Sunday, 27 November 2011

Chelsea Opera group - Beatrice et Benedict

Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict is only an intermittent visitor to London. It is many years since ENO staged the work, but Colin Davis has done concert performances with the LSO and the piece has been performed at the music colleges. Now Chelsea Opera Group have performed the piece in concert at the Cadogan Hall (26th November 2011).

The problem with Beatrice et Benedict in concert is the amount of spoken dialogue, a common problem with the opera comique and singspiel genres. The short rehearsal time just does not allow for adequate preparation of the singers in the dialogue and companies tend to shy away from it, replacing dialogue with a narration or abandoning it altogether. I didn't see the LSO performances but I understand that Davis used a parallel group of actors. COG took a similar view, understandable given that their cast included at least 2 non-British singers.Their Somarone was Donald Maxwell, who will be singing the role for WNO in 2012, so he plus two young actors (Sion Davies and Helen Ramsorrun) delivered a shortened form of the dialogue in English whilst the musical items were delivered in French.

Maxwell delivered spoken lines for Leonato, Somarone and the Notary, Sion Davies was the Messenger, Don Pedro, Benedict and a servant, whilst Helen Ramsorrun was Beatrice, Claudio, a servant and Hero. Which meant that at times Sion Davies had to have dialogues with himself; the addition of an extra actor or, perish the thought, having one of the male singers speak some lines, would have made big difference to dramatic logistics.

Also, having a spoken and a singing pair of lovers on stage at the same time was slightly odd. To add to the confusion, where Berlioz's text was based directly on Shakespeare, then Shakespeare's text was spoken, but for other passages modern English was used. Frankly I found this fussy and confusing and felt that a simple, straightforward English translation should have been used.

One of the problems with stagings of the opera is that producers tend to want to make Berlioz's opera closer to Shakespeare, rather than perceiving it as a work in its own right. Still, whatever the quibbles, COG's presentation was far better than their previous use of spoken narration to replace dialogue.

Berlioz's distillation of the text lacks the kill Claudio moment of Shakespeare's original, Hero and Claudio's path to matrimony is straightforward so that Hero becomes a softer romantic heroine. Ana Maria Labin made an attractive Hero, delivering her aria Je vai le voir with passion and with a richer, more vibrant voice that I am used to in this role, Labin's Hero was no soubrette, though her coloratura was slightly sketchy. Labin is Roumanian but seems to have performed a lot on France and her French was attractive and convincing; in fact all of the cast were entirely praiseworthy when it came to their French diction.

Beatrice was sung by Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Liora Grodnikaite who has sung other roles for COG in the past. A striking, tall presence on stage, Grodnikaite had a nicely modulated way with Berlioz's music, though she seemed to concentrate more on beauty of utterance, her delivery lacked something of the pertness which might be appropriate. But then Grodnikaite accounts of her two arias were so beautifully passionate, that they were entirely satisfying.

The third female member of the cast was Emma Carrington as Ursule. Carrington is possessed of an extremely striking contralto voice and I would love to have heard more of her.

Act 1 concludes with a duet for Ursule and Hero, a sort of barcarolle. Labin and Carrington's voices combined superbly in this and conductor Nicholas Collon coaxed some hushed magical playing out of the  orchestra. The image of Ursule and Hero stood on the coast of Sicily looking out to sea came to mind and Berlioz's music implies that you can see all the way to Carthage, so palpable were the echoes of his music for Les Troyens.

All three women combined in another highlight, the trio in Act 2. Again the 3 voices blended beautifully and these two female ensemble pieces were the stand out moments in the performance.

The male trio, sung by Benedict (Ben Johnson), Claudio (Simon Lobelson) and Don Pedro (Adrian Clarke) was robustly enjoyable, unfortunately Lobelson and Clarke got very little else so sing. Johnson as Benedict had two duets with Grodnikaite as well a solo of his own. Johnson has a lovely lyric voice, having sung Nemorino and Don Ottavio. In this context he negotiated Berlioz's lines beautifully, but seemed slightly under powered. He wasn't helped by the way Collon encouraged the orchestra to play out. More worryingly, Johnson's performance seemed to be at a distance from the attempts at drama in the presentation (Martin Lloyd-Evans was credited as director). Certainly the first duet with Grodnikaite Comment le dedain pourrait il mourir did not raise the sparks it should and their relationship did not develop.

Maxwell, as Somarone, had relatively little to sing but he did have the rather embarrassing rehearsal scene, where Berlioz pokes fun at musical performances of his own day. Maxwell, using a degree of improvisation, brought this off delightfully as well as giving us a fun rendition of the drinking song at the opening of Act 2.

In this, and in other places, the chorus were participants in the drama, not only singing but entering into the dialogue with enthusiasm and commitment.

The two actors, Davies and Ramsorrun gave sterling performances. Davies proved suitable schizophrenic in his abilities to deliver two different characters simultaneously. Ramsorrun was nicely tart as Beatrice, so much so that I felt that it would certainly be interesting to see her in the full role in Shakespeare's place.

Nicholas Collon drew fine playing from the orchestra, in fact I think that this was one of their best performances. Granted, Collon compromised the balance at times but generally the orchestral contribution was at a very high level and the group brought off the magical effects of Berlioz's orchestration. All in all a magical evening.

Review of Saul

My review of last Tuesday's performance of Handel's Saul given by the Sixteen, is now online at OperaToday, here.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Gabrieli are doing it for themselves



How much does it cost to put on a concert and where does the money come from? It is a fact of life that ticket receipts do not cover the total cost, even for a relatively small event. In 2010 we put on a concert performance of my opera When a Man Knows; it was done on a shoe string, but we still needed some substantial sponsorship to fill in the gap between ticket sales and costs. And of course if you want to put on, say, a Handel oratorio using fully professional forces properly rehearsed, then you are looking at a significant funding gap; one generally filled by sponsors, usually big name firms.

Of course, you've got to find someone willing and interested, the content of the event needs to appeal to the sponsors. This scrabbling for money has always happened, in the past composers and performers needed patrons and sponsors. Impresarios like Diaghilev spent most of their working lives searching for the next sponsor and Sir Thomas Beecham’s seasons at Covent Garden only happened because of his father’s money. Since the formation of the Arts Council, this role has often been taken by government, but as the arts have dropped in importance to a series of governments who seem to have done their best to look philistine, companies are having to hustle for themselves.

The Gabrieli Consort have had a long relationship with Christ Church Spitalfields; in 2005 their concert season there consisted of 6 concerts, but in 2011 they only performed there once. What tends to happen with such independent groups is that they perform where it is economic to do so, so you can end up with the slightly crazy situation of well known British performing groups appearing mainly outside Britain. If you want to see some of the more interesting work from groups like the Gabrieli Consort, the English Concert and others like them you have to travel to see them. In fact, thanks to the Barbican Centre’s Great Performers season, we tend to see more performances from visiting groups then UK ones.

Gabrieli's solution to this is to do it themselves. Following on from their Proms performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah  with Simon Keenlyside, Paul McCreesh and his forces went into the studio to record the work. The project was part funded by collaborators at the City of Wroclaw, Poland, where McCreesh is artistic director of the Wratislava Cantans festival, but having secured that partnership Gabrieli still needed to top up with a group funding event organised by the Gabrieli Consort themselves. The recording of Elijah will come out on Paul McCreesh's new label, Winged Lion Records; the label's first disc is Berlioz's Requiem  recorded with the Wroclaw Festival; a disc which is already winning acclaim.

So they are repeating the group funding/crowd sourcing again this autumn/winter in order to fill the sponsorship gap for their concerts as part of the 2012 Christ Church Spitalfields Festival. The extra money gives them the flexibility to mount a performance of Purcell's Fairy Queen, the Monteverdi and Stravinsky masses and a new a cappella choral programme, plus various educational extras and outreach which are now part of the contemporary performance experience.

All this will help to celebrate the amazing fact that the Gabrieli Consort are 30 next year.

The fund raising takes place as part of the Big Give, starting 5th December, the advantage of this is that funds raised through the Big Give will be matched by funds from major supporters and sponsors, so that if you include gift aid then £100 in donations will become £225.

All this happens from 10.am on Monday 5th December. Further details at www.gabrieli.com and http://new.thebiggive.org.uk/projects/view/13226

As next year is Gabrieli’s 30th anniversary and they are inviting people to share their thoughts and reminiscences via the groups Facebook page or by sending an email to info@gabrieli.com

Friday, 25 November 2011

Barbican battiness

We went to see the Sixteen performing Handel's Saul on Tuesday (a review will appear eventually). It started at 6.30pm (!) and finished just after 9.30pm. I know that some people like early starts, but I still feel that 6.30pm is too early for a weekday when people work until 5.30pm. Especially as the Barbican's door policy is so haphazard. A few weeks ago D. was late for a concert (early start again) and was kept outside until the interval, despite suitable gaps and despite there being people let in. On Tuesday we received an email saying very firmly that there would be no late entry, D. was late as he worked until 6.00pm, but there were still people being let in late.

Could we please have a coherent and consistently applied door policy please. And if concerts start at 6.30pm could there be a decent reason, i.e. substantial length.

What was even more stupid on Tuesday was the the performance co-incided with Opera North in the Barbican Theatre performing Queen of Spades. This started at the normal time and the 2nd interval co-incided with us leaving Saul, so the opera goers were going to be finishing far later than Saul.....

Incidentally we bumped into a friend on leaving Saul and had a hilarious cross-purposes conversation where we each talked about the performance and compared notes, until we realised that one had been listening to Handel and the other Tchaikovsky!

Christmas at St. Martin in the Fields

The Christmas concert season at St. Martin in the Fields kicks off tomorrow (26th November) with the London Bach Singers and the Feinstein Ensemble performing Bach's Christmas Oratorio. They are using 1 singer to a part, (hurrah!), with tenor Nicholas Hurndall Smith as the Evangelist, the soprano is Faye Newton, the alto is sung by William Purefoy, and the bass is Ben Davies. They are performing parts 1,2,3 and 6 of the oratorio, which means you'll miss out on some fine music but the performance will be of reasonable duration. 


They are marking World Aids Day (1st December) with a concert of Carols and Christmas Music by Candlelight given by the City of London Choir, with Ugandan pianist Ivan Kiwuwa and George Alagaih doing readings. Given the worthy cause (VSO's HIV and Aids work overseas) there is enough of interest in the concert to make it worth considering. And on Friday 2nd December you can have an alternative view of Christmas with the Norwegian Christmas Concert (the Wigmore Hall's take on this, a Swedish Christmas, is on Friday 23rd December).


Inevitably the programme includes rather a lot of carol concerts. If you have to go and see one, then the Choir of Christ's College Cambridge on Dec 8th might be a good bet.


And for those with time to spare after Christmas, on Dec 29th Dietrich Bethge and the London Octave present the complete Brandenburg Concertos. I've not heard of the ensemble before but the marathon of all the Brandenburg Concertos sounds tempting.

This Week's Classical Music Roundup


Guest Post from The Arts Desk: This Week’s Classical Music Round-Up

This week’s classical music coverage on The Arts Desk includes a disastrous dance piece, a concert that runs hot and cold and the top pick of the latest CDs.

picture credit Sadler's Wells
Combining classical music and dance at Sadler’s Wells on 22 November, choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker put on a show in collaboration with Jérôme Bel and the Ictus ensemble that has provoked strong reactions. Judith Flanders was one of the more sympathetic in the audience for 3Abschied finding the show a fascinating failure. A failure because their cerebral attempt to choreograph Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde using a mixture of discussion, uncertain dance moves, a take on Haydn’s Symphony No 45 in which the orchestra leaves one by one and yet more unsuccessful dance moves was often nothing less than disastrous. But it was fascinating nonetheless because, to Flanders, it encapsulated the everyman’s inability to articulate the enormity of what art means.

While over the weekend Graham Rickson gave his weekly appraisal of the latest classical CD releases. First up was the Ulster Orchestra under George Vass. An unpublished 1902 piece by Vaughan Williams was recognisable Vaughan Williams fare, but it was the first two piano concertos by Welsh composer William Matthias that Rickson deemed the more enjoyable. There are more challenging pieces out there, certainly, but these works still had a thrilling bite to them. Next was the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest release with conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, bringing together Sibelius and Lutoslawki. Another Sibelius’s Fifth was perhaps unnecessary, Rickson thought, and Lutoslawksi’s Concerto for Orchestra was a sleazier, more forbidding performance than he’s ever heard before, but it was Sibelius’s tone poem ‘Pohjola’s Daughter’ that stood out, in a thrilling live performance that brings out every dark narrative twist of this tragic Finnish folk tale. The final recommendation was ‘Five Pieces’, superbly played by the Italian Gazzana sisters on piano and violin. The disc includes works by Hindemith, Janáček and Silvestrov but the real revelation was the delicate yet angular piece ‘Distance de fée’ by Takemitsu which had Rickson grinning helplessly and hitting the repeat button.

picture credit Greg Helgeso
And on 17 November Geoff Brown went to the Royal Festival Hall to see conductor Osmo Vänskä take the London Philharmonic in hand for an uncompromising interpretation of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Though some audience members disliked the results, Brown was not one of them. Vänskä’s treatment was meticulous, drawing a polished performance from the orchestra and daring to bring the sound down to, at times, an almost imperceptible level. The result was exceptionally refined but with a definite wind-chill factor, feeling particularly cool after Janine Jansen’s sublime performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in the first half. A passionate, fiery performance, yet tender and fragile too, she had the audience enslaved.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Idomeneo in Catford

Having last given us a concert of substantial excerpts from Wagner's Ring, Midsummer Opera are now giving us a masterpiece of an entirely different kind (albeit one which also has problems of length), Mozart's Idomeneo. They are performing it in the Munich version, thank goodness, with a mezzo-soprano Idamante and will be giving 3 concert performances; on 6th November at the Broadway Theatre in Catford and on 11th and 12th November at St. John's Church, Waterloo. The cast includes John Upperton as Idomeneo, Deborah Stoddart as Elettra, Emma Dogliani as Illia, and Norma Ritchie as Idamante, all conducted by the indefatigable David Roblou. For those of us who found ENO recent production of the opera rather too full of stage business, here's a chance to here the work with only our imagination to supply the visuals.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Recent CD review

My review of Butterfly by Bass Instinct (an all double bass group!) is here, on MusicWeb International.

By turns serious, humorous and attractively melodic. Do try it.

Eugene Onegin at the London Coliseum

The problem  with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin is to make the final scenes belong to the same opera as the opening ones. From the duel scene onward, the drama almost runs itself, most Onegins and Tatyanas find the characters' older incarnations easier, their final passionate encounter is the one that usually works. Deborah Warner and her designers (Tom Pye, sets, and Chole Obolensky, costumes) emphasised this divide in their new production of the opera for ENO (seen Friday 18th November). The duel scene was set in a spectacular stylised landscape, mirrored floor, white and mirrored walls, with a little snow and bare trees. This basic set, with the addition of some spectacular columns at the front of the stage, formed the setting for the St. Petersburg scenes; stylish, stylised, simple and not a little spectacular and the setting for some powerful performances.

But earlier on in the opera, Warner relied on naturalism to create the Larina's estate, though as Act 1 progressed we came to realise that it was a kind of Hovis realism. And at the centre of this should be the youthful passion of Tatyana, but Amanda Echalaz's  performance, though moving and passionate, failed to convince as the impressionable young girl. Despite an impressive dramatic manner where she did indeed capture the right body language, she was let down by the wonderful richness of her voice; this Tatyana just sounded far too mature. Of course, this maturity can count in the letter scene; taken out of context the scene was superbly done and revealed Echalaz to be a fine dramatic actress; it just didn't feel like a young girl.

This is a common problem with the opera; I've lost count of the reviews I've read which say that a particular singer's Tatyana was fine in the last act but less convincing in the first. Perhaps, in this post-Callas era, we don't make the sort of youthful sounding passionate voices any more. I have to confess that I have only really seen one performance where the soprano managed to trick properly, this was many years ago at the Royal Opera House where Gabriela Benackova gave a performance which was notable for the intensity of youthful passion she brought to the the first 4 scenes in the opera.

The first act was played with detailed naturalism by a very strong cast in Tom Pye's single set, a huge barn-like structure which seemed to be attached to the Larina's house. There was no garden, just a view of the yard outside when the barn-doors were open. For some reason, Tatyana slept here and her confrontation with Onegin was here also. I began to suspect that the look of the production was dictated more by the needs of having a single spectacular set for the whole act (for economic reasons), rather than from the dramatic need that Tatyana indeed be sleeping outside. The production is a co-production with the Met in New York and the cynical side of me suggests that the production values had to cope with the expectation that the Met have a spectacular setting. I suspect that Met audiences would in fact normally expect a different, handsome-looking, setting for each scene and that if ENO had been going it alone we would have had a less substantial but more flexible setting.

This wasn't a serious problem, but just nagged away, it seemed as if Warner was only intermittently interested in being true to the libretto; Toby Spence's Lensky went into raptures about a non-existent garden; Echalaz's Tatyana threw about furniture in a way which suggested, in the context of the surrounding naturalism, that she was indeed rather disturbed; during the dance at Madame Larina's in Act 2, the entire staff (including the chef) seemed to be dancing at the ball; in Act 3 Tatyana was present when Prince Gremin (Brindley Sherratt) sang his aria and he seemed to be singing it to Tatyana rather than Audun Iverson's Onegin (who hardly seemed to be paying attention); and the dancing at the Act 3 ball seemed entirely restricted to the professional dancers.

For me, the best productions use the dance as an additional element of the drama, both at Madame Larina's and in St. Petersburg; but Warner didn't really do this, dance was there as entertainment and nothing else. But having much of it danced by the professional dancers rather than chorus, she minimised its dramatic impact. The dance during the peasants choruses in Act 1 was solely confined to 3 professionals and was far too elaborate; the choreographer (Kim Brandstrup) showing off rather than producing something suitable to go with Tchaikovsky's folk-like choruses.

All this rather took the mind off the performances, which was a shame because they were very strong. Echalaz's Tatyana was superbly dramatic and, as I have said, she gave a creditable and impassioned account of the letter scene, she just sounded too old. But of course, that meant that when we got to St. Petersburg she was in her element and show what a fine dramatic actress this singer is becoming. I do hope that ENO next give her something to get her teeth into.

About Audun Iversen's Onegin I was a little conflicted; he has a fine, bright baritone voice which he uses intelligently and sounded just right. But dramatically he was a little dull. In Act 1 he seemed more of a bank-manger-ish safe bet, rather than a broodingly interesting presence. At the Larina's dance he seemed not quite other enough. But he came alive in the St. Petersburg scenes, showing what a fine dramatic singer he can be. For me Onegin needs to exude an element of interesting otherness, a sense of difference and perhaps a feeling of brooding intensity; you didn't feel that there was anything in this Onegin that could really fascinate and infatuate the youthful Tatyana.

This, of course, rather threw Toby Spence's Lensky into relief. Spence was very fine indeed in this role, performing Act 1 with a sort of puppyish enthusiasm and charm which made his descent into manic jealously quite believable. An then the duel scene, here Spence was quite, quite superb. He delivered the aria in a beautifully controlled, yet intense fashion, daring to sing incredibly quietly. Though it was show-piece he never grandstanded and this continued into the fine duet which preceded the duel itself.

The supporting characters were all cast from strength with Diana Montague as Madame Larina, rather less scatty than she is sometimes portrayed, a lovely sympathetic portrait, and Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Filippyevna also providing sympathetic support and an unhackneyed portrayal of the old nurse. Claudia Huckle was a charmingly bubbly Olga, blending nicely with Echalaz in the Act 1 duet.

The role of Prince Gremin is a gift to the right singer, and Brindley Sherratt grasped it with both hands, giving as fine an account of the aria as I have heard, sung with a rich, resonant voice which went all the way down to the bottom.  David Stout was  admirable in the small role of Zaretsky.

The opera was sung in a translation by Martin Pickard which used rhyming verse, something which at times was a little too noticeable. I still have fond memories of David Pountney's translation.

Edward Gardner and the ENO Orchestra and Chorus were all on fine form, giving us some fine impassioned music, all well paced by Gardner. Tchaikovsky gives both the orchestra and the chorus moments in the spotlight and they did not disappoint. Gardner's dramatic handling of the piece was impressive.

I came away from the performance wondering whether Warner might have been more comfortable if she could have delivered a less naturalistic, more expressionistic production. That said, she, Gardner and the cast created a fine, dramatic evening and I certainly hope to see the production again at the Coliseum; there are plenty of fine young baritones who ENO ought to consider for the title role.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

I see from the latest Opera magazine, that Calixto Bieito will be directing a new production of Carmen at ENO in autumn 2012, so it seems that Sally Potter's production will be no more. In many ways this is a shame; though there was plenty wrong with it I thought that with some work, ENO could have had a promising and interesting production. I do find it troubling when productions are seen as disposable, being got rid of after one showing rather than trying to work to fix problems. And quite what Bieito will make of Carmen is anybody's guess (except of course we can get a fair idea by reading the fuss created by his recent productions elsewhere).

And in Covent Garden 2013, Placido Domingo will be singing another Doge; this time Doge Francesco in I due Foscari.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Harry Bramma at All Saints, Margaret Street

On Friday we went to All Saints, Margaret Street for a musical celebration of Harry Bramma's 75th Birthday. Bramma was musical director at All Saints for many years, and his successor Paul Brough conducted the choir in a number of Bramma's beautifully wrought pieces, along with some Byrd. Interspersed with this were addresses from Lindsay Gray (Director of the Royal School of Church Music) and Nicholas Frayling (Dean of Chichester) which covered Bramma's myriad activities including his influential time as director of the Royal School of Church Music. Brough and his choir have recorded a disc of Bramma's music for Priory Records and the event concluded with a glass of wine, a piece of a huge birthday cake and a chance to buy the new record.

La Sonnambula

To Covent Garden on Saturday 12th November for the revival of Marco Arturo Marelli's 20th century sanatorium version of Bellini's La Sonnambula. As ever it looks handsome and provides an attractive setting for the vocalism, providing you can suspend belief rather more than usual. Bellini and Felice Romani's plot has the usual class condescension, requiring us to believe that the villagers are naive (stupid?) enough to believe in ghosts and to not know about the idea of sleepwalking. Also embedded in this class division is the assumption that the count's appearance, after the first sleepwalking episode, will clear things up; that aristocrats are basically trustworthy.

By moving it to the 20th century, Marelli requires us to stretch this further and believe this of the staff and inhabitants of the sanatorium. I can understand why he did it, after all the previous Covent Garden production of La Sonnambula which was traditional in its setting, really did the opera no favours either, the theatrical convention of setting operas in cutesy period villages doesn't usually work well in modern productions. The problem is that the basic premise of the plot requires us to forget about realism, so perhaps producers should be aiming at abstraction or magical realism. But on Saturday, we had to brush aside any doubts we had about the logistics and concentrate on the vocalism.

The revival was centred around the Amina of Eglise Gutierrez, the Cuban-American soprano whose previous appearances at Covent Garden have included La Fee in the recent Massenet Cendrillon  and a concert performance of Donizetti's Linda di Chamonix for Opera Rara. So this was our first chance to hear her in a staging of a piece of mainstream coloratura repertoire. Gutierrez has a fabulous sense of line, spinning out notes endlessly, which suits Bellini's style admirably. Her voice has a creamy evenness which spreads almost throughout the range; when I heard her as Linda di Chamonix I didn't need that 'almost' but on Saturday her very upper extension seemed a little thin and not quite evenly linked to the remainder of her voice, this only applied to the acuti and is really me being picky.

A bigger problem was the speeds that she chose. Conductor Daniel Oren seemed to be entirely complaisant, letting the soprano spread things as far as she chose. Whilst hearing Gutierrez spin lines out so beautifully was a complete pleasure, it wasn't something I wanted for the entire evening. Stunning though Gutierrez's singing was, ultimately I found her Amina a little too self-indulgent and self-regarding. A stronger hand at the conductor's desk would, I think, have cured this.

Tenor Celso Albelo as Elvino, making his Covent Garden debut, seemed to suffer somewhat from the slow speeds. He is possessed of a nicely focused bright, lyric tenor which he utilised to good effect. But his delivery in the upper register seemed at times to be rather laboured and I thought he might have found a fleeter performance rather more comfortable. But he too was guilty of self-indulgence, with Oren allowing him to extend his top notes far beyond what was musically acceptable.

Albelo's acting was of a limited, rather schematic variety, so his presentation of Elvino did not attempt any novelty or subtlety. I have always felt that productions tend to take Elvino too much at face value and that there is a great deal of potential for exploring the character's fundamental personality problems; the fact that he is essentially something of a shit with a history of dumping women.

Covent Garden had surrounded the lead couple with a very strong cast. Elena Xanthoudakis was a pertly bright Lisa. She relished the roles ambiguities and opportunity for displays of temper as well as flirting outrageously with Michele Pertusi's Count Rodolfo. Xanthoudakis contributed some nicely bright and correct coloratura in her solos. Jihoon Kim and Elizabeth Sikora provided good support as Alessio and as Teresa.

Michele Pertusi seemed to be having a great time as Count Rodolfo, flirting outrageously with all the girls and generally behaving in a charmingly irresponsible way. The role is rather under-written but Pertusi made much of what he was given and managed to dominate the stage by sheer charm and personality.

There was much to enjoy in this production, but by the end Oren's tempi won out and you felt that the performance could hardly get any slower. I couldn't help feeling that Gutierrez ought to return to Callas's recording of the role, not so much for the vocalism itself but the way Callas bring vivid character to every single not, with scarcely a trace of self-indulgence.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

For a Look or a Touch

Jake Heggie's operas do not get the amount of exposure in the UK that they do in America. For some reason his brand of approachable contemporary music, a style which is very much an American development, is viewed with a little mistrust, as if contemporary opera must always be difficult. The closest we come in the UK is someone like Jonathan Dove and even his operas do not always get the exposure that they deserve.

Whilst we must wait for a London staging of Heggie's Dead Men Walking we can look forward to two performances of Heggie's chamber opera For a Look or a Touch on 19th and 20th November at The Kings Head, Islington, presented by Fusebox ProductionsFor a Look or a Touch deals with a pair of gay lovers both imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and is based on the journals of a real-life figure, Manfred Lewin. With Duncan Rock and Robert French as the lovers, and an instrumental ensemble conducted by Alice Turner, directed by Sandra Martinovic, it should be a thought provoking event. The evening concludes with a semi-staged version of An American Songbook, with music by William Bolcom and Richard Rodney Bennett sung by Jonathan Lemalu

It takes two

City of London based chamber choir, Londinium, have announced their new musical director and the role is being taken as a job share by Andrew Griffiths and Stephen Farr. Both have worked with the choir and will now take it in turns to direct concerts. The planned schedule has some interesting and exciting work: Andrew Griffiths conducting Victoria's Requiem and new music from the Baltic on 15th November, Stephen Farr doing a programme of Tippett, Lauridsen, Howells and Bingham on 9th Feb 2012, Griffiths conducting Brahms, Mendelssohn, Cornelius, Schumann (both) with Gabrieli and Schutz in April 2012 and finishing with Farr conducting Pizzetti's Requiem in July 2012.

I know a number of groups who eschew a musical director and take different conductors for each project, but these tend to be orchestras or orchestral based groups. Choirs usual have a specific musical director who is responsible for the way the choir performs, for its specific sound quality. Presumably Griffiths and Farr feel that the have similar aims and can work together to create a unified sound and attitude. It will be interesting to see (and hear) how the choir develops under this innovative routine. Further details at the Londinium web-site.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Guest Post from The Arts Desk:Choral Music & Bluebeard’s Castle


As an experiment we have the first in a planned series of guest postings from The Arts Desk.

This week The Arts Desk’s classical music reviewers took in a wealth of choral music and paid a frightening visit to Bluebeard’s castle.

On Thursday evening, Edward Seckerson headed to the Royal Festival Hall for a semi-staged performance of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen, as part of their Bartók season entitled Infernal Dance. After a first half of Debussy and Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, played with disappointingly little personality by Yefim Bronfman, the audience was taken to Bluebeard’s castle. Seckerson was firmly of the opinion that this operatic masterpiece needed no form of staging, no choreography, to hammer home the disturbing images it evokes, a sentiment borne out as the projected images of condensation droplets and blood seeping through a cloth added nothing to the atmosphere and psychology of the piece, and if anything only impeded the imagination. Thankfully the quality of the musical interpretation made up for this needless distraction: John Tomlinson and Michelle DeYoung were extraordinary in the lead roles and, in full command of their vocals and the interior world of their characters did all the visual conjuring work that was necessary.

As something for the weekend, Graham Rickson chose to focus on three discs of choral music in The Arts Desk’s pick of the week’s most interesting classical CD releases. The first was a recording of Fauré’s Requiem by the Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi. The revelation of this recording was that it refreshed a stale work tarnished by its own popularity. Rickson was able to appreciate anew the understated nature of the piece, and the warmth, consolation and sincerity it emits, especially in countertenor Phillippe Jaroussky’s solo Pie Jesu. The accompanying pieces were also a pleasure, including a rare performance of Fauré’s unusually bold psalm setting Super flumina Babylonis. Rickson’s second selection was in fact a classical DVD of Riccardo Chailly’s Gewandhausorchester filmed performing Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which amply met Rickson’s criteria of being well directed (by Michael Beyer), superbly performed and boasting excellent sound quality. Chailly is clearly having fun with the more peculiar elements of Mahler’s work, leading a consistently strong ensemble with his dynamic, positive conducting, making it an all the more accessible, coherent and affirmative experience. Rickson’s final disc of the week was In the Beginning by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, a collection of mixed choral works bravely spanning five centuries and including the likes of Holst, Copland and Eric Whitacre. The choir’s sound – all clear diction and precise intonation – is top quality and very English, while the balance between brass and voices is just right. Though the songs themselves vary in quality, the performances throughout remain consistently faultless.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Now available for download

I have increased the number of my works available from the wonderful http://www.tutti.co.uk website. Now you can download pdf's rather than having to wait for the printed music. At the moment the following are available:-

Harvest Ramble, fantasia for solo guitar - http://www.tutti.co.uk/sheet-music/harvest-ramble-RTHUL-SP7502-D2
Tell me Shepherd, a carol for unccompanied choir - http://www.tutti.co.uk/sheet-music/tell-me-shepherd-RTHUL-SP4401-D1

Two Sketches after Browning for solo piano - http://www.tutti.co.uk/sheet-music/two-sketches-for-piano-after-poems-by-browning-RTHUL-SP7514-D3

So if any of these sound intriguing, do go over to tutti.co.uk and at the moment there is a sale on with 20% off most items.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Review of Mireille - New Sussex Opera

Caroline Carvalho as Marguerite
Goodness knows what Gounod was thinking when he wrote the title role of his opera Mireille, given that it was to be premiered at the Teatre-Lyrique in Paris. The director of the theatre was Leon Carvalho and his wife, Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho was one of the most famous sopranos of her day and created both Juliette and Marguerite for Gounod. She was a lyric coloratura and Juliette was her ideal role.

The title role of Mireille starts as a straightforward lyric role, but by the time we get to Act 4, when Mireille is struggling across the Crau in burning heat, Gounod takes the role into dramatic territory; add to this the fact that  the soprano is on stage for a significant amount of the opera and you get a problem. Madame Miolan-Carvalho's solution was to get the opera re-written. 5 acts down to 3, gloomy bits out, happy ending in and a delightful valse-ariette added for the soprano.

Luckily for us, in the 1930's Reynaldo Hahn and a pupil of Gounod's, Henri Busser, restored the score to its original 5-act version (gloomy bits in,  valse-ariette out) and it was this version which New Sussex Opera brought to London's Cadogan Hall on Tuesday 8th. The production, designed and directed by Tony Baker and conducted by Nicholas Jenkins, had already been seen in Lewes and Eastbourne. The group is based in Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne and aims to produce high-quality performances involving both professional and amateurs. Their choice of repertoire is usually enterprising and previous productions have included Offenbach's Die Rheinnixen and Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover, future productions include Puccini's Edgar and Wagner's Die Feen.

Inevitably Baker's production was simple and straightforward, after all the Cadogan Hall has no facilities for scenery, no wings and no backstage. Baker's solution was highly imaginative and involved the use of simple table and chairs to create all sorts of milieu, helped by Karle Oskar Sordal's lighting.

Caroline Carvalho as Mireille
The plot, which is based on a poem by the Provencal poet Frederic Mistral, involves Mireille (Sally Silver) who is in love with a poor basket-weaver far below her in the social scale. The basket weaver, Vincent, was supposed to be played by Michael Scott, but he had lost his voice so he acted the role and Mark Milhofer sang it from the side of the stage. Gounod's opening acts are mainly scenic, with lots of characterful chorus action and a little bit of plot advancement. As part of the celebrations in Arles in Act 2 we get a Farandole,  the dance for which Provence is famous. It is only at the end of this act that the real drama happens. Mireille is approached by Ourrias (Quentin Hayes), who is her father's choice for her husband but she refuses him. Mireille's father Ramon (Robert Presley) forbids her to marry Vincent and curses both Vincent, his father Ambroise (Paul Waite) and his sister Vincenette (Hilary Jane Andrews).

Vincent and Ourrias fight a duel and Vincent is injured. Ourrias thinks he has killed Vincent, goes mad and commits suicide. Vincent is saved by Taven (Sarah Pring) a witch who supports Mireille and crops up periodically offering support and doom sayings. Luckily Pring played down the mad witch element and made her more of a sensible, wise-woman. Mireille decides to go on pilgrimage to the church of Saintes-Maries and become exhausted and disorientated when crossing the Crau at mid-day. She and Vincent are re-united at Saintes-Maries but as pilgrim's process Mireille dies and is ushered to heaven by the ghost of her mother.

The opera is regarded by many as one of Gounod's masterpieces and certainly he provides some strongly dramatic situations and some profoundly affecting writing. Jenkins, Baker and their forces gave the work with tremendous commitment and no little flair so that by the end of the evening you wondered why it didn't crop up in operatic life more often.

As far as I know London has seen the work staged twice in living memory, both times at ENO; first for Valerie Masterson and later during their re-building season. Neither run seems to have generated a run of performances in other areas. One of the problems is undoubtedly the title role, requiring some coloratura skill, stamina, dramatic force, plus the ability to convince as a young girl. Effectively Gounod has written a role which, dramatically, starts out as Micaela and finishes as Carmen.

Luckily in Sally Silver, NSO had a soprano completely equal to the role. Silver's bright tones and beautifully focused lyric tones created an attractive picture of a lively young woman in the first 2 acts, granted her fioriture were perhaps a bit too dramatic, but the results were all of a piece and charmed. Then in her big Act 4 solo scene, she developed superbly and showed herself fully equal to the dramatic demands, giving a moving and vividly engaging performance; she even managed to die nicely. The role requires no little stamina and in length is by far the biggest role in the opera. Silver seemed completely unphased by its demands and preserved her tone until the very end. This was a total triumph and I certainly hope the this stunning performance brings its rewards; and I hope that someone else mounts a production of the opera for her.

Michael Scott made a visually convincing young basket weaver, this was a production where you did not need to excuse the age of the principals. He and Silver made a charming pairing and it was a shame that we could not hear him as well. But Mark Milhofer sang the role as if he'd been doing it all his life, bringing a nice flexibility to the line and duetting charmingly with Silver. Vincent is one of those roles where the singer interacts with others rather than getting a big solo scene of his own, but Milhofer and Scott created an effective and believable character both musically and dramatically.

Quentin Hayes was also announced as suffering a cold so this perhaps explains a little which his performance, though musical, lacked a little in vividness. This also might have been Gounod's fault; Ourrias's big solo when he announces his interest in her is obviously intended to swagger in the way that Bizet's music for the toreador does in Carmen (Ourrias is after all a bull-tender), but it didn't do so quite hear, despite some effective pleading from Hayes, Jenkins and the orchestra. Given the limitations of the stage, the fight scene between Hayes and Scott/Milhofer worked rather well and did fair crackle with a vivid energy.

I thought that Robert Presley as Ramon was a little too avuncularly sympathetic; this worked in the later scenes when he regrets his actions, but in the crucial Act 2 cursing of Vincent and his family, Presley seemed to lack the vicious edge which the role requires. Paul Waite as Vincent's father was effective in what is a rather underwritten role. Sarah Pring successfully trod a fine line as Taven, never quite going off into dotty witch mode but convincing us of the character's stubborn otherness.

The remaining soloists were provided by members of the NSO ensemble with Hilary Jane Andrewes as Vincenette, Red Gray as Clemence, Thalie Knights as a Shepherdess, Rachel Shouksmith as the ghost of Mireille's mother, Tim Lock as the Ferryman, Richard Fisher as Echo, John Cobb as a man from Arles, Fiona Baines as Azalais, Anastasia Witts as Norade and Marie Goulding as Violane. All gave creditable performances but the stand-out one was Hilary Jane Andrews whose duet with Mireille in Act 4 was one of the works subtle highlights.

Despite the relatively constricted acting area, Baker and his choreographer Caroline Pope, managed some convincing ensemble dancing for the farandole, even involving a childrens chorus! (The project also included workshops in Sussex schools relating to Mireille).

Nicholas Jenkins and the St. Paul's Sinfonia did full justice to Gounod's score, the Jenkins coaxing some nicely flexible playing from the 34 strong ensemble. It is to their credit that the relatively small string forces never seemed to tell against them and in the resonant Cadogan Hall acoustics they came across is vibrant and effective.

The chorus were immensely hard-working, appearing in a high proportion of the scenes and acting as scene shifters in all the others. The enthusiasm and commitment were palpable and it is a delight to be able to record that all their undoubted hard work paid off in a polished and highly convincing performance; only in the final choruses did Gounod's tricky choral writing threaten to disturb things but even this was a mere blip and what was a fine performance.

I'm not quite convinced that Gounod's opera is a complete masterpiece, but it certainly warrants hearing more often than it is and I definitely think it a great improvement on Romeo et Juliette. Certainly the first two acts are rather leisurely, rather too interested in local colour (Gounod wrote a lot of the opera whilst staying in Provence), but once the drama gets going it certainly picks up. Reading about the re-construction work that Busser did on the score, it seems that the original run may have used some spoken dialogue and I did wonder whether this might have helped to keep things moving in the first 2 acts.

But, all the way through I kept on thinking, what would Bizet have made of this, the drama would have seemed ideal for him. Whilst Gounod has come up with a charming, well-made score which rises to the dramatic occasion, you can't help feeling that Bizet might have produced a rather more arresting work.

Still, it is all credit to New Sussex Opera that they have given us the opportunity to re-evaluate Mireille and done so in such a highly effective and stunning manner.




Monday, 7 November 2011

The Heart of Darkness

On Saturday 5th November, we saw the final performance at Covent Garden's Linbury Studio of Tarik O'Regan's new opera The Heart of Darkness. Based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Conrad, O'Regan and his librettist Tom Phillips have compressed Conrad's narrative into a single 75 minute span. Written for an ensemble of 7 singers and 14 instrumentalists, the piece focuses on the character of Marlow, played by Alan Oke. An element of narrative complexity and a sense of shifting points of view is created by moving between scenes in the 'present' when Marlow is retelling his story on-board a ship on the Thames and action scenes where the narrative is played out. This had the effect of placing Oke's performance centre stage, the opera was held together by his narrative and  around him the other singers formed an ensemble, playing multiple roles. The result, with its emphasis on a single person's journey (both interior and exterior) and the way O'Regan used Oke's tenor voice, reminded me very much of Death in Venice.

Most of other male singers each played one or two roles, but stayed on stage throughout as part of the ensemble; with Nkjabuloo Madlala as the Thames Captain, Sipho Fubesi as the Company Secretary and the Manager, Donald Maxell as the Doctor and the Boilermaker, Paul Hopwood as the Accountant and the Helmsman and Jaewoo Kim as the Harlequin. Standing alone was Morten Lassenius Kramp as Kurtz, the rogue ivory trader whom Marlow is sent to fetch and whose character forms and essential part of the narrative.

Gweneth-Ann Jeffers was the sole woman in the cast, playing Kurtz's fiancee and a strange native woman.

O'Regan sets the text in a flexible recitative shading into arioso, which provided singable lines and enviable clarity of text but which did not quite seem to move anywhere. Around it he spun fine textures from his instrumental ensemble, often it seemed as it the most interesting material was in the orchestra, even when we did have a set number.

The story is all about how Marlow gradually discovers the evil (the darkness) behind Kurtz's apparent success and how Kurtz's personality has a magnetic effect. Ultimately Marlow betrays Kurtz's memory by sanitising the details of his end to his fiancee.

I didn't feel that O'Regan's music quite took us on this journey; whilst it set the text in a fluent and engaging manner, it never seemed to progress into the darkness. The crucial scene between Marlow and Kurtz was telling because of the fine dramatic performances from Kramp and Oke, rather than because of the dramatic tension which O'Regan set up. In fact, I felt little dramatic tension, simply a gentle, equable flow.

Perhaps the structure and length of the piece were partly at fault; it was hardly possible for any of the other characters to develop as they were mere sketches. If the piece had developed things more, then we might have felt the weight of the drama, as it was we were entirely reliant on Alan Oke as Marlow.

Oke turned in a towering performance, convincing and ultimately moving even though at times the character's music was a little too cool and distanced. Kramp, in his short scenes, was most telling and dramatically vivid. All the other singers worked hard and contributed to a fine dramatic ensemble. Maxwell's experience showed and he was able to make his short cameos tell.
In a programme note, O'Regan says that the orchestration of the Belgian sections of the narrative were influenced by recordings from the Belgian Congo in the 1950's, with O'Regan using harp, celesta, guitar and percussion. I felt that he should have gone much further in this, the results were attractive but did not have the sort of vibrant directness associated with such music.

The instrumental ensemble under Oliver Gooch conjured up some lovely sounds and supported the singers well.

The production was directed by Edward Dick with fluently effective designs by Robert Innes Hopkins. Hopkins use of water, combined with Rick Fisher's lighting, created some supremely memorable stage effects.

This was a creditable and fluently effective opera; as it is O'Regan's first then it forms a fine starting point. As ever with creating new opera, finding the right libretto and librettist is key; I don't think that O'Regan has done that yet, so I look forward to his further essays in the genre.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

British Composer Awards 2011

Partly out of a sense of masochism, I suppose, I've been looking at the line up for the shortlist of this year's British Composer Awards. In the Choral category there are works by Alexander Campkin, Francis Pott and Michael Zev Gordon; in the orchestral it is Julian Anderson, Simon Bainbridge and Huw Watkins; Liturgical is Julian Anderson, Francis Grier and Gabriel Jackson. All well and good, very much a reflection of much that is going on in the musical world at the moment, albeit from a certain, non-experimental point of view.

If we turn to the stage category then things get interesting. Note that this is stage not opera. We have Orlando Gough's A Ring A Lamp A Thing, a solo piece performed as part of ROH's Opera Shots, Jody Talbot's score for Alice's Adventure in Wonderland, the Christopher Weeldon ballet premiered at the ROH, and Tim Minchin's Mathilda, the musical based on the Roald Dahl story premiered by the RSC. As you can see the chosen works are rather a varied lot and it seems a shame that we don't have a specifically operatic category. It would seem difficult for complex and difficult operatic works to compete with the populist works; and is it fair to consider ballet as a stage work without considering the choreography. Interesting though the works are, do they really represent the best of last year's music for the contemporary stage?

Or am I just being an old curmudgeon!

Joan of Arc at the Stake

Last night (Friday) the LSO did a concert performance of Honnegger's dramatic oratorio at the Barbican. Even with the stage fully extended into the auditorium, the huge forces required filled the stage and there was no possibility of a semi-staged production, singers and actors had to be virtually static behind their stands. Though the house lights were dimmed and we were given dramatic lighting. This was very effective, but meant that programmes could not be read; for this reason perhaps, the libretto was not printed, there were just surtitles. (I did wonder whether the omission might have been from economy, as Claudel's work is stil in copyright). Now, this reliance on surtitles works well enough, but with no plot summary it was tricky to follow the work unless you knew it. Whilst the programme had an article on Joan of Arc by Marina Warner and a summary of the work's history, I felt that a break down of the scenes etc, would have been profoundly helpful.

The last time I saw the work was when it was done by Crouch End Festival Chorus, with the Mount View Theatre School, in a production which I remember as being simply but dramatically staged. This helps to work out what's going on. Otherwise, as the trial scene starts you might wonder who the hell is Porcus!

That said, the performance under Marin Alsop was excellent. Amira Casar was Jeanne d'Arc, lovely to look at, expressively dramatic but perhaps without the dramatic big-ness of vocal gesture (and sheer volume?) which the role needs. David Wilson Johnson took the spoken role of Frere Dominique (in fact at the first performance, the programme reminded us that the role was taken by the singer who had been the first Pelleas). Wilson-Johnson proved most expressive and developed an intimate dialogue with Casar. Nicolas Dorian and Mark Antoine were eminently watchable in the remaining spoken roles.

Tenor Paul Nilon was most effective as Porcus and the other tenor roles, Jonathan Lemalu's richly resonant bass voice did not really get sufficient exposure, but then again, Honegger's allocation of solo roles is curious. The three female singers, Klara Ek, Katherine Broderick and Kelly O'Connor, were not really used as much as I would have liked, but Broderick and O'Connor formed the heavenly duo of Joan's voices.

A big role goes to the chorus and this was vividly and dramatically taken by the London Symphony Chorus, on fine form. Alsop led the orchestra in an involving and richly coloured account of the work. Seated to one side of the stage we were able to get the full benefit of Cynthia Miller playing the Ondes Martenot.


I enjoyed the performance immensely, but I'm not sure that D. found it as involving; never having seen the work before and without the benefit of a staged performance, Honnegger and Claudel's rather distinctive mixture is rather exotic and can be difficult to apprehend.

Recent CD Review

My review of Kiri Te Kanawa's disc of Puccini arias is here, on MusicWeb International.

If Te Kanawa appeals do try this. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Kiss Thou This Rose - 15th December

Kiss Thou This Rose, my setting of the Helen Waddell poem is being performed on 15th December at the Grosvenor Chapel as part of rose themed programme being given by London Concord Singer, conductor Malcolm Cottle.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Dancing Girls of Granada

To Brighton on Sunday for Joglaresa's concert for the Brighton Early Music Festival. It was an early start, 6pm, which suited us admirably but also meant that for those in the area you could catch the 9pm concert in the venue as well.

The players and vocalists of Joglaresa come from a variety of backgrounds, but merge together to create an exciting and involving re-creation of Medieval Mediterranean music; music which often survives simply as a text or a text and a tune. At the concert at St. George's Church on Sunday the line-up consisted of Belinda Sykes (voice/director), Avivit Caspi (voice), Ruth Fraser (voice), Jean Kelly (harp), Tim Garside (nay, percussion, dulcimer), Stuart Hall (out, guitar, kemence).

For many of the items the group were joined by the Brighton Early Music Community Choir who sang choruses in many numbers and were clearly enjoying themselves. Joglaresa's performing style is heavily based on improvisation and the choir joined in admirably, proving adept at providing a suitable backing.

The programme mixed music from Andalusia at the time of the Arabs, with some of the Cantigas de Santa Maria which, though sacred, often use traditional melodies as their basis. The Andalusian items varied between those of an Arab and those of a Jewish background, including one which I recognised from a contemporary arrangement of Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) folksongs.

Whilst most of the songs were given in lively arrangements with plenty of accompaniment, we also had occasional periods of calm with items of poignantly beautiful simplicity. The theme of this years BREMF is dancing and not only did Joglaresa give us songs sung by the dancing girls of Granada (slave girls who entertained by singing and dancing) but they were joined by a real live belly dancer, Galit Mersand who danced in the majority of the items and provided a richly evocative visual counter-point to the music. Mersand is an Israeli-born UK based belly-dancer who also gives classes (check out her web-site for details!). For the traditional Arabic/Spanish song Bailava en Tetuan (Dancing in Tetuan) she was joined by a members of a belly dancing class, giving us a wonderfully infectious version of the song. In fact, for the finale, Anabalina, all the dancers returned and persuaded a number of members of the audience to dance as well.

This enjoyable evening was exactly what a festival event should be, providing high quality performances but mixing in local references and local performers to create a truly unique evening. Needless to say the audience were very enthusiastic.

There is just 1 weekend of the BREMF left to go, with a musical/dramatic evening about Hildegard of Bingen on Saturday and Purcell's Fairy Queen on Sunday.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

From Opera Magazein

I see from the latest Opera Magazine that ENO are reviving their production of Death in Venice but this time with John Graham-Hall as Aschenbach; Graham-Hall won plaudits for the role when the production appeared in Italy, at La Scala I think, so it is grand that he is being given a chance to repeat it on home turf.

Alessandro Talevi will be directing Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux for WNO in 2013, something really worth travelling to Cardiff for. Also in 2013, Covent Garden are doing Strauss's Capriccio with Renee Fleming, but in concert performance; presumably that means that John Cox production of the opera has been disposed of. We saw Cox's original version of the production, in Brussels many years ago with Felicity Lott, conducted by John Pritchard, and somehow it never seemed to survive the transfer to a bigger house with bigger frocks.

Also at Covent Garden in 2013, Wozzeck reappears, this time with Mark Elder at the helm.