprano whose voice did not quite soar with ease over the orchestra in the way that previous British sopranos such as Rita Hunter, Jane Eaglen and Gwynneth Jones have done. Frankly, I got the feeling that Broderick had been chosen more for her slim physique than her less than opulent voice. But even so, having failed to put together a complete Ring cycle, ENO seem to have lost interest in the operas entirely. It would surely have been easy enough to revive one of the operas, such as Valkyrie, but we have not even had that.

One of the curious things about the casting of the Ring was the fact that ENO seemed to ignore a dramatic soprano close to home. Susan Bullock has sung many roles at the Coliseum, including Isolde, but the majority of her dramatic roles have been away from London, with some of her early dramatic roles being done for Opera North. In fact her first London Brunhilde's will be done at Covent Garden.

Away from the Ring, ENO seem to have lost the will to produce other operas in the dramatic sopranos repertoire, the Flying Dutchman, Mastersingers, Lohengrin and Ariadne all seem to have disappeared without any replacements in sight, though the replacement of the Puccini operas in the repertoire continues apace.

Of course, one of the problems with the heavy dramatic roles is that there are, admitedly, fewer singers able to sing the roles and not all of them want to learn them in English. Jane Eaglen, in an interview, said that she was reluctant to sing a role in English if she had it in her repertoire in the original language. So that her recording of Turandot was made after the role had dropped from her repertoire. Which goes some way to explaining why Eaglen's last two roles with ENO were La Gioconda and La Vestale, roles only tangential to the core dramatic soprano repertoire.

Part of the problem at ENO is, of course, the rather rapid turn over in management in the last few years. The current incumbents seem to have been rather keen to drop most of the projects initiated by Sean Doran. We can only hope that repertoire involving dramatic sopranos becomes of more interest to the Coliseum in the near future.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Towards a new opera

A couple of year's ago, when I was casting round for a new operatic project, an acquaintance sent me a copy of one of their one-act plays. It was a modern re-interpretation of a Jacobean revenge tragedy. It had the virtue of being a short play and needed only two actors. It chimed in with my interest in baroque opera and the ideas I had of creating a modern version of an opera seria. But my last performed opera, Garrett, had been a one-act two-hander based on an existing play and I was wary of treading the same ground again so soon. So I put the play on the possibles pile and turned my attention to other possible projects.

A couple of false starts later, I found that the opening of the play was still resonating with me. A man blindfolded and tied up, alone in a warehouse. I started to imagine an opening using a solo cello. Quite soon I had 5 to 10 minutes of rather promising music and seemed to have commenced a new opera.

Turning to the play, I found that if I was not careful the final piece would grow to large proportions, turning the leading baritone into a tiring marathon. Much judicious cutting has left me with a text skeleton which makes a viable libretto. (At a recent contemporary opera the librettist wrote wisely of how an opera libretto should always read as if it has something missing. Which it has of course, the music.)

I have introduced two extra roles, to provide a bit of traction and to give the two protagonists a rest occasionally. The two extra roles are chorus, a sort of Male and Female Chorus out of Britten by way of Palestrina.

There are arias in the piece, but these are generally short. As the original text is dramatic and propulsive, not to speak of suspenseful, I have tried to keep these qualities. I am still nervous about my vocal lines. I have a tendency to set text rather syllabically, I rather like this but generally the lack of melismatic passages has caused comment in the past.

But in a dramatic piece, you want to keep things moving. And, you want the words to be heard and comprehended. It's no good giving the soprano a high melismatic passage if the text she is singing is important. So compromises have to be made.

I am also aware that I often castigate other contemporary operas for writing in a sort of free arioso which chugs along effectively and dramatically enough without ever writing anything particularly memorable in the vocal lines. Despite my introduction of arias, I worry that this will apply to me as well. Though I have written a fair number of pieces with a good tune, I find it difficult to necessarily write these to order, so it may be that memorably melodic material might escape me as it does other composers.

When starting out on a piece, it is usually the best, the most exciting piece that I have written. But part of the way through, the blues hit and all you can do is press on. I have reached that point now. I am over two-thirds of the way through the text and the opera is promising to be a manageable length.

So far, I have not had a live play through. I am promising to treat myself to a live play through when the first draft is finished.

In case you are wondering, the modern opera seria idea sort of fell by the wayside in the light of the rather abstract music that I was writing for the opening scene. But I feel that the piece still divides into aria and accompanied recitative; I'll have to wait and see if this comes across from the printed page into the live auditorium

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's Judas Maccabeus from the Ama Deus ensemble is here, on MusicWeb International.

Live performances on disc are always a little risky ...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Hear, hear!

Rupert Christiansen has an interesting piece over at the Telegraph. He comments on the fact that there is little that is English or National about ENO, neither their repertoire nor their performers.

His list of major English operas which they have not staged makes interesting reading, 'King Arthur, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Troilus and Cressida, Albert Herring or A Night at the Chinese Opera'. To this I would add the operas which were once popular and which deserve some sort of investigation, both Ivanhoe and The Immortal Hour had significantly long runs when first produced, and surely The Wreckers deserves another go, particularly as there is now a new translation (the libretto was written in French) which removes some of the major infelicities. Also to this list we ought to add Goldschmidt's Beatrice Cenci.

Many years ago, ENO had a programme of doing quick and dirty revivals of operas which would not otherwise be done, Rienzi was done in this way. Could we not surely have a similar scheme to put some of our English operas before the public.

His other complaint is that the company does not nurture native talent. Their young artists programme ought surely to be more firmly slanted towards UK singers rather than being indifferent to their origins - a laudable intention, but one which I think is a rather doubtful one when you are talking about the training programme of our National opera.

One of the regrets of recent years is the the short lived previous regime, for all its faults (both actual and perceived) seemed to be taking the English National role a little more seriously. But the current management seem to have dropped all of Sean Doran's ideas, whether good or bad.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Simon Mayr's Tobiae matrimonium is here, on MusicWeb International.

A charming piece, charmingly performed ...

Friday, 11 September 2009

Central City Opera

Whilst in the USA, we visited Central City and took a trip round the opera house there. Central City is a Colorado gold rush town and dates from around 1859. Remarkably it is mostly preserved, with whole streets untouched since the town was built. Though nowadays most of the buildings are devoted to gambling. A small theatre (opera house) was built by a group of Welsh and Cornish miners. Initially successful, it was overtaken by another building in Denver. The theatre was re-born in the 1930's when it was restored and seasons of opera and plays given each summer. Since the 1980's they have given only operas in a 3 week season. The season is quite short because the theatre is without heating (it originally had two huge stoves in the auditorium) and Central City is high in the mountains so that it gets quite cold.

The theatre is a charming small box, with just one balcony; an elaborate plaster ceiling has been replaced by a painted copy since the original fell down and the remainder is decorated with trompe l'oeuil paintings.

This summer the company gave three operas, Lucia di Lammermoor, A Little Night Music and Rinaldo (I know, the middle one isn't strictly an opera). They usually manage to balance interesting programming with more mainstream pieces but the people we talked to in Central City seemed to imply that it was only the mainstream pieces that did well. Next season they are doing Madama Butterfly, Orpheus in the Underworld, plus Jake Heggie's Three Decembers. Whilst I would regard Orpheus as standard fare, evidently it is less well known in Colorado and our informant worried that the season was a little to adventurous. Jake Heggie's piece is, on the face of it, a safe choice for a contemporary piece. It only uses a small band and three singers, but I was less then enthusiastic about hearing it on disc so wonder how it will come over in the theatre.

So if you are anywhere near Denver next year in July do give Central City Opera your support.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Chamber Music Prom 19

To the Cadogan Hall on Monday for the final Chamber Music Prom. Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and harpsichordist Richard Egarr aided and abetted by members of the Academy of Ancient Music presented a programme of music by, or dedicated to Purcell.

They opened with a sequence, Suite No. 1 for harpsichord, Tis nature's voice from Hail Bright Cecilia, A new ground for harpsichord, Music for a while, Suite No. 6 and finally Sweeter than Roses. I was disturbed somewhat by the way they made the pieces almost run into each other, this seemed to be deliberate as Egarr almost ran the Prelude from Suite No. 1 into the tuning up. Accompaniments in the songs were generally rather busy. This meant that for Music for a While and Sweeter than Roses, which were sublimely handled by Davies, I found the accompaniment a little to thick and longed for just a simple lute. Davies has an impressive voice, he manages to be at home in Italian opera but can still turn on the necessary tone and edge to make these Purcell pieces work. His is not the soft option, but a really keenly voiced, profoundly moving account.

The sequence was followed by Blow's Ode on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell, where Davies was joined by tenor Simon Wall. I have heard the piece sung by tenors and by counter-tenors, but usually two of a kind. Here Wall had a couple of moments when he was tested by the extreme tessitura of his part, but he impressed by the way he managed to sing it so beautifully and freely, balancing Davies quite easily. The ode is a big work, lasting over 20 minutes and the performers gave it a strong performance. I just wished that the recorders sounded a little butcher and a little less weedy, but if they did they wouldn't be recorders I suppose.

Finally Davies gave us the Evening Hymn a haunting and beautiful way to sign off.

As ever the hall was packed for the Chamber Music Prom and I gather that this has been the case for the whole series, including the amazing bank holiday weekend with its plethora of concerts celebrating the New Generation Artists scheme. The Cadogan Hall and the BBC should look to extending this concert series next year as it provides a valuable side view on the Proms programme.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

COG Alceste

Chelsea Opera Group have started to announce casting for their concert performance of Gluck's Alceste (the French version) on November 28th at Cadogan Hall. The performance will be conducted by Nicholas Collon and the title role will be taken by the Dutch mezzo-soprano Cécile van de Sant.

Collon, who conducts the Aurora Orchestra, is developing quite a reputation in Romantic and Contemporary music so it will be interesting to see how he responds to Gluck's neo-classical masterpiece.

Review of Linda di Chamounix

My review of the concert performance of Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix from Royal Opera, Covent Garden, is here on Music and Vision

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

To the Royal Opera House last night for the first night of their concert performance of Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix with Eglise Gutierrez in the title role. (A review will appear in due time.)
This was the first night of the new season and the Royal Opera unveiled a rather unwelcome change. Programmes for opera performances have now gone up to £7. Granted, the programme book was filled with illuminating articles, but somehow I think that I'd be prepared to accept a thinner book if it was rather cheaper.

Review of Rossini double bill

My review of British Youth Opera's Rossini double bill is here, on Music and Vision.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Prom 68

Sunday evening was Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, sung by a choir of some 260 young people from the CBSO Youth Chorus, Halle Youth Choir, National Youth Choir of Great Britain, National Youth Choir of Wales, Quay Voices, RSCM Millennium Youth Choir and Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir. They were accompanied by the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Nicholas McGegan.

Now Messiah is a virtually indestructible work and will take any amount of performance styles. Having so many young people sing the piece at the Albert Hall was a great opportunity and the singers made a fabulous, light, clear choral sound. Vocally and musically they were a great testament to the hard work put in by themselves and their various choir trainers.

Now up to around 50 years ago, a choir of 260 would have been accompanied by an orchestra of comparable size. The Handel centenary celebrations at the end of the 18th century all used mammoth forces, but with the size of the orchestra multiplied up to balance the choral forces. Now, 260 young people do not quite make the same amount of noise as 260 adults, but the Northern Sinfonia, which fielded around 50 players, was rather too small a group to accompany the choir.

For much of the time, McGegan got light, bright singing from the choristers and the balance varied from poor to adequate. But at the bigger moments the choral sound threatened to overwhelm the orchestra. McGegan finally admitted defeat when, for the Halleluja Chorus and the final choruses in Part 3, the Albert Hall organ was added to the mix, thus providing the choir with adequate support.

It is a shame that what could have been an amazing performance, was to a certain extent marred by the decision not to expand the Northern Sinfonia; having another 25 or 30 players would have made a great deal of difference.

The soloists were Dominque Labelle, Patricia Bardon, John Mark Ainsley and Matthew Rose. Labelle had a rather darker, richer voice than I am used to in this piece and there were times when I missed the purity that Emma Kirkby (or Isobel Bailey) could bring to the part. Bardon was often rather earnest, though beautiful in her own way; there were times when she sounded as if she was singing one of Handel's more butch operatic trouser roles rather than one of the great mezzo-soprano parts. Her account of He was Despised was musical and earnest rather than moving. Ainsley was musical and impressive, but had not quite got the hang of the Albert Hall acoustic. He sounded rather distant at times. Matthew Rose was the singer who impressed most. He had the measure of the acoustic and contributed a musical and moving performance, The Trumpet Shall Sound was particularly impressive.

One other little annoyance. The orchestra included a harpsichord and a large chamber organ, all very correct. The harpsichord was rather too small in timbre for the space, and for much of the time McGegan used the organ as continuo as well during quite a few of the arias, which was something Handel never did - harpsichord for arias, organ for choruses except for the occasions when he made specific requirements. His solution for larger scale was, I believe, to have more than one harpsichord.

Nothing can take away the wonderful sound of this young choir, their commitment to the music and the performance or their enthusiasm both during the performance and after. This shouldn't be a one-off event, and I hope that we get to hear a similar combination of choirs again another year, but next time please give them an accompanying ensemble of the right size.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Recent CD Reviews

My review of John Eccles Judgement of Paris recorded by Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company is here.
A forgotten gem which deserves to be rediscovered ...

And my review of Handel's Opus 3 Concerti Grossi from the Linde Consort is here.
Shop around for a more recent alternative ...

And finally my review of Victoria's Missa Gaudeamus from Westminster Cathedral Lay Clerks, is here. All reviews on MusicWeb International.
The Lay Clerks sound as if they have been singing plainchant all their lives ...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Technological Challenges

Whilst in Santa Fe, my new net-book develop rather worrying problems which made accessing the internet rather more problematic than usual. And at home I have had on-going problems with my broadband access. This means that posting to the web-site has been patchier than usual. Apologies, I've spent rather a lot of time on the phone to the helpdesk in India and hope that my devotion will be rewarded with a resolution soon.

Jacko's Hour

Writer Tim Satterthwaite and composer Elfyn Jones have come up with a striking premise for their new opera, Jacko's Hour; set on in a fairground, the plot is a re-telling of High Noon.

The opera will be premiered on 11th September at the Pavillion Theatre, Brighton by a new company Opera Engine, set up by Satterthwaite and Jones; with Jones conducting and Satterthwaite directing. Written for highly practical forces (nine singers and small ensemble), it seems to have garnered good reviews when they previewed the work at Tete a Tete's opera festival this summer at Riverside Studios.

Of course, questions have to be asked. Do we want an operatic version of High Noon? We are promised a 'punchy, accessible and fast-based show', which again might make you think 'Wow, I want to see that' or hmmmm. I must confess that my original view was the latter.

But, Jones and Satterthwaite have a collaboration which goes back a number of years. Since 1997 they have written 5 stage works together so must be in the enviable position, rare in the up and coming opera composer, of having a back-log of experience to draw on. The advantage is that they can learn by their mistakes, but the disadvantage is that expectations will be commensurately high.

The company uses a fine band of young singers, thus fulfilling another admirable role in giving young professionals more exposure and experience.

I realise that my view of this new opera is slightly less than fully enthusiastic, something about the plot source and promised style worries me; I want a new opera not a new play with musical twiddles in the back-ground. But all we can do is go and listen with open ears and mind.

Opera Engine are bringing the production to London from 15th to 19th September when they will be at the Bridewell Theatre.