Friday 30 June 2006

From this Month's Opera

Some gleanings from this month's Opera magazine.

Prokofiev's operas seem to be in the air at the moment, not only are Glyndebourne doing Betrothal in a monastery but Grange Park Opera have The Gambler planned for next year. And the Bolshoy are bringing The Fiery Angel when they come on tour this summer.

There are at least 2 letters commenting on the use of signers for the deaf at the opera. There was one present last night, when we saw John Adams's Nixon in China at ENO. Luckily she was quite discreet, from where we were sitting in the upper circle. Mind you, given that we had surtitles AND the cast's diction was excellent thanks to amplification, you can't help feeling its over-kill.

The new opera house in Oslo is opening early, in April 2008. I have great curiosity as I worked in Oslo in the 80's and attended the opera there, seeing a La Traviata on a rotating stage which seemed inspired by the Zefirelli film, The Magic Flute and Tristan, with Berit Lindholm as Isolde. The opera house was quite small but was a rather stylish 1950's building on the 1st floor, so access was via a fabulous staircase. At least that's how I remember it. Perhaps we need to go back in 2008.

Anne Sofie von Otter comments on the production of Handel's Serse at the Theatre des Champs Elysee, Paris in 2004 that it didn't do it for anyone. This was one of those productions which came to London as a concert performance. We all felt a little like the poor relation, though the performance was rather good. Its rather pleasing to find out that we did not miss too much.

Rosalind Plowright is doing Massenet's Herodiade for Dorset Opera, its almost enough to make you want to make the trip down to Blandford Forum!

Jonathan Dove's Flight was performed at the Adelaide Festival in March. It is an opera that I've never seen live, but fell in love with on disc. It sounds as if there was a good cast, David Walker, Mary Hegarty and conducted by Brad Cohen (who I've seen working with the Salomon Orchestra). Unfortunately Elizabeth Silsbury was not very taken.

A poor review also, for the new Pelleas et Melisande at the Salzburg Festival, produced Stanislas Nordey, conducted Simon Rattle. Great shame, as the production is coming to Covent Garden.

During May the Palais Garnier notched up its 60th performance of Rameau's Platee, even more appealing as it had Paul Agnew in the title role. Shame that in London, the Royal Opera seem to have disposed of their production of the work, I'm not sure it ever made it to the Royal Opera House from the Barbican where it was premiered.

Martin Bernheimer, when reviewing Lohengrin at the Met (production Robert Wilson) described tenor Klaus Florian Vogt as boyish, sounding sweet and riding the climaxes with some effort. Call in a Heldencrooner, says Bernheimer; now that's a useful term, we'll have to make efforts to bring it into regular use.

Divine Art record company have re-issued the 1920's recordings of Cav and Pag by members of the British National Opera Company. The cast includes Heddle Nash, Harold Williams, Dennis Noble, Miriam Licette and Frank Mullings. I can remember that a friend I shared with at university had the original 78's of I Pagliacci at Frank Mullings took a bit of getting used to. Alan Blyth describes him as an acquired taste!

Some rather delectable bits and pieces in their We Hear that... column; Roberto Alagna in Le Cid at Organe in 2009, Christine Brewer as Brunnhilde at the Proms next year, William Christie doing Poppea at Glyndebourne in 2009. Deborah Voigt finally gets to do Ariadne at Covent Garden in 2007/8

Thursday 29 June 2006

It seems that renaissance polyphony and plainchant might be coming back into fashion in the Vatican. The Guardian reports a speech by the Pope on the subject. As someone who sings regularly in Plainchant and Polyphony at Latin Mass, I await developments with interest.

Small World

Reading a new book about Monteverdi's operas, I discovered that Alessandro Striggio who wrote the libretto to Orfeo was the son of composer Alessandro Striggio (senior). The very composer whose 40 part motet Ecce Beatam Lucem probably inspired Tallis to write his own 40 part motet. I love such fascinating co-incidences.

Tuesday 27 June 2006


I see from the Guardian Website that ENO has appointed a new chairman in the form of Vernon Ellis, a member of the board and acting Chairman since 2005. It is the obvious choice, but I suppose they had to go through the excercise in transparency to ensure that he would not come into place accompanied by the barrage of complaint that happened when they put the current administration team in place to replace Sean Doran. Whilst acting Chairman, Ellis seems to have kept in the background, which is a good thing, and I hope that this continues. Many of the problems that have occurred at ENO and the Royal Opera House have been exacerbated by over active chairmen and boards. It seems that there is a fine dividing line between providing wise counsel and support and becoming too dominant so that the Artistic Director/Intendant is overshadowed. Mind you, I'm sure it looks entirely different from the inside. But we are unlikely to hear the full truth about what actually went on behind closed doors for some considerable time, if ever. After all, by the time people come to write their memoirs they are either economical with the truth, or time has cast a different glow over events.

A strange case of synchronicity

It is curious how some events seem to happen at node points, when a variety of similar events are going on? Whether this is because of a strange synchronicity in the atmosphere or simple co-incidence, I don’t know. My recent concert at the Chelsea Festival is a prime example. The Festival itself always seems to coincide with Ascot, which means that a number of Chelsea people are unavailable to come to the concerts; additionally the Saturday of Ascot week is a day when friends and acquaintances often go.

When attempting to put on a choral concert I make a basic check to see if I can get enough singers. This was the case for Saturday 24th June. 3 singers said that they were involved with their main choir on that day and subsequently 2 other singers, who did sing in the concert, told me they had been asked to sing with yet another choir on the same day. This meant of course that these other choir’s personnel were not available for temporary loan, in case of shortage in our concert. Subsequently another soprano had to drop out as she was working out of town for 3 months. The during the concert week, we ran into problems with the soloists, both the soprano and the tenor had to drop out and were replaced at the last minute.

Of course, I had a moan about this to friends last week but I was set to thinking when so many people approached me after the concert and apologised for not coming as they had intended to but…. Luckily, of course, concerts at the Chelsea Festival are not just dependent on my friends.

But it did set me thinking about synchronicity, node points etc. Perhaps, when putting on future concerts I should not only circulate potential choir members, but also circulate audience members and find out how likely they are to be free on that date. I remember, some years ago, organising a recital which coincided with a concert at the Barbican of music by Harry Partch complete with the instruments that he had invented; a large number of my potential audience were at that concert with obvious results.

So, I think that next time I put on a concert I’m going to canvas people before hand about the date, you never know what it might coincide with.

Recent CD Review

My review of Ton Koopman's classic recording of Handel's Organ Concerti Opus 4 and 7, is here, on Music Web International, its their bargain of the month.

A major milestone in the performance of Handel’s organ concertos and
one to which I have returned regularly since it was first issued. ...

Monday 26 June 2006

Handel Cantatas

I've just been reading Ellen Harris's new book about Handel's Italian cantatas Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas.and hope to write more on it shortly. But I could not help noticing the news on the Glossa website, evidently they are embarking on a complete recorded edition of Handel's Italian Cantatas, recorded and released in chronological order. I can't wait.

London Concord Singers 40th Anniversary

Having got my own concert out of the way, we spent Sunday evening stuffing envelopes to send information to ex-members of London Concord Singers about the choir's 40th anniversary concert. The choir is 40 this year and will be celebrating with a concert at St. Giles Cripplegate on Saturday November 18th. The choir has a tradition whereby former members return to sing with us for one work in celebratory programmes. This time the work will be Handel's Birthday Ode for Queen Anne, with orchestral accompaniment, which is unusual for us. The programme will also include Mozart's Maria Mater Gratiae and a new piece by me, specially written for the occasion.
Yesterday morning, 7 of us who were involved in Saturday night's Chelsea Festival Concert, were back at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan St. Chelsea at 10.00am in the morning, rehearsing for the Brahms Missa Canonica which we sang at the 11.30 service. Gluttons for punishment!

Sunday 25 June 2006

Chelsea Festival Concert

Despite a variety of alarums and excursions, we had a most successful concert at the Chelsea Festival last night, with a most enthusiastic audience. My Nunc Dimittis (which we first performed in 2004) was probably the biggest hit, but a number of people were complimentary about the new Tagore settings, Crossing, some said it was very moving. This was doubly gratifying as the piece had been tricky in rehearsal as the communication between organ and choir in St. Mary's leaves a lot to be desired. Our 3 soloists sang the Byrd 3-part Ave Maris Stella, which the 5 of us in the FifteenB Consort had sung last year. It was fascinating, and lovely, hearing it sung again by professionals.

Rowena and I sang one of Gavin Bryars's Laudas; it went pretty well I think, but I need to listen to the recording to see how we did. The 5 of us also repeated my Salve Regina a 5, it will be nice to have a recording of this. The other Salve Regina, adapted from the Sanctus of my first mass was, for me, a great success.

We did a Palestrina Salve Regina for 4 male voices (though I suspect it is adapted from a piece for female voices). It seems very striking, though there are possible errors in the edition. Still, it was rather fun to have a men only piece to complement the women's pieces by Faure and Saint-Saens.

When the recording arrives I hope to post some of successful items on audioblog, they'll be on this blog in a week or so.

Saturday 24 June 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of music by Katharine Parker is here on Music and Vision. Parker was someone I'd not come across before, an Australian who was encouraged by Percy Grainger and who was married to tenor Hubert Eisdell. The disc is well worth exploring.

The Orlando Consort at the Chelsea Festival

To the Chelsea Festival last night as audience rather than performers; we saw the Orlando Consort giving their programme of medieval/renaissance music (from 1280 - 1560) on the subject of flowers and gardening, based on their most recent disc The Rose, the Lily and the Whortleberry. The music fitted into roughly 3 categories, songs in which flowers were referred to as metaphors for love and the beloved, pieces setting extracts from the Song of Songs and songs about gardens themselves, often suggestive or bawdy. The enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) was a useful place for assignations in an age when privacy was difficult. Rather strangely, the term hortus conclusus is used in the Song of Songs and there is taken as a metaphor for the Virgin's virginity, a lovely example of medieval double-think.

We had to take the suggestiveness of the words on trust as the Chelsea Festival programme book did not include the words, which was shame. At the end of the concert we were encouraged to buy the CD so we could read the full set of words.

This was a beautifully put together programme, finely performed. The group seemed a bit stiff to start with but by the end were more relaxed and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I would have quite like a few more substantial items in the programme, as it concentrated on what might be termed lighter, more melodic repertoire. But not everyone has my taste and the festival music appeal to all. Still, one of my highlights was the Agnus Dei from Walter Frye's Missa Flos Regalis. A curiosity was the piece in praise of the pruning knife!

Chelsea Old Church is an ideal place for this style of concert (despite the hardness of the pews). The original church was founded in 1290 and you are surrounded by historic funerary monuments, some quite spectacular. (It was bombed during the war and much of the fabric is now modern). The space is surprisingly intimate for a church, the body of the nave seated the 60 to 70 strong audience comfortably but made us feel close to the group. Making possible the sort of communication which is difficult in larger spaces, but which a small vocal ensemble depends on for their best effect.

The programme was warmly receive and we were treated to a lively and entertaining encore, a short (v. short) extract from a mass in the lively, hoketus style.

Friday 23 June 2006

Extreme cellists hit the roof

I've had my attention drawn to the Extreme Cellists. They are a group of cellists who specialise in playing in awkward and remote places. They are doing a tour to raise money for charity playing on the roofs of 42 different Cathedrals (!!!!). The details of the tour are here. If humanly possible I want to be at St. Paul's or Southwark, if only for the curiosity of it.
As another taster for tommorrow night's concert, here is a recording of my Nunc Dimittis which was recorded at the FifteenB concert at the Chelsea Festival in 2004. The choir are conducted by Paul Ayres and the organist is Malcolm Cottle.

Thursday 22 June 2006

As a taster for Saturday's Chelsea Festival concert, here's my motet Gaudete from Tempus per Annum, recorded live last year. We'll be premiering another of the motets from the set on Saturday (

Wednesday 21 June 2006

Final preparations

Well its only a couple of days to our Chelsea Festival concert. We have the first rehearsal with the organist, Malcolm Cottle, tonight. Which means that I will be on tenterhooks as it will be my first opportunity to hear my new piece, Crossing with the organ accompaniment. As the piece is a Passacaglia, with the main passacaglia tune in the organ for all but its final incarnation, this means that the organ part rather important and something more than accompaniment. So tonight is my first go at hearing what the piece really does sound like.

Though the concert is part of the Festival, there are still logistical things we have to worry about like rehearsal times, making sure we don't impinge on the church's regular services and finalising programmes. Oh, and trying to work out where we'll be going for a drink afterwards since both the nearby pubs have closed (this part of Chelsea seems to have become completely dry). Not to mention the little matter of who is playing whom during the world cup.

Tuesday 20 June 2006

Review of L'Elisir d'Amore

My review of L'Elisir d'Amore is here on Music and Vision, complete with 6 photos of the production.

Monday 19 June 2006

I've seen that one before

Saturday night's sparkling productionL'Elisir d'Amore at Grange Park (review to appear in due course) was set in the 1950's. This is the 3rd time that I've seen this opera transposed to this period. Part of the charm of moving the setting to mid-20th century is the ability to give Dulcamara a motorised vehicle.

But more than this, the production set me wondering about the influence of older productions and whether its possible to come up with anything new.

When Josephine Barstow went to the Soviet Union to sing her husband, Ande Anderson, took her through the possible productions (seven I believe) so that she'd be prepared for anything. The idea that there are a given number of basic configurations possible in a production is both appealing and appalling.

I first saw L'Elisir d'Amore in the 1970's in Scotland. Scottish Opera's production was set in the 20th century and Dulcamara made a very striking entrance in a stylish car, quite a coup on the relatively small Glasgow Theatre Royal stage. I have since seen 2 further 20th century settings for this opera (including Grange Park), plus a couple of traditional ones. Does this mean that the 20th century setting says something profound about the way producers see the opera. Or was is simply that a whole generation of UK producers grew up knowing about a particular influential production of the opera, perhaps even the Scottish Opera one that I saw.

If there is indeed nothing new upon the earth, then the air of desperation that attaches itself to some rather modish productions, becomes more understandable; the producer's desire to say something new fighting with the essential inability to create anything which has not been tried before.

Similarly, Scottish Opera in the same period had a production of Don Pasquale set in modern times. This is again a conceit which re-occurs. Though I did not like it much, Jonathan Miller's new production at Covent Garden at least had the apparent novelty of mining a vein not tried before, moving the opera to the 18th century.

Another area where production repeats occur is in the operas of Richard Strauss; it has become a common place to perform them set during the time of their composition.

The most recent productions of Arabella and Ariadne auf Naxoz at Covent Garden tried to get out of this rut by being determinedly modern, but simply fell into another of the 'standard' seven productions. In fact, when ENO first mounted Ariadne they managed to be totally unusual by setting it in the original period of Strauss's intention.

Perhaps there is scope for a book of production family trees, tracing the influence of notable productions. Not necessaily the biggies, like Wieland Wagner, but those productions which have stayed in memories and produced numerous sibilings, children and cousins.

Friday 16 June 2006

Chelsea Festival and beyond

Today is the opening day of the Chelsea Festival. Our little event, is next Saturday (24th) on the last night. Preparations are going on apace, we now have a running order and a finished programme (well, just about). We have one more rehearsal (on Wednesday) before the day.

Its only one Wednesday that I will properly get to hear my new piece Crossing with the organ part. As it is a passacaglia, the organ has a significant role to play.

But of course, even in the run up to a concert other things have to be planned for. London Concord Singers are currently planning their 40th anniversary concert (on November 18th at St. Giles Cripplegate) and so I have dusted down the final draft of the work I've written for the occasion and am tidying it up. In theory, I'm trying to make the awkward bits less awkward for the singers but somehow you always miss something. So that, when rehearsing a piece you realise how you could have made tricky corners rather less tricky. I suppose that's what you call experience and in theory we should get better at this as we get older!

I am also trying to finish my new mass (in A minor). I've got the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus written out and the opening of the Agnus Dei but somehow got stuck. Too much admin going on in my brain I suspect.

More opera

Last night we went to the Royal Opera House to see their double bill of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung. It was the 2nd to last performance and Christine Rice had taken over from Petra Lang as Judith. Also, Angela Denoke was ill so Virginia Kerr had taken over.

Kirill Petrenko conducted and from the hushed opening notes of the orchestra, the sound was spine tingling. The double bill opened with the Bartok and producer Willy Decker had included the spoken prologue, read in hushed tones by Katalin Bogyay.

The setting was a dark space, a series of doors along the left hand side, a distressed wall to the right and the stage covered in detritus including a huge chandelier, as if Bluebeard’s whole life had collapsed around him. Rice, as Judith, does not have the big, dark voice that you might expect but she is a passionate singer and Petrenko accompanied sensitively. This was definitely not a blast it out type performance both Rice and Albert Dohmen delivered subtle, nuanced performances.

Willy Decker’s handling of the action was generally metaphorical rather than real, but effective nonetheless. His biggest coup was when Judith sees Bluebeard’s whole realm, the great C major episode, the side walls moved to further apart and the dark rear wall turned into a huge glowing disc. Not sure what it meant but it looked v. good. Then when she opened the final door, the door was a huge one at the back of the stage and Bluebeard’s 3 wives appeared all wearing variants of Judith’s red dress (rather a 50’s style number). Each wife a different age, the first the oldest. They stood, in a stylised manner, at the back of the stage looking v. elegant and for all the world like a Norman Parkinson photograph. Whether or not Decker or his designer, John Macfarlane, are familiar with Parkinson’s work I don’t know.

For the 2nd half of the double bill the stage set had changed subtly and suggested that we were still in Bluebeard’s domain, perhaps beyond the door. The woman appeared dressed in the same dress as Judith and the whole of Schoenberg’s drama, whether it is happening in reality or just in the woman’s head, made sense as a sort of follow up to the events in Bartok’s opera.

All in all a very satisfying evening. The opera house was not terribly busy, which was a shame but as England were playing it was perhaps not surprising.

On a follow up note to my review of the Chelsea Opera Group I Puritani on Saturday (which appeared on Music and Vision), I should note that Judith Howarth had not sung the role of Elivira before. She had sung the mad scene and learned the rest of the opera in under 2 weeks. Impressive going and I look forward to hearing her again in the role.

Tomorrow we're off to the opera again, to Grange Park to see Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore, let's hope that the weather is kind.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of the Naxos disc of Lehar excerpts (sung in French) is here on Music Web International.

Style and charm personified ...

And my review of a disc of music by Clemens non Papa and other composers associated with the publisher, Pierre Phalese from Louvain, is here.

Pierre Phalese might not be known to you, but this charming disc
provides an enjoyable means to learn more about the music printed by
this influential publisher. ...

Wednesday 14 June 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of the new disc of Mendelssohn Sacred Music from St. John's College, Cambridge is here on Music Web International.

If the repertoire on this disc appeals, you won’t go far wrong. Impressive …
there is something quite thrilling, hearing the trebles singing Mendelssohn’
s lovely vocal lines. ...

Tuesday 13 June 2006

Review of I Puritani

My review of the Chelsea Opera Group performance of I Puritani is here on Music and Vision.

Recent CD Review

A rare outing for Handel's Arianna on disc; my review is here on MusicWeb International.

One of Handel’s underrated works ... never less than interesting ... a
strong performance where vivid, dramatic values are to the fore ...

Monday 12 June 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of an historic re-issue of Puccini's Il Tabarro is here on Music Web International.

Saturday 10 June 2006

Last night we were again rehearsing for our Chelsea Festival concert on the 24th June. We obviously must have been making some sort of nice noise in one of my pieces, because the caretaker of the venue where we were rehearsing came up to me and asked if any of my stuff had been recorded.

We've reached the point where much progress has been made, and in my new pieces I am constantly aware of the difficulties which I did not intend, the tricky passages which have slipped under my radar (not a difficult thing to do, I must admit. I'm never very good at assessing the real difficulty of pieces). Its the moment when you need to have confidence, you know that everything will come right in the end.

Tonight, its more opera. Bellini's I Puritani given by Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall in Chelsea.

Powder her Face

On Thursday we went to see the LSO doing Thomas Adès's opera Powder her Face, not the full LSO of course but a large chamber ensemble, some 15 people, conducted by the composer. Mary Plazas was the Duchess with Daniel Norman (tenor), Valdine Anderson (soprano) and Stephen Richardson (baritone).

The work is still astonishing, over 10 years since its first performance, partly because of the elan and confidence with which Adès handles the orchestra, deftly producing an entrancing array of sounds. Under the composer's direction the LSO ensemble realised his wished brilliantly.

The other area where the opera impresses is in its libretto and in its construction. Philip Hensher's libretto is a model of compression and manages to convey everything necessary using as few words as possible. He has also enabled Adès to indulge in his love of popular melodies and found objects.

Where I remain less impressed is in the quality of the vocal writing. There is not doubt that it is expressive; Mary Plazas sang the Duchess with wonderful dignity, hauteur and touching frailty, even managing the notorious oral sex scene with aplomb. But I am not sure that the actual melodic lines she is given are as memorable as the orchestral web which surrounds them.

Valdine Anderson was completely up to the astonishing feats of coloratura which she was required to perform. The characters which she plays seemed to spend much of their time laughing above the stave and Anderson conveyed a sense of joy and amusement, never strain or anxiety.

Daniel Norman was elegantly ironic in his role as lounge lizard but managed easily to switch to being an electrician or a waiter being propositioned for sex. Stephen Richardson used his dark voice very aptly in his triple role as the Duke, the Judge and the Hotel Manager.

I was not entirely happy about the presentation of the opera. The singers were placed towards the rear of the stage at the side of the orchestra, presumably so that they had a good view of the conductor. This meant that to see Mary Plazas (we were sitting at the front on the right), we had to constantly move our heads to dodge the conductor and his rostrum, not ideal at all. The other point was that the singers were discreetly amplified. I've never heard the opera live before, so am not sure if this is standard procedure. It did seem that the 15 players of the LSO ensemble produced a remarkable volume of noise at times. The amplification, whilst not too disturbing, did reduce some of the directionality of the voices. I would have far preferred it if the orchestra had been encouraged to keep it down and the singers placed at the very front, so that they did not have to use amplfication.

But those complaints aside, this was a most enjoyable evening and Mary Plazas succeeded in making us not a little bit sad for the monster of a Duchess as she left the hotel at the very end.

Thursday 8 June 2006

Tuesday 6 June 2006

Ivan Ho!

I see in the latest British Music Society newsletter that Chandos are planning a new recording of Sir Arthur Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanho. The Sullivan Society are helping with funding. Amazingly, it will be the opera's first fully professional recording and will be one of those once in a lifetime occasions to remedy the work's bad reputation. Of course this does not always work. The BBC bravely did a concert performance of Dame Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers which went on to disc but the performance had nothing of the dash and verve that it seemed to have when I saw it staged at Warwick University. Still, I await the recording of Ivanhoewith bated breath.

As ever, foreigners seem to be better at doing these things than us. The Spanish are bravely ploughing through the English language operas of Albeniz despite their rather lamentable librettos.

Other items from the newsletter which caught my eye include the possibility of a recording for Tovey's opera The Bride of Dionysius. I heard an extract of this, done in concert once and would be curious to hear how it sounded complete. But expertise in writing symphonic music do not necessarily bring expertise on the opera stage.

A recording from the 1950's of Douglas Coates's Violin Concerto has re-surfaced on Divine Art. Rather sadly, this composer's scores seem to have evaporated and despite Rob Barnett's excellent review for the Violin concerto, our chances of hearing the cello concert and the violin sonata would seem to be slim.

Recent CD Review

My review of the Handel/Mozart arrangement of Messiah is here on MusicWeb International

If you want a traditional Messiah with added wind parts, you cannot go
wrong with this. It has the added advantage of having Mackerras at the
helm ... a guilty pleasure for solitary listening. ...

Monday 5 June 2006

Well, it has been quite a busy old few days. Thursday were were at the first night of Ariodante, friday we had the first rehearsal for the FifteenB concert at the Chelsea Festival, Sunday morning St. George's Church, Hanover Square performed my Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus as 11.00am Sung Eucharist and the in the evening we saw Grange Park Opera's new production of Massenet's Thais

The Mass at St. George's came off brilliantly, the choir sang the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus and Agnus Dei so we had a musical feast. It was the first time that I had heard the 4-part version of the mass and I thought that it worked very well. The performance was excellent.

We enjoyed Thais immensely and a review will appear later this week.

Review of Ariodante

My review of Friday's performance of Ariodante at ENO is here on Music and Vision.

Saturday 3 June 2006

Well, last night was the first rehearsal for our concert at the Chelsea Festival. I know, its not far away, but this year we're trying concentrating all the rehearsals in a short period - sort of short, sharp, shock treatement. I always find the first run through of a piece unnerving, but things went very well and my big new piece, Crossing sounds rather promising.

Tomorrow we're off to Grange Park Opera in Hampshire, so see Massenet's Thais an opera I fell in love with when I saw it at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1974 (with a young Robin Leggate as Nicias) and have not seen it staged since.

Thursday night's Ariodante at ENO was fabulous and a review will appear in due course.

Tomorrow morning I'm playing hookey from St. Mary's Cadogan St., Chelsea, and going to St. George's Church, Hanover Square where they are performing my Missa Veni Sancte Spiritu, great fun.

Recent CD Review

My review of La Ricordanza's disc of English Baroque music by expatriate composers is here on MusicWeb international.

Even with the disc's catchy title, this repertoire can seem a little
forbidding. Don't let that put you off. Be caught up in the spell of these
performances. ...

Thursday 1 June 2006

This month in Opera magazine

A number of interesting things in this month’s Opera magazine. I’ve just reviewed a disc of Judith Weir’s music, so it was interesting to read Julian Grant’s article on her operas. I’ve always felt that she was under used by our opera companies and hope that the recent spate of performances of her operas in the UK means that we might hope to see more of her work on the bigger stage.

Reading about Peter Jonas’s time at ENO and Munich makes laudatory reading, until I remember that when Jonas left, ENO possessed a significant number of productions that I would not want to take my mother to; I particularly remember the Traviata with Helen Field in the title role, a Pountney production I think. And Jonas’s devotion to baroque opera at Munich has always looked mouthwatering until I look at the producers. I saw production photos of Richard Jones’s Julius Caesar and certainly could not cope with Anne Murray in a kilt and large plastic dinosaurs on stage! But that might be me jumping to conclusions again, after all I do enjoy the David Alden Ariodante at ENO (we’re going tonight to see it, with Alice Coote in the title role). Quite often I find that cutting edge productions of opera seria don't pay enough attention to the conventions of the genre; if you subvert convention sufficiently then the entire structure become meaningless.

Interesting movements on the conductor front. Mark Wrigglesworth is going to La Monaie in 2008; a great opportunity for him, but a loss for a UK house. There again the amazingly talented and amazingly young Robin Ticciati (we saw him recently conducting the Salomon Orchestra) is taking over as Music Director of Glyndebourne on Tour. Alas, he’s not conducting the Cosi van Tutte which we’re seeing in Norwich in Novemeber.

Hugh Canning’s profile of Soile Isokoski makes an interesting point. Evidently she learned many of her early roles in Finnish at the Finnish National Opera and Canning feels that singers who learn roles in the native language first become the most rounded and perceptive interpreters of the roles when they move to the original language. Discuss!!!

Dessau mounted a new production of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahogonny. The role of Jenny Hill was sung by Stefanie Wüst, who studied with both Edith Mathis and Gisela May; a remarkably combination that would seem to make Ms. Wüst perfect for this sort of part. I still treasure the time when, in 1988 on a visit to Berlin with the Pink Singers we visited East Berlin and saw the Berliner Ensemble in Mother Courage, with Paul Dessau’s original music and with Gisela Mai in the title role. Fabulous, even though I could only understand one word in three.

A production of Das Rheingold in Thailand with the gods displayed using Thai imagery. Part of a planned complete cycle. Sounds fascinating, O please, someone bring it to Europe!

A bizarre quote from John von Rhein in his review of Gluck’s Orfeo from Chicago. Harry Bicket resisted the temptation to turn the reduced orchestra into a period band, enforcing proper articulations, balances and transparency of texture while keeping things moving along lightly and crisply. Well that sounds like period performance practice to me.

Most curious casting. Jane Eaglen as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus! Not a complete success I gather, but she’d have work really hard to match the spectacle of Dame Gwynneth Jones singing the Csardas (on a TV programme). Pity the review was not enamoured because it sounded like interesting casting. The sort of thing that works on paper but does not always come off in practice I suppose.

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