Monday, 30 December 2019

2019 in concert and opera reviews

Britten: Death in Venice -  Tim Mead, Leo Dixon - Royal Opera ((c) ROH 2019 photographed by Catherine Ashmore)
Britten: Death in Venice -  Tim Mead, Leo Dixon - Royal Opera
((c) ROH 2019 photographed by Catherine Ashmore)
2019 seems to have been a good year for rarities, particularly French opera. We caught both Verdi's Don Carlos (in French) and Halevy's La Juive in Flanders, Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini exploded onto the stage at the BBC Proms, Offenbach's fantastical Fantasio received its first UK staging at Garsington, Berlioz La Damnation de Faust was done in concert in Strasbourg, the London Handel Festival performed Handel's Berenice at Covent Garden, Chelsea Opera Group gave us a chance to see Boito's Mefistofele in London, Welsh National Opera performed Prokofiev's War and Peace, Opera North staged Martinu's The Greek Passion and English Touring Opera toured Kurt Weill's Silverlake

Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini - Duncan Meadows, Monteverdi Choir - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini - Duncan Meadows, Monteverdi Choir - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Small-scale Wagner made its mark too, with Fulham Opera's memorable Die Meistersinger and Das Rheingold at Grimeborn, whilst on a larger scale Tony Cooper visited Bayreuth and caught The Ring at the Berlin Staatsoper. Striking Britten productions included Death in Venice and Billy Budd at Covent Garden, and The Turn of the Screw marked the last ever production at Bury Court Opera, they will be sorely missed.

Offenbach: La belle Helene - Catherine Backhouse, Anthony Flaum - New Sussex Opera Photo Robert Knights
Offenbach: La belle Helene - Catherine Backhouse, Anthony Flaum - New Sussex Opera
Photo Robert Knights
Our 2019 opera selection:

  • Death in Venice returned: the Royal Opera's first production in over 25 years of Britten's final opera rightly showcased tenor Mark Padmore's brilliant portrayal of the writer
  • A remarkable reinvention: Verdi's Don Carlos in French in Flanders
  • Oh that all opera bouffe could be delivered with such panache: Offenbach's La Belle Hélène from New Sussex Opera (Anthony)
  • Magic realism, politics and terrific songs: Weill and Kaiser's Winter's Fairy Tale: Silverlake:  in an imaginative production from English Touring Opera
  • A terrific company achievement: Martinu's The Greek Passion at Opera North
  • Guy Cassier's production of Wagner's The Ring at the Berlin Staatsoper for the first time since the theatre's renovation (Tony)
  • A dazzling carnival erupts onto the stage and we don't want it to stop: Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini at the BBC Proms
  • Large scale, striking & engaging: Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in an historic quarry in Austria
  • A stupendous achievement for a small opera company: Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Fulham Opera
  • A significant achievement: Wagner's Das Rheingold in an intimate production at the Grimeborn Festival
  • Sheer enjoyment: Rossini's La Cenerentola at West Green House
  • War & Peace: Welsh National Opera brought its superb production of Prokofiev's opera to London
  • Tony Cooper had a memorable Summer in Bayreuth, catching Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal and Tannhauser (Tony)
  • Cycle of history: Daniel Slater's imaginative staging of Handel's Belshazzar at Grange Festival
  • A lyric melancholy vein: the UK stage debut of Offenbach's late opera comique Fantasio intrigued and engaged at Garsington Opera
  • A finely balanced cast in Opera Holland Park's 1930s setting for Verdi's Un ballo in maschera
  • Verdi's Don Carlo returned to Grange Park Opera in Jo Davies & Leslie Travers stylish & imaginative production 
  • A sort of magic: John Nelson conducted Berlioz' La damnation de Faust in Strasbourg with Michael Spyres & Joyce DiDonato
  • Vivid action & redemptive parable: Britten's Billy Budd returned to Covent Garden
  • Brilliant re-invention: Handel's Berenice from London Handel Festival & Royal Opera
  • The road not taken: Boito's Mefistofele made a rare London appearance with Chelsea Opera Group in terrific form
  • One last show: Bury Court Opera's final performance ever presented Britten's The Turn of the Screw in a production vividly conceived to highlight the venue's distinctive qualities
  • Brilliant revival of Peter Konwitschny's remarkably focused production of Halévy's La Juive in Antwerp
  • Trapped in the underworld with a surly teenager: Gavin Higgins & Francesca Simon's The Monstrous Child at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre
 
Wagner: Parsifal - Ryan McKinny - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Parsifal - Ryan McKinny - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Concert going has included a visit to Oslo for the Queen Sonja International Music Competition, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Oratorio included a rare revival of Handel's Brockes Passion and an even rarer revival of Parry's Judith. Gabrieli joined forces memorably with their young collaborators for An English Coronation and Mass for Christmas Morning. And Oxford Lieder Festival moved into the Ashmolean Museum for Night at the Museum. The London Song Festival celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and Walt Whitman's bicentenary in a pair of memorable concerts.

At the Wigmore Hall, Dame Emma Kirkby celebrated her 70th birthday in the company of a number of fine young performers, whilst Igor Levitt gave a stupendous account of Ronald Stevenson's Passacaglia.
Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Maro Doucoure - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton
Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Maro Doucoure - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton

Our 2019 concert selection:
  • Mass for Christmas Morning: the richly imaginative music of Michael Praetorius performed by an ensemble ranging from nine-year-olds to seasoned professionals at St John's Smith Square
  • A bleakly haunted journey: Alice Coote and Julius Drake in Schubert's Winterreise at Wigmore Hall
  • Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 from The Sixteen at Temple Church
  • 'The first great example of British exceptionalism' - Purcell's King Arthur re-thought in an engaging performance and accompany CDs from Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli at St John's Smith Square
  • An intoxicating concert - that is the magic of song: Walt Whitman's bicentenary celebrated at London Song Festival
  • A Night at the Museum: the Oxford Lieder Festival at the Ashmolean Museum
  • The Outsiders Fight Back: London Song Festival's imaginative commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots
  • Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo
  • Intimate and highly engaging: Mari Eriksmoen & Sveinung Bjelland in recital at Oscarshall Palace, Oslo
  • Prom 34: Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Lutoslawski from Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich and West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms
  • Chineke! Chamber Ensemble in Saint-Saens, Wallen & Coleridge-Taylor at Wigmore Hall
  • Focus, concentration, engagement and enthusiasm: Gabrieli Roar in An English Coronation
  • Musicianship & sheer engagement: Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Live Lounge at the Department Store, Brixton
  • Thrilling pianism: Igor Levit in Ronald Stevenson's Passacaglia at Wigmore Hall
  • Remarkable revival: the Academy of Ancient Music presents Handel's Brockes Passion in a new critical edition at the Barbican
  • A very human St John Passion: Solomon's Knot in Bach without conductor and from memory at St John's Smith Square
  • A stirring revival: Hubert Parry's Judith in a triumphant performance from William Vann, the Crouch End Festival Chorus and London Mozart Players at the Royal Festival Hall
  • Dame Emma Kirkby's 70th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall
  • Sung Poetry: Kitty Whately & Simon Lepper - From the Pens of Women
  • Strong, muscular yet tender and very direct: Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ alongside Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary at Milton Court

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