Friday, 12 August 2022

Prokofiev, Mahler and much more: Santtu-Matias Rouvali launches his second season with Philharmonia Orchestra

Santtu-Matias Rouvali & Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
Santtu-Matias Rouvali & Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

The young Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali became chief conductor of the Philharmonia last season, and he makes a strong contribution to the orchestra's 2022/23 season. Rouvali will be conducting 10 concerts in London, opening the season with a pair of concerts featuring Mahler's Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5  and he closes the first half of the season in January 2023 with  violinist Nemanja Radulović in a programme including Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. Alongside these Rouvali conducts music by Beethoven, Korngold, Shostakovich, George Walker, John Adams and Anna Clyne. Clyne is the season's featured composer and her works feature in several concerts and she will be curating a programme of work by women composers for a free Music of Today event.

The season's featured artist is cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who will be performing both of Haydn's Cello Concertos at a concert in September conducted by Marin Alsop alongside music by Richard Strauss and Ravel. Still in a cello kind of mood, Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund makes her Philharmonia debut, with her former cello teacher Truls Mørk, in one of Prokofiev’s last completed works, the Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra. A revised version of Prokofiev's Cello Concerto from 1933/38, Prokofiev dedicated the revised work to Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1952 with Sviatoslav Richter conducting (the only instance of Richter conducting). Cellist  Alisa Weilerstein takes the title role in Strauss’s Don Quixote with Jordan de Souza, who conducted the Philharmonia in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at Garsington Opera last year, making his Royal Festival Hall debut.

RVW's 150th anniversary is not neglected and the orchestra joins the Bach choir for an all-RVW programme including the Sea Symphony.

As well as the season at the Southbank Centre, there are concerts at The Anvil, Basingstoke, Bedford Corn Exchange, De Montfort Hall, Leicester, Windsor Castle,  New Wimbledon Theatre, The Marlowe, Canterbury, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Royal Albert Hall with Toby Purser conducting and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, plus concerts at the Wimbledon International Music Festival.

Full details from the Philharmonia website.

Peter Pan: a new musical version of Barrie's story debuts at this year's Stroud Arts Festival

Peter Pan - Stroud Arts Festival
With an impressive history stretching back to 1946 (which means that it is older than the Edinburgh Festival), the 76th Stroud Arts Festival takes place in the town from 19 to 23 October 2022. This year's headline show is a new musical, Peter Pan. 

Peter Pan is a terrifically family story which has been dramatised in many different ways before, however the new musical version has an intriguing take on it. Book and lyrics by the poet and broadcaster Pam Ayres (who lives in the Cotsworlds), and music by Louis Mander, a young composer who has already written several works for the stage. Peter Pan is being presented by music theatre company, Hewletts Opera, directed by Maria Jagusz with the Minpins children’s choir and the work will be narrated by children's author and broadcaster Zeb Soanes.

Other events include violinist David Le Page and the Le Page Ensemble in a programme of Vaughan Williams, and a collaboration between the classical string quartet and a jazz trio, with the Carducci Quartet and the Dave Ayre trio.

Full details from the festival website.

Matters of the heart: a journey through Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben

Robert Schumann; Frauenliebe und -leben, songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss; Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney; Prospero
Robert Schumann; Frauenliebe und -leben, songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss; Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney; Prospero
Reviewed 9 August 2022 (★★★★)

Warmly communicative performances in an imaginative recital that mixes Schumann's song cycle with songs by Richard Strauss

What to do about Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben Op. 42, a work which while a masterpiece, preserves a very particular view of a woman's role. Whilst the role depicted in the cycle would have been perhaps still recognisable to women up to the 1950s, it was simply a model and life could be different. Certainly, Frauenliebe und -leben does not reflect life in the Schumann household, where Clara was very much the bread-winner. 

This new disc from Irish soprano Sarah Brady and Australian pianist Stephen Delaney on the Swiss label Prospero is titled Matters of the Heart and is described as "a journey through A Woman’s Love and Life Op. 42 (Adelbert von Chamisso) by Robert Schumann (1810–1856), juxtaposed with songs and works for piano by Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss (1864–1949)". They do not remove the fact of the male gaze that bedevils the song cycle, but then few women composers in the 19th century wrote about life from a woman's point of view in the contemporary sense. But Strauss brings a different, more emotional point of view to the mix and his hyper-romantic style proves to be a surprisingly satisfying complement for the Schumann.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Operatic wit and style in the West End: Donizetti's Rita at the Charing Cross Theatre

Donizetti: Rita - Brenton Spiteri, Laura Lolita Peresivana - Charing Cross Theatre
Donizetti: Rita - Brenton Spiteri, Laura Lolita Peresivana - Charing Cross Theatre

Donizetti: Rita; Laura Lolita Peresivana, Brenton Spiteri, Phil Wilcox, director: Alejandro Bonatto, Faust Chamber Orchestra, conductor: Mark Austin; Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed 10 August 2022 (★★★★)

A wonderfully engaging account of Donizetti's late comedy in a very enterprising off-West End run with a terrific young cast

Rather enterprisingly for its Summer show, the Charing Cross Theatre is presenting an opera, Donizetti's rarely performed comedy Rita (seen 10 August 2022). Directed by Alejandro Bonatto, it features Laura Lolita Peresivana as Rita, Brenton Spiteri as Beppe and Phil Wilcox as Gasparo, with Mark Austin conducting the Faust Chamber Orchestra. Designs were by Nicolai Hart-Hansen, lighting by David Seldes; the opera was performed in an English translation by Alejandro Bonatto who also responsible for the orchestral reduction using eleven players.

Considering it is a mature work dating from the 1840s, Donizetti's Rita does not get that many outings. Opera Rara recorded it in 2014 [see my review] whilst in 2020, Guildhall School of Music and Drama performed it as a part of a live-streamed triple bill of Italian rarities [see my review]. Two of the cast in that performance were Laura Lolita Peresivana and Brenton Spiteri, so it was lovely to be able to catch them reprising their roles, in person.

Charing Cross Theatre is quite compact, the opera was performed with the singers in front of the proscenium with the orchestra on the stage hidden by a scrim. Considering the trickiness of communications between conductor and singers, the results were near miraculous.

Donizetti: Rita - Phil Wilcox, Brenton Spiteri - Charing Cross Theatre
Donizetti: Rita - Phil Wilcox, Brenton Spiteri - Charing Cross Theatre

Whilst Donizetti wrote his opera (in Paris) in the 1840s it was never performed and only premiered at the Opera Comique long after his death. Like his two best known comic operas, Don Pasquale and L'elisir d'amore, Rita contains a strong element of cruelty. And whilst we seem to be able to stomach, for comic purposes, the ageism and classism of these two, the fact that Rita makes light of spousal violence remains somewhat problematic; Gasparo even has a musically charming aria about the delights of beating your wife.

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

From 'Singing for Beginners' to 'Greek Plays', the Guildhall School's short courses programme returns this Autumn

Guildhall School's Short Courses - Writing for Screen (Photo: Dave Buttle)
Guildhall School's Short Courses - Writing for Screen (Photo: Dave Buttle)

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has announced is Autumn programme of short courses for ages 18 and over. There are 12 evening courses (in person and on-line) including singing, music production, acting, theatre history and screenwriting, with five music courses. 

There is one new music course, Singing for Beginners (with voice and dialect coach Esi Acquaah-Harrison, lead singer of Cirque du Soleil's Totem from 2010–2019), plus two other returning courses Introduction to the Music Business, and Writing for an Orchestra and all three are delivered in person. Additionally, there are two online courses, Film Music Composition for Beginners, and In the Studio: Music Production with Glen Scott.

Other returning courses include Shakespeare: An Experiential Workshop, Level 1 with Guildhall School alumnus Mariah Gale, and Reading Theatre: A Play a Week with Guildhall School alumnus Charlotte Bate. Other new courses include Greek Plays: The Ritual of Theatre with Cheek by Jowl creative associate Lucinda Dawkins, who trained as a director at the Yale School of Drama and is currently working on a new version of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, New York.

Full details from the Guildhall School website

Verismo: Opera on Location's creative reimagining of Cav and Pag comes to Sheffield

Verismo - Opera on Location

Sheffield's only professional opera company, Opera on Location, makes a return to indoor performance this year with a double bill of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. What is described as 'a creative reimagining of one of the most iconic double bills in opera' will take place at the University of Sheffield Drama Studio, a church turned professional studio space, with performances from 25 to 27 August 2022.

Directed Ashley Pearson, the production will link the narratives of the two operas and transports them to a World War II setting. The music director is Aleksandra Myslek.

Full details from the Opera on Location website.

Colour and movement: Gilbert & Sullivan returns to Opera Holland Park with HMS Pinafore

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Peter Kirk, Llio Evans - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Peter Kirk, Llio Evans - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore; Llio Evans, Peter Kirk, John Savournin, Richard Burkhard, Lucy Schaufer, director: John Savournin, City of London Sinfonia, conductor: David Eaton; Opera Holland Park and Charles Court Opera
Reviewed 9 August 2022 (★★★★)

Gilbert & Sullivan returns to Opera Holland Park with an admirably straight, yet funny, account of the duo's first big hit

When you think about it, the plot of Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore is mighty disturbing. To further his career a captain in the Navy plans to marry his daughter off to a man old enough to be her grandfather. But she is in love with a sailor, who just happens to have been swapped as a baby with the said captain. All is righted, and the daughter marries her love. That is she marries a man the same age as her father, who has not progressed in his career at all so is still a lowly seaman in middle age, is taken as no matter. But thanks to some terrific music audiences happily overlook theses elements and the work regularly holds the stage in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon. 

This year, Opera Holland Park again closed the season with a collaboration with Charles Court Opera following last year's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance with HMS Pinafore this year (seen 9 August 2022). John Savournin, artistic director of Charles Court Opera, directed and sang the role of Captain Corcoran, with Peter Kirk as Ralph Rackstraw, Llio Evans as Josephine, Richard Burkhard as Sir Joseph Porter, Lucy Schaufer as Little Buttercup, and Nicholas Crawley as Dick Deadeye. David Eaton, music director of Charles Court Opera, conducted the City of London Sinfonia. Designs were by Madeleine Boyd, with lighting by Jake Wiltshire and choreography by David Hulston.

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - John Savournin, Llio Evans, Richard Burkhard - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - John Savournin, Llio Evans, Richard Burkhard - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)

There was an interesting element of compare and contrast to the production. Not only did English National Opera do a new production of the opera last October [see my review], but in that production Captain Corcoran was played by John Savournin, who directed the Opera Holland Park production and played the same role. Cal McCrystal's production at ENO was notable for the way that the director over-egged the production to compensate for the work's relative lack of satire and belly laughs.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain announces a composition competition

Gavin Higgins & National Youth Brass Band
Gavin Higgins & National Youth Brass Band
Continuing today's brass band theme, the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain has announced a composition competition. Young composers (aged 20 to 30) are invited to submit an unpublished five-minute work suitable for brass band. It is essential that the submitted piece has mass brass band appeal and is technically complex enough for the Youth Band (comprising the finest young brass and percussion players in the country) to perform.

The closing date is 31 December 2022, and six works will be selected to go into the final round in January 2023. The judging panel will be Dr Robert Childs, the Band's director of artistic planning, Sarah Ionnades, the Youth Band’s guest conductor for summer 2023, and composer Dorothy Gates.  The winner of the competition will receive a £1,000 prize for their work, with the piece being performed by the Band under the baton of Sarah Ionnades next summer, together with an offer from Prima Vista Musikk to also publish the work. The runner up will receive £250.

Mark Bromley, the Band's CEO commented, "A supply of good new music is critical to any ensemble so supporting contemporary composers, particularly young composers, is very important to us. We are looking for a piece that is innovative, reflects our commitment to inclusivity, and has broad brass band appeal."

Full details from the Band's website

Prom 30: Gavin Higgins' Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra with the Tredegar Band and BBC NOW

Prom 30, Gavin Higgins: Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra - The Tredegar Band, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Bancroft BBC Proms (Photo BBC/Mark Allan)
Prom 30, Gavin Higgins: Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra - The Tredegar Band, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Bancroft
BBC Proms (Photo BBC/Mark Allan)

Gavin Higgins: Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra, Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; The Tredegar Band, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Bancroft; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 8 August 2022 (★★★★½)

From Higgins' remarkable use of colour and timbre in his new work for brass band and orchestra to the classical underpinnings of Berlioz' Romantic symphony in a fine prom with Welsh forces.

For the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' final BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 8 August 2022, Ryan Bancroft conducted them in two large-scale works. First came the world premiere of Gavin Higgins' Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra when the orchestra was joined by the Tredegar Band, then came Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique.

Brass bands have not been a regular feature of the BBC Proms and one can posit various reasons ranging from class consciousness and banding's origins in working class industrial culture to the sheer fact that bands are largely amateur and I have a long enough memory to remember at least one occasion when a planned amateur band was replaced at the last minute by professional musicians. Hopefully attitudes are changing, and not only was the Tredegar Band appearing at this BBC Prom but they have their own late-night concert (Tuesday 9 August 2022).

Monday, 8 August 2022

Two very different approaches to Bach's Goldberg Variations from harpsichordist Nathaniel Mander & violinist Jorge Jimenez

Nathaniel Mander with the harpsichord used for his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations
Nathaniel Mander with the harpsichord used for his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations

Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations; Nathaniel Mander; ICSM Records
Johann Sebastian Bach, transcribed Jorge Jimenez: Goldberg Variations; Jorge Jimenez; Pan Classics

Two very different approaches to Bach's iconic variations, with a harpsichordist taking an admirably direct and musical approach, and a violinist channelling Bach's own writing for solo violin

There is something of a mystery at the heart of Bach's Goldberg Variations. They were the fourth volume of Bach's work to be published in 1741, under the soubriquet Clavierubung IV (Keyboard practice), though the name was the publishers, linking the volume to the previous three of Bach's that had been published during the 1730s. It can be seen as an educational demonstration of what a skilled craftsman might do with a theme. But there is also that story.

Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1749-1818) in his biography of Bach (published in 1802) tells the story of how Johann Gottlieb Goldberg played the variations to a Count who could not sleep. It is all probably apocryphal but it remains a tantalising and intriguing image. 

But there is also another mystery, one that each musician must clear up; how to play the music. Bach's publication is sparse in its indications, a musician has to make up their own mind about tempo, style, instrument and more. Two very different views of the Goldberg Variations have recently hit my desk. On ICSM Records' Chronos imprint, harpsichordist Nathaniel Mander [not yet released] performs the work on a harpsichord, a modern copy by Andrew Garlick (1990) of one by Jean-Claude Goujon from 1749. But on Pan Classics, Jorge Jimenez has transcribed the variations for Baroque violin.

Francesco Pirrone's The Hero

Francesco Pirrone is an award-winning composer of fantasy music and was recently awarded the Premio Troisi 2022 for his activity as an up-and-coming media composer. Following on from his previous two releases,  Beyond the Portal and The Forbidden Path, he has a new single out in a similar vein, The Hero. And he describes his work as being inspired by film soundtracks, epic metal and cinematic music.

The Hero is available on-line [LinkTree]

Synfonia's new mission and a new on-line resource

Synfonia's Composer Map

Synfonia is a relatively new charity that has two parallel missions, to take classical music into schools, working with children of all ages to inspire them within a familiar setting, and to provide vocational training for young orchestral musicians taking the next steps in their careers. 

This Summer has seen Synfonia's first concerts (in a Primary School in Leyton), but they have also been busy with on-line resources. Now there is a composer timeline on their website, and a composer map. This latter is a rather engaging way of exploring composers and their music via their places of birth and places they are strongly associated with, do give it a sample.

More about Synfonia and their work from their website.

Vale of Glamorgan Festival 2022: a spotlight on living composers

Vale of Glamorgan Festival logo
This year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival runs from 22 to 30 September 2022 with concerts in Cardiff and Penarth, and puts the spotlight on living composers with John Luther Adams and Huw Watkins as featured composers. The festival opens on 22 September at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Jac van Steen, in new pieces by David Roche and Sarah Lianne Lewis, music by John Metcalf, and Huw Watkins, plus Grace Williams' Piano Concertante with Clare Hammond (piano).

Visitors to the festival include the Carducci Quartet and pianist Robin Green. The Carducci Quartet will be performing music by John Luther Adams, Huw Watkins, Tarik O'Regan, Philip Glass and György Kurtág, as well as joining forces with Robin Green for Huw Watkins' Piano Quartet. Robin Green's solo recital features music by Thomas Adès, Robert Fokkens, and John Adams.

There are concerts from Deian Rowlands (harp) and Sara Trickey (violin). and Jennifer Walker (soprano), Stephen Wood (piano) including the premiere of a festival commission from Helen Woods. Sandbox Percussion make a welcome return to the festival with two concerts including John Luther Adams' Inksuit for massed percussion which will be performed at Bute Park and Arboretum.

Full details from the festival website.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Stupendous achievement: Grimeborn's Ring adventure comes to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion at the Hackney Empire

Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire (Photo Alex Brenner)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire (Photo Alex Brenner)

Wagner: Siegfried & Götterdämmerung, adapted by Graham Vick & Jonathan Dove; Lee Bisset, Neal Cooper, Mark Le Brocq, Paul Carey Jones, Freddie Tong, director: Julia Burbach, Orpheus Sinfonia, conductor: Peter Selwyn; Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire
Reviewed 6 August 2022 
(★★★★★)

The Grimeborn fringe Ring Cycle comes to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion, telling this complex story in a way that was engaging and direct, with some fine singing and acting.

The Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival Ring adventure came to a triumphant conclusion yesterday (6 August 2022) with the performances of Julia Burbach's production of Wagner's Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the Hackney Empire. The adaptation by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove was used, with Peter Selwyn conducting the Orpheus Sinfonia. Lee Bisset was Brünnhilde, Paul Carey Jones was the Wanderer, Freddie Tong was Alberich, with Neal Cooper as Siegfried (in Siegfried) and Mark Le Brocq as Siegfried (in Götterdämmerung), plus Lucy Anderson (Gutrune), Mae Heydorn (Erda, Flosshilde), Lizzie Holmes (Woglinde), Elizabeth Karani (Woodbird),  Bethan Mary Langford (Wellgunde), Angharad Lyddon (Waltraute), Simon Thorpe (Gunther), and Simon Wilding (Fafner, Hagen). Designs were by Bettina John, and lighting by Robert Price.

The two operas were performed as a double-bill (as Vick and Dove originally intended with City of Birmingham Opera); Siegfried in a single span of two hours, with Götterdämmerung in the evening with an interval. We thus had over four hours of music, and the young players of the Orpheus Sinfonia (just 18 of them) performing a truly heroic service. Dove's orchestration is highly imaginative and whilst one or two moments lack the sheer depth and richness of Wagner's full version, for nearly all of the time we had the weight and depth of colour that we wanted, and what we lost in sheer magnitude we gained in moments which reach almost chamber intimacy. This was particularly true of Lee Bisset's glorious Immolation Scene where she was able to be quiet, intimate and thoughtful in a way that the full version would not allow, almost taking us into Brünnhilde's thought processes.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Songs from my Homeland: Cowbridge Music Festival's 2022 season under artistic directors Rosalind Ventris and Joseph Fort

Cowbridge
Cowbridge

Under artistic directors violist Rosalind Ventris and conductor Joseph Fort, the Cowbridge Music Festival returns from 16 to 25 September 2022, filling the south Wales market town with world class musicians. This year's theme is Songs from my Homeland and visitors to the festival will include soprano Natalya Romaniw, Cowbridge Music Festival Associate Artist Llŷr Williams, singer Kizzy Crawford, cellist Laura van der Heijden, pianist Tom Poster and violinist Elena Urioste, plus a rare opportunity to hear music from Afghanistan. Co-artistic director Joseph Fort will be conducting the Choir of King's College, London, in Rachmaninov's Vespers, whilst Tom Poster and Elena Urioste's Kaleidescope Chamber Collective will be performing a programme of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Dvorak and Errollyn Wallen.

Introducing the programme, Rosalind Ventris and Joseph Fort commented, "We are tremendously excited to unveil the programme for the 2022 Cowbridge Music Festival. This year’s theme of ‘Songs from my Homeland’ invites us to explore the idea that one’s home has long been a source of inspiration for composers and performers alike. Several artists draw deep on Welsh connections and roots: Llŷr Williams’s programme celebrates of the centenary of Bartók’s first visit to Wales, while Kizzy Crawford offers her own unique brand of Welsh-language soul-folk jazz. Other performers bring their home to us: Tom Poster and Elena Urioste recreate the award-winning Uriposte Jukebox that they first broadcast from their own living room, while musicians of Afghan heritage present a programme of their native folk music. Meanwhile, other musicians explore the notion of home as an inspiration for composers, ranging from Welsh-Ukrainian opera star Natalya Romaniw’s selection of heartfelt songs by Dvořák, Grieg and Rachmaninoff to jazz legend Darius Brubeck’s upbeat finale. With such a broad range of artists uniting around this theme, there is surely something for everyone here, and we hope that all will join us for the 2022 festival!"

Concerts take place at venues throughout the town, including Holy Cross Church, The United Free Church and Cowbridge Comprehensive School. For those who may be unable to travel, the festival will also bring music out into the community with a number of performances in care homes and a full slate of outreach workshops reaching over a thousand pupils across the local area.

Full details from the festival website.

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra launches 2022/23 season under music director Joanna MacGregor

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra logo

2022/23 sees the Joanna MacGregor's second full season as music director of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, and the orchestra leading up to its centenary in 2025. The season opens on 2 October with an all-American programme conducted by Sian Edwards including Gershwin with soloist Joanna MacGregor, Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The season ends on 26 March 2023 with MacGregor joined by new leader Ruth Rogers and principal cello Peter Adams in Beethoven's Triple Concerto plus the Emperor Concerto, and Barber's Adagio.

Other concerts in the season include conductor laureate Barry Wordsworth directing Mahler's Symphony No. 4, with soprano Carolyn Sampson, and Robert Howarth directing Bach's St Matthew Passion. In January the orchestra strike out in a new direction, playing on Saturday evening rather than Sunday afternoon, and celebrating the natural world in a collaboration with visual artist Kathy Hinde. The music will mix avant-garde, minimalist, rock, jazz and more including Philip Glass, Rolf Wallin, John Luther Adams, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Jonny Greenwood.

There is also a chamber music programme including Joanna MacGregor and BPO principals in Frank Martin, Shostakovich and Brahms, Brighton Festival Chorus and BPO Brass in Gabrieli and Paul Mealor, and for Christmas Roger Allam narrates Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In the New Year, concerts include MacGregor and BPO principals in Rebecca Clarke and Elgar.

For those who have never seen a classical concert or heard the BPO before, there are a limited number of £10 LoveMusic tickets available for three of the concerts.

The orchestra was formed in 1925 by Herbert Mengs as the Symphonic String Players. By 1928 it had already moved into the Brighton Dome and become the fully orchestral Symphonic Players. Menges remained as Principal Conductor and in 1932 Sir Thomas Beecham was appointed as the orchestra’s first President (a position later held by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten). The orchestra became the fully-professional Southern Philharmonic in 1945, with annual seasons in Hastings and Portsmouth, before becoming the Brighton Philharmonic in 1958.

Full details from the BPO website.

Vox in Bestia: Laura Catrani uses solo voice to explore Dante's animals with music from three contemporary Italian composers

Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della divina commedia - Fabrizio de Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini, Alessandro Solbiati; Laura Catrani; Stradivarius
Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della divina commedia - Fabrizio de Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini, Alessandro Solbiati; Laura Catrani; Stradivarius
Reviewed 1/8/2022 (★★★)

Italian soprano Laura Catrani explores the beasts Dante's Divine Comedy via music written for her solo voice by three contemporary Italian composers, to dazzling, virtuosic and challenging effect

Luciano Berio's Sequenza III, written in 1965 for soprano Cathy Berberian, helped define a whole genre of unaccompanied vocal work that used the voice's many other expressive modes besides singing. Berberian would create her own response to this in 1966 with Stripsody, an equally virtuoso work but one that merged virtuosic onomatopoeic sounds with ideas from comic strips.

As a young student at the Conservatoire in Milan, soprano Laura Catrani studied Berio's Sequenza III and it soon became her piece de resistance [see her performance on YouTube] and she has continued to explore and expand the solo voice repertoire. Her Vox in Femina project from 2010 brought together some of the great 20th-century and contemporary composers.

Laura Catrani's Vox in Bestia project arose out of lockdown, and has now been issued on the Stradivarius label. In it, Catrani brings together three works written for her by Fabrizio De Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini and Alessandro Solbiato, each of which takes texts from Dante as their basis.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Looking back at the 2022 Three Choirs Festival in Hereford, from Dyson's Quo Vadis to Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius

Geraint Bowen conducts Dvořák’s Requiem in Hereford Cathedral at Three Choirs Festival with Anita Watson, Catherine Carby, Ruairi Bowen, Stephan Loges (Photo: Dale Hodgetts & James O’Driscol)
Geraint Bowen conducts Dvořák’s Requiem in Hereford Cathedral at Three Choirs Festival with Anita Watson, Catherine Carby, Ruairi Bowen, Stephan Loges
(Photo: Dale Hodgetts & James O’Driscol)

This year’s Three Choirs Festival has drawn to a close in Hereford, after eight days of choral concerts, chamber music, family events, theatre and more. Around 800 performers took part across the week, with almost 150 composers represented, over a third of whom are still alive today.

The festival brought a series of firsts including the festival’s first ever mention on Woman’s Hour thanks to Luke Styles and Jessica Walker’s festival commission Voices of Power, a first UK performance for Finnish conductor Emilia Hoving, and premieres of fourteen different pieces across the festival programme.

2022 saw revivals of Dyson’s cantata Quo Vadis and Dvořák’s Requiem, both rarely-performed works which were well received by festival audiences. Dyson's cantata was planned for the 1939 Three Choirs Festival, but was cancelled and the premiere finally took place at the 1949 festival. Dvořák’s Requiem was composed for the 1891 Birmingham Triennial Festival, the second time the composer had been commissioned for the festival, and the first text he considered setting was The Dream of Gerontius (an intriguing might have been).
'The Three Choirs Festival does George Dyson's Quo Vadis proud' – Seen and Heard International;
'The Three Choirs Festival Chorus superbly navigated Dvořák's turning the music inward, becoming quiet devastation' – Bachtrack 
A series of intimate chamber concerts augmented by morning and evening talks made up the day programme, including recitals by the Piatti Quartet, Fenella Humphries, and Mark Bebbington, while the festival bandstand gave the cathedral close a fantastic atmosphere, with people dancing to the music from Hereford Big Band and Hereford Folk Ensemble, among many others. The festival drew to a close with a  performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, movingly sung by Nicky Spence, Dame Sarah Connolly, Neal Davies and the Festival Chorus, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geraint Bowen.

Young performers were a highlight of this year’s festival, with the headline festival commission Voices of Power sung by the Festival Youth Choir, the children from Gloucestershire Academy of Music giving an excellent performance at Tewkesbury Abbey, and a fantastic concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales conducted by Kwamé Ryan at Hereford Cathedral.

The Three Choirs Festival moves to Gloucester in 2023, where the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams will be celebrated in his 150th anniversary year. Before then, on the composer’s birthday itself this October, the festival will present two days of events showcasing some of his best-loved music, including the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Full details are available the festival website.

A Vaughan Williams Anthology: Tony Cooper reviews Naxos' eight-disc box set

A Vaughan Williams Anthology: Tony Cooper reviews Naxos' eight-disc box set
Ralph Vaughan Williams was one of England’s most illustrious composers and this specially curated selection of works issued as an 8-cd box-set anthology by NAXOS clearly demonstrates the sheer breadth of the composer’s achievements offering a rewarding and fitting legacy punctuating the composer’s 150 celebrations of 2022

1. Symphony No.1 (A Sea Symphony). Joan Rodgers (soprano), Christopher Maltman (baritone). Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, cond. Paul Daniel.
2. Symphony No.2 (A London Symphony) / The Wasps Overture. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, cond. Kees Bakels.
3. Symphonies Nos. 5 and 9. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, cond. Kees Bakels.
4. Fantasia on Greensleeves / Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis / Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 in E minor / In the Fen Country / Concerto Grosso. New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, cond. James Judd.
5. The Lark Ascending / Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano / The Solent / Fantasia. Jennifer Pike (violin), Sina Kloke (piano). Chamber Orchestra of New York, cond. Salvatore di Vittorio.
6. Phantasy Quintet / String Quartets Nos.1 & 2. Maggini String Quartet, Garfield Jackson (viola).
7. Willow-Wood (a cantata for baritone and orchestra) / The Sons of Light / Toward the Unknown Region / Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus. Roderick Williams (baritone). Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, cond. David Lloyd-Jones.
8. Sacred Choral Music including Mass in G minor. The Choir of Clare College Cambridge, James McVinnie and Ashok Gupta (organ), cond. Timothy Brown. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Borka's adventures continue: Ignite Music launches with a new production of Russell Hepplewhite's opera based on John Burningham's book

Ignite Music presents Borka: The Goose with no Feathers by Russell Hepplewhite & Tim Yealland
I caught the premiere performances of Russell Hepplewhite and Tim Yealland's opera Borka: The Goose with no feathers in 2014 when English Touring Opera performed it as the children's opera for its Spring tour (see my review). One of the performers at that premiere was Susan Moore, and she is now one of the artists behind a new company, Ignite Music which plans to launch with a new production of Borka: The Goose with no feathers to celebrate the 60th anniversary of John Burningham's book on which the opera is based. In this short article, Susan has written introducing Ignite Music and its work.

Ignite Music: New Music for Young Minds is a new company dedicated to producing new opera, musical theatre and narrated concerts for family and school audiences.

Ignite is built around a troupe of freelance creatives unified by their passion for working with young people. We combine our skills and knowledge to introduce new music experiences to youth and family audiences. As a pool of skilled practitioners, we tailor our team to the needs of each project.

Our aim is a simple one: to tell stories through music, to share a fully immersive world created for each production, and to entertain and enthral our audiences of all ages. Our ethos is an equal voice and pay for all our team from director to designer, from puppet maker to performer. We seek to produce quality performances using sustainable materials.

For our first project we have been tasked by the John Burningham Estate and Penguin Random House, to produce the centrepiece for the 60th Anniversary of the publication of John Burningham’s picture book Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers with a brand-new production of the opera of the same name, originally commissioned by English Touring Opera in 2014. The opera is written by the award-winning team of Tim Yealland (Libretto) and Russell Hepplewhite (Music), the duo that brought you Laika the Spacedog and Shackleton’s Cat. This new production of Borka: The Opera will tour Literary Festivals and local music hubs around the UK in 2023 and will be directed by Ignite’s Artistic Director, Sue Moore.

We are currently fundraising for Stages 1 & 2 of our production, with includes completion of the design process, set and puppet build, auditioning our cast, and a Research & Development workshop for the cast and creative team at Snape Maltings. For more information about us and Borka: the opera, visit our website, or to help us with Stages 1 & 2 of our Fundraising go to our GoFundMe page.

The youngest ever winner of BBC Young Musician in 2008, Peter Moore becomes the first trombone soloist at the BBC Proms for nearly 20 years with George Walker's concerto

Peter Moore (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
Peter Moore (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)

Trombonist Peter Moore is all of 26. In 2008 at the age of twelve, he became the youngest ever winner of the BBC Young Musician competition and is now principal trombone of the London Symphony Orchestra and professor of trombone at the Royal Academy of Music.

On Tuesday 16th August 2022, Moore makes his BBC Proms solo debut when he performs George Walker's Trombone Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Vasily Petrenko, as part a programme including works by Prokofiev and Copland. Amazingly, this is the first time there has been a trombone soloist at the proms in almost 20 years.

George Walker (1922-2018) was the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1996. He studied at the Curtis Institute with Rudolf Serkin, William Primrose, Gregor Piatigorsky and Rosario Scalero (Samuel Barber's teacher). His Trombone Concerto was written in 1957 and is one of the earliest modern trombone concertos with Walker's music reflecting a range of influences from Beethoven to jazz. Walker's concerto was preceded by a jazz-inflected on by Nathaniel Shilkret which was written for band leader Tommy Dorsey in 1942. Following on from Walker's concert came that by Nino Rota (1966), those by Xenakis (1991), Berio (1999), and Mark-Anthony Turnage (1999-2000) all dedicated to Christian Lindberg, James MacMillan (2001), and more recently Dani Howard (commissioned for Moore in 2021).

The last time the trombone was featured at the BBC Proms was in 2003 with the Symphony No. 9 for trombone and orchestra by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, again for trombonist Christian Lindberg and memorably featuring trombone, sackbut (early trombone) and free jazz solos.

In the Autumn, Moore will be soloist with his home orchestra as he performs Toru Takemitsu's Fantasma Cantos II with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle in London and on tour to Japan. Later in October Moore will also be debuting a new chamber music series with mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley and pianist Michael McHale, performing arrangements of works by Frank Bridge, Schumann, Schubert, and selections from the Great American Songbook in Belfast, the city where Peter was born.

Further details from BBC Proms website, and LSO website,

Black, el Payaso: Pablo Sorozábal's engaging operetta gets its UK premiere in an enterprising production by Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn

Sorozábal:Black, el payaso - Michael Lafferty, Giuseppe Pellingra - Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn Festival (Photo: Elena Molina)
Sorozábal:Black, el payaso - Michael Lafferty, Giuseppe Pellingra - Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn Festival (Photo: Elena Molina)
Pablo Sorozábal: Black, el Payaso; Michael Lafferty, Raphaela Papadakis, Giuseppe Pellingra, Juliet Wallace, David Powton, director Paula Paz, music director Ricardo Gosalbo; Cervantes Theatre at the Grimeborn Festival at Arcola Theatre
Reviewed 2 August 2022 (★★★★)

A fantasy plot, that hid themes of exile and revolution in plain sight, is at the heart of this 1941 Spanish operetta full of lovely melodies and with musical links to Berlin music-theatre and Viennese operetta from the Silver Age

Pablo Sorozábal, who died in 1988 at the age of 91, was the last representative of the romantic Spanish zarzuela tradition. He is perhaps best known internationally for the romanza 'No puede ser' (from his 1936 zarzuela La tabernera del puerto) which was sung by Placido Domingo at the Three Tenors concert!

There was a rare chance to hear Sorozábal's work in London when the Cervantes Theatre presented the UK premiere of Sorozábal's Black, el Payaso (Black, the Clown) at Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival (seen 2 August 2022). Paula Paz directed with Michael Lafferty as Black, Raphaela Papadakis as Sofia, Giuseppe Pellingra as White, Juliet Wallace as Catalina, David Powton as Marat and Charles Dupont, and Simon Bundock as the child. Sets and costumes were by Caitlin Abbott with lighting by Lucia Sanchez. Ricardo Gosalbo was the music director and had made the musical arrangement whereby accompaniment was provided by him on piano and Elena Jauregui on violin, percussion and, at one point, toy trumpet. The libretto was adapted by Ignacio Garcia and translated by Simon Breden. The work was presented with English dialogue and sung Spanish.

Sorozábal:Black, el payaso - Juliet Wallace, David Powton - Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn Festival (Photo: Elena Molina)
Sorozábal:Black, el payaso - Juliet Wallace, David Powton - Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn Festival (Photo: Elena Molina)

Anyone expecting a Spanish theme to the evening was going to be disappointed. As well as Spain, Sorozábal trained in Leipzig and Berlin, where he studied with Friedrich Koch (in preference to Schoenberg). Interestingly amongst Koch's other pupils are Kurt Weill and Boris Blacher. Sorozábal described Black, el Payaso as an operetta, and its Ruritanian theme and musical style align it very much with late Viennese operetta. Sorozábal's music includes a csardas and 'gypsy music', as well as more modern elements such as a tango, whilst the plot (based on a French novel, La princesse aux clowns of 1923 by Jean-Jose Frappa) involves a country on the Black Seas which has had a revolution and a group of emigres in Paris.

But the sheer fantasy of the plot meant that it got past the censors. Black, el Payaso was premiered in Barcelona in 1942; the Civil War had not long ended, Franco was in power, Sorozábal was a liberal and out of favour. The opera was just fantasy wasn't it?

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Music Junction: After celebrating its 10th anniversary last year, London Chamber Orchestra's innovative outreach project moves into Norfolk and Herefordshire

London Chamber Orchestra's Music Junction
London Chamber Orchestra's Music Junction

Music Junction is London Chamber Orchestra's outreach project, which last year celebrated its 10th anniversary and this year the project celebrates its expansion into Norfolk and Herefordshire. Music Junction uses shared music making experiences to bring together young people from different backgrounds who are often siloed into separate music provision, such as those with disabilities or SEND. 

The project is a three-tiered programme formed of mentees – pupils who have had very limited or no access to classical music, mentors – pupils who have been learning an instrument; and LCO musicians. Each year, these groups come together for flashmobs, creative workshops and instrumental learning, working on a piece written specifically for them which is performed at the project showcase concert side-by-side with LCO.

In Norfolk and Hertfordshire, Music Junction will operate in one senior school, two state primary schools, and at least one SEND school. The primary schools will be feeder schools for the secondary school, creating a long-lasting musical and mentorship scheme that eases young peoples' transition into high school. By training teenage pupils as mentors for younger participants, the programme also offers older participants the chance to support others, build their skills and confidence.

The need for programmes like Music Junction has never been greater. The cost of living crisis has rendered music education inaccessible for many, and the pandemic has caused a significant gap in music training and provision. Future plans for Music Junction include expanding into other counties to help many more young people, working with The OHMI Trust to adapt instruments for young people who are physically disabled, and incorporating non-Western musical styles through a partnership with Indian Raga.

Further information from the London Chamber Orchestra's website.

Handel’s Alcina - a ‘first’ for Glyndebourne - joins other great Handel gems in the company’s repertoire such as Ariodante, Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo and Theodora

Handel: Alcina - Samantha Hankey, Beth Taylor, Soraya Mafi, Jane Archibald - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Handel: Alcina - Samantha Hankey, Beth Taylor, Soraya Mafi, Jane Archibald - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Handel: Alcina; Jane Archibald, Svetlina Stoyanova, Soraya Mafi, Beth Taylor, Rowan Pierce, director: Francesco Micheli, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conductor: Jonathan Cohen; Glyndebourne Opera
Reviewed 24 July 2022 (★★★★★)

Italian-born director, Francesco Micheli, brings style and sumptuous excess to Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s wonderful and lush staging of Handel’s Alcina 

Our correspondent, Tony Cooper, provides a second view of Glyndebourne's production of Handel's Alcina directed by Francesco Micheli with Jane Archibald in the title role. [see Robert's review of the production}.

Handel loosely based the libretto for Alcina on Riccardo Broschi’s opera, L’isola d’Alcina, set to a libretto by Antonio Fanzaglia. The original source of the story, however, comes from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem, Orlando furioso, the source, too, for such other Handel delights as Orlando and Ariodante.  

The work received its first performance at the Teatro Capranica, Rome, in 1728, a theatre originally constructed in 1679 by the Capranica family and housed in the early Renaissance Palazzo Capranica. It was, incidentally, the second public theatre to open in the Eternal City but, sadly, ceased operating as a full-scale theatre and opera-house in 1881. In 1922 was converted into a cinema. Following the closure of the cinema in 2000, the theatre now functions as a conference and performance venue.  

Handel: Alcina - Soraya Mafi, Samantha Hankey, James Cleverton - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Handel: Alcina - Soraya Mafi, Samantha Hankey, James Cleverton - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Composed for Handel’s first season at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, Alcina received its première on 16 April 1735. But like the composer’s other works in the opera seria genre, Alcina slowly fell into obscurity. A revival of sorts took place in Braunschweig (Lower Saxony) in 1738 but then it was shelved for nearly 200 years before a production was mounted in Leipzig (just up the road from Handel’s birthplace in Halle) in 1928. 

But come the Swinging Sixties, this forgotten three-act opera took flight and, indeed, took the operatic world by storm. Joan Sutherland hit the headlines in the title-role in Franco Zeffirelli’s stylish production at La Fenice in February 1960 seen a couple of years later at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden while Robert Carsen directed another super-charged production for Opéra de Paris in 1999 later seen at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Both productions featured Renée Fleming while Cecilia Bartoli wowed her adoring fans in the title-role just before Lockdown at the 2019 Salzburg Festival. 

For my money, though, Francesco Micheli’s production for Glyndebourne (the first time the opera has been staged on the South Downs marking Signor Micheli’s Glyndebourne début) is surely up there with the best and as for Canadian coloratura soprano, Jane Archibald (who made her Royal Opera House début in the 2013-14 season as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos) her portrayal of the sorceress Alcina is surely up there with the best, too.  

Finely poetic: Ernest Chausson's early Piano Trio alongside works by his contemporary, Eugene Ysaÿe

Chausson: Piano Trio, Ysaye: Poeme Elegiaque, Meditation-Poeme; Bruno Monteiro, Miguel Rocha, João Paulo Santos; Etcetera Records
Chausson: Piano Trio, Ysaÿe: Poeme ElegiaqueMeditation-Poeme; Bruno Monteiro, Miguel Rocha, João Paulo Santos; Etcetera Records
Reviewed 29 July 2022 (★★★½)

Chausson's early trio paired with two works by his contemporary Ysaye in finely poetic accounts from three Portuguese musicians

On this disc from three Portuguese musicians, violinist Bruno Monteiro, cellist Miguel Rocha and pianist João Paulo Santos, on Etcetera Records, they pair Ernest Chausson's Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 3 with two works by Eugene Ysaÿe, Poeme Elegiaque for Violin and Piano and Meditation-Poeme for Cello and Piano.

There was little in Ernest Chausson's comfortable early life that would indicate music as a career, however he was gifted at the piano and (ultimately) resisted his father's disapproval and went to the Paris Conservatoire. There he studied with Massenet and with Franck, but it would be Franck who had the major influence on the young man. However, Chausson's larger-scale works are also imbued the influence of Wagner. Having failed to win the Prix de Rome in 1881, Chausson travelled to Bayreuth to hear Wagner's Parsifal, and his Trio was written around this time. 

Monday, 1 August 2022

Ancestor, a joint work by Tarik O'Regan and Errollyn Wallen at centre of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's programme at St-Martin-in-the-Fields

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Tim Mead
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Tim Mead

On Tuesday 2 August 2022, the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by John Butt, will be presenting the programme A Garden of Good and Evil at the church of St-Martin-in-the Fields. Centred on the music of Handel, the concert features two of his Concerto Grossos Op. 6 alongside arias from Giulio Cesare, Admeto, and Judas Maccabeus performed by counter-tenor Tim Mead. But alongside the Baroque music will be the London premiere of a new work by Errollyn Wallen and Tarik O'Regan, Ancestor.

Ancestor was composed jointly by the orchestra's composer-in-residence Tarik O'Regan and his good friend and colleague Errollyn Wallen. Commissioned by the orchestra and written especially for Mead’s voice, the work explores the mythology around the Creation from a broad range of cultures. Written jointly, Ancestor consists of two linked pieces, one by O'Regan and the other by Wallen, the intriguing feature being that each composer sets a text by the other.

Tarik O’Regan explains; "The challenge was how to go about working together as two composers, each responsible for a fully autonomous work, which also somehow connected to the other thematically and musically in a programme based on opposites. It was at this point we began thinking about duality rather than polarity: both instead of either/or. In light of this, Errollyn came up with the idea of each writing our own texts. My modification was to suggest that we each write each other's texts.", adding; "Which is exactly what we did, each providing a poem or libretto of sorts for the other. Our pieces take for their titles the first words of our respective texts: The Forms and The Golden Measure."

Ancestor was premiered on Friday (29 July 2022) at the Ryedale Festival. Further details about Tuesday's performance from the St-Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Riotous comedy & humanity: Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at West Green House Opera

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Dulcamara (Richard Walshe) makes his entry - West Green House Opera
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Dulcamara (Richard Walshe) makes his entry - West Green House Opera

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore: Samantha Clarke, John-Colyn Gyeantey, Nicholas Lester, Richard Walshe, director: Victoria Newlyn, conductor: Matthew Kofi Waldren West Green House Opera
31 July 2022 (★★★★)

Victoria Newlyn's production filled the stage with a riot of colour and movement, but did not neglect the opera's humanity aided by some fine performances from this young cast

For its 2022 season, West Green House Opera has returned to the theatre on the lake, first created in 2021. With the stage on the island in the lake and the audience in pavilions on the lakeside, opera productions trade immediacy for a bit of magic in the setting (enhanced by the lighting of the garden when the sun sets). We caught the final performance of the season (31 July 2022), Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, directed by Victoria Newlyn and conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren [the partnership responsible for West Green's 2019 production of Rossini's La Cenerentola, see my review]. Samantha Clarke was Adina, John-Colyn Gyeantey as Nemorino, Nicholas Lester was Belcore, Richard Walshe was Dulcamara and Tereza Gevorgyan was Giannetta. Designs were by Adrian Linford with lighting by Sarah Bath and sound design by Gary Dixon.

The stage presented the audience with a long and relatively narrow acting area in front of the orchestra (seen side-on), and any set was restricted to the sides of the stage. Newlyn sensibly opted for a broad-brush, highly physical production style where the characters' emotions were reflected in physical actions (Newlyn's experience encompasses both directing and being movement director). The setting was modern, and the action had been transposed to a river cruiser, Il viaggio, where Adina (Samantha Clarke) was the cruise director. The chorus was made up of the various personnel of the ship, which gave designer Adrian Linford an excuse to go slightly mad with the costumes and meant that whenever Newlyn lined the chorus up along the stage for one of the ensemble numbers, the results were a visual riot.

Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Samantha Clarke, John-Colyn Gyeantry - West Green House Opera
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore - Samantha Clarke, John-Colyn Gyeantry - West Green House Opera

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