Saturday, 17 August 2019

Carry On meets Dads Army in this ebullient lark: Rossini's Comte Ory at the Grimeborn Festival

Rossini: Count Ory - Opera Alegria at Grimeborn 2019 (Photo Zak Kilby)
Rossini: Count Ory - Opera Alegria at Grimeborn 2019 (Photo Zak Kilby)
Rossini Le Comte Ory; Naomi Kilby, Robert Jenkins, Alicia Gurney, Benjamin Newhouse Smith, Lindsay Bramley; Opera Alegria at the Grimeborn Festival
Reviewed by anthony Evans on 13 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Full of verve, spunk and shameless innuendo, an exuberant account of Rossini's late comedy

Opera Alegria returned once more to the Arcola Theatre for this year’s Grimeborn Festival. This was their fourth visit to Grimeborn and following a series of double bills, in previous years, Tuesday 13 August 2019 was the first night of Rossini’s comic opera Count Ory in a new English translation by Musical Director Lindsay Bramley, with Naomi Kilby, Robert Jenkins, and Alicia Gurney directed by Benjamin Newhouse Smith.

Written in 1828 Le Comte Ory is a bit of a mash up. Some of the music comes from Il viaggio a Reims, whilst the French libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard Delestre-Poirson was adapted from a comedy they had written some 11 years previously. Sadly, it doesn’t get an outing very often. Its full of the most irresistible orchestral writing and vocal pyrotechnics. “An excellent piece of folly”
Rossini: Count Ory - Opera Alegria at Grimeborn 2019 (Photo Zak Kilby)
Rossini: Count Ory - Opera Alegria at Grimeborn 2019 (Photo Zak Kilby)

A bel canto career: whilst in London for the London Bel Canto Festival, tenor Bruce Ford talks about the bel canto style and his remarkable career

Bruce Ford as Rossini's Otello
Bruce Ford as Rossini's Otello
The tenor Bruce Ford became known for his bel canto roles, performing notable operas by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini as well as recording a remarkable sequence of early 19th century Italian operas for Opera Rara. Bruce was in London this month for the London Bel Canto Festival, where he gave a public masterclass and was working with singers from the London Bel Canto Festival's academy, singers from which will be performing Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at St George's Hanover Square (22 & 24 August 2019). Bruce's career as a tenor covered much of my own opera listening and it was through his recordings and performances that I discovered and learned to enjoy bel canto operas. So, I was delighted that whilst Bruce was in London, I was lucky to be able to meet up with him to talk about bel canto singing, his career, the importance of his relationship with Opera Rara and his work with the young singers.

Bruce is working with the young singers of the festival academy on the vocal pedagogy that goes with the bel canto style. For bel canto, Bruce points out that you need to have the right style of technique to sing the music. He adds that whilst bel canto is known as beautiful singing, what is left out is that the style is more vocal calisthenics, showing off what the voice can do, so that singing in the true bel canto style can involve incredibly difficult melismas, high and low notes, to show off the virtuosity of the human voice. Bel canto is the ultimate presentation of athleticism and virtuosity in the human voice.

When I ask about his students' knowledge of bel canto, Bruce comments that the ones who are interested will educate themselves, and that is the way it is with anything. Such students are interested in their voices and are well rehearsed. For Bruce, bel canto is simply a specialism, a style used for music between 1810 and 1850 but after this opera under Verdi became something different.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Large scale, striking & engaging: Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in an historic quarry in Austria

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch (Photo Andreas Tischler)
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch (Photo Andreas Tischler)
Mozart Die Zauberflöte; Kateryna Kasper, Michael Porter, Luke Stoker, Danae Kontora, Uwe Schenke Primus, dir: Carolin Pienkos & Cornelius Obonya, cond: Karsten Januschke; Oper im Steinbruch, Austria
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 August 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Impressive both in scale and artistic quality, Mozart's opera performed in an historic quarry in Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000-year-old quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

The quarry is huge, the historic part dates back to the Roman period and houses a 4,780 seater theatre and a 2,500 seater one, and the more modern part still provides stone for St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Access is through a handsome modern building on the edge, followed by a long walk down an elegant ramp which gives superb views and makes you realise that this is no ordinary experience. The site had admirable catering facilities, so visitors vary from those who arrive to picnic, through those sitting at the beer garden like tables for refreshment to those being entertained with wine and canapes in the Lounge. All in all, a complete experience.

Carolin Pienkos and Cornelius Obonya's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte opened on 10 July 2019, and we caught the performance on 15 August, towards the very end of the run. Sarastro was the Australian baritone Luke Stoker, the Queen of the Night was Danae Kontora, who studied in Munich, Pamina was Kateryna Kasper, who is a member of the ensemble at Frankfurt, Tamino was the American tenor Michael Porter (making his Oper im Steinbruch debut) and Papageno was Uwe Schenke Primus. Stage design was by Raimund Bauer with costumes by Gianluca Falaschi. Karsten Januschke conducted the Orchester der Budapester Philharmonischen Gesellschaft and the Philharmonia Chor Wien.

The stage is huge (seven times that of the Vienna State Opera), but nothing is permanent (no concrete allowed in the historic quarry) so there is no stage machinery. Instead Bauer's massive set created a series of effective and striking acting areas enlivened by Friedrich Rom's lighting. At the centre was the 'cloud portal' a huge styrofoam structure of balls with a central 'eye' and staircase, through which Tamino and many other characters made their entries. This was also Sarastro's domain, and video projected onto it created different atmospheric effects, from Tamino's serpent, to the heavens themselves. Stage right was a huge black globe which housed a darker domain and on top of which the Queen of the Night made her Act Two appearance. Stage left was a stone portal above which was a huge nest from which Papageno was engaged in stealing birds eggs when we first meet him. Far above all this, on the edge of the quarry itself was a series of bird structures taking the 'set' out to the very edge.

A quarry is not a 'dead space' in which to perform opera, there are all sorts of sound reflections from the stone, yet Volker Werner's sound design was some of the best I have come across. No, it was not realistic, but then this was not a typical theatre opera. Instead, we had vivid and immediate sound, with a good sense of direction so you knew who was singing and the off-stage orchestra (with the conductor controlling things via a huge video of himself at the back of the auditorium) was well blended in. Unlike some other outdoor (or semi-outdoor) opera experiences I have had, here I forgot about the amplification and sound design and simply enjoyed the production.

For there was indeed much to enjoy. Most of the roles are double and triple cast, but there was no sense of coming across the second or third cast at the end of a run. Musically, this was a performance most opera houses would have been proud to present.  In one respect, I did not see what audiences would see most evenings. To echo the fact that the opera's librettist, Emmanuel Schikaneder (an actor), was the first Papageno the German actor Max Simonischek was cast in the role. I attended one of the performances at which he did not sing and so saw a trained opera singer.

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch, Austria (Photo Raimund Bauer Bühenbild Media Apparat)
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch, Austria (Photo Raimund Bauer Bühenbild Media Apparat)
Pienkos and Obonya had adjusted and modernised the libretto somewhat. As far as I could tell making it more accessible and less arcane, but also altering the balance of relationships so that Pamina was somewhat less passive. Act One ended with her attempting to follow the men into the temple and being stopped, whilst Act Two seemed more about Sarastro's intention to put both Tamino and Pamina to trial. And at the end, the Queen of the Night and her Ladies were not banished or destroyed, but accepted back and the Queen and Sarastro gestured to each other showing a measure of peace and acceptance. During the second act, the words from the United Nations declaration were projected upon the cloud portal. So whilst modernised, this still had a philosophical bent.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Psappha 2019/20 new season, nine world premieres and a return home.

Halle St Peters
Halle St Peters
The Manchester-based ensemble Psappha will be celebrating its 2019/20 season by moving back into its home, the new renovated Halle St Peters in November 2019. The ensemble's season includes nine world premieres including a new work by their patron, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and commissions from George Stevenson and Alissa Firsova. The ensemble's emerging composer development programme Composing for ... with this year's selected composers writing for sitar player Jasdeep Singh Degum, accordionist Milos Mihajlovic, and the cello and piano of Psappha core members Jennifer Langridge and Benjamin Powell.

Beyond the music itself, the ensemble is working with Prof. Douglas Jarman (author of The music of Alban Berg) to create films to be screened before each concert to bring out the context, relevance and history of selected pieces in the programme. And to complement Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Into the Light Air, an ordained member of the Triratna Buddhist Order will lead a mindfulness meditation.

The season opens on 26 September 2019 at St Michael's Ancoats with a programme including Berg's Lyric Suite,  and music by Nina Danon, Charlotte Bray, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade and George Stevenson. The first concert at Halle St Peter's is on 28 November, with a programme of Webern, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Athanasia Kontou, Alissa Firsova, Elizabeth Lutyens and Webern's chamber arrangement of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1.
Full details from the Psappha website.

Surprisingly, Tannhäuser has received only a handful of productions at the Bayreuth Festival and this new production by Tobias Kratzer chalks up its ninth outing

Wagner: Tannhäuser - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Tannhäuser - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner Tannhäuser; Lise Davidsen, Elena Zhidkova, Stephen Gould, Markus Eiche, dir: Tobias Kratzer, cond: Christian Thielemann; Bayreuth Festival
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 13 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The cognoscenti of the Green Hill adored Tannhäuser and equally adored Norwegian-born soprano, Lise Davidsen, who set the Green Hill alight in the pivotal role of Elisabeth while making her Bayreuth Festival début

Wagner: Tannhäuser - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Tannhäuser
Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
As in past years, the great and the good turned out for the opening of the Bayreuth Festival with Chancellor Angela Merkel heading up the celeb list accompanied by her husband, Joachim Sauer, who very rarely make a public appearance but Bayreuth’s so special. Indeed, so special, that the opening performance of this year’s new production, Tannhäuser, directed by German director, Tobias Kratzer, a Bayreuth first-timer, was broadcast live on national television and also beamed live to around 100 cinemas in German-speaking countries, an idea inaugurated by Katharina Wagner when she took over the artistic reins of Bayreuth 11 years ago.

Tobias Kratzer's new production of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival (seen 13 August 2019) featured Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser, Markus Eiche as Wolfram, Lise Davidsen as Elisabeth and Elena Zhidkova as Venus, conducted by Christian Thielemann.
By the way, this production of Tannhäuser (which received its première in Dresden on 19th October 1845) is only the ninth to be staged at the Bayreuth Festival and, surprisingly, no other work in the Bayreuth canon has received such fewer productions.

Following in the footsteps of Sebastian Baumgarten’s controversial production of Tannhäuser which received a chorus of disapproval from traditionally-minded Wagnerites, Mr Kratzer’s offering seemed just as biting but has found more acceptability among the cognoscenti of the Green Hill with a few boos here and there. But that’s to be expected at Bayreuth.

Primarily based on the Pilgrims’ Chorus and partly on the contrasting music of the orgies in the court of Venus, the overture - summarising the theme of the whole story focusing on the struggle between sacred and profane love and redemption through love, a theme running through many of Wagner’s later works - was brilliantly played with Christian Thielemann (replacing at short notice Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev) driving the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra (hand-picked from some of the finest musicians to be found in Germany) to a stirring conclusion.

Employed by so many theatre directors nowadays, video technology was at the heart of Mr Kratzer’s thinking as much as it was Frank Castorf's (in Bayreuth's bicentennial Ring). For example, the medieval Wartburg castle in Act I was fleetingly represented by an aerial video sequence conjured up by Manuel Braun whose work, incidentally, will be seen in London next year in a new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Royal Opera House in March directed by the ‘man-of-the-moment’, it seems, Tobias Kratzer, whose Leonora happens to be Lise Davidsen (Elisabeth in Tannhäuser) while Florestan will be sung by Jonas Kaufmann.

Waiting for Godot meets Lulu for the post-truth generation - Alistair White's Wear

Alistair White - Wear
The young composer Alistair White is having a busy moment, his opera ROBE recently premiered at Tête à Tête [see my review], and now his 2018 opera Wear returns for its first fully staged production on 23 and 24 August 2019 at the Opera in the City Festival at the Bridewell Theatre.

Like ROBE, Wear is futuristic, set in a society where use of the time machine has unwoven the fabric of reality. Whilst the piece is fantasy, White (who also wrote the libretto) feels that it has relevance to today, 'Sure, its fantasy, but you’ve seen the news - the world is actually ending. It is vital we find ways to defy, to resist this, to reclaim our ability to change things for the better. I think it all starts with perception: how we remember the past, and visualise the future.'

The focus of Wear fashion, its setting is the final show of a fashion designer and as space-time unravels around the designer and a friend are 'thrown into a collage of passion, recollection and dream - until all that is left are the objects they created'.

The opera is described as Waiting for Godot meets Lulu for the post-truth generation.

The production promises to be immersive, with designed garments both on mannequins and on performers, as well as original textiles as set dressing. The production's designer, Derek Lawlor has worked for both the Royal Ballet and London Fashion Week, and the production will be celebrating 10 years of his work with a post-show event on 24 August.

Directed by Gemma Williams and Alistair White, the production features Kelly Poukens, Patricia Auchterlonie, Susan Parkes with Ben Smith on piano.

Full details from the Opera in the City website.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Review of The Gardeners in Opera magazine

Review of The Gardeners in the September issue of Opera
Claire Seymour's review of Joanna Wyld and my opera The Gardeners, which premiered at Conway Hall on 18 June 2019, is in the September issue of Opera Magazine.

Selected highlights from the review:
  • Overall, though, there is a formality, of a ritual and spiritual kind, tht his opera observes consistently and with considerable impact. The Angry Young Man’s final words are of reassurance and hope - ‘I will tell them, brothers. They will listen.’
  • Hugill's music has a moving serenity.
  • Peter Brathwaite’s Old Gardener was compelling, sung with emotive tone and claar diction.
  • the bass baritone Julian Debreuil had real presence, using his strength and colour effectively.
  • Counter-tenor Magid El-Bushra ... was dramatically and vocally transfigured.
  • Flora McIntosh’s Grandmother made a strong mark and she used her lower range very dramatically; her duet with Goergia Mae Bishop's mother introduced some welcome irony and humour.
  • The instrumental ensemble - comprising violin, viola, cello, clarinet and harp - played sensitively, directed by William Vann with scrupulous attention to detail
The Gardeners  returns on Monday 9 September 2019 with a further performance at the Garden Museum with the same cast directed by William Vann. Tickets, price £25, are available from Tickettailor and include a glass of wine served before the opera in the museum's lovely garden.

Prom 34: Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Lutoslawski from Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich and West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

Prom 34 - West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Prom 34 - West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Schubert Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished', Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra; Martha Argerich, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra joined with piano legend Martha Argerich for an evening of serious music making

Monday's BBC Prom, 12 August 2019, was one of the hot tickets of the season. A very full Royal Albert Hall witnessed Daniel Barenboim conducting his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in a programme of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 'Unfinished', Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, with the distinguished Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich as the soloist.

This year is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra's 20th anniversary, the ensemble was founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said and has at its centre the idea of coexistence and intercultural dialogue with the core of the orchestra being formed by young musicians from Israel and Palestine. The orchestra has demonstrated an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East, showing that while music alone cannot resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another.

Schubert's Symphony No. 8 was performed by slightly reduced orchestral forces, with Barenboim using just under 70 players in total. Overall the young players exhibited a remarkable sense of responsiveness and control. Barenboim seemed to have strong ideas about the music, and the orchestra really created his soundworld.

Prom 34 - Martha Argerich, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Prom 34 - Martha Argerich, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
The famous slow introduction of was quiet and intent, arising out of nothing.

I’m following in father’s footsteps, I’m following dear old dad

Wolfgang Wagner
Wolfgang Wagner
This year marks the 100th anniversary of former Bayreuth director, Wolfgang Wagner(1919-2010), son of Siegfried Wagner and Richard Wagner’s grandson, who directed the Bayreuth Festival alongside his elder brother Wieland from 1951 until the latter’s death in 1966 and then assumed total control until he retired in 2008. He prophetically exclaimed: ‘There’s only one star in Bayreuth and his name is Richard Wagner.’ That profound statement still holds true today.

Therefore, to mark Wolfgang’s centenary (whose anniversary actually falls on 30th August) a commemorative opening concert took place on the eve of this year’s Bayreuth Festival in which conductor, Christian Thielemann, remarked on how he had to thoroughly relearn conducting techniques to fit the requirements of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus about which Wolfgang Wagner knew every detail. Appropriately, the area in front of the Festspielhaus is now named after Wolfgang.

A fabulous concert by all accounts, the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra was joined by such Wagner heavyweights as Günter Groissböck, Stephen Gould and Waltraud Meier, the latter giving a moving rendition of the ‘Liebestod’ from Tristan und Isolde. And to add to the centenary celebrations, an exhibition entitled ‘The Principal’ - chronicling Wolfgang Wagner’s professional life as artistic director, stage designer and director - is running at the Richard Wagner Museum (Villa Wahnfried) to Sunday 3rd November.

Naturally, the anniversary concert was hosted by Wolfgang’s daughter, Katharina - great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner and, indeed, great-great granddaughter of Franz Liszt - who now, of course, gloriously follows in her father’s footsteps.

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Michale Volle, Günther Groissböck - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Michale Volle, Günther Groissböck
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Daniel Behle, Günther Groissböck, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Camilla Nylund, Klaus Florian Vogt, Michael Volle, dir: Barrie Kosky, cond: Philippe Jordan; Bayreuth Festival, Germany
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 10 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Bayreuth Festival’s production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg offered a strong message on anti-Semitism

You soon get a feeling for the style of Barrie Kosky’s innovative and entertaining production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, first seen at Bayreuth in 2017 [see Tony's review of the 2018 revival of this production]. For one thing, he dumps the traditional setting of St Catherine’s Church in Act I for Villa Wahnfried where we meet Wagner and his wife Cosima entertaining bosom friends in a ‘read-through’ of Meistersinger in which the Jewish-born conductor, Hermann Levi, is portrayed and greatly humiliated as Sixtus Beckmesser, the role so magnificently sung and so well acted by Johannes Martin Kränzle.

The date of this well-heeled gathering (13th August 1875) was projected in large lettering on a gauze-covered curtain whilst the names of Wagner’s beloved dogs (Molly and Marke) were also flashed up and, oddly enough, the temperature of the day - 23C. Bayreuth’s usually hot often in more ways than one!

Barrie Kosky's production of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was again at the Bayreuth Festival this year (seen 10 August 2019). Philippe Jordan conducted with Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther, Camilla Nylund as Eva, Michael Volle as Hans Sachs, Daniel Behle as David and Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser.

The pivotal role of Walther von Stolzing (seen as Young Wagner) fell to Klaus Florian Vogt, a big ‘favourite’ of the Green Hill and his entrance into Wahnfried’s elegantly-furnished, book-lined drawing-room came by way of a precarious route tumbling from Wagner’s Steinway Grand directly into the arms of Cosima (seen as Eva) powerfully sung by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund while Günther Groissböck as Veit Pogner (Eva’s father, later appearing as Franz Liszt) showed his muscle equating to his wealthy position.

The Master Singers arrive by the same circuitous route (plus a few Wagner look-alikes, too) with their chains of office denoting their trade dangling heavily from their necks. Robed in traditional processional gowns - inspired, perhaps, by the Nuremberg Renaissance printmaker, Albrecht Dürer - they could easily have passed off as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from the pantomime, Dick Whittington.

But Mr Kosky’s production was far from ‘pantomime’ and, as always, he keeps plenty of tricks up his sleeve offering a dramatic and stylish ending to Act I inasmuch as Wahnfried was seen slowly retracting to reveal a replica of Room 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice used by the International Military Tribunal for the War Trials of 1945-46 with a lonely GI on duty, a timely reminder of things to come.

In the original production the same set was cleverly adapted for Act II but here the courtroom floor was free of furniture and completely grassed over finding Wagner and Cosima tucked up one corner enjoying an al fresco lunch. Kosky’s new thinking now depicts Room 600 completely bare apart from a big heap of goods and chattels from Wahnfried bunged up one corner which, I guess, would not look out of place as an ‘installation’ in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Celebrating 10 years of taking opera across Scotland: Opera Bohemia's The Merry Widow

Opera Bohemia - The Merry Widow
Franz Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow has now been performed professionally in Scotland for over 10 years so Opera Bohemia's forthcoming 18 venue tour across Scotland from 15 August to 14 September will be most welcome. In fact the tour is something of a celebration as Opera Bohemia is 10 years old this year and the company is celebrating with its biggest tour ever, presenting The Merry Widow in venues from Thurso to Galashiels including the islands of Arran and Skye.

The new production will be directed by John Wilkie who made his directorial debut with Opera Bohemia in 2010, and features some of Scotland's finest young singers with the leads played by Edinburgh-born soprano Catriona Clark and Fife-born baritone Douglas Nairne, alongside former Scottish Opera Young Artists, Marie Claire Breen and Andrew McTaggart. The musical director of Opera Bohemia will conducted a special arrangement for chamber orchestra for some performances, with others accompanied by piano (Andrew Brown) and solo violin (Dániel Mészöly).

One of Opera Bohemia's main aims is to introduce opera to first-time opera goers, and alongside opera performances the company offers opera workshops to schools and this year the sessions will include over 600 children in 18 schools.

Artistic Directors of Opera Bohemia Douglas Nairne and Alistair Digges founded the company to bring live opera around Scotland and to give opportunities to young professional singers and musicians.

Full details from the Opera Bohemia website.

Helen Habershon - Found in Winter

Helen Habershon - Found in Winter
Helen Habershon Found in Winter; Helen Habershon, John Anderson, Andrew Fuller, John Lenehan, London Primavera Orchestra, Anthony Halstead; Divine Art
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
The evocative and approachable musical world of clarinettist / composer Helen Habershon

Composer and clarinettist Helen Habershon came to composing quite late and rather by accident. Having broken both her wrists she was unable to play the clarinet for a few months, but was allowed to play the piano and started writing music. She released her first album in 2009, both it and her second album were Album of the Month on Classic FM. She has now released her third album, Found in Winter on Divine Art, which contains a selection of orchestral and instrumental works performed by Habershon herself, John Anderson (oboe), Andrew Fuller (cello), John Lenehan (piano) and the London Primavera Orchestra, conductor Anthony Halstead.

The album's title seems to be intended as generically evocative rather than particularly descriptive, and whilst there are Winter themed pieces on the programme such as the engaging opener Winter Arrives, there are also pieces which Habershon describes as reflecting 'the winter of mankind', notably Requiem - Anna Akhmatova and the Pushkin-inspired The Bronze Horseman. But over all the album seems more a collection of recent pieces than one exploring a particular theme.

Prom 26: Mozart's Requiem, Brahms and Wagner from BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Prom 26 - Nathalie Stutzmann, BBC National Orchestra of Wales  - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Prom 26 - Nathalie Stutzmann, BBC National Orchestra of Wales  - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Brahms Tragic Overture, Wagner Prelude & Liebestod; Mozart Requiem; Fatma Said, Kathryn Rudge, Sunnyboy Dladla, David Shipley, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales, Nathalie Stutzman; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 7 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Large-scale Mozart in a programme exploring love and loss

The programme for Prom 26 on Wednesday 7 August 2019 explored the themes of love and loss. The tempestuous Tragic Overture - Brahms’s 'reversed Sonata', Wagner’s orchestral version of the Prelude and Liebestod 'the zenith of musical art' followed in the second half by 'the nation's favourite Mozart' Requiem in D minor.

This concert of high drama saw a charismatic Nathalie Stutzmann conduct the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Fatma Said, making her proms debut, Kathryn Rudge, Sunnyboy Dladla and David Shipley were the soloists with the BBC National Chorus of Wales.

Prom 26 - Fatma Said, Kathryn Rudge, Sunnyboy Dladla, David Shipley, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Mozart: Requiem - Fatma Said, Kathryn Rudge, Sunnyboy Dladla, David Shipley,
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)

Saturday, 10 August 2019

A stupendous achievement for a small opera company: Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Fulham Opera

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Keel Watson, Ronald Samm - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Keel Watson, Ronald Samm - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Keel Watson, Ronald Samm, Catherine Woodward, Jonathan Finney, Edward Mout, dir: Paul Higgins, cond: Ben Woodward; Fulham Opera at the Greenwood Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 August 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A stupendous achievement, Wagner's long comic opera in a performance of engaging intimacy and character

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Keel Watson - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Keel Watson
Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, his longest single opera with 17 named roles is a big stretch for any opera company and would seem beyond the capacities for fringe company. But Fulham Opera has already mounted productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle and Verdi's Don Carlo [see my review], and the new production of Wagner's comedy rewarded their daring.

Fulham Opera moved from its home base to the Greenwood Theatre to perform Paul Higgins' production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (seen Friday 9 August 2019), with Ben Woodward conducting. Keel Watson was Hans Sachs, Ronald Samm was Walther von Stolzing, Catharine Woodward was Eva Pogner, Sarah Denbee was Magadelene, Jonathan Finney was Sixtus Beckmesser, Edward Mout was David and Gerard Delrez was Veit Pogner.

The opera was performed uncut with around 4 hours 30 minutes of music, but apart from sheer length this was a relatively intimate production. Ben Woodward conducted an orchestra of 18 using a new orchestral arrangement by Jonathan Finney (who played Beckmesser and is also the company's chorus master!), and there was a chorus of 23, providing townspeople and apprentices. And whilst the piece was cast from voices capable of the heft and stamina needed for the piece, it replaced the monumentality of some performances with an intimacy and pacing that brought out the conversational quality of Wagner's libretto.

Woodward started the overture with a liveliness which really suggested that we were going to be listening to a comedy. It perhaps took a little while for the instrumental ensemble to settle down, but we came to appreciate the skill of Finney's arrangement and throughout the opera the orchestra never short-changed Wagner's music. Inevitably, the balance between strings (only nine), wind and brass was different, and there were passages where I missed the fuller string sound, but there was also a feeling of clarity that can be lacking for a full orchestral version.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Jonathan Finney - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Jonathan Finney
Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
In the programme note, Ian Wilson-Pope talked about how in Act One, Wagner effectively set a committee meeting to music. Paul Higgins' modern dress production (designs by Jessica Stanton) re-set the action in terms of the 2019 Nürnberg Music Festival, the Meistersingers were the organising committee. It was an imaginative idea, and meant that the quite plain settings worked with ethos of the tradesmen cum musicians. Stanton's settings for all three acts were very penny plain, and whilst the grander moments perhaps showed the lack of a bigger budget, the sense of concentration on character worked very well. This was a very character-based performance, and the smaller scenes of dialogue worked particularly well. Whilst the production had a paciness, it never felt rushed but certainly this was one of the most engaging performances of Wagner's long masterpiece that I have heard in a long time.

The roles of Walther, Sachs and Eva had all been double cast but unfortunately the second Sachs dropped out which left Keel Watson making his role debut and singing all four performances.

Watson's Hans Sachs was still a work in progress, albeit a very impressive one, as for much of the performance Watson was still using a score. Still, Keel Watson singing from a score is still rather more dramatic than many singers, and Watson used his expressive face to superb effect throughout the work. This was quite an intimate performance, no large-scale gestures and instead a thorough investigation of this complex man. The monologues, notably 'Wahn! Wahn!' were interior personal meditations, and throughout the piece Watson created quite a serious, intent figure making Sachs something of the watcher and outsider. His manipulation of the Meistersingers 'committee meeting' in Act One was masterly, and the long scene with Ronald Samm's Walther in Act Two was one of the most gripping moments in the opera. Watson even managed to bring of the final paen to German art, a little subdued perhaps but a personal and intimate declaration rather than the grand gesture. I do hope that we get to see more of Watson's Sachs in its fully finished form.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Sarah Denbee, Catharine Woodward, Ronald Samm - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Sarah Denbee, Catharine Woodward, Ronald Samm
Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Tenor Ronald Samm is notable for his assumption of the role of Otello in Verdi's opera with City of Birmingham Opera (the first professional UK production to use a black tenor in the title role!). He has recently been singing more Wagner, having done Siegmund with Berwick Festival Opera, and Siegfried in Act Three of Gotterdammerung in Wuppertal. This was his role debut as Walther. Samm brought a dramatic firmness of voice to the role. His tone perhaps takes on a slightly steely quality at the top, but Samm was wonderfully tireless and this was superbly consistenly sung performance. There was little sense, during the Prize Song, that Samm had been going since the opera's 5pm start. This Walther was an older man, but one still prey to the nervous delights of love. Samm's Walther was a wonderfully engaging character, and clearly not completely at ease in this rather different society. He and Catharine Woodward's Eva developed an easy intimacy and their relationship felt very natural. And as for that Prize Song, Samm's performance was very stirring but it was also fresh and impassioned, this really felt like a younger man singing about his impassioned love.

Eva gets something of the short straw, musically, but Catharine Woodward made her far more than just a passive vehicle of Wagner's ideals of womanhood, and this Eva was an active participant in her destiny (woe betide Beckmesser if he had actually won!). Woodward sang with a lovely even, bright tone was emphasised Eva's youthfulness without Woodward trying to be too much the 'little girl'. Eva's 'Sachs mein Freund' in Act Three, one of the highlights of the opera, was bright and passionate, making you wonder again about the Sachs / Eva pairing that never quite happens.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Edward Mout, Ronald Samm - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Edward Mout, Ronald Samm & the apprentices
Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
There are various ways of playing Sixtus Beckmesser, and I will never forget seeing Thomas Allen in the role, combining comedy with an immense sympathy for the man. Jonathan Finney's Beckmesser left firmly behind any sense that Wagner was playing anti-semitic jokes with the character. This Beckmesser was wonderfully self-regarding and rather arrogant, his behaviour around the other Meistersingers made it clear he thought he was better than them, and his dismissal of Sachs showed Beckmesser's sense of his own rightness in following the rules strictly, thus setting the scene for his mangling of Walther's Prize Song, verse which goes against 'the rules'. Finney's performance was wonderfully detailed, very funny yet rather sad, this Beckmesser was so unaware of the real effect he had. Perhaps an old rocker, he wore too-young clothes and for the majority of the opera sported a terrible wig which almost had a life of its own!

The American tenor Edward Mout, a member of the ensemble of the Staatsoper Hannover, made a charming and melliflous David, successfully bringing of the costume of t-shirt, shorts and wellington boots with great charm. He was engaging and vivid as the young apprentice, developing a lively relationship with Watson's Sachs, and with the engaging Magdalene of Sarah Denbee. Mout and Denbee successfully brought of the rather heavy-handed banter which Wagner gives them, making us believe the young people, and Denbee impressed in a role where it is often easy to retire into the background.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Ben Woodward and the orchestra in rehearsal - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Ben Woodward and the orchestra in rehearsal
Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
As Eva's father, Weit Pogner, Gerard Delrez brought immense dignity to the role, this was a man who took himself very seriously though sometimes I wished that Delrez had sung the role with a little more swagger. The remaining Meistersinger were all admirably taken, creating a series of vivid character portraits and forming a lively and engaging backdrop to the action, with Andrew Mayor as Fritz Kothner, Robert Barbaro as Kunz Vogelgesang, Tom Asher as Konrad Nachtigall, Phil Clieve as Balthasar Zorn, John Rodger as Ulrich Eisslinger, Holden Madagame as Augustin Moser, Ian Wilson-Pope as Hermann Ortel, Simon Grange as Hans Schwarz, and Henry Grant Kerswell as Hans Foltz, plus Robert Byford as the admirable Night Watchman.

Whilst the production performed the opera admirably complete, I could not help feeling that a scene like the dancing at the beginning of the final scene in the meadow might have profitably been cut, though the chorus entered into the dancing with a will. Elsewhere they formed a lively presence, with a vivid sense of a random assemblage of ordinary folk, plus eight singers as the even livelier apprentices!

There was one aspect of the production which was all the more striking for being understated. The colour-blind nature of the casting meant that for this performance we had a Sachs and a Walther who are both of Afro-Caribbean heritage. This meant that the scene in Act One where Walther's difference troubles the Meistersinger (in the original he is a noble, a junker and so not trusted) and where only Sachs argues Walther's case, took on interesting resonances given that Samm and Watson were the only people of colour in the group.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - the chorus - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - the chorus - Fulham Opera (Photo Matthew Couglan)
Whilst the performance wasn't perfect, this was overall and incredible company achievement, particularly bringing off this huge opera with such relatively small forces. All the cast drew strongly characterful accounts of their roles, emphasising the lively intimacy of the work rather than its grandeur, an approach also reflected in Ben Woodward's performance with the hard working orchestra. A full Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a long evening, and the success of this performance lay not so much by overwhelming us with great singing (though there was plenty of that), but by engaging with the characters on stage.

Wagner - Die Meistersinger
Fulham Opera, director Paul Higgins, conductor Ben Woodward
Cast for Friday 9 February 2019, Greenwood Theatre
Hans Sachs: Keel Watson
Walther von Stolzing: Ronald Samm
Eva: Catharine Woodward
Magdalene: Sarah Denbee
Beckmesser: Jonathan Finney
David: Edward Mout
Pogner: Gerard Delrez
Kothner: Andrew Mayor
Ortel: Ian Wilson-Pope
Foltz: Henry Grant-Kerswell
Zorn: Phil Clieve
Eisslinger: John Rodger
Nachtigall: Tom Asher
Moser: Holden Madagame
Schwarz: Simon Grange
Vogelgesang: Robert Barbaro
The Nightwatchman: Robert Byford

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Exciting, colourful & a challenge: Clarinettist Mark van de Wiel talks about Joseph Phibbs' new concerto which he premiered & has just recorded  - interview
  • Strip Jack Naked: Stephen McNeff's music theatre piece for Lore Lixenberg (★★★) - CD review
  • Tête à Tête: dance, Chinese folk tales, and the Apollo Mission to the moon - opera review
  • Tête à Tête: Yolande Snaith, Roswitha Gerlitz & Kris Apple's Of Body and Ghost, and Alastair White's ROBE - opera review
  • Bewitched, bothered and bewildered: Mozart's The Magic Flute broadcast from Glyndebourne (★★★) - opera review
  • More than just a stepping stone: Marschner's Hans Heiling in fine new recording from Essen  - (★★★) CD review
  • Prom 18: early Britten and late Mahler from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - (★★★)  concert review
  • A significant achievement: Wagner's Das Rheingold in an intimate production at the Grimeborn Festival (★★★Opera review
  • Kynance Cove, On the South Downs: Truro Cathedral Choir & BBC Concert Orchestra in Dobrinka Tabakova (★★★½) - CD review
  • Second View: Prokofiev’s War and Peace - a work ranging from the intensity of personal emotion to the grit of national determination - was also grand and intimate at the same time (★★★ opera review
  • The Romantic Violin Concerto: Linus Roth in Lassen, Scharwenka, Langgaard (★★★½) - CD review
  • Shards of sound: Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Étoiles at the Proms  concert review
  • Sheer enjoyment: Rossini's La Cenerentola at West Green House (★★★opera review
  • The power of culture has not lessened in its ability to forge a better relationship: Jan Latham Koenig on founding the Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra  interview
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Exciting, colourful & a challenge: Clarinettist Mark van de Wiel talks about Joseph Phibbs' new concerto which he premiered & has just recorded

Premiere of Joseph Phibbs Clarinet Concerto - Mark van de Wiel, Philharmonia Orchestra at the Anvil (Photo Camilla Greenwell)
Premiere of Joseph Phibbs Clarinet Concerto - Mark van de Wiel, Philharmonia Orchestra at the Anvil
(Photo Camilla Greenwell)
Signum Classics has just released a new disc of concertos performed by the clarinettist Mark van de Wiel. The disc combines a new concerto by Joseph Phibbs (with the Philharmonia Orchestra), with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (with the London Chamber Orchestra), both conducted by Christopher Warren Green. Mark gave the premiere of Joseph Phibbs' concerto and was in fact a co-commissioner of the work. Mark's career combines solo and orchestral playing; he is principal clarinet with the Philharmonia Orchestra, but also a member of the London Sinfonietta, the London Chamber Orchestra and the chamber ensemble Endymion, and we recently met up to talk about the Joseph Phibbs concerto, the technical challenges of Mozart's concerto, and how contemporary music is an important part of Mark's performing life.

Joseph Phibbs: Clarinet Concerto - Mark van de Wiel - Signum Classics
Mark van de Wiel has given five performances of Joseph Phibbs' concerto so far, two with Edward Gardner and the Philharmonia Orchestra, two with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Alexander Shelley, and one with Robert Max and the Oxford Symphony Orchestra. Mark, Gardner and the Philharmonia premiered the work at the Anvil in Basingstoke (Mark comments that the venue seems good at attracting premieres and the premiere of Phibbs' Rivers to the Sea was there), whilst the Malmö performances were the result of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra being co-commissioners of the work, along with the Philharmonia and Mark himself. [You can read Andrew Morris' review of the work's premiere on Bachtrack, where there is also an interview which Mark and Joseph Phibbs gave just before the premiere]. The Oxford performance was in fact the concerto's premiere by a non-professional orchestra.

The recording of the concerto on Signum Classics is a studio one, partly because contractual arrangements would have prevented a live recording of the premiere being issued on that label. The Mozart concerto, which partners the Phibbs on the new recording, is a live recording, one made in 2013 at the Cadogan Hall and it was simply an archive recording, but when Mark heard it he sensed that it would work on the disc. It was pure chance that Christopher Warren Green, the conductor of the Mozart concerto, was free and able to conduct the studio recording of the Phibbs.

These complexities of scheduling meant that before the work's premiere there were three conductors, Edward Gardner, Alexander Shelley and Christopher Warren Green, all learning it and in fact collaborating via email.

Mark describes Phibbs' concerto as very exciting and colourful, a challenge for both soloist and orchestra. It was originally planned as a smaller scale classical concerto, the idea coming from David Welton, the Philharmonia Orchestra's then Managing Director. Welton wanted to commission a piece for Mark (who is the orchestra's principal clarinet), and Mark suggested Joseph Phibbs because Mark liked Phibbs' work and Phibbs had already written Rivers to the Sea for the orchestra. Mark wanted a bigger piece than the proposed 16 to 17 minute classical concerto, and came on-board as a co-commissioner so that the final work now lasts 24 minutes and uses triple woodwind, three percussion and harp. And then the Malmö Symphony Orchestra joined as third commissioner.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The music of Georgia Shreve

Georgia Shreve
Georgia Shreve
The New York-based composer and poet Georgia Shreve is perhaps not a well-known name in the UK. She has a substantial body of fiction and poetry to her name as well as writing music, and at the Royal Over-seas League on Saturday 10 August 2019 there is a chance to experience her combination of words and music in a programme of Shreve's songs setting her own words and those of WH Auden, TS Elliot and WB Yates, alongside some of Shreve's chamber music.

For the concert tenor Adrian Dwyer, soprano Sarah Gabriel and pianist Matthew Sheens will be joined by members of 12 Ensemble for this concert of Shreve's songs and chamber works.

Further details from EventBrite.

Strip Jack Naked: Stephen McNeff's music theatre piece for Lore Lixenberg

Strip Jack Naked - Stephen McNeff - Prima Facie
Stephen McNeff Song Suite from Sterip Jack Naked, Counting (Two), Four Van Gogh Chalks, Lux; Lore Lixenberg, Kokoro, Mark Forkgen; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Recent music for large ensemble from Stephen McNeff including a striking suite of songs from his burlesque tragedy, Strip Jack Naked

This new disc of music by Stephen McNeff from Prima Facie features works for ensemble performed by Kokoro (the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's new music ensemble) conducted by Mark Forkgen. The centrepiece of the disc is the Song Suite from Strip Jack Nacked; originally a music theatre work written for mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg, McNeff created the song suite specifically for the disc where it is recorded by Lixenberg. Other instrumental works on the disc were originally written for Kokoro and for 10/10 (the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's concemporary music ensemble), Counting (Two), Four Van Gogh Chalks, and Lux.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tête à Tête: dance, Chinese folk tales, and the Apollo Mission to the moon

Huan Li: The Bridge of Magpies - Tête à Tête (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Huan Li: The Bridge of Magpies - Tête à Tête (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Huan Li The Bridge of Magpies, Edward Lambert Apollo's Mission; Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at The Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 August 2019
Dance, Chinese art song, satire and moon landings in another pair of new works from Tête à Tête

For our second visit to Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at The Place we caught two more operas, The Bridge of Magpies by Huan Li and Apollo's Mission by Edward Lambert. The Bridge of Magpies told a traditional Chinese story using Chinese art song woven together with music by composer Huan Li with contributions on Chinese instruments, Pipa and Gugin, from Cheng Yu. The work was choreographed by Julia Cheng and directed by Sarah Hutchinson with Phoebe Haines (soprano), Jacob Bettinelli (baritone) and dancers Ellen Finlay and Jeremiah Olusola. Apollo's Mission had words by Norman Welch and music by Edward Lambert, in a production directed by Korina Kokkali with singers Helen Bailey, Sofia Livotov, Natasha Agarwal, Daniel Joy, Dominic Bowe, and Samuel Lom, plus dancers Marilena Sitaropoulou and Becky Stenning, accompanied by Susan Holmes (piano), Catriona Scott (clarinet) and Luke Wyeth (percussion), conducted by Michael Papadopoulos.

The Bridge of Magpies is very much a cross-art and cross cultural collaboration, using song, instrumental music, dance and projections to tell its story with artists with both Chinese and British roots. The piece tells a traditional story in which the love of a pair of lovers is forbidden and they are banished to either side of a river, once a year a flock of magpies forms a bridge to re-unite the lovers. The story was effectively told in a mixture of dance and song, with the two lovers played by both singers, Pheobe Haines and Jacob Bettinelli, and dancers, Ellen Finlay and Jeremiah Olusola, with Finlay and Olusola plus dancer Wing Leung playing multiple other roles. The song element was made up of classic Chinese art song (sung in Chinese, I presume Mandarin but we were never told), but dance played a very important role and Julia Cheng's expressive choreography was an important feature of the production. Composer Huan Li, who also played the piano, provided music which linked both West and East with contributions on the pipa and the gugin from Cheng Yu.

Edward Lambert: Apollo's Mission - Tête à Tête (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Edward Lambert: Apollo's Mission - Tête à Tête (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Norfolk Into Opera: a fun, affordable first taste of opera

Into Opera logo
A new opera festival opens in Norfolk on Thursday, the Norfolk Into Opera Festival runs from 8 to 11 August 2019 in the idyllic countryside setting of The Octagon Barn near Norwich. The inaugural season of what is intended to become an annual event, the festival aims to have a broad appeal and provide audiences with a fun, affordable first taste of opera.

This year's events include a new production of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, which is being set in rural Norfolk during World War One, with John Andrews conducting a cast including tenor Thomas Elwin and soprano Fleur de Bray, directed by Genevieve Raghu, and using David Parry's new English translation. There is a Hog Roast before the performance on 8 August, and for those on 10 and 11 August the audience is invited to bring a picnic.

There will also be a gala concert, Opera Unwrapped with tenor Christopher Turner and American soprano Sofia Troncoso.

Full details from the Into Opera website.

Tête à Tête: Yolande Snaith, Roswitha Gerlitz & Kris Apple's Of Body and Ghost, and Alastair White's ROBE

Alastair White: The Robe - Rosie Middleton, Sarah Parkin, Charlie Nayler, Thomas Page, Moses Ward - Tete a Tete (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Alastair White: ROBE  in rehearsal - Rosie Middleton, Sarah Parkin, Charlie Nayler, Thomas Page, Moses Ward
Tete a Tete (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Yolanda Snaith, Roswitha Gerlitz, Kris Apple Of Body and Ghost, Alastair White ROBE; Yolande Snaith, Barbara Byers, Kris Apple, Clara Kanter, Rosie Middleton, Sarah Parkin, Kelly Poukens, dir: Pamela Schermann & Gemma A Williams, Ben Smith, Jenni Hogan; Tête à Tête at The Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 August 2019
Music theatre, dance, virtual reality and cyberspace in a pair of new works at Tête à Tête

Of Body and Ghost - Barbara Byers - Tete a Tete (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Of Body and Ghost - Barbara Byers
Tete a Tete (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival continues into its third and final week, and we caught two intriguing works at The Place. Of Body and Ghost, a music theatre piece from dancer Yolande Snaith, writer Roswitha Gerlitz, composer/musician Kris Apple and singer Barbara Byers, and ROBE by Alastair White with singers Clara Kanter, Rosie Middleton, Sarah Parkin, Kelly Poukens, flautist Jenni Hogan and pianist Ben Smith, directed by Gemma A. Williams and Pamela Schermann.

Yolande Snaith is the former artistic director of Yolande Snaith Theatredance and she has collaborated on a number of projects with Rosmitha Gerlitz as designer. But for Of Body and Ghost their roles have shifted focus and diiversified, with the work exploring the changes in the human body due to aging, disease and affliction. The programme note describes the work thus, 'Of Body and Ghost investigates the aging body as an epistemological site, a living archive of experiential knowing where memory is etched in to the flesh and bones'.

On a bare stage there were just three performers, singer Barbara Byers, dancer/choreographer Yolande Snaith and, to one side, composer / musician Kris Apple, though the piece made little differentiation between the roles of Byers and Snaith both of whom moved expressively. Both were wearing striking costumes by Yolande Snaith, with the suggestion perhaps that here was the older and younger versions of the same character. Byers provided the striking live vocals which formed part of the aural sound-track of the piece, combining with electronic music, Apple's violin and pure spoken text.

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