Wednesday 21 February 2024

Pink Floyd by candle-light played by a classical string orchestra: welcome to the world of the Yorkshire-based Paradox Orchestra

The Paradox Orchestra at Leeds Minster
The Paradox Orchestra at Leeds Minster

The Paradox Orchestra is a dynamic young Yorkshire-based ensemble of classically-trained musicians, many of whom trained at the Leeds Conservatoire, whose performances vibrantly reimagine rock, pop, and dance classics, with the aim of re-energising classical music, supporting classically trained musicians, and bring music to new audiences.

The orchestra has just launched a tour of Pink Floyd hits, with a candle-lit 25-strong string orchestra in hits from the seminal album, The Dark Side of the Moon with performances to come in Selby Abbey (11/5/2024), Sheffield Cathedral (16/5/2024) and Huddersfield Town Hall (17/5/2024). These follow sell-out performances last year at Conyngham Hall in Knaresborough, Leeds Minster and Manchester Cathedral.

The orchestra combines a high level of musicianship with showmanship in its performances, and they donate 5% of ticket sales to local charities. The orchestra also provides Inspire Days for local charities, including the Archers project in Sheffield, which supports the homeless and in May The homeless receiving support at the Archer project will be invited to watch a rehearsal of the orchestra for free.

Michael Sluman, founder, and artistic director of Paradox Orchestra, said: "Music, particularly classical music, has been proven to help reduce the stresses of life, and in our challenging times, we are passionate about bringing people together for an uplifting, transformative night out. We are committed to working with local music hubs, churches, town halls and charities to reach new audiences and break down the perceptions that classical music is only for a posh night out, for posh people and at posh locations."

Full details from the orchestra's website.



On an Endless Road: Itō Noe and the Women Composers of Her Time

Itō Noe
 Itō Noe 
Itō Noe (1895-1923) was a Japanese writer and feminist anarchist who was killed by Japanese state forces when she was just 28. A new song cycle by British composer Francesca Le Lohé celebrates the brief life of this brave and radical woman. 

The song cycle has been written for Japanese singer and biwa player Akiko Kubota who makes her UK debut on a tour from 5 to 9 March 2024 for International Women's Day with concerts in London (5/3/2024), Huddersfield (7/3/2024), Manchester (8/3/2024) and Leeds (9/3/2024).

Kubota's programme, On an Endless Road: Itō Noe and the Women Composers of Her Time premiered in Tokyo in December 2023 and the UK tour is being presented by Hera, an intersectional feminist opera company, in association with Illuminate Women’s Music.

Kubota plays the satsuma biwa, a Japanese stringed instrument originally played by samurai and traditionally used to accompany songs chronicling the achievements of warriors in battle. At the concert Kubota will be joined by Midori Komachi (violin) and Yura Zaiki (piano). 

As well as Le Lohé's song cycle, the programme includes music for violin and piano by three of Noe’s contemporaries who broke new ground writing in the Western Classical tradition - Kōda Nobu (1870-1946), one of the very first Japanese composers to write in the European classical tradition, Toyama Michiko (1913-2006), who forged an international career and reputation, Yoshida Takako (1910- 1956), a feminist and pacifist, who refused to write militaristic music and was jailed for her pacifist principles in 1940.

In 2015, composer Francesca Le Lohé received a Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation Scholarship and relocated to Japan to study Japanese instruments, including the biwa. Her opera The Key won the Keizo Saji Prize in 2019.

Full details from the Hera website.

Revealing a remarkable talent: Solomon's Knot explore the Sacred Songs and Anthems of 17th century composer George Jeffreys

George Jeffreys: Sacred Songs and Anthems; Solomon's Knot, Josep Maria Marti Duran, William Whitehead; Prospero

George Jeffreys: Sacred Songs and Anthems; Solomon's Knot, Josep Maria Marti Duran, William Whitehead; Prospero
Reviewed 19 February 2024

The almost forgotten 17th-century English composer George Jeffreys is revealed as a remarkable talent, writing Italian influenced-music in the depths of darkest Northamptonshire during the Civil War, vividly brought to life by Solomon's Knot

The name of the composer George Jeffreys is not well known and it is perhaps fatally easy to assume that his surviving output of instrumental fantasias, thirteen Italian madrigals, sixteen English songs, sixty-one Latin motets, five Latin canticles, two Latin mass movements, twenty-six English anthems or devotional pieces, and three settings of texts from the English Communion Service would be that of an eminently forgettable minor 17th century English composer working in a somewhat old-fashioned style. Yet the reality is remarkably different.

Born around 1610 and living until 1683, his lifetime coincided with a complex piece of English history and for most of his life he worked for Lord Hatton, much of the time at Hatton's seat of Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. Now, the spotlight is turning onto Jeffreys and rightly finding a composer who has been unjustly neglected. His music is being made available via Musica Britannica and this new disc on Prospero Classical, Lost Majesty: Sacred Songs and Anthems by George Jeffreys, from Solomon's Knot (artistic director Jonathan Sells) including Josep Maria Martí Duran (theorbo) and William Whitehead (organ), not only features Jeffreys' sacred songs and anthems for four- and five-part voices and continuo, but was recorded in the great hall of Kirby Hall.

Solomon's Knot at Kirby Hall
Solomon's Knot at Kirby Hall

Not much is known about Jeffreys' early life and he first shows up in Cambridge in the 1630s where he may well have come into contact with the Hatton family but from this period until his death he was in the family's service. This was mainly as Steward at Kirby Hall, where he remained during the Civil War with Lady Hatton whilst Lord Hatton fled to France. Despite the fact that Jeffreys was employed by Christopher Hatton primarily as a secretary/steward and not as a musician, he maintained a passionate interest in music throughout his life and music manuscripts in his hand survive from the 1630s through to the 1680s. What is perhaps most significant is that Jeffreys, who was born around 50 years before Purcell, was one of the few English composers of the period to be influenced by contemporary Italian styles and to write in a forward-looking style.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

From Harald en Italie to Le prophète in New York: 2024 Bard Summerscape focuses on Berlioz and his world

Fisher Center at Bard College (Photo: Peter Aaron '68/Esto)
Fisher Center at Bard College (Photo: Peter Aaron '68/Esto) 

The Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in the Hudson Valley, New York City, presents an annual Summerscape festival and this year there are eight weeks of opera, theatre, dance and a music festival from 20 June to 18 August 2024. The theme of the music festival is Berlioz and His World. Alongside wide-ranging concerts of music by Berlioz and his contemporaries, there is a rare staging of Meyerbeer's Le prophète (26 July to 4 August) directed by Christian Räth, with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein and featuring Robert Watson (Siegmund in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production of Die Walküre at the Staatsoper, Berlin) in the title role plus Jennifer Feinstein as Fidès. 

Meyerbeer's Le prophète featured at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 as a vehicle for Enrico Caruso, and returned in 1977 with James McCracken and Marilyn Horne, since then I am not sure whether the opera has had a performance in the USA.

In concert there is a chance to hear not only Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique but the far rarer Lélio, ou Le retour à la vie: monodrame lyrique, plus songs, the Te Deum, selections from Les TroyensLe mort d’OphélieHarold en Italie and La damnation de Faust, alongside music by Reicha, Weber, Le Sueur, Spontini, Thomas, Gluck, Auber, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Liszt, Wagner, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Faure, Viardot, Farrenc, Bertin, Grandval, Cherubini, Paganini, Halevy, Adam, Strauss, Ernst, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Hiller, Gottschalk, Raff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, Varese and Messiaen.

Full details from the Fisher Center website.

La voix humaine: two different productions bring Poulenc's intimate drama to London

Poulenc: La voix humaine - Green Opera
For those seeking to bring opera to more intimate spaces, Poulenc's La voix humaine would seem ideal both in terms of length and performing forces. A single, female protagonist, a single setting and a length of around 45 minutes. In fact, it seems to cry out for that intimate space as Poulenc and Cocteau's protagonist gets remarkably confiding. 

But though it has developed quite a currency over the last decade or so, Poulenc was not fond on the version of the opera with piano accompaniment and for him, the piece needed a full orchestra. But opera companies have found that the sacrifice of Poulenc's orchestral colours is sometimes worth the gain in sheer immediacy and intimacy.

Remarkably, there are two different productions of Poulenc's La voix humaine coming up. In March, Green Opera is performing the work at the King's Head Theatre in Islington, the first time opera has been performed in the venue for ten years. In April, Pegasus Opera Company is presenting Poulenc's La voix humaine in a double bill with Philip Hagemann's Roman Fever at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music.

Green Opera's critically-acclaimed production of Francis Poulenc's La Voix humaine returns for a strictly limited run, 14-16 March 2024 at the newly reconstructed purpose-built King's Head Theatre. New Zealand soprano Katherine McIndoe with Eleanor Burke as director and André Callegaro as music director, these latter two both Jette Parker Young Artists at the Royal Opera House.

Green Opera is the first and only environmentally-sustainable opera company; for every £10 donated or ticket purchased, Green Opera plants a tree with Eden Reforestation Projects. So far they have planted over 2,000 trees! The March performances are in support of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance to whom 25% of the box office proceeds will be donated.

Full details from the Kings Head Theatre website.

Pegasus Opera's double bill features an all-female led cast and creative team. Both operas are directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo and conducted by Rebecca Tong. For Poulenc's La voix humaine, the protagonist is Nadine Benjamin, whilst in Philip Hagemann's opera, the cast features Alison Buchanan, artistic director of Pegasus Opera, and Bernadine Pritchett. 

Philip Hagemann's Roman Fever is based on an Edith Wharton short story about two middle-aged women and their daughters on holiday in Rome. The work was premiered in Santa Fe in 1989 and this will be the work's UK premiere. The double bill runs from 12 to 14 April 2024.

Full details from TicketSource.

Pegasus Opera's Alison Buchanan, Bernadine Pritchett and Nadine Benjamin (Photo: Dominique Nok)
Pegasus Opera's Alison Buchanan, Bernadine Pritchett and Nadine Benjamin (Photo: Dominique Nok)


Knowing no boundaries: on Circus Dinograd contemporary & period performers move between styles & genres without embarrassment

Circus Dinograd - Zefir Records

Circus Dinograd; traditional, Jean-Luc Ponty, Purcell, Ravel, Jarmo Ramponen, David Faber, Hilary Summers, Maarten Ornstein, Mike Fentross, Marie-Louise de Jong, Marleen Wester, Judith van Driel, Byrd, John Dowland;  Hilary Summers, Maarten Ornstein, Mike Fentross, Dudok Quartet Amsterdam; Zefir Records
Reviewed 14 February 2024

Sui generis, a disc that moves between genre and style without embarrassment as the ensemble of contemporary and period performers cross from the historical to the contemporary to the improvised

Circus Dinograd on Zefir Records is an intriguing new cross-genre collaboration between contralto Hilary Summers, the bass clarinet and theorbo/vihuela duet of Maarten Ornstein and Mike Fentross, and the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam (Judith van Driel, Marleen Wester, Marie-Louise de Jong, David Faber). The idea behind the disc seems to be that there are no boundaries, so we have reimaginations of Byrd, Purcell, and Dowland alongside folksong, Ravel and pieces by the different members of the ensemble, notably a set of Seven Deadly Sins, one by each member of the ensemble. 

It works because the seven performers bring a focused and serious approach to everything they do, there is no element of 'lets have a bit of fun with this', and with an ensemble of such a mix of performers and instruments, they perceive no boundaries. And the title? This derives from one of the folk songs on the disc, the Welsh song Peis Dinogad (Dinogad's Smock).

In fact, there are four folksongs on the disc, I will give my love an apple (English), Peis Dinogad and Ar Lan y mor (both Welsh), My Lagan Love (Irish) and Ravel's Chanson ecossaise (a version of 'Ye banks and ye braes'). The ensemble treats them with great freedom, sometimes presenting the melody straight before moving into a freer treatment. In each, Summers' strong tones are complemented by some intriguing and seductive instrumental combinations, the players treating ideas with great freedom. It is perhaps no co-incidence that all four folk songs have a certain haunting element to them.

There is a similar approach to the Early Music, treating it seriously but allowing other elements into the mix. Purcell's Music for a while begins quite straight with just Summers and Fentross' theorbo, the others joining in moving it closer to jazz, yet always with a serious approach to Purcell's material. Then Sweeter than Roses moves from the straight to a vigorous dance. Whilst I have used the word straight twice, of course, there is never anything quite straight about Hilary Summers' rich toned and intelligent approach to this music. 

Byrd's Ye Sacred Muses starts with a humming Summers plus the strings, quite direct but intriguingly modern and as the others join the results simply enrichen and develop the harmonies in a lovely way. Dowland's In darkness let me dwell is the last work on the disc and is equally captivating.

The Seven Deadly Sins are each short and scattered across the disc, though I would be intrigued to hear them as a set. All are distinctly contemporary in style David Faber's Gluttony is full of vivid imagery, Hilary Summer's Pride is short and expressionist, whilst her Avarice pits spoken text again strongly characterised instrumental contributions, Maarten Ornstein's Wrath is tiny but amazingly strongly characterised, Marie-Louise de Jong's Lust features wonderful dramatics from Summers, Marleen Wester's Sloth is not surprisingly, deep, dark and slow, whilst Judith van Driel's Envy is vivid and edgy.

There are a number of other short, contemporary pieces on the disc, a vivid, high-energy Jig from Jean-Luc Ponty, and another lively jig in Jarmo Romppanen's Polska nr. 745. 77 Tears by theorbo player Mike Fentross has hints of slow, sustained jazz into which fragments of the Purcell pieces drift in a seductive manner. Bass clarinettist Maarten Ornstein's wonderfully vivid How do I loathe thee seems a refugee from the Seven Deadly Sins and is full of colour and vigour in the instrumental contribution. Violinist Judith van Driel's Hubristic Hornpipe is lively and fun.

This won't be a disc that appeals to everyone, but I loved the way the performers refuse to categorise so that the music flows between, and often the pieces are interesting because of the very way they set between. Throughout the performances are wonderfully vivid and engaging. Summers' tones repeatedly draw you in when she sings solo, yet she is a fine ensemble performer, and that is true for all as different lines come to the fore and recede.

Circus Dinograd - Zefir Records

Circus Dinograd
Hilary Summers (contralto)
Maarten Ornstein (bass clarinet)
Mike Fentross (theorbo, vihuela)
Dudok Quartet Amsterdam (Judith van Driel, Marleen Wester, Marie-Louise de Jong, David Faber)
Recorded at Waalse kerk, Amsterdam, 30 & 31 January, 1 February 2023
ZEFIR RECORDS ZEF9701 1CD [50.35]








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Elsewhere on this blog

  • In Relations: exploring links from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen - record review
  • Mythical Creatures: I chat to Polish-born, Australian composer Paul Kopetz about the recent disc of his music - interview
  • A Lionel Tertis CelebrationTimothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi - record review
  • Young Composers 5: the latest iteration of the National Youth Choir's Young Composers scheme challenge & stimulate - record review
  • Direct, determined & loud: Welsh composer David John Roche introduces his new electric guitar concerto for Sean Shibe - feature
  • Celebrating 75 years: London Mozart Players in all-Mozart programme plus the launch of 100 Faces of Croydon - concert review
  • Personal choice: Love's Lasting Power, debut disc of Schubert lieder from duo Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale on Delphian - record review
  • Something a little bit special: David Butt Philip & friends gala for St Paul's Opera in Clapham - concert review
  • A Star Next to the MoonStephen McNeff on his new opera, based on Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, a seminal novel of magic realism - interview
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Monday 19 February 2024

Threads of Gold: The National Centre for Early Music's Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival returns to the historic Yorkshire town

Threads of Gold:  The National Centre for Early Music's Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival returns to the historic Yorkshire town

The National Centre for Early Music's Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival returns to the historic Yorkshire town from 24 to 26 May 20204 with a festival entitled Threads of Gold

There is something of a Spanish theme this year, as El Gran Teatro del Mundo, a young instrumental group based in Spain that captivated audiences on their UK tour last year and opens this year’s festival with Life is a Dream (la vida es sueño), a magical journey through the mysteries of the night, whilst The Telling close things with their music theatre show Into the Melting Pot which tells the stories of the women of medieval Spain thrust apart by religious intolerance. At Beverley Minster, the choir Tenebrae, appearing at the festival for the first time, perform their Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Requiem – a masterpiece of the Spanish Golden Age.  Other performers this year include the BBC New Generation Baroque Ensemble Augelletti, London Handel Players, violinist Bojan Čičić and harpsichordist Steven Devine, plus Song Path. 

The town plays its own important role in the festival, with the programme reflecting Beverley’s unique and intriguing history. This year’s talks and tours include Medieval Pilgrimage to St John of Beverley, an illustrated talk presented by Dr John Jenkins, co-Director of the Centre for Pilgrimage Studies at the University of York and Ancient Threads and Enchanted Garments, stories of preserved textiles from Iron Age and Roman Yorkshire told by Melanie Giles, Professor in European Prehistory at the University of Manchester.

Full details from the NCEM website.


In Relations: exploring links from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen.

In Relations: Meyerbeer, Loewe, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Emilie Mayer, Frances Allitsen; Eva Zalenga, Doriana Tchakarova; hänssler CLASSIC

In Relations: Meyerbeer, Loewe, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Emilie Mayer, Frances Allitsen; Eva Zalenga, Doriana Tchakarova; hänssler CLASSIC 
Reviewed 13 February 2024

An engaging recital with an intelligent programme that explores the complex web that linked composers and poets, male and female during the 19th century

 In Relations from hänssler CLASSIC features soprano Eva Zalenga and pianist Doriana Tchakarova in a programme that moves from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen. So, a disc of Romantic composers both male and female, then, but the concept is a little deeper than that. 

Whilst Schumann and Mendelssohn were friends, they were also linked to Meyerbeer as all three set poems by Marianne von Willemer, the only woman who ever co-authored one of Goethe's works. Carl Loewe made music with Mendelssohn, and taught Emilie Meyer, who set poems by Heine. Heine in his turn was enthusiastic about Loewe's settings of his poetry. And Goethe was most enthusiastic about the poetry of Elisabeth Kuhlmann, but she died at the age of 17. So the disc is one of fascinating cross connections and circles.

As it enters its second decade, Tectonics Glasgow is still blurring boundaries of new and experimental music

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's Tectonics Glasgow festiva

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's Tectonics Glasgow festival, co-curators Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell, is entering is second decade with the 2024 festival on 4 and 5 May 2024. This year's festival continues to blur boundaries between musical genres with artists including vocal and movement artist Elaine Mitchener reflecting and responding to the circumstances which gave birth to the centuries-old hymn Amazing Grace and its contemporary resonances; Koichi Makigami, leader of a Japanese experimental rock band, performing with the legendary drummer Roger Turner; New York based vocalist Ka Baird combining their live performance within minimalistic, visceral composition and Japanese improviser, recorder player Eiko Yamada. 

Sarah-Jane Summers (fiddle) and Juhani Silvola (guitar) will  interweave Scottish traditional music with Scandinavian influences alongside the BBC SSO strings; and Edinburgh-based artists Euan Currie and Marlo De Lara present a live improvisation drawing on voices, electronics and field recordings.

Ilan Volkov conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in three world premieres and three UK premieres including BBC Commissions by British composer Jack Sheen and Swiss-Nigerian composer Charles Uzor, and composer and turntablist Mariam Rezaei is the soloist in 6 scenes for turntables and orchestra, co-composed with Matthew Shlomowitz. Violinist Ilya Gringolts performs two UK premieres by composers Salvatore Sciarrino and Mirela Ivičević. Yaron Deutsch performs two major contemporary works for solo electric guitar by Pierluigi Billone and Andreas Dohmen, both works UK premieres of works written specially for Deutsch.

The majority of performances will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3, while many performances will also be available to watch online.

Full details from the BBC website.


Saturday 17 February 2024

Mythical Creatures: I chat to Polish-born, Australian composer Paul Kopetz about the recent disc of his music

Paul Kopetz: Mythical Creatures - Navona Records

Composer Paul Kopetz's album, Mythical Creatures, was released on Navona Records in October 2023. Based around Paul's song cycle of the same name, the disc features settings of poems by Svyetlana Hadgraft set for voice, piano, wind quintet and percussion. 

Born in Poland and now living in Australia, Paul is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. He received his early musical education in Poland before studying at The University of Melbourne, Victorian College of the Arts, Rotterdam Conservatorium, and Monash University. He initially had a career as a freelance clarinettist, performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and Queensland's Camerata.

When we spoke Paul was in tropically humid Brisbane, quite a contrast to cold and windy London. The album, Mythical Creatures came about because a few years ago Paul was having coffee with his friend, the poet Svyetlana Hadgraft. Paul wanted to write on a larger scale and asked her for a sequence of poems. He was interested in mythology at the time, and she produced poems about various mythological creatures. They made a list of possible creatures and she wrote poetry, and then he set a selection of poems. The resulting movements are Jaguar, Mermaid, Bunyip (a creature from the aboriginal mythology of South-Eastern Australia), Yeti, Unicorn, Coyote, Aziza (a type of beneficent supernatural race in West African mythology), Sphinx, Phoenix and Leprechaun.

Friday 16 February 2024

As Puccini's Manon Lescaut opens English Touring Opera's Spring tour, I chat to soprano Jenny Stafford who sings the title role in Jude Christian's new production

Photo by soprano Julia Mariko before the sitzprobe for ETO's production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut
Photo by soprano Julia Mariko before the sitzprobe
for ETO's production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut 
via Twitter
English Touring Opera's Spring 2024 season opens at the Hackney Empire on 24 February 2024 with Puccini's Manon Lescaut, followed by Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress on 2 March, and the tour continues across England until 28 May. The tour also features a new family opera by Omar Shahryar and Hannah Khalil, The Great Stink.

The new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut is directed by Jude Christian (who directed Tom Coult's debut opera Violet at Aldeburgh Festival in 2022) and conducted by Gerry Cornelius, with Jenny Stafford as Manon, Gareth Dafydd Morris as Des Grieux and Aidan Edwards at Lescaut. I recently caught up with Jenny Stafford in a gap in rehearsals to chat about Manon and Puccini.

When we chat, Jenny has been in rehearsals for just over two weeks and feels that they are 'whizzing through it', something she appreciates. Working through the piece at speed and then coming back to add more detail is great for the singers, she feels. 

She had no prior exposure to the opera, except for knowing the duet, but when she learned the music for the audition she found that she really wanted to do it. Jenny is having something of a Puccini year, she covered Magda in La Rondine at Opera North [see my review of the production] and will be singing the title role in Suor Angelica with West Green Opera this Summer. These are two roles that she has never done before, and she is enjoying being involved in music of such heart and soul.

This concentration on the composer is a mix of happenstance and deliberate choice. She loves singing Puccini, enjoying the way he brings out the sound of the emotion in the music, and his music makes her cry. She knows La Boheme well and adds that she would happily sing La Boheme for ever! She is also fascinated how you can hear that opera in Manon Lescaut; Manon Lescaut was his first big success in 1893 and La Boheme followed in 1896.

The heroine in Manon Lescaut can often feel as if she goes through the opera being forced into things, but Jenny is enjoying the way that director Jude Christian giving Manon more of a sense of choice, that she chooses to do things. It is her decision to not go into the convent but to run away with Des Grieux. This Manon has a lot more guts than it might seem just from reading the synopsis. That said, of course, it is still a very sad opera. 

During the audition for Manon Lescaut, Jude Christian directed Jenny a bit and the way that Jude explained Manon's feelings was completely different to how Jenny had thought. She comments that it was her sort of audition, much more like a workshop. 

In Manon Lescaut, Jenny will be singing alongside Gareth Dafydd Morris as Des Grieux. She and Gareth have known each other a long time, as far back as the time they would singing little sections of La Traviata together in pubs to advertise Perroni. They worked together last year and so it is nice to work with an old friend again. Jenny also knows other singers in the tour, having worked last year with Nazan Fikret (who sings Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress), so it feels like working with a bunch of friends.

They will be doing 19 performances of Manon Lescaut all told, with a whole variety of venues. The length of the tour means that conductor Gerry Cornelius feels that they will be able to take some risks with the dynamics, showing the vulnerable side to the characters.

Jenny has a long experience with English Touring Opera, she started off in the chorus in 2019, also covering the title role in Rossini's Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra and she went on to sing Despina in Cosi fan tutte in 2020, a production whose run was cruelly cut short. More recently she was Musetta in La Boheme and Melissa in Handel's Ottone [see my review].

Of course, singing with the company means touring. During her first season in 2019 she enjoyed the touring and the camaraderie on and off stage, but for her next tour she was pregnant and found that though she enjoyed it, she lacked energy. This year she has a little one to think about as well, and plans to take him along with her to some performances.  Jenny's husband is also a singer, and she comments that they sing to her son a lot!

English Touring Opera's new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut is directed by Jude Christian, conducted by Gerry Cornelius, with Jenny Stafford as Manon, Gareth Dafydd Morris as Des Grieux, Aidan Edwards as Lescaut and Edward Hawkins as Geronte. Opening at Hackney Empire on 24 February [further details]. Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress will be directed by Polly Graham, conducted by Jack Sheen with Nazan Fikret as Anne Trulove, Frederick Jones as Tom Rakewell, Jerome Knox as Nick Shadow, Trevor Eliot Bowes as Father Trulove and Lauren Young as Baba. Opening at Hackney Empire on 2 March [further details]

Olawale Olayinka: Songs My Mother Taught Me

Olawale Olayinka: Songs My Mother Taught Me
Olawale Olayinka is a young Nigerian classically trained violinist, currently based in London. If you have seen Brixton Chamber Orchestra or Chineke! then you may well have seen him. His performances with Chineke! include appearances last Summer performing Beethoven, Holst, Vaughan Williams' and Coleridge-Taylor, conducted by Kellen Gray, as well as with the orchestra at the 2023 Brit Awards at the O2 performing with Stormzy.

Olayinka has just released a self-produced EP entitled Songs My Mother Taught Me, six tracks in which he plays traditional songs in modern versions with a mix of his solo violin and electronics. We begin with Oluronbi, just violin melody over ambient electronics, intriguing and engaging. The irregular phrase lengths in the music make it distinctive, whilst Olayinka's decision to not dress up the material pays dividends. The same approach applies to Labe igi orombo, with rather touching results and to the haunting Iwe Kiko. There is something intriguingly Celtic about both Iwe Kiko and Iya ni wura, perhaps because the ambient treatment reminds me of artists like Enya, and it would certainly be intriguing to hear the Nigerian originals. Babalawo mo wa bebe and Igba Napin exist in the same sound-world, but display an interest in perhaps taking the ambient aspects of the music a bit further.

The music on the EP is both intriguing and surprising. Olayinka describes them as 'folk songs my mother taught me are songs and tales that we heard at night times just before going to bed, they are used to pass moral lessons of life to us'.  Whilst you definitely leave an idea of Dvorak behind, the disc seems to encapsulate Olayinka's heritage, his mixture of Nigerian background, classical Western training and other influences. Songs My Mother Taught Me makes a great beginning and I cannot wait to hear what he does next.

The EP is available on Apple and on Spotify.

Perhaps it is unsurprising to find Olayinka exploring this mix of violin and electronics in other ways, including collaborating with the sound artist Ibukun Sunday (who performed at NonClassical's link up with the African Concert Series in 2022) with a pair of tracks that combine Olayinka's violin with Sunday's synthesizer to rather haunting and atmospheric results. Here there is less sense of the electronics providing a setting for the violin and more the two interweaving and creating complex sounds. There are two tracks on SoundCloud, do give them a listen - Nostalgia and Freedom.

with his pupils performing at Hackney Town Hall at a concert with East London School of Music & HACS Philharmonic
with his pupils performing at Hackney Town Hall at a concert with East London School of Music & HACS Philharmonic (Photo via Instagram)

Olawale Olayinka is also active in his native Nigeria, performing there with cello and kora virtuoso Tunde Jegede and the NOK Orchestra, as well as taking part in performances such as the Music Society of Nigeria Symphony Orchestra. And he runs his own school, too, teaching children both in the UK and Nigeria, and you can get an idea of the school's work from their Instagram feed


Thursday 15 February 2024

70th birthday celebrations for composer Richard Blackford continue with performances, publications & recordings

Richard Blackford
Richard Blackford

Composer Richard Blackford celebrated his 70th birthday last month, and the celebrations are spreading out across the year with performances, publications and recordings.

His new cantata, Babel, based on the Biblical stories of Noah's flood and the tower of Babel for choir, organ, piano duet and percussion has just been published and is being released on disc on Lyrita in March, with David Hill conducting the Ikon Singers, on a disc that also includes Blackford's La Sagrada Familia, his symphony inspired by Gaudi's masterpiece in Barcelona, with the composer conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Also recently published is Clarissa's Tango for violin and piano, which Clarissa Bevilacqua, violin [to whom I chatted last year, see my interview] and Thomas Hoppe, piano have released as a digital single.

Also in March, Nimbus Records is releasing Blackford's Songs of Nadia Anjuman with soprano Elizabeth Watts and the Britten Sinfonia, which set English translations of poems by the Afghan poet Nadja Anjuman (1980-2005) who was 15 when the Taliban captured Herat, and who at 25 was beaten to death by her husband. The cycle was premiered by Elizabeth Watts and the Britten Sinfonia in 2023.

His cello concerto, commissioned by the Czech Philharmonic, will be premiered in the Rudolfinum, Prague, by Alisa Weilerstein in 2024. The orchestra gave the premiere of Blackford's violin concerto, Niobe in 2017 with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, a work that they recorded in 2018 [see my reivew]

Performances planned include 

  • Mirror of Perfection: Wimbledon Choral Society, Cadogan Hall (16 March)
  • Pietá: Dorchester Choral Society (16 March), a work that we heard the London premiere of in 2019 [see my review]
  • Mirror of Perfection: Worcester Cathedral (16 March)
  • Mirror of Perfection, Three Rossetti Songs and Songs of Nadia Anjuman: Presteigne Festival (24 & 25 August)
  • Babel: Bournemouth Symphony Chorus at Christchurch Priory (14 September)

A Lionel Tertis Celebration: Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi

A Lionel Tertis Celebration: Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Bailieu; Harmonia Mundi

A Lionel Tertis Celebration - York Bowen,  Rebecca Clarke, Vaughan Williams, Lionel Tertis, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Schumann, Faure, William Wolstenholme, Kreisler, W.H. Reed, Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth, John Ireland, and Mendelssohn; Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi
12 February 2024

Timothy Ridout's warm tribute to Lionel Tertis moves between powerful dramatic utterance and more domesticated, salon pieces, with every piece in a finely judged performance

Inspired by the supple violin playing of Fritz Kreisler, though entirely self-taught, Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) made it his mission to bring the viola back to the foreground in classical music. In order to create a repertoire, Tertis adapted existing material (famously creating a viola concerto from Elgar's Cello Concerto, see my review of Ridout's 2023 recording of this), as well as badgering composers for pieces. Like other such figures (his friend the cellist Pablo Casals, and the guitarist Segovia), Tertis' taste in music was relatively conservative and famously he would not give the premiere of Walton's Viola Concerto, though he later relented.

This disc from viola player Timothy Ridout and pianist Frank Dupree and James Baillieu on harmonia mundi is a celebration of Tertis' influence. There are two major sonatas, by York Bowen and Rebecca Clarke, along with Vaughan Williams' Six Studies in English Folk Song, plus occasional pieces by Tertis himself, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Schumann, Faure, William Wolstenholme, Kreisler, W.H. Reed, Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth, John Ireland, and Mendelssohn. And expansive set across two discs, the first has Timothy Ridout accompanied by Frank Dupree, the second by James Baillieu. Ridout and Dupree gave a live selection from the disc at their recent Wigmore Hall recital [see my review]

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Lente Verelst and Hull Urban Opera invite you to The End of the World Party

Lente Verelst: The End of the World Party - Hull Urban Opera

The young Belgian composer Lente Verelst came to attention with her opera, Crocodile, which took ideas from Samuel Beckett and turned them into a short animated film produced by Hull Urban Opera. Originally shown on Sky Arts, the piece is available from Now TV. Now Verelst is back with Hull Urban Opera with her first full length opera, The End of the World Party with a libretto by Russell Plows, artistic director of Hull Urban Opera.

Running from 18 to 20 April 2024 at Princes Quay Event Space in Hull, the production is directed by Plows, conducted by Anita Datta and features soprano Madeline Robinson, mezzo Joanna Gamble, countertenor Ralph Thomas Williams, tenor Michael Jones and bass-baritone Neil Balfour. 

It promises to be an intriguing, interactive piece; playing out in real time, and including local people as performers and storytellers, the opera uses tasks, audience-choice and a “mystery” narrative to explore how we behave under pressure.

Having bought tickets to an End of the World themed party, the audience discovers that the host has failed to arrive. Games are devised to fill the five places available in the VIP Room, but who is really pulling the strings and why?

Full details from Hull Urban Opera's website.

Young Composers 5: the latest iteration of the National Youth Choir's Young Composers scheme challenge & stimulate

Young Composers 5: Millicent B James, Will Harmer, Emily Hazrati, Alex Tay; National Youth Choir, NYC Fellowship Ensemble, Emily Dickens, Ben Parry

Young Composers 5: Millicent B James, Will Harmer, Emily Hazrati, Alex Tay; National Youth Choir, NYC Fellowship Ensemble, Emily Dickens, Ben Parry
Reviewed 5 February 2024

Vivid use of texture, imaginative subject matter and challenging writing clearly stimulate the young singers who give wonderfully engaged performances

Each year the the National Youth Choir's Young Composers scheme offers a programme to support a group of young composers including residential courses, workshops, peer and professional mentoring, digital releases and performance showcases. And for the fifth year running, NMC has captured the results on disc. The result is a selection of engaging and thoughtful new choral music by Millicent B James, Will Harmer, Emily Hazrati, and Alex Tay performed by the National Youth Choir, conducted by Emily Dickens, and the NYC Fellowship Ensemble, conducted by Ben Parry.

Direct, determined, and loud: Welsh composer David John Roche introduces his new electric guitar concerto for Sean Shibe

Welsh composer David John Roche describes his music as 'direct, determined, and loud', and it is strongly influenced by heavy metal, lush orchestral music, and his working-class Welsh background. Currently David is working on a new concerto for guitarist Sean Shibe, for electric guitar. 

The work is being premiered by Sinfonia Cymru on 23 February 2024 as part of the Time Machine programme in Aberystwyth, Criccieth and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama [see Sinfonia Cymru website], then the work will also be performed by Britten Sinfonia at St Giles' Cripplegate on 2 March [see Barbican website] as part of their Magnum Opus showcase [see Tony's recent article]. 

Here, David introduces some ideas behind the work.

I learned to perform and write music by playing electric guitar in rock and metal bands. When I was a teenager, South Wales had such an amazing music scene (it still does!) - the standard of musicianship was unreasonably high, I was really lucky to be able to experience it, and it really altered the trajectory of my life. I'm proud of this musical heritage and I want it to be part of what I write - I want people to be able to hear the things that made me fall in love with making music. I hope this comes across in my new concerto.

I think writing an electric guitar concerto carries a lot of responsibility. There are stereotypes about the instrument that make it complicated - shred guitar is extremely fun, but you probably wouldn't have Yngwie Malmsteen play at your wedding. I think it would be literally impossible for me to write an electric guitar concerto that didn't have intense, rhythmic writing - so, I haven't shied away from the riffy, big, and energetic side of the instrument. I also haven't shied away from things like guitar pedals and effects. I have, however, been careful to make sure that you hear the softer, more expressive side of the instrument too. There are large passages of soloistic, expressive, nostalgic music - really inspired by the guitarist Yvette Young. The electric guitar can do so much, it was important to me that I showed this in my work... but I also make sure that I let it rip.  

Sean Shibe is changing the way we engage with the electric guitar - his performances reflect the diverse developmental space the instrument finds itself in and I can't imagine writing this concerto for another player. My composition caters super strongly to Sean's technical range and, perhaps more importantly, his exceptional sense of musical style and expression. This is - absolutely - a concerto for Sean, a specific player, rather than all electric guitarists... but it's always seen through the lens of my musical tropes and language. It's a fun, exciting, dramatic, riffy, and expressive work for one of the most outstanding electric guitarists working today.

Equally important to this work are Sinfonia Cymru and Britten Sinfonia. An electric guitar concerto carries risks and I am grateful to both ensembles' open-mindedness, stratospheric support, and wonderful musical abilities. It's also brilliant l that this concerto receives its premiere in Wales. Sinfonia Cymru represent some of the best of Welsh music making and embody some of the most excellent aspects of Welsh music making - I am massively grateful to them, and this concerto wouldn't be happening without them.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Workshops, Welsh song for families, Cleveland Watkiss, Mark Padmore, Hera Hyesang Park - the Manchester Song Festival 2024

Participants at the Manchester Song Festival
Manchester Song Festival

The 2024 Manchester Song Festival is at Stoller Hall from 1 to 3 March 2024 with a lively weekend of concerts, workshops and family events. Performances begin with jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss, with his distinctive blend of improvisation/counterpoint harmony, electronics, breakbeat loops and basslines (all live and from his mouth), in VocalSuite, described as 'elusive acapella vocal improvisation performance that uses the atmosphere of venue, mood and interactivity of audience to present a performance of the moment'.

The following evening, tenor Mark Padmore will be performing Schumann, Frank Bridge, Michael Tippett, Rebecca Clarke and Tansy Davies, and the festival ends with a recital from Korean opera singer Hera Hyesang Park and pianist Bretton Brown in a mixture of Korean art songs and music by Samuel Barber, Alma Mahler, Respighi, Rossini, Schubert, Caplet, Cecilia Livingston, Thomas Dunhill and Errollyn Wallen.

There is also a chance to catch vocal students from Chetham's School of Music in a free lunchtime concert, whilst families can enjoy Terra Musica, where Awen Blandford, and students from Chetham’s School of Music invite the audience to dance, sing and play along with folk music and stories from the beautiful Welsh Valleys.

There is a full programme of workshops on the Saturday, including yoga, songwriting, vocal health, vocal anxiety, musical theatre and acting through singing, an introduction to folk, synaesthesia and an operatic workshop, plus performance from the RNCM Songsters.

Full details from the Stoller Hall website.

Pierre Loti's writings inspired Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé and a whole genre of Orientalist operas

Loti (right) with "Chrysanthème" and Pierre le Cor in Japan, 1885.
Loti (right) with Chrysanthème and Pierre le Cor in Japan, 1885.

Pierre Loti has a lot to answer for. Whilst he certainly did not invent Orientalisme, his exotic novels and short stories, inspired by his travels as a French naval office, fed into the Western European fascinating for the perceived exoticism of life in the East, and gave rise to a whole operatic genre. 

His 1880 book, Le Mariage de Loti (about his romantic liaison with an exotic Tahitian girl), inspired both the 1883 opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes,  and an 1898 opera by Reynaldo Hahn, L'île du rêve.

His 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème (about a naval officer temporarily married to a Japanese woman while he was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan) would be one of the inspirations behind  André Messager's 1893 opera of the same name, Mascagni's Iris (1898) and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (1904).  

The fashion for things Japanese, Japonisme, had developed from the mid-1850s with opening up of Japan, and Saint-Saens' La princesse jaune (1872) is an early example of satirising the fad for all things Eastern.  Loti's books, with their deceptive element of reportage thanks to his travels as a naval officer, broadened the audience.

This fascination for all things exotic would come to a logical (and horrifying) conclusion when the exotic was brought back to the West in the form of live people. And the musical influences continued as well. The Japanese Village in Knightsbridge (which ran from 1885 to 1887) and involved 100 Japanese men and women living in a specially constructed village, may have influenced Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. Whilst in 1889, at the Paris Exposition Universelle, colonised people had their daily lives displayed for visitors, giving Debussy his first experience of the Balinese Gamelan.

Léo Delibes' Lakmé, however, has another layer of exoticism too in the form of the the novelty of exotically colonial English people and it is hero Gérald's desire to put country and duty above love that give the opera one of its engines.

Whilst the music from the opera remains well known, with the Bell Song being a popular coloratura showcase and the Flower Duet being virtually ubiquitous, performances are still rare. The opera reached Covent Garden in 1910, but the present company (formed after World War Two) has never staged the opera and its last major London outing seems to have been at Opera Holland Park in 2015 [see my review].

Delibes had quite a varied career, though he remains best known for his ballets, Coppelia and Sylvia. As a boy he sang in the première of Meyerbeer's Le prophète at the Paris Opéra in 1849. He wrote comic operas including for Offenbach's Bouffes-Parisiens, was a music critic, an accompanist and inspector of schools. It was his appointment as chorus master at the Paris Opera that brought about his two well-known ballets. His attempts at writing a serious opera were more mixed, but Lakmé, which premiered at the Opéra-Comique in 1883 soon had international success.

The good news is that Chelsea Opera Group is giving a concert performance of Lakmé at Cadogan Hall on Sunday 25 February 2024. Matthew Scott Rogers conducts with Haegee Lee as Lakmé, Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Gérald, James Platt as Nilakantha and Julien Van Mellaerts as Frédéric. Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Celebrating 75 years: London Mozart Players in wonderful form for all-Mozart programme at Fairfield Halls plus the launch of 100 Faces of Croydon

Mozart: The Mixtape - Imogen Cooper, Jonathan Bloxham, London Mozart Players - Fairfield Halls (Photo: William Vann)
Mozart: The Mixtape - Imogen Cooper, Jonathan Bloxham, London Mozart Players - Fairfield Halls (Photo: William Vann via Twitter)

Mozart: The Mixtape;
 Anna Prohaska, Imogen Cooper, Martin James Bartlett, London Mozart Players, Jonathan Bloxham; Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Wonderfully vital performances with a strong presence and sense of engagement in London Mozart Player's celebratory all-Mozart programme recreating the composer's own 1783 concert in Vienna

The London Mozart Players is 75 and the centrepiece of the celebratory 2023/24 season was on Saturday 10 February 2024 at Fairfield Halls, Croydon when the orchestra's artistic associate and conductor in residence, Jonathan Bloxham directed the orchestra in a programme billed as Mozart: The Mixtape with a programme based on a celebratory concert that Mozart gave in Vienna in 1783 with Symphony No. 35 'Haffner', Piano Concerto No.13, with Imogen Cooper, Piano Concerto No. 5, with Martin James Bartlett, movements from Serenade No. 9 'Posthorn'  and arias from soprano Anna Prohaska. The evening was presented by Petroc Trelawney and will be on BBC Radio 3 on 23 February. 

But the concert also launched the orchestra's 100 Faces of Croydon. The brainchild of Jonathan Bloxham and photographer Kaupo Kikkas, 100 people from Croydon were photographed by 30 local photographers, each picked a different place in Croydon for the photograph's location. The project is available on a devoted website, but on Saturday the evening opened with the 100 faces being projected in the hall whilst the 100 people there photographed performed Ligeti's Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes. It was my first live encounter with Ligeti's piece, and the way the sound built up into an almost orgasmic moment before dying away was truly intriguing when combined with the images flashing up.

100 Faces of Croydon
images from 100 Faces of Croydon

Mozart's programme from 1783 was definitely mix and match rather than the sort of programme we are used to. So, we opened with the first three movements of the Haffner Symphony, then the aria 'Se il padre perdei' from Idomeneo, then the third and fourth movements from the Posthorn Serenade, then the concert aria Misera, dove son! then Piano Concerto no. 13, then the aria 'Come scoglio' from Cosi fan tutte (actually written in 1789 and replacing Mozart's choice of an aria from Lucio Silla), then Piano Concerto No. 5 (for which Mozart wrote a new rondo finale specially for the occasion), then the closing movement of the Haffner Symphony. And for the concert, Mozart had written new clarinet parts for the outer movement of the symphony, too.

Monday 12 February 2024

Magnum Opus: Britten Sinfonia's composer development scheme showcases work from 2023 composers David John Roche, Daniel Soley and Crystalla Serghiou

Magnum Opus Composers 2023: David John Roche, Daniel Soley and Crystalla Serghiou
Magnum Opus Composers 2023: David John Roche, Daniel Soley and Crystalla Serghiou

Norwich-based music writer, Tony Cooper, reports on Britten Sinfonia’s enterprising Magnum Opus development programme for composers.

Each year three composers ready to take a significant leap forward in their blossoming careers are selected for Britten Sinfonia’s headline development programme entitled Magnum Opus made possible by the generous support of the PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner Fund. Applications are submitted in response to an open call viewed anonymously by the scheme’s programme directors.  

The featured composers comprise David John Roche, Crystalla Serghiou and Daniel Soley who have been embedded with the orchestra over the past year. They wrote wind quintets which were premièred as part of a successful and well-received Britten Sinfonia tour in April last year.  

Personal choice: Love's Lasting Power, debut disc of Schubert lieder from duo Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale on Delphian

Schubert Lieder: Love's Lasting Power; Harriet Burns, Ian Tindale; Delphian

Schubert Lieder: Love's Lasting Power; Harriet Burns, Ian Tindale; Delphian
Reviewed 5 February 2024

With a youthful flexibility, emotionalism and sense of urgency to the performances, this is a finely engaging and thoughtful debut recital for the duo

On their first joint recording, on Delphian, long-term performing partners Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale have made a personal choice of Schubert’s lieder, exploring the theme of love, but also the friendships and relationships between poets and the composer out of which he crafted songs of astonishing empathy.

Whilst Schubert's emotional life remains somewhat obscure, with it being unclear which, if any, of his personal relationships were more than close friendships, what cannot be gainsaid is that in his music he displays a remarkable ability to respond to a range of emotional turmoil. When discussing Schubert's setting of poetry by August von Platen (whom we know to be gay from his diaries), Graham Johnson comments that 'We cannot know the exact nature, platonic or romantic, of relationships in Schubert’s circle, but his ability to empathise with Platen’s plight is profoundly moving.'

Burns and Tindale's selection involves not only songs exploring emotions arising from loving someone, but also songs setting poetry which relates to intimate friendships. At the centre of the recital is the long setting of Viola by Schubert's close friend Franz von Schober; a slightly curious poem about a tender flower who is over-eager and subsequently blighted, dying alone and ashamed. The subject must have been painfully close to the bone for Schubert in 1823 when he was suffering the first symptoms of syphilis.

Something a little bit special: David Butt Philip & friends gala for St Paul's Opera in Clapham

Rainelle Krause, David Butt Philip, Alison Langer, St Paul's Opera chorus - St Paul's Church (Photo: Craig Fuller Photography)
Rainelle Krause, David Butt Philip, Alison Langer, St Paul's Opera chorus - St Paul's Church (Photo: Craig Fuller Photography)

David Butt Philip & Friends Gala; Rainelle Krause, Alison Langer, David Butt Philip, David Stout, Jo Ramadan, George Ireland; St Paul's Opera at St Paul's Church, Clapham

David Butt Philip as Florestan, David Stout as Posa, Rainelle Krause as the Queen of the Night, Alison Langer as Mozart's Countess in vivid gala evening for St Paul's Opera in Clapham

Tenor David Butt Philip has been singing Apollo in Richard Strauss' Daphne at the Staatsoper in Berlin and in March he will be singing Florestan in a production of Beethoven's Fidelio at the Bavarian State Opera. Opera goers in the UK will have to wait until the Summer, however, when he will be singing Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci at Opera Holland Park. But on Friday 9 February 2023, opera lovers in Clapham got a real treat as David Butt Philip joined sopranos Alison Langer and Rainelle Krause, and baritone David Stout for a gala at St Paul's Church, Clapham in aid of St Paul's Opera.

David Butt Philip is the patron of St Paul's Opera and this was the third such gala for them that he had organised. Accompanied by pianists George Ireland and Jo Ramadan, we were treated to a programme of arias, duets and scenes from Bizet's Carmen, Gounod's Faust, Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Die Zauberflöte, Verdi's Don Carlo, Rigoletto and La traviata, Beethoven's Fidelio, Korngold's Die tote Stadt and Puccini's Turandot, along with items from Bernstein's West Side Story and Candide. All was sung from memory, and many of the excerpts were dramatic scenes rather than solo arias, thus making the evening a rather vivid one in the relatively intimate confines of St. Paul's Church.

Rainelle Krause - St Paul's Church (Photo: Craig Fuller Photography)
Rainelle Krause - St Paul's Church (Photo: Craig Fuller Photography)

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