Sunday 1 September 2013

Live by the Lake: Opera Alfresco

The opera evening presented on Saturday 31 August 2013 as part of this year's outdoor concerts at Kenwood, Live by the Lake, featured a strong line-up with soprano Ana Maria Martinez being joined by tenor  John Hudson and baritone David Kempster accompanied by the English National Opera Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel. The tenor Wynne Evans acted as compere and also sang. The programme featured music from Rossini's William Tell and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Verdi's Don Carlo, La forza del destino, Rigoletto and La traviata, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, La boheme, Madama Butterfly and Turandot, Bizet's Carmen, Strauss Die Fledermaus, Massenet's Thais plus music by Delibes. We had never attended an open air event before, so went along to picnic and listen.

Those having picnics arrived early and were treated to a programme of light classics broadcast over the sound system. There were three huge screens to enable you to see close-ups of the performers. The evening kicked off with Paul Daniel conducting the orchestra in the overture to Rossini's William Tell. We don't see anything like as much of Daniel as we ought and it was great to hear him in action. The orchestra gave a brilliant account of the overture but the sound from the sound system was a little too hard-edged for my taste.

Next Martinez sang Una voce poco fa from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia revealing a rich toned voice, a strong personality and some neat fioriture, though she did include some rather extravagant ornaments . David Kempster and John Hudson then sang the duet, Dio che nell'alma infondere from Verdi's Don Carlo with nice full tone and good balance, though the performance was a bit stiff.

Martinez then returned for the Song to the Moon from Dvorak's Rusalka, the opera that she made her Glyndebourne debut in 2009. She made quite a stir then and didn't disappoint this time, giving the aria a natural feel. Daniel kept it moving, ensuring that things did not become too self-indulgent.

The orchestra followed this with a strong account of the overture from La forza del destino. David Kempster gave a rather moving performance of Di Provenza il mar from Verdi's La Traviata combining ful tone with a good sense of line.

The first half concluded with the closing scene from act 1 of Puccini's La Boheme. John Hudson gave a well considered performance as Rodolfo, though he could not disguise the fact that his voice is now rather heavy for this lyric role. Martinez was delightful as Mimi, bringing quite a strong personality to the stage.

Part two opened in Spanish mood with the overture to Bizet's Carmen followed by Martinez singing Delibes' delightful song Les filles de Cadiz. Hudson returned for a passionate but slightly effortful account of La donna e mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto.

So far, Wynne Evans had functioned simply as a compere (I have to confess that I found him rather annoying but his witticisms seemed to go down well with the audience). Evans now sang the Brindisi from Verdi's La Traviata with Martinez and it was great to hear his lighter, more lyric voice in this music David Kempster returned for a powerful account of the Toreador's song from Carmen.

The Meditation from Massenet's Thais featured the leader of the English National Opera Orchestra, Janice Graham, in a sweet toned violin solo. Then Evans joined Kempster for a nicely shaped performance of the duet from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers. For her final solo, Martinez gave a powerful and moving performance of Un bel di, vedremo from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Then Hudson demonstrated what he can really do with a full voiced Nessun dorma from Puccini's Turandot. All four performers joined together for the Champagne Trio from Strauss's Die Fledermaus.

Whilst I have to admit that I would have preferred to have heard the performers in a concert hall, every effort was made to ensure a pleasant evening; this was a very full programme and surprisingly rewarding. Despite my doubts about the sound quality, the performances came over very well and the strength of the casting showed the seriousness of purpose of the enterprise.

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