Saturday 30 January 2010

Next year!

Booking has opened already for both the Barbican's Great Performers Season 2010/11 and the LSO's 2010/11 season at the Barbican. For the Great Performers the Barbican give up to 20% discount to members if you book early, so there is great incentive to plan your life away. Besides there are some fabulous concerts.

Handel's Alcina, with Anja Harteros Vessalina Kassarova, Veronica Cangemi, Caitlin Hulcup and Les Musiciens du Louvre under Mark Minkowski, and Ariodante with Joyce DiDonato, Karina Gauvin and Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis. Cecilia Bartoli is doing a programme based on Handel and his Rivals with Il Giardino Harmonico. and the Sixteen are doing Messiah.

Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky are giving a joint recital with Ensemble Artaserse which should have many music lovers salivating at he combination. As it is Pergolesi's anniversary year the English Concert are doing the Stabat Mater with Anna Caterina Antonacci and Sara Mingardo, plus music by Vivaldi and Porpora. And Ian Bostridge is doing a programme with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante performing Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Caldara, Handel and Boyce.

Further forward in time there is the Academy in Ancient Music under Richard Egarr doing Mozart's La Finta Giartiniera, Idomeneo performed by the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble under Thomas Hengelbrock with Steve Davislim, Camilla Tilling and Anna Caterina Antonnacci sand a performance of the Mass in C minor which includes Sally Matthews, Ann Hallenberg and Rainer Trost.

Then there are visits from the Houston Symphony under Hans Graf (Holst's The Planets), the LSO under Simon Rattle (Messiaen's Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum and Bruckner 9) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel (Mahler 9, Beethoven 7, Bernstein 1 and Adams's Slonimsky's Earbox).

Finally there is Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande with mainly French forces, Natalie Dessay, Simon Keenlyside, Laurent Naouri and the Orchestra de Paris under Louis Langree.

The LSO programme is not quite as interesting to us, partly because it concentrates on the late 19th and early 20th century symphonic repertoire. Though there is a performance of RVW's Oxford Elegy, a commission from Eric Whitacre, Elgar's The Kingdom, Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible plus a terrific concert from the NYSO.

So, as you can see there is plenty to tempt you, especially if you get 20% off. But it seems an alarming tendency in concert going for booking dates to get earlier and earlier, so that we now know what we are doing in May next year.

When a Man knows

Plans are now well advanced for the first performance of my new opera When a man knows. The opera is based on a one-act play by Alan Richardson which has been extensively performed all over the world, including a run at the King's Head in Islington. With just 2 characters, a man and a woman (baritone and soprano), the opera expands the cast to 4 by adding two chorus (alto and tenor) with an instrumental ensemble of piano, violin, clarinet and cello.

We are doing a concert performance at St. John's Waterloo as a try out, and plan to do a short run of more studied semi-staged performances of the revised work late this year, early next. As it last around 75 minutes, we'll be providing drinks afterwards in the hope that people will stay and discuss the new piece.

Here's the full blurb:

When a man knows

An opera in one act
by Robert Hugill

Based on the play by Alan Richardson, Robert Hugill's gripping new opera uses just 4 singers and 4 instrumentalists to create a taut music drama.

A man is tied up on a deserted warehouse.
Why is he there?
The shocking truth is revealed in a powerful new opera

FifteenB Productions present in concert the world premiere of Robert Hugill's When a man knows with Deborah Stoddart as the Woman and Dario Dugandzic as the Man, conducted by David Roblou.

Dark, disturbing, imaginative,
and yet compelling and intriguing piece of writing"
review of the original play

Tickets include a glass of wine after the performance and we hope that audience members will stay and give us their thoughts on and reactions to this exciting new opera.

Tickets price £10/ concessions £5 are available on the door or in advance from Islington Music, telephone 020 7354 3195.

presented by FifteenB productions

Friday 29 January 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of Moniuszko's final opera Paria is here, on MusicWeb International.

For interested parties only. You may wonder what all the fuss is about. …

Thursday 28 January 2010

Opera goes to Prison

From Feb 26th to March 6th Pimlico Opera are going back to prison to present another of their inestimable theatrical presentations using prisoners. This time it is Carmen the musical, performed in Wandsworth Prison. This year's programme was put in jeopardy late last year, but luckily the Prison Service saw the light and understood how valuable this sort of programme can be in rehabilitation. In fact last year's Grange Park Opera included an ex-prisoner in the chorus, a past participant in one of Pimlico Opera's prison projects. Usually they present a musical, so this year's Carmen is a bit more of a stretch, but its certainly a fascinating prospect.

Coming to a PC near you, Opera Live

Opera Houses are slowly waking up to the possibilities of modern technology, in a piecemeal and varied sort of way. You only have to look at the way internet booking was taking up quickly by some and very slowly by others to understand how live hook-ups and video-streaming are being implemented quite patchily. Besides the high profile, high definition Cinema showings from the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera, there are a number of sites offering live opera streaming.

Now the Royal Opera Liege has joined the throng and the big advantage is that its free. So from the 2nd February for 5 days you can watch Bellini's Capuletti e Montecchi with Patrizia Ciofi and Laura Polveri directed by Claudia Muti (conductor Riccardo Muti's wife). With Rigoletto following in March.

Monday 25 January 2010

Buxton Festival 2010

Besides the three main works in the Buxton programme (see this post), Luisa Miller (Verdi), The Barber of Baghdad (Cornelius) and Idomeneo (Mozart/R. Strauss), they will as usual be playing host to visiting opera companies.

The Opera Group will be reviving their production of George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill, which also comes to Covent Garden again. Psaphha will be doing Bernstein's magical little opera Trouble in Tahiti and the Opera Theatre Company will be bringing their production of Alcina. The Classical Opera Company will be performing Mozart's incomplete Singspiel Zaide, though plans for them to bring Arne's Artaxerxes (seen at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre) seem to have foundered.

Sunday 24 January 2010

The Habit of Art

Off to the National Theatre last night to see Alan Bennett's new play, The Habit of Art with Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings. The fact that it is a play within a play meant that Bennett managed to mix in some profoundly funny lines, involving Rent Boys and all sorts of things, but also consider the profundities of creating a work of art. This latter was also a duality because at the centre of act 2 is a discussion between Auden (Richard Griffiths) and Britten (Alex Jennings) about the creating of Death in Venice which Britten is nervous about and Auden feels that Myfanwy Piper's libretto misses the point. Auden(Griffiths) also made an interesting point, that no-one hears the libretto and that its function is not to be heard but to inspire and usher in the music, the libretto should challenge the composer.

The Auden character raises an interesting point, that for Britten the Dionysius figure should be a schoolboy figure in blazer and whites; perhaps someone should do a production with a young looking baritone so that the dialogue between Apollo and Dionysius could be between two school-boys, both candidates for Britten's desire.

But overlaying this discussion is the fact that we are witnessing a rehearsal of the play, complete with Stage Manager (Frances de la Tour) so we have two levels of discussion about the strains of creating a work of art.

I much enjoyed the play and found it very thought provoking. Perhaps more than usual as it rather fed into my anxieties about my own new opera which is going to go into rehearsal later this year. So a very apt time to see a play about the problems of creating an opera.

In the first half Britten/Jennings does not really have a function in the plot, so the actor playing Britten has various pieces of business and occasionally accompanies a choir boy singing bits of Britten (The Ash Grove, parts of Turn of the Screw); the idea being the Britten is auditioning a choir boy for his next work. The young man singing (one of three listed in the programme) performed nicely.
Certainly a recommended event, though I would have been interested in the dynamic if the actor playing Auden (originally scheduled to be Michael Gambon), had actually looked like Auden

Thursday 21 January 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Polish composer Romuald Twardowski's music is here, on MusicWeb International. The disc includes thw wonderful Exegi Monumentum plus Three Frescoes and Ioannes Rex

For anyone interested in exploring dramatically interesting late 20th century tonal music

Tuesday 19 January 2010

V&A says goodbye to music

Its seems that the V&A plans to disperse its musical instrument collection. One of the advantages of major museum like the V&A having a collection of instruments is the serendipity of it, people can wander in without having planned to see them. I can well remember my childhood visits to the museum and being delighted at being able to see and hear the instruments. Also, as a museum of decorative arts, the instruments themselves are often of decorative interest as well. Gems include Elizabeth I's Virginals, a recorder (of ivory and tortoiseshell) which belonged to Rossini and two pianos owned and decorated by Burne-Jones.

The gallery is in need of refurbishment and I imagine that the collection itself might require a bit of investment. Instead of doing this, they plan to move part of the collection to the Horniman Museum (which has an excellent collection already), with the rest either going into store or being placed with other museums. This is on a par with the other reference collections in the museum, which generally seem to be either being played down or put into storage. The V&A is frankly running out of space and their drive to modernise and include more contemporary decorative arts, whilst entirely worthy, is meaning that bits and pieces are being squeezed.

The Horniman Museum is an entirely loveable and admirable institution, but it already has an overflowing collection of musical instruments (including its own holdings as well as the Dolmetsch collection). Also, it is in South East London, hardly well placed to attract lots of tourists. We need a musical collection in one of the National Museums.

The problem is that, in a museum of Decorative Arts, the musical instrument gallery looks a little out of place. You can understand collections of lace, pottery or iron-work. But the interest in the musical gallery was never completely decorative. In stead of bemoaning the instruments removal from the V&A perhaps we should be campaigning for their home in another more suitable museum. How about the Theatre Museum, oh I forgot, the V & A canned that one as well and have an etiolated version at South Kensington. Perhaps the Tate should make space for the gallery in their latest carbuncle at Bankside.

Monday 18 January 2010

Too Loud

On Saturday we went to a preview of the play, The Little Dog Laughed which is about to open at the Garrick Theatre. It was an enjoyable, if relatively slight, piece with a stand-out performance from Tamsin Greig.

In order to provide 'atmosphere' the producers have decided to play pop music in the auditorium before the play and during the interval. This seemed to be set one or two levels too loud, almost preventing conversation. Rather than providing atmosphere, it seemed to impose itself on you and made me rather restive. At the interval, it was a relief to get out into the foyer - perhaps that was the idea, to drive you to the bar. When the music stopped and the show started such was the difference (reduction) in volume that it was a bit of a shock and you had to concentrate to listen to the singers properly.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Stile Antico at King's Place

On Thursday we went along to King's Place, our first visit for a long, long time, to see Stile Antico (artistic director Matthew O'Donovan) perform their programme In Paradisum - Swansongs and Memorials by the Renaissance masters. Stile Antico are a group of 13 young singers who perform unaccompanied, without conductor. Of the singers, 3 of them were common to the Chapelle du Roi, at whose December concert my own motet Videte Miraculum was performed.

Hall 1 at King's Place is not ideal for this sort of music. Granted it has a lovely, warm acoustic which set the group's tone off nicely, but what I missed was the resonance and acoustical warmth that comes from performing this repertoire in a church of the period. But there were gains, we were far closer to the singers and the result was a far more intimate recital than it might have been in a church.

Singing without a conductor when you are performing large scale pieces like Sheppard's Media Vita and Gombert's Magnificat primi toni means that something of the large scale shaping of the piece is lost, but the gains are significant as the group listen to each other and watch each other intently. The performances were intensely vivid and vital, you felt that each gesture counted. Yes, there were occasional moments when the larger scale pieces seemed to go onto automatic pilot and need a stronger direction, but these were few and I was impressed by how much control of scale there was. Only in Josquin's O Bone Jesu did they seem to lose their way a little.

But however much I enjoyed the other pieces in the programme (Byrd's Retire my soul, Lobo's Versa est luctum, Schütz's Herr, weenn ich nur Dich habe and the final spiritual madrigal from Lassus' Lagrime di San Pietro) it was to Sheppard's astonishing epic Media vita to which I come back. The group have just released a disc of Sheppard's music, including this piece, and the concert was in celebration of this.

The motets were separated by short pieces of plainchant from the Requiem mass, a rather beautiful solution to the scheduling. The result would have made an intensely pleasing pair of sequences for the first and the second half. But instead of keeping their positions on stage, the singers re-grouped for every item with a great deal of moving around and going on and off stage. The audience were thus encouraged to applaud each piece. What could have been an intensely moving continuous sequence of plainchant and polyphony, became instead a series of items in a concert. I felt that an opportunity had been missed. Add to this that, after some items, one or two of the audience seemed a little too keen to applaud, coming in just at that wrong moment when the piece was finished but hasn't quite gone.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's Teseo from Stuttgart Opera is here on MusicWeb International. I can't help wishing that one of the UK record companies could have captured some of the UK's Handel centenary opera performances the way Carus have here in Stuttgart.
A fine record of a memorable occasion …

Monday 11 January 2010

Towards a new opera - DATE!

My new opera When a man knows is moving towards its first performance. I now have a venue, a date, a conductor and singers for the two leads. This week I will be sending out scores to the singers, which is always rather unnerving. In fact, the whole period between now and the concert makes me nervous as the work is exposed first to the performers and then to the public.

We plan a simple concert performance on Sunday June 13th 2010, at St. John's Church, Waterloo. There will be drinks afterwards so I can get feedback from the audience. The conductor will be David Roblou who runs Midsummer Opera.

Review of Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia

My review of the Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia is now on-line here, at Music and Vision. (Note that the site is now subscription, see Music and Vision for details).
Magnificent Scholarship...

Sunday 10 January 2010

Twelfth Night

The Royal Shakespeare Company are currently presenting Gregory Doran's production of Twelfth Night at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. We caught the play on Friday 10th Jan. Perhaps the most talked about feature of the production is Richard Wilson playing his first Shakespeare play at the age of 73. Wilson plays Malvolio, but is best known for playing the character of Victor Meldrew in One Foot in The Grave.

Doran sets the play firmly in Illyria, which became the Balkans, in the early 19th Century (i.e. the period when Byron was visiting the area). The leading players wear early 19th century costume and the others all wear local, traditional costumes. These looked authentic, the sort of clothing and accoutrements that you could buy from Joss Graham. To increase the authentic feel of the locale, Paul Englishby's music had a strong ethnic feel to it. I am not sure that Englishby got the sound quite right, I rather suspect that the Clarino would have been used; at least the instrument is prevalent in Greek folk musik. But that is a minor point, Englishby's music both played live on stage and behind the scenes went a long way towards establishing the correct atmosphere. The Duke (Jo Stone-Fewings) had a band of musician's at his disposal on stage, all gorgeously clad and Ashley Taylor-Rhys (who played Curio) also doubled as an instrumentalist.

Of course the play is most famous for the songs, written for the jester Feste (Miltos Yerolemou). Here I was not quite as impressed. Yerolemou's voice seemed to have just two settings, either a West End Musical bark (which he used sparingly) or a rather weak, husky tone. It was this latter which he used for most of the songs and this came over as rather unfocussed. At least one of the songs seemed to have a vocal line which was too elaborate for Yerolemou's comfort, which rather marred the performance, especially as it was doubled by an instrument. Yerolemou was however performing the songs in the character of Feste, so there is also the element of whether Doran and Englishby wanted the sound to be casual and less than perfect.

What I really want is a counter-tenor or high tenor singing with just a lute accompaniment in these songs. But I suspect that few actors capable of playing Feste have the requisite voice and that few counter-tenors or high tenor's would be interested in playing Feste in a long run of a play. It has to be said that Yerolemou made a strong and touching Feste, part of a brilliant ensemble cast.

Reviews rather tended to concentrate on Richard Wilson, but in fact it was the ensemble nature of the playing which impressed and the way Wilson did not really dominate. Though he did bring elements of Victor Meldrew with him. The comic sections with Sir Toby Belch (Richard McCabe) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Fleet) were rather less annoying than usual.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Column on the Salisbury Review

My column from the Winter edition of the Salisbury Review is now on-line here. It covers the issues surrounding James MacMillan's St John Passion and the issues of possible anti-semitism that the text raises.

Latest Press release - Spherical Editions

Latest publications of music by Robert Hugill

We are pleased to announce the latest additions to our catalogue of music by Robert Hugill. Included in the list are motets, anthems, an award winning song along music for piano and for chamber orchestra.

In March 2008 Robert's song He looked at me , setting a text by A.E. Houseman, came 3rd in the English Poetry and Song Society's A.E. Housman Competition. He looked at me is available in versions for tenor or baritone and piano, and is part of the Four Songs to Texts by A.E. Housman for tenor and piano.


Robert's motet Videte Miraculum was premiered by the Chapelle du Roi, conductor Alistair Dixon on Saturday 19th March 2010.

Ivan Hewett, writing on , said Robert Hugill's Videte Miraculum soared too, especially at its ending, with the three sopranos perched at a perilous altitude (to their credit, they never wavered).'

And on Seen and Heard they said 'This had a lovely opening and a simple, well considered structure, with the harmonies based in tonality but moving gradually to build up tension through dissonance. Hugill made use of parallel and contrary motion to excellent effect, and motivic sections returned to give a sense of overall coherence. He also used a wide range of textures, including unisons, octaves and polyphony in different numbers of parts. This was another well written work which deserves further performances.'

The anthem, Thou O Christ , setting words by St. Symeon the New Theologian was premiered at St. Botolph without Bishopsgate at a service celebrating St. Symeon. Also new to the catalogue are Lege mich wie ein Siegel , an unaccompanied setting of Luther's translation of 'Set me as a seal upon thine Heart' , and A New Song , an upbeat and rhythmic setting of Psalm 98.

Other works

Also new are two short piano sketches, based on two poems by Robert Browning, Two Sketches after Poems by Browning . And Concerto Piccolo reworks material from Robert's Blake setting, What Is Man? (which is included on Robert's current CD from Divine Art), to form an attractive sequence of recitatives and arias for chamber orchestra.

Full list of new works
Please contact David Hughes at Spherical Editions if you would like a review copy of the score or any of these

He Looked at me - soprano (or tenor) and piano [sph006012] - £1
Four Songs to A.E. Housman - tenor and piano [sph006511] - £3

Videte Miraculum - choir:SSAATTBB, Latin text [sph001021] - £2
Thou, O Christ - choir:SATB, English text [sph004212] - £1
A new song - choir:SATB, English text [sph004211] - £1
Lege mich wie ein Siegel - choir:SATB, German text [sph004210] - £1

Two Sketches for Piano after poems by Browning - piano solo [sph007514] - £1
Concerto Piccolo - Chamber orchestra (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings) full score [sph007012] - £4
Individual parts (flute1, flute2, oboe1, oboe2, clarinet1, clarinet2, bassoon1, bassoon2, horn1, horn2, violin1, violin2, viola, cello and bass) £2 each.
For a set of parts, 20% discount applies.

Notes for Editors: Spherical Editions publish the full catalogue of London based classical composer Robert Hugill. The entire catalogue is available for purchase on-line, also available on the web site are audio samples and sample pdf's.

Chelsea Opera Group

Chelsea Opera Group are venturing into more popular territory for their next concert. On Sunday Feb 21st they will be performing Verdi's La Traviata at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, conducted by Gianluca Marciano. No unusual editions or rarity value here, but a fine opportunity to hear Nelly Miricioiu as Violetta. Miricioiu, is perhaps a bit mature for an ideal Violetta, but this represents a rare chance to hear her in London in mainstream repertoire. Apart from the odd Tosca, she has been represented in London in recent years mainly by more out of the way operas. For which we are profoundly grateful, but for once it will be interesting to hear her here. Germont Pere will be sung by Alan Opie, so we can be sure of some fireworks in Act 2.

Friday 8 January 2010

Baroque Opera - patchwork or perfection

When we consider opera performances during the baroque period we rather tend to consider them the way we might a contemporary performance of the same work. Granted there were castrato voices and the production values were different, but the essential works were the same. Going to see Handel's Giulio Cesare in London in 1732, when Handel last revived it, then we would hear pretty much the same work as has been recorded in the 20th and 21st centuries. Wouldn't we.

Well, Up to a point, Lord Copper. Baroque opera required an impresario and for much of Handel's later operatic career he functioned as his own impresario. But if the Impresario was not a composer then the opera company would have one or more composers as their call. It tended to be the libretto, rather than the composer, which was chosen first. So that if you had wandered around Italy at the time you could have picked up repeated settings of the same libretto by different composers. Singers often travelled with suitable libretto which would be re-set.

But this presupposes that the composer was in charge of what was actually performed and most of the time he wasn't. Première runs would usually be the only time when the opera stood a chance of being performed as the composer wrote. Each revival would be re-worked for a new cast. And if the composer wasn't available, then another musical hand brought in by the Impresario would do it. Sometimes, with star singers or if the revival was put on in short order, arias would be imported from other operas.

Handel did a lot of this. When he revived his operas he behaved like an Impresario and Handel the Impresario was rather cavalier with Handel the Composer. There are examples of revivals where the star castrato sang no arias by Handel, but simply included suitable arias that he already knew. On desperate occasions, Handel let singers perform arias by other composers, when less desperate he substituted other arias from his own operas.

The ultimate of this is the Pasticcio, where an existing libretto was fitted with pre-existing arias and one of the Impresario's tame composers cooked up some suitable recitative. We have to understand that for many of the Italian speaking audiences, the libretto was the thing followed by the voices. Something of this was true in London as well, though the Londoners were less tolerant of large amounts of Italian recitative.

When Telemann produced Handel's operas in Hamburg tended to do new recitatives, in German, and adjusted the arias. No-one ever thought of the manuscript as a musical bible, it was more of a source book.

This means that if our time travel happened to wander in to an opera performance during the baroque period, they would be unlikely to encounter the sort of musical thoroughness that we apply today. The performance would almost certainly have an element of musical patchwork to it.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Kile Smith's Vespers, performed by the early music group Piffaro is here.
A brilliant new work in the spirit of the Lutheran Vespers service ...

And my review of Vivaldi's opera Argippo is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
A lively and personable, if imperfect, account ...

Further mentions

I've just discovered that the concert by the Chapelle du Roi, conductor Alistair Dixon, on 19th December which featured my new motet Videte Miraculum, was on Mark Pappenheim's Top Ten list in the Independent on 19th December. Very gratifying, especially as I was mentioned by name.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Les Troyens in Amsterdam

On Monday I logged into the Netherlands Opera's web site, Monday being the first day of booking for their production of Berlioz's Les Troyens which opens in April. And, by the wonders of Modern Technology, we acquired two tickets in the 1st Balcony for the performance on 4th April 2010. I can still remember the amount of paper work or phone calls which used to have to be suffered before you could buy ticket abroad, before the invention of the internet. It is a great boon for itinerant opera lovers such as ourselves that you can book on-line. The take up has not been universal and some opera houses were faster than others. when we booked to go and see Susan Chilcott in Poulenc's Carmelites in Amsterdam in the '90s we had to spend rather a long time on the telephone. Whereas I seem to remember that Dresden Opera House had on-line booking quite early on. But Munich had an arcane system whereby you had to write to them to request tickets, then if you got tickets they wrote to you and you had to send them a cheque (no credit cards).

On-line booking is wonderful for serendipitous opera going. Last year I read about the new production of Carmen at the Opera Comique in Paris, conducted by John Eliot-Gardiner. The Opera Comique Web-site was most helpful, we were free and there were tickets. Bingo!

In Amsterdam we will be seeing the revival of Pierre Audi's 2003 production, one that we missed in 2003 when we managed to see Trojans in London, New York and Paris. This time round Eva Maria Westbroek is Cassandre, Yvonne Naef is Didon and Bryan Hymel is Enee, with John Nelson conducting. I can't wait

Review of Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia

Magnificent Scholarship

My review of the magnificent new Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia is now on Music and Vision. (Note that the sight is moving to being a subscription site so you will have to register to read the review I'm afraid).

Wednesday 6 January 2010

ETO plans for autumn

English Touring Opera will be hitting the road again in March with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Donizetti's Don Pasquale and Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, visiting 16 different venues around the country.

But more interesting are their plans for Autumn 2010, because they will be premiering a new opera by Alexander Goehr, based on King Lear. Goehr remains an under-valued figure when it comes to opera in the UK. Covent Garden performed his re-working of Arianna in 1995, but despite being fascinating, well-made and utterly approachable, the work has never been revived by them. (Though a subsequent Cambridge production has led to a recording on NMC). I'm not sure whether his epic opera based on the Anabaptist uprising in Munster, Behold the Sun, has ever been performed; and I seem to remember that there were issues with the musical text that the Deutsche Oper chose to perform, so that I don't think it was premiered in the composer's preferred version.

So it is with great interest that ETO will not only be premiering Promised End but will be touring it round the UK. The opera will have a libretto based on King Lear by Frank Kermode. The ETO press release describes the librettists as William Shakespeare edited by Sir Frank Kermode so, unlike Thomas Ades and The Tempest, it looks as if Goehr will be setting Shakespeare's words.

Of course, such a heavy-weight piece requires a strong cast and Roderick Earl will be playing Lear, Nigel Robson is Gloucester and Lina Markeby plays both Cordelia and the Fool, The Conductor is Ryan Wigglesworth and the director is James Conway.

With such a meaty piece to prepare and tour, the question of course is what to put with it. Here, ETO have hit on the theme of Drama and are presenting Sheridan's The Duenna in the original musical version with music by Thomas Linley (both Junior and Senior) which hasn't been revived for over 100 years. We are all familiar (in theory even if not in fact) with Prokofiev and Roberto Gerhard's version of this story, so it will be illuminating to hear the Georgian original. Richard Suart will be playing Don Jerome.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Review of New Year's eve concert at the Wigmore Hall

For their New Years eve concert at the Wigmore Hall, Florilegium joined forces with Dame Emma Kirkby to put together a programme devoted to the music of Handel and Purcell. Florilegium opened with Handel's Concerto Grosso Opus 3, No. 3 in the alternative version for flute rather than oboe. I must confess that I missed the oboe's edgier tone in the texture but the group gave the piece a lively and attractive performance. A greater issue was the use of double bass on the bass line, which with such a small group of players seemed to give the piece an overly dark sound.

This was followed by Handel's cantata Tra le fiamme with Emma Kirkby. Accompanied by such a small instrumental group (just 1 instrument to a part) gave the piece an intimate chamber feel, very much like that of the early performances in the Palazzi in Rome I would suspect.

There then followed Handel's Concerto a Quattro, which was described as an expansion of Handel's Trio Sonata in D minor to include a substantial cello part for Count Rudolf Franz Erwin, a passionate cellist. Though there seems to be no mention of the work, or Count Erwin, in the new Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia. Still, it was a charming piece with a showy cello part.

The first half finished with Sweet Bird from L'Allegro, where Emma Kirkby duetted with Ashley Solomon's recorder. In both her vocal contributions Emma Kirkby's voice was perhaps not quite as flexible as it was, but this was balanced by a new depth both to her vocal colouring and to her interpretations. The problem with hearing older performers is that you have to banish their younger selves from your ears, it is a problem of longevity. And Kirkby is still one of the finest Handelian sopranos around, she understands that there is no need for volume and knows how to make each not count musically. Also, her stage manner is as charming and welcoming as ever.

The second half was devoted to Purcell. Suites from The Fairy Queen opened and closed, and in between we had Music for a While, Sweeter than Roses, The Plaint (from The Fairy Queen) and An Evening Hymn, plus a selection of Chaconnes from the ensemble. Kirkby was heartbreakingly beautiful and moving in the Purcell songs and the ensemble made an involving and lively contribution. All in all a wonderful evening. The encore was an aria from Solomon, given in what was effectively an chamber reduction, but marvellous.

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