Wednesday 30 March 2011

When a Man Knows - tech

Last night was the tech rehearsal, when we got to see the piece lit for the first time - quite fabulous. As the show doesn't really have a set (we use the space of the Bridewell Theatre as it is), the lighting makes a bit difference and Matt has certainly worked his magic.

Small scale opera (including us)

Nice article on the Intermezzo blog about various small scale opera productions in London at the moment, including When a Man Knows.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

When a Man Knows - into the theatre

We had our first full day in the theatre yesterday, running the show twice. The Bridewell is an amazing space and we able to use a lot of it in the production. The opera may last only an hour and a quarter, but the two lead roles are both large, being on stage all the time. As someone who finds learning music by heart difficult, even (especially) my own, I have great admiration for the way the singers have managed to get whole reams of the stuff into their memories.

So today its the tech rehearsal, our first chance to see what the lighting will be like!

Sunday 27 March 2011

What is happening at the South Bank - 2

Whilst at the South Bank on Friday I picked up a copy of their April brochure, listing all the events. Granted, they are promoting a concert series called Ether which mixes a variety of different contemporary styles (from popular avant garde to London Sinfonietta), but their main classical pages seem to consist entirely of concerts from the resident orchestras. If you take away OAE, LPO and Philharmonia then you are left with some fine chamber/vocal concerts and the Bach Choir, with not that much else. It seems that Classical Music is taking a smaller and smaller role in the general South Bank programming and I really wonder what the 2012 Olympic festival will actually produce.

When a Man Knows - get in

Well, today is get-in day at the theatre, first time we get our hands on the real space.

There's nice preview with extended quotes from me, on the Classical Iconoclast site here

Saturday 26 March 2011

What is happening at the South Bank - 1

We arrive a bit early for last night's concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which was being presented as part of the SBC's Bach weekend. There was a pre-concert talk, at 6.15, but also live music in the foyer. The live music was presented by a rather talented young jazz ensemble, it was not a little loud and entirely prevented conversation. Obviously for the SBC, having the QEH foyer full at this time of the evening is an entire success. But for concert goers, being prevented from talking and forced to listen to jazz (no matter how good), is not necessarily a good thing. The group started to wind up at 6.45pm but it was not until 7.05 that they finished their last encore, only to be followed by a track from their latest CD, which they were selling.

As I say, all entirely admirable in a way, but NOT what you want just before Bach's Mass in B Minor. If the SBC must have popular style music in the early evening slot, then please could it be less noisy AND finish promptly at 6.45pm, to give concert goers a chance to contemplate the concert in peace.

This isn't the first time we've experienced this, a similar thing happened a few weeks ago and it has started to make me nervous of getting to QEH pleasantly early.

Bach Mass in B Minor

To the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night for a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor given by the Feinstein Ensemble and I Fagiolini. The 8 singers from I Fagiolini (Anna Crookes, Julia Doyle, Clare Wilkinson, William Purefoy, Simon Wall, Matthew Long, Charles Gibbs and Francis Brett) sang 1 voice to a part and the 19 instrumentalists were similarly one to a part. The result was exactly the sort of light, transparent account of the music which I enjoy. For the 1st 3 movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo), where the choral sections are generally 5 part, the singers swapped about giving us different line ups, with Clare Wilkinson singing both alto and 2nd soprano. Then of course, in the Sanctus and Agnus, Bach gets more varied and finally in the Dona Nobis Pacem, all the singers came together doubling parts for the first time.

Singing Bach 1 voice to a part is quite an achievement and I Fagiolini gave a finely musical performance which seemed remarkably without stress. I must confess that I could have wished for a greater element of bravura in the singing at times, particularly in the solos, but this must be contrasted with the fine feeling of ensemble, consort singing. That is not to say the the singers were overly blended, and the different lines were nicely characterful.

The accompaniments from the Feinstein ensemble were similarly fine grained, with some notable solo playing and some superb high trumpet playing. Though there one or two moments of uncertain ensemble when I felt that a stronger musical direction might have been called for. Director Michael Feinstein played flute and seemed content to generally let things happen, when he could have been more dynamically directive.

A fine evening.

Cambrdige Handel Opera

Cambridge Handel Opera are presenting Handel's Agrippina at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 3rd, 4th, 6th 7th May. The company present a Handel opera every other year and in the past have produced some very interesting and exciting productions. This year the opera will be directed by Christine Botes who has sung the title roles in a number of CHOG previous productions. The opera will be conducted by Dr. Andrew Jones and is sung in English. And on Saturday 7th May there's a study day as well!

Friday 25 March 2011

When a Man Knows - previews

There's a nice preview of When a Man Knows on the IndieLondon site, here.
And another preview at Music and Vision.

Thursday 24 March 2011

When a Man knows -

There's a nice write-up about When a Man Knows in This is London magazine.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Oxford Liedertafel's first disc is here

Oxford Liedertafel is a talented group of singers and this disc will undoubtedly appeal to all their admirers.

And my review of Handel's pasticcio Oreste is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.

A strong cast in a creditable performance of what is actually rather a good Handel opera.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

All things wear silence

Tomorrow (24th March), the JAM's season kicks off with a concert at St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street at 7.30pm. The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Onyx Brass, Daniel Cook (organ) and Nicholas Cleobury (conductor) will premiere Philip Cashian's All Things Wear Silence, and give the London premiere of Paul Mealor's Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.

JAM are assiduous in commissioning and promoting new choral music, so not surprisingly the programme is complete with works by Tarik O'Regan, Stuart MacRea, Elizabeth Winters, Phillip Cook and Peter Nickol. O'Regan's piece, The Night's Untruth was JAM's 2010 commission.

Your chance to hear some pretty powerful music

Sunday 20 March 2011

When a Man Knows - 2 weeks to go

Would you believe it. We have just had the first week's rehearsals for the opera and quite eventful they were too. One of the singers has had flu and missed rehearsals and then our pianist had a bad accident leaving the first rehearsal and ended up in hospital. This left us with your composer playing the orchestral piano part, this is generally within my abilities but I am afraid there were passages that are beyond me. We start stage rehearsals next week.

Much electronic ink has been spilled in organising the suitable chains and shackles for the man, who needs to be handcuffed and chained by his legs, but in a way which is not too onerous on our baritone Dario. Some of the useful sites which we have been using have been fetish web-sites! In fact, if I'd been a bit more organised I ought to have approached them and got some sponsorship!.

Friday 18 March 2011

Review of La Clemenza di Tito

My review of ETO's new production of La Clemenza di Tito is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Monday 14 March 2011

Under 3 weeks to go

We now have a stage manager on board, Fernando Pinho, and start rehearsals this week. We are trying to get to grips with the logistics of having the man chained up on stage, so that it looks good but isn't too onerous on the singer. Besides the usual theatrical sources for gear, we have been looking at fetish sites (!) one called uberkinky has provided some interesting ideas and might still end up being the source of some of the gear. I am now thinking that I should have thought of this earlier and perhaps tried to get sponsorship, though that would rather give the wrong message about the opera!

Sunday 13 March 2011

Review of Trojans at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin

Last weekend we were in Berlin, my review of David Pountney's production of The Trojans at the Deustsche Oper in Berlin is here on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Saturday 12 March 2011

Tempus per Annum - Dominus iluminatio mea

The 10th and 11th motets in Volume 3 of Tempus per Annum have turned into a single 2-part motet in the manner of many large-scale renaissance motets. The idea for this came about because the verse text for the introit for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time is the same as the opening text for the 10th Sunday, the rather evocative Dominus illuminatio mea. Each part can be performed separately or together as a more substantial work.

The Lord is my light and my Salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? My enemies that trouble me have themselves been weakend and have fallen.
If armies in camp should stand together against me,
my heart shall not fear.
Hear, O Lord, my voice which I have cried to Thee: be Thou my helper, forsake me not, nor do Thou despise me, O God, my Saviour.
The Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Psalm 26

Friday 11 March 2011

Carmelites at the Barbican

On Wednesday we went to the final performance of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Stephen Barlow's production was quite traditional, with period costumes (designer David Farley). The action all took place on a single raised platform (which could be rotated) and which was dressed with salient details (fireplace for the Marquis's study, kitchen table for the Convent work-room). The whole was framed by an abstract design representing shattered glass and the opera opened with the mob shattering the window of a carriage. The result was a rather effective use of the limited stage and meant that there were not awkward pauses between scenes.

We were seeing the 2nd performance by the 2nd cast, though 2nd cast certainly does not imply 2nd class, quite the opposite. Natalya Romaniw (singing Blanche) represented Wales at last year's Cardiff Singer of the World and Gary Griffiths (singing the Marquis) won the Guildhall School Gold Medal in 2009.

Romaniw was perhaps a little too self-possessed for Blanche in the early stages of the opera, you felt that she was stronger than that. But Romaniw grew into the role and gave a strong and affecting performance. She was ably supported by Sophie Junker's perfectly contrasting Constance.

Older roles are always tricky in student performances but here two of the older characters provided some of the most remarkable performances of the evening. Catia Moreso was mesmerising as the old Prioress, dramatically intense in her death scene. And Amy J Payne gave a truly remarkable performance as Mere Marie. Payne conveyed a strength and depth of experience in her performance which is rare, she gave Mere Marie a real feeling of solidity.

Sky Ingram's new Prioress didn't quite manage the simple goodness that this character required. Ingram's performance was intelligent and well crafted, but a little too artful perhaps and she didn't seem quite comfortable with the tessitura.

The men don't really get to display themselves in this opera. Curievici was wonderfully intense was Le Chevalier and Griffiths made the Marquis as dignified and as pompous as he could without resorting to caricature. Matthew Stiff gave a moving performance as the nun's chaplain.

For the final scene we had the mob and the guillotine at the back of the stage, with the nuns ranged along the front in a line. As each one died, a light came on transforming her into radiance. A brilliant idea which kept the scene from being too fussy.

Clive Timms conducted with a strong feeling for Poulenc's dramaturgy but also with a sympathetic ear on his young charges.

The result was an impressive achievement which in many parts reached levels achieved in professional houses.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a disc of Jewish sacred music by Yehudi Wyner is here.

The performances are not perfect, but under the composer’s own direction they have a significant authority and illuminate the different pathways of Jewish sacred music.

And my review of the Classical Opera Company's remarkable reconstruction and revivification of Arne's Artaxerxes is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.

A remarkable discovery. Arne had a winning combination of dramatic flair, virtuoso verve and a nicely gallant style. The opera isn’t perfect but it repays repeated listening.

Friday 4 March 2011

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a disc of sacred music by Hasse is here.

This isn't great music, but it is well crafted and attractive and is presented in persuasive performances.

And a review of a recital of baroque songs and arias sung by counter-tenor Franco Fagioli is here.

An intelligently planned and well performed recital.

Finally Alex Klein's disc of Vivaldi oboe concertos is here. All 3 are on MusicWeb International.

Klein’s technique and sound are entrancing. His beautifully toned account of the virtuosic solo parts contributes to a highly seductive whole.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Covent Garden's Opera Shots

As part of their ROH2 strand to develop new opera, the Royal Opera House are presenting OperaShots from 8th to 15th April, an evening of two short operas by composers new to the genre. Both composers are well established in other fields.

Anne Dudley is an award winning film composer and has been composer in association with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Her first opera, The Doctor's Tale is written to a libretto by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame). Terry Jones will also direct the piece, which is a Gogol-esque tale of a successful Doctor who is a dog and is put in the dog pound.

Stuart Copeland is a founder member of The Police. He is writing both words and music for The Tell-Tale Heart based on Edgar Allen Poe's story. He has written a number of ballets and has previous operas under his belt.

It is always interesting when artists from one genre move over into another. I am not entirely certain whether the way forward in contemporary opera is to look to composers well known in other forms. But opera is a broad church and there should be room for everyone, providing the pieces stand up dramatically. Certainly the composers fame in other musical genres should help attract the sort of lively and mixed audience which the ROH seems to be hoping for.


The ever enterprising English Touring Opera start their new season on Friday with a double bill of Puccini's Il Tabrro and Gianni Schicchi at the Hackney Empire. Interestingly they are using two different directors. Liam Steel directs the comedy and James Conway the tragedy, both in Neil Irish's designs. Conway will also be directing Mozart's Clemenza di Tito, performed in English. Making up the seasons will be Tobias Picker's Roald Dahl based opera, The Fantastic Mr Fox

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