Wednesday 25 October 2006

In this month's Opera magazine

Correspondance in the Letters page of Opera is continuing on the subject of surtitles at ENO. Frankly its a subject about which I find it difficult to get worked up, but perhaps I've been numbed into acceptance by the sheer weight of bad diction over the years. Mind you, the last few operas I've seen there have had some excellent communicators in the cast, which makes me wonder whether the dreaded surtitles have spurred people on somewhat.

Alan Blyth writes a lovely appreciation of Joan Sutherland on her 80th birthday. I first saw her as a student in Manchester in the 1970's when she did a recital at the Free Trade Hall dressed in what can only be described as a vast lime green dressing gown. Still, once she reached the lighter items such as arias from La Perichole she was wonderfully on form.n Blyth says that she sang Massenet's Esclarmonde at Covent Garden in 1974, but I'm sure I saw her there in that role in 1984 and I don't think the production was a revival, it had just been bought in. The performance we saw was marred by a bomb scare, but they did complete the performance though the heat had rather gone out of it.

Dennis Marks raises some interesting points about the management of the Gadaffi project at ENO, which makes you wonder about the health of any other new works that they might produce. That said, new opera has been thin on the ground there recently. Marks points out that they have commissioned virtually nothing in the last 9 years, with the exception of the recent Gerald Barry opera (which sort of existed anyway). Was David Sawyer's opera really commissioned over 9 years ago? My, how time flies.

An interesting brace of obituaries, John Drummond and Astrid Varnay - to which we must now add Anna Russell.

A review from Salzburg of Mozart's Idomeneo with Ramon Vargas in the title role. Its always heartening to find tenors moving out of their obvious Italianate fach and risking German opera. I equally admired Domingo's recording of the Emperor in Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, which was not universally admired. Also at Salzburg, a rare outing for the Strauss re-working of Idomeneo, part of the Strauss canon that I am probably fated never to see.

Toronto has a new opera house, christened with Canadian Opera's new Ring cycle. Interestingly John Allison refers to the new theatre as intimate by North American standards - it seats a whopping 2043. But I suppose that's small when compared to the met.

A new production of Le nozze di Figaro in Finland has the plot re-written with the Count lusting after Figaro rather than Susanna - an interesting take on things but the music hardly supports it. Perhaps we should write a new opera on the subject.

Martin Bernheimer's helden-crooner Klaus Florian Vogt, crops up in Wagner again. This time Hugh Canning comments that he's never heard such a soft grained sound in a leading Wagner role - this time Lohengrin in Baden-Baden. Still, Vogt seems to have the stamina and technique to get through the evening OK. I suppose, with the dearth of helden-tenors, this is something we have to get used to.

A Max von Schillings opera Der Pfeifertag has cropped up in Zwickau. I reviewed a recording of Mona Lisa recently and was amazed at how few recordings of his work there were.

Hugh Canning again reporting from Turin on the jaw droppingly extravagant new Don Carlos (4 Act version). He was impressed, but I'm not convinced. he describes it as a sort of operatic Disneyland (though in better taste) with not very penetrating Personenregie. I think I'd rather go for Personenregie, but then I stand no chance of ever seeing the Turin production!

Thais has cropped up again, this time in Boston. Evidently the production, arising from St. Louis, has come in for criticism but George Loomis points out that you'd hardly want a naturalistic Thais.

The new production of Thomas Ades The Tempest from Santa Fe sounds very promising. John Allison feels that it fits the opera better than the ROH one. Again, I'm not likely to get the chance to compare them! Allison comments on Ades's vocal lines, which are actually vocal rather than the continuous parlando which is so beloved of so many contemporary composers.

Also at Santa Fe, Natalie Dessay playing Pamina (having done lots of stints elsewhere as the Queen of the Night). Hugh Canning (he's been getting around hasn't he!) points out how unnerving is must have been for Heather Buck to sing the Queen of the Night whilst one of the greatest current exponents of the role was playing her daughter. Also in this production, our very own Toby Spence.

The Santa Fe Salome had Ragnar Ulfung as Herod. He sang the role on the 1974 Caballe recording so I hesitate to think what he sounds like now. Canning comments on Anne Marie Owens as Herodiade surveying everything around her with imperious (and deserved) contempt.

Andrew Clark bemoans the fact that Scottish Opera's tour of Die Fledermaus contains no young Scottish singers (still it did contain Damian Thantrey!). Whereas, WNO's revival of La Boheme was cast with Welsh singers. I remember a friend talking about seeing an Aida given by WNO many, many years ago with a Welsh cast that included Gwynedd Jones and Stuart Burrowes (if I've got the anecdote right).

WNO's 'new' Il ritorno d'Ulisse is a co-production already seen in Copenhagen and Munich. It sounds as if David Alden's modish ideas have not travelled well. Rian Evans comments on Paul Nilon's wheelchair bound Ulysses needing to focus a large part of his energy on ensuring he didn't roll down into the orchestra pit. Sounds fun. Still, the wonderful Sarah Tynan was singing Melanto and even got to tap dance.

George Hall enjoyed La Juive, its always interesting to read opinions of operas that you have reviewed your self.

Rodney Milnes is positive about the new recording of The Carmelites in English, based on the ENO production. Other reviewers have been less than thrilled by Josephine Barstow's Mother Marie which makes me a bit worried; I was less than impressed in the theatre. But the text is so important in the opera, it would be lovely to have it in English.

There is an advert for my Christmas present (I hope Father Christmas is reading this). Winton Dean's second volume on Handel's operas, covering 1726 to 1741 has been announced for November by Boydell and Brewer ( An in a review of a book about Wagner operas in Finland, Mike Ashman points out Riga's first performance of Der fliegende Hollander, 5 months after the premiere, had an orchestra of 20, a ghost crew of 6 and a Norwegian crew of 13.

And finally We hear that.. Susan Bullock is recording Salome in English with Sir Charles Mackerras - I can't wait.

The back page is about Richard Lewis and even I can claim a participation in one footnote event. His final London appearance (at the age of seventy something, after a hip replacement) was in The Dream of Gerontius with Bernard Haitink conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. I was in the chorus and it remains one of my most treasured experiences, hearing Lewis; he was truly magical.

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