Tuesday 31 July 2018

Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate

Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Hilary Cronin - Spectra Ensemble (Photo Robert Workman)
Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Hilary Cronin
Spectra Ensemble (Photo Robert Workman)
Ethel Smyth The Boatswain's Mate; Hilary Cronin, John Upperton, Shaun Aquilina, dir: Cecilia Stanton, m.dir: John Warner; The Spectra Ensemble at the Grimeborn Festival Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An enterprising chamber version of Smyth's fourth opera, in her anniversary year

It is the 150th anniversary of Dame Ethel Smyth's birth this year, and whilst the BBC is doing her proud with a major performance of the Mass in D, it seems to be left to smaller companies to celebrate Smyth's operas. The enterprising Spectra Ensemble presented a chamber version of Smyth's fourth opera The Boatswain's Mate at the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre on Monday 30 July 2018.  Directed by Cecilia Stinton (who directed the Opera Holland Park Young Artists' performance of La traviata), the production featured Hilary Cronin as Mrs Waters, John Upperton as Harry Benn and Shaun Aquilina as Ned Travers. Sets and costumes were by Christianna Mason. Accompanied by piano trio, John Warner directed from the piano with Claudia Fuller (violin) and Hee Yeon Cho (Cello).

Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Lily Evangeline Scott, John Upperton, Michael TK Lam- Spectra Ensemble (Photo Robert Workman)
Lily Evangeline Scott, John Upperton, Michael TK Lam
Spectra Ensemble (Photo Robert Workman)
Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate came after her two-year interregnum when she stopped composing and devoted her time to the Women's Suffrage cause. The subject matter of the opera, with its strong female protagonist, can be seen as reflecting this feminist aspect, though the piece is based on an existing short story by W.W.Jacobs. It is a smaller scale opera, representing a movement away from large-scale grand opera. Though The Boatswain's Mate is full of English folk-songs, its premiere was intended to be in Frankfurt, continuing Smyth's significant career in opera houses in Europe, something which the First World War put paid to. In fact, The Boatswain's Mate seems rather prescient as after the war, forced to concentrate her career in Great Britain, Smyth moved to smaller, more portable works and would never re-visit the grand opera style of The Wreckers (her third opera).

The Boatswain's Mate tells the story of Mrs Waters (Hilary Cronin), the landlady of a pub and a widow, who is being persistently wooed by one of her regulars, a former Naval man, Harry Benn (John Upperton). Benn engages a passing man, former Army man, Ned Travers (Shaun Aquilina) to play a trick on Mrs Waters. Travers is to pretend to burgle her and Benn will 'rescue' her. Of course, it goes wrong, and the opera ends with Waters and Travers coming to a tentative agreement.

One of the features of Smyth's work, which is too often overlook, is the way she writes roles for mature female characters. Thirza, the heroine of The Wreckers, is not a young woman and Mrs Waters is a mature lady.

Monday 30 July 2018

Spinto showcase: Angel of Fire from Katerina Mina

Angel of Fire - Katerina Mina - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Verdi, Giordano, Beethoven, Wagner, Cilea, Puccini, Barber and Stephan Hodel; Katerina Mina, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak; RPO Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A showcase for the spinto soprano, Katerina Mina

The spinto soprano voice is something of a rarity at the moment, yet it is a vocal type which is central to much of the standard 19th century opera repertoire.

This new disc, on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's own label, showcases a newcomer to the scene, London-based, Cyprus-born British soprano Katerina Mina. She is accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Grzegorz Nowak in arias by Verdi, Giordano, Beethoven, Wagner, Cilea, and Puccini, plus Andromache's Farewell by Samuel Barber and two new pieces by the Swiss composer Stephan Hodel.

A soprano releasing a debut recital CD of arias for spinto voice might seem overly ambitious (dangerous too, if the voice is young). But Katerina has had an unusual career. Born in 1975 and trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Darma, she had to take 10 years out from her career as she had a rare type of blood cancer. Fully recovered, she returned to singing in 2013 to find her voice had developed and this disc is the result.

Katerina Mina has a bright, forward voice with a good spine to it, and at its best, there is a generousness to her performance and a nice flexibility.

Bernstein's problem child: a lively & engaging Candide at West Green House

Bernstein: Candide - Fflur Wyn, Robin Bailey - West Green House Opera (Photo Matthew William Ellis)
Bernstein: Candide - Fflur Wyn, Robin Bailey - West Green House Opera
(Photo Matthew William Ellis)
Bernstein Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre version); Fflur Wyn, Robin Bailey, Ben McAteer, Katherin Marriott, Felicity Buckland, Johnny Herford, Nichols Morton, Peter Brathwaite, dir: Richard Studer, cond: Jonathan Lyness; West Green House Opera Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A lively and imaginative account of Bernstein's engaging problem child

Bernstein: Candide - Ben McAteer - West Green House Opera (Photo Matthew William Ellis)
Ben McAteer - West Green House Opera (Photo Matthew William Ellis)
In many ways, Leonard Bernstein's Candide is a group of terrific songs in search of a show., and many different hands have been involved in the work since its 1956 premiere (with a book by Lilian Helman). Bernstein himself produced a 'definitive' version in 1989 (which he recorded), based on a new book created by Hugh Wheeler for Harold Prince's productions of the show (developed from 1973 to 1982), but in 1999 when the show was mounted at the Royal National Theatre, John Caird went back to Voltaire's original novel. So any company mounting the piece has to choose, what sort of Candide do they want? None is perfect, yet such is the invention and infectiousness of Bernstein's music, that the songs cry out to be performed.

As part of the Bernstein Centenary celebrations West Green House Opera staged Bernstein's Candide in the 1999 Royal National Theatre version. We caught the second of two performances on Sunday 29 July 2018, directed and designed by Richard Studer and conducted by Jonathan Lyness, with Robin Bailey as Candide, Ben McAteer as Pangloss/Voltaire, Fflur Wyn as Cunegonde, Katherine Marriott as the Old Lady/the Baroness, Felicity Buckland as Paquette, Johnny Herford as Maximilian, Nicholas Morton as Martin/James the Anabaptist, and Peter Brathwaite as Cacambo/Grand Sultan.

The show was performed by 16 singers, 10 soloists and ensemble of six, with many singers performing multiple roles and taking part in the ensemble numbers. The accompaniment was a band of 16, with single strings.

The other problem with Candide, is the question of whether it is an operetta or a musical, the original 1956 performance had a cast which spanned both opera and musical theatre, and has subsequently been performed by theatre companies and opera companies.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Lucretia through a newcomer’s eyes and ears

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - front, Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Natasha Jouhl (Female Chorus) - back,  Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca), Claire Swale (Lucia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - front, Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Natasha Jouhl (Female Chorus) - back,
Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca), Claire Swale (Lucia) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten The Rape of Lucretia; James Corrigan, Andrew Tipple, Bethan Langford, Benjamin Lewis, Rob Murray, Natasha Jouhl, dir: Julia Burbach, Orpheus Sinfonia, cond: Peter Selwyn; The Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An intense evening: Britten's chamber opera about male power is an aposite choice for The Grimeborn Festival

Britten’s 1946 chamber opera about male power and abuse of power should have been an ideal choice for The Grimeborn Festival, at the Arcola Theatre (25 July 2018). The Director, Julia Burbach, writing in the printed programme, tells us of her intention to pull in a diverse audience and maximise the impact of the piece in the space. I feel sure that as the run matures this will happen. It would be too good an opportunity to miss otherwise. The cast included James Corrigan as Junius, Andrew Tipple as Collatinus, Bethan Langford as Lucretia, Benjamin Lewis as Tarquinius, Rob Murray as the Male Chorus and Natasha Jouhl as the female chorus, with Peter Selwyn conducting the Orpheus Sinfonia.

In the interest of full disclosure I, a regular opera-goer (white), had as my Plus One a newcomer (brown), with ears and eyes open to new things, who has had an interest in opera kindled by surtitles that help him worry less about understanding the text he is hearing for the first time, whilst allowing him to be immersed in the other elements of the art form. I said: “No surtitles but it’s in English and Britten is really good at setting text, so you’ll be fine”.

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Rob Murray (Male Chorus), Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Claire Swale (Lucia), Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia - Rob Murray (Male Chorus), Bethan Langford (Lucretia), Claire Swale (Lucia),
Katherine Taylor-Jones (Bianca) - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Robert Workman)

Saturday 28 July 2018

Prom 17: Parry, Holst & Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams (far right) with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Photograph© Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (far right) with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Photograph© Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust)
Hubert Parry, Gustav Holst, Vaughan Williams; Francesca Chiejina, Ashley Riches, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Martyn Brabbins; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Celebrating the Parry centenary with his music alongside his pupils thoughtful responses to the First World War

For Prom 17, Martyn Brabbins, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus of Wales brought together English music written either side of the First World War, Hubert Parry's hope-filled symphonic masterpiece, Symphony No. 5 (Symphonic Fantasia '1912') from 1912 was paired with three works written in the shadow of the war, Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending and Pastoral Symphony, and Gustav Holst's Ode to Death, none of them obviously war inflected but each piece affected by their composer's wartime experience. This year is also the centenary of Parry's death, and as well his symphony the concert also included his large scale anthem, Hear my words, ye people. Tai Murray was the violin soloist in the Lark Ascending, with Francesca Chiejina (soprano) and Ashley Riches (bass) soloists in the Parry anthem.

Parry's fifth (and last) symphony was premiered at the Queen's Hall in London in December 1912. It consists of four linked movements; that each movement has a title ('Stress', 'Love', 'Play', & 'Now') suggests the work's tone-poem like character, and this is emphasised by the way Parry has labelled the various themes ('Brooding thought', 'Tragedy', 'Wrestling Thought' etc). As a symphonist, we can hear Parry's debt to Elgar, to Brahms and to Liszt but we should also remember that Elgar the symphonist owed something to Parry. Parry's writing, whilst having a sound akin to Elgar, lacks the latter composer's sheer grandiloquence and the fifth symphony is a thoughtful and in many ways poetic work.

Approaching Winterreise: Angelika Kirchschlager on performing Schubert's great song cycle

Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Whilst a distinguished roster of women have sung Schubert's great song cycle Winterreise, a performance with a female singer is still not common. The Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager sang the cycle for the first time at a Temple Song recital at Temple Church on Tuesday 24 July 2018 [see my review] with Julius Drake accompanying, and the two will repeat the performance at the Vienna State Opera on 11 October 2018. Whilst Angelika Kirchschlager was in London I was lucky enough to be able to chat to her about singing lieder and more.

First of all, I was curious as to why Winterreise and why now

For Angelika, Winterreise is quite simply the great song cycle and there was no question of her not wanting to perform it. She calls it the ultimate masterpiece that a singer wants to achieve.

It is also a huge project to take on. Angelika has thirty years' experience singing lied, and loves searching out the detail behind the songs, the text, the harmony and the way they interact. And Winterreise was her biggest challeng so far, and she is sure no bigger one will come along. She describes starting work on Winterreise as akin to strolling round a fortress, trying to find the entrance. Walking around two or three times she failed to find the main entrance but eventually found a little wooden door hidden behind a bush.

The timing of the performance she describes as co-incidence. She was supposed to perform it five years ago, but had to cancel because she was ill. She now regards this as fortunate, and is thankful that the performance is coming now and not five years ago.

She has been very close to this kind of madness and knows this kind of lost soul

So many of Angelika's operatic roles have been men, that when she started work on Winterreise she assumed her protagonist would be a man. 

Friday 27 July 2018

Richly Romantic: Mascagni rarity, Isabeau, brought to life at Opera Holland Park

Mascagni: Isabeau - David Butt Philip, Fiona Kim, George von Bergen, Anne-Sophe Duprels, Mikhail Svetlov, Joanna Marie Skillett, Nadine Benjamin - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Mascagni: Isabeau - David Butt Philip, Fiona Kim, George von Bergen, Anne-Sophie Duprels, Mikhail Svetlov, Joanna Marie Skillett, Nadine Benjamin - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Mascagni Isabeau; Anne Sophie Duprels, David Butt Philip, Mikhail Svetlov, George von Bergen, dir: Martin Lloyd Evans, City of London Sinfonia, cond: Francesco Cilluffo Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A real rarity, Mascagni's gorgeous score brought to life with love

Mascagni: Isabeau - Anne-Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Isabeau and the falcon
Anne-Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Pietro Mascagni was concerned not to repeat himself, so never again would he return to the world of Verismo opera which is encapsulated in Cavalleria Rusticana. Many of his operas were popular during his lifetime, but most have languished since. His 10th opera, Isabeau was premiered in Buenos Aires in 1911, with the composer conducting. It uses elements of the Lady Godiva legend, in a libretto by Luigi Illica who wrote the libretto for Mascagni's 1898 opera Iris.

Having given us Mascagni's Iris in 2016 [see my review], Opera Holland Park returned to rare Mascagni with the UK premiere of Isabeau. We caught the 4th performance on Thursday 26 July 2018. Anne-Sophie Duprels was Isabeau, with David Butt Philip as Folco, George von Bergen as Cornelius and Mikhail Svetlov as the King. Martin Lloyd-Evans directed, with designs by takis and lighting by Robbie Butler, Francesco Cilluffo conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

Mascagni: Isabeau - David Butt Philip - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
 David Butt Philip - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
As with their collaboration on Iris, Mascagni and Illica seem to have been interested in elements of Symbolism, here an emphasis on sight and seeing, though this is allied to a score where Mascagni's rich and complex orchestration tempt one into using the term Wagnerian, perhaps Richard Strauss would be a better analogy. The plot is simple (perhaps simplistic). The Princess Isabeau (Anne-Sophie Duprels) insists that she marries for love, so refuses all of the princes presented to her in a 'joust of love', including Il cavalier Faidit(Oliver Brignell), who is, in fact, her father's nephew in disguise. Her father the King (Mikhail Svetlov), incited by his councillor Cornelius (George von Bergen), punishes her by making her ride naked through the streets. Folco, a falconer (David Butt Philip), is a naive, holy-fool like figure, brought to court to find a place by his grandmother (Fiona Kimm). Having met the princess and been attracted to her, he sees no shame in looking on her nakedness and covering her with flowers. He is punished and jailed where she visits him and the two have a rapturous love duet, but it does not end well.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Destination Russia and beyond

Destination Russia - National Children's Orchestra, Jonathan BLoxham
Under the title Destination Russia the National Children's Orchestra, conductor Jonathan Bloxham, is giving a programme of music by Shostakovich,Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on Saturday 4 August 2018. The programme includes Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with Benjamin Baker as soloist.

The young conductor Jonathan Bloxham has just finished his second year as Assistant Conductor position under Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Conducting the National Children's Orchestra will be something of a return for Jonathan as he was the principal cello of the orchestra during his school days.

It is going to be a busy summer for Jonathan Bloxham, he makes his debut with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen on 17 & 18 August 2018, invited by his mentor Paavo Järvi (who is musical director of the orchestra).

Turnage premiere from Turkey

Turnage & Berlioz - Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic - Onyx
Mark-Anthony Turnage Shadow Walker, Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique; Vadim Repin, Daniel Hope, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Sascha Goetzel; Onyx Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A challenging programme, pairing an established classic and a world premiere, shows the Istanbul-based orchestra to be on terrific form

On this enterprising new disc from Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic on Onyx, we hear the premiere recording of Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'Shadow Walker' Concerto for two violins and orchestra with soloists Daniel Hope and Vadim Repin, alongside Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique. Though the orchestra is based in Istanbul, the recording was in fact made in the Musikverein in Vienna.

Mark-Anthony Turnage's Shadow Walker was premiered by Daniel Hope, Vadim Repin, the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic and Sascha Goetzel in Istanbul on 19 October 2017, and this recording was made four days later. Turnage takes his inspiration from the work of artist Mark Wallinger, with whom Turnage worked on his ballets Trespass and Undance. The title Shadow Walker comes from one of Wallinger's videos where he films his shadow as he walks along Shaftesbury Avenue. Turnage has used his balanced pairing of soloists to continue this exploration of shadowing.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Associate Artists at The Old Church, Stoke Newington

Opera Up Close - Donizetti's Maria Stuarda
Opera Up Close - Donizetti's Maria Stuarda
The Old Church, an arts venue in Stoke Newington based in the only surviving Elizabethan church in London, has announced the first group of Associate Artists. 

The six artists, who span choral music, opera, theatre and performance art, will devise new shows to be premiered at The Old Church, before touring around the UK. These include Esmeralda Conde Ruiz, an innovative choral conductor who pioneers interdisciplinary work that integrates site-specific visual and sound and she will be producing a massed performance of over 100 female singers in The Old Church cemetery, and opera company OperaUpClose which is developing a fully-staged English version of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, the historical tragedy about a fictitious confrontation between Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I.

The other artists are Tej Adeleye, who is devising a sound installation using music and storytelling building on her research, theatre-maker Claire Gaydon, Gobbledegook which creates interactive experiences for families, and composer and award-winning skin decorator Natalie Sharp.

Further details from the Old Church website.

A disturbing journey: Schubert's Winterreise from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake

Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Schubert Winterreise; Angelika Kirchschlager, Julius Drake; Temple Song at Temple Church Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The great Austrian mezzo-soprano sings her first Winterreise, an intense and powerful event

The Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is the latest in a series of distinguished mezzos to take on the challenge of Schubert's Winterreise. At a Temple Song recital at Temple Church on 24 July 2018 accompanied by pianist Julius Drake, Angelika Kirchschlager gave her first public performance of Winterreise.

Temple Church is perhaps not an ideal place for a lieder recital, but such was Angelika Kirchschlager's identification with the work and her vivid projection of text and narrative, that we hardly noticed any lack of intimacy.

'Gute Nacht' started at quite a moving tempo with a sonorous accompaniment from the piano. Kirchschlager began with serious intent and a sense of long sustained phrases. There was something remarkably concentrated about her performance, and she used a wide range of colours in her voice, taking risks to make the text more expressive. Throughout the cycle her use of text was exemplary and you hardly needed recourse to the printed word sheets. This was allied to an extremely expressive physicality to her performance.

Byron's Grand Tour

Lord Byron painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813.
Lord Byron painted by Thomas Phillips in 1813.
Settings of Byron by Henry Bishop, Charles Horn, Alexander Lee, Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Charles Gounod, Hubert Parry, Maude Valerie White, Hugo Wolf, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Roger Quilter; Amanda Pitt, Gavin Roberts; St Marylebone Festival at St Marylebone Parish Church Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Byron's Grand Tour: settings of the great poet's works by contemporaries and other 19th century composers

This year's St Marylebone Festival at St Marylebone Parish Church (until 27 July 2018) is celebrating local musical connections. On 24 July 2018 at the lunchtime concert, soprano Amanda Pitt and pianist Gavin Roberts (musical director at the church) gave us Byron's Grand Tour, a celebration of the work of the great poet who was baptised in St Marylebone (the present grand Regency church was built in 1817 when the poet was 29). Actor Neil Stuke read extracts from Byron's poetry, whilst Pitt and Roberts performed songs setting Byron by Henry Bishop, Charles Horn, Alexander Lee, Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Charles Gounod, Hubert Parry, Maude Valerie White, Hugo Wolf, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Roger Quilter.

The programme was organised to follow Byron's Grand Tour of 1809 to 1811, starting with Stanzas to a Lady on leaving England, working through Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, The Bride of Abydos, A journey through Albania, The Corsair, Hebrew Melodies, Manfred, and ending with extracts from letters and journals.

Whilst there were quite a number of settings of Byron's poetry during his lifetime, later English composers have not seized on his poetry with alacrity and what was noticeable in the recital was the number of major European composers setting Byron. You can, perhaps, understand why. Byron's poetry is highly structured, with strong rhyming schemes, and this does not always lend itself to the lyric art.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Premiere of Gediminas Gelgotas' violin concerto

Lithuanian composer Gediminas Gelgotas' Violin Concerto was premiered at the Kissinger Sommer Festival, in Germany on the 7 July, 2018, with 21-year-old Swiss violinist David Nebel and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, conductor Kristjan Järvi [read my interview with Gedminas].

In an interview with The Violin Channel, Gediminas Gelgotas described the concerto as consisting "of two contrasting movements, each approximately 10 minutes in length … and both movements have a cadenza-like virtuosic episode at the end", adding that he "was inspired to create a musical language that could hopefully resonate with a larger audience … and to create a sound world that will hopefully reflect the surroundings we’re living in.". Read more at The Violin Channel.

Snape Proms

Snape Proms 2018 (credit Lucinda Rogers)
The Snape Proms run at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh throughout August 2018, Performers include Daniel Barenboim and the East-West Divan Orchestra who are giving the UK premiere of David Robert Coleman's Looking for Palestine, the John Wilson Orchestra, the Aurora Orchestra performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 from memory, and Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque.

Performances from young artists are a feature of this year's festival with Marin Alsop conducting the Britten Pears Orchestra, George Benjamin conducting the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in a programme which includes his own Dance Figures, music by Ligeti and Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with Tamara Stefanovich, the Suffolk Youth Orchestra and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.

Full information from the Snape Maltings website.

It’s Opera Giacomo, but not as we know it - Turandot at Torre del Lago

Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini (Photo Cespa)
Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini (Photo Cespa)
Puccini Turandot; Martina Serafin, Nicola Pisaniello, Alessandro Guerzoni, Amadi Lagha, Lana Kos, Andrea Zaupa, Francesco Napoleoni, Tiziano Barontini, dir:Alfonso Signorini, cond: Alberto Veronesi; 
Gran Teatro all’aperto, Torre del Lago Puccini  
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 14 July 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
The highs and lows of Turandot at the 64th Festival Puccini, Torre del Lago

The more time I spend in Italy the more I wonder about the point of being too much of a pedant. Italians go to the opera. They love music for its own sake no matter good or bad. The collective experience, the coming together to listen to music in glorious surroundings and chew the fat with your mates, and in lots of ways that’s enviable. But how forgiving should we be?

On 14 July 2018 the balmy opening night of the Puccini Festival, il gran mondo turned out in force for a performance of Puccini’s final opera Turandot under the music direction of Alberto Veronesi with Martina Serafin as La Principessa Turandot, Lana Kos as Liù and the French/Tunisian tenor Amadi Lagha as Il Principe Ignoto. It was rapturously received, the only note of dissent a lone priest who seemed quite exercised by the interminable intermission at 11.30pm - proper order if you ask me.

The location is quite frankly idyllic. In daylight hours the sleepy square facing the lake saw a trickle of expectant tourists waiting their turn to see the maestro’s Villa Museo and a few locals going about their business or chatting over an espresso. By 8 o’clock in the evening the square was flooded with Operaphiles with italianità.

The call to arms, the Humming Chorus, heralding the start, would have given Madam Butterfly a coronary, signalled a grudging drift towards seats that wasn’t going to interrupt the flow of geniality. The air of conviviality gradually spread into the auditorium with much mingling. A cast of Imperial soldiery circulated in various stages of undress whilst being mobbed by the selfie brigade. Perhaps they should add don’t touch the performers to the lengthy list of behavioural dicta before the performance?

You could argue that with a back drop of such natural splendour why bother with a set but there is some need for hard surfaces here if for no other reason than the sound would dissipate entirely. So, the set was serviceable and traditional rather than startling. A palace and a large central staircase flanked by imperial guardian lions their grandeur destroyed by the deployment of some aesthetically egregious downstage scenery trucks.

Monday 23 July 2018

Mark-Anthony Turnage announced as Psappha's new patron

Psappha, the Manchester-based new music ensemble, has announced that composer Mark-Anthony Turnage is new patron following on from the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (who was the ensemble's patron for 21 years). Psappha will be including Turnage's Duetti d'Amore in their 2018/19 season

Formed in 1991 by Artistic Director Tim Williams, Psappha specialises in the performance of work by living composers and in music of the 20th and 21st centuries. The ensemble is unique in its artistic offering as the North of England’s only stand-alone, professional contemporary classical music ensemble. Psappha is based at St Michael’s, the former Italian Chapel in Ancoats, an inner-city area of Manchester that was once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. It shares this venue with The Hallé.

The ensemble's 2018/19 season includes music by Lutslawski, Bartok, Kurtag, Ligeti, Elliott Carter, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Casken, Steve Martland, Simon Holt, Julian Anderson, Anthony Burgess, Nigel Osborne, and Arnold Schoenberg, along side music by Patrick John Jones, Molly Joyce, Camden Reeves, David John Roche, George Stevenson, Knut Vaage, Stephen Pratt, Naomi Pinnock, Lucy Armstrong, Sarah Kirkland Snider, David T Little  and Tim Wright.

Full details from the Psappha website.

Going for Baroque again: ETO's Radamisto and more

ETO - Handel: Radamisto
English Touring Opera is going for Baroque again this Autumn with music by Handel, Purcell, Carissimi, Gesualdo and Bach. The tour, which opens in Hackney on 6 October 2018 and closes in Manchester on 28 November 2018, features Handel's Radamisto, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Carissimi's Jonas, madrigals by Gesualdo and Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Radamisto is perhaps the first work of Handel's maturity, it was the first that he wrote for the newly funded Royal Academy in 1719 and features the sort of high seriousness and complex plotting which are a feature of his operas for the Royal Academy. Involving the machinations of the royal family in old Armenia, it features marital fidelity tested along with some prime bad behaviour. As with many of Handel's operas, he revised the work for revivals but unusually his revisions are well worth considering so that as well as the first version, premiered in April 1720 with a soprano Radamisto (Margherita Durastantini) and contralto Zenobia (Anastasia Robinson), there is the revised version of December 1720 which featured an alto castrato Radamisto (Senesino) and a soprano Zenobia (Margherita Durastantini), so opera companies have even more material than usual to choose from when making their version! One of the work's other points of interest is Handel's use of ensembles, so that Act Three contains a quartet. For ETO Radamisto will be directed by James Conway and conducted by Peter Whelan, with William Towers as Radamisto, Katie Bray as Zenobia, Ellie Laugharne as Polinessa and Grant Doyle as Tiridate.

ETO is also presenting an intriguing triple bill of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, a staged version of Carissimi's oratorio Jonas (about Jonah and the whale) and a selection of Gesualdo madrigals under the title of I will not speak. Dancer Bernadette Iglich is directing the Carissimi and the Gesualdo, with Seb Harcombe directing the Purcell. Jonathan Peter Kenny conducts.

The final element of the tour is a series of performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion with Jonathan Peter Kenny conducting the Old Street Band and soloists Ellie Laugharne, Susanna Fairbairn, Katie Bray, William Towers, John-Colyn Gyeantey, Richard Dowling, Frederick Long and Andrew Slater, in partnership with 23 different choirs from around the country.

Full details from  the ETO website.

Sunday 22 July 2018

A family in crisis and a study in dementia: radical new version of Verdi's Nabucco from Heidenheim

Verdi: Nabucco - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: Nabucco - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi Nabucco; Antonio Yang, Ira Bertman, Katerina, Hebelkova, Adrian Dumitru, Randall Jakobsh, dir: Helen Malkowsky, Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, cond: Marijn Simons; Heidenheim Opera Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 July 2018 Star rating: 3.0
Verdi's Biblical opera re-worked as a study of dementia and a family in crisis

Fenena and Ismaele are celebrating the bar mitzvah of their son, amongst the guests are their rabbi, Zaccaria, members of the Orthodox Jewish community, and members of Fenena's Assyrian family, her father, the elderly Field Marshall Nabucco, and her half-sister Abigaille.

Verdi: Nabucco - Ira Bertman, Antonio Yang, Andrew Nolen - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Ira Bertman, Antonio Yang, Andrew Nolen
Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Thus begins Helen Malkowsky's production of Verdi's Nabucco for the Heidenheim Opera Festival. Designed for performance outdoors in the ruins of the Rittersaal in the castle, on Saturday 21 July 2018 rain forced the production to transfer to the theatre at the nearby congress centre. Productions are designed to fit into both locations and tickets are dual numbered! 

Marijn Simons conducted the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno with Antonio Yang as Nabucco, Ira Bertman as Abigaille, Katerina Hebelkova as Fenena, Adrian Dumitru as Ismaele, Randall Jakobsh as Zaccaria, Christoph Wittmann as Abdallo, Eva Bauchmuller as Anna and Andrew Nolen as the High Priest of Baal. Helen Malkowsky directed, with set designs were by Harald B Thor with costumes by Cornelia Kraske and lighting by Hartmut Litzinger.

For Malkowsky, Nabucco is about a family in crisis, set in the context of an Orthodox Jewish community under siege from a foreign invader. Costumes were roughly contemporary and Thor's set included three screens at the rear which varied between projections of Biblical text and newsreels about the developing war situation. Both sides of the stage had scaffolding towers, obscured by plastic sheeting, which were used by the chorus when singing off stage. As the piece developed, Malkowsky proceeded to explore Nabucco's breakdown from dementia and the stress it caused his family.

My Contemporary Experience - a guest posting from a young violinist

Samson who writes the https://www.mytimbre.org/ blog
Samson who writes the https://www.mytimbre.org/ blog
Samson is a 16 year old African-American violinist who writes a blog, and here he writes a guest posting for us about his journey to contemporary music.

My journey with music started when I was ten years old. It was summer time, the humidity in the air nearly choking me to death. I wasn’t used to the wet heat, being from Nevada, and was beginning to loathe my family’s decision to move here. That’s when I was handed a violin.

When I was a beginner I heard (and played) much of the regulars, Mozart, Beethoven, some Haydn, but as I became a more mature musician things began to… well, change. Not only was I becoming more accomplished as a musician, I was discovering musical styles I never thought even existed. African rhythms, Puerto Rican Bomba, and even folk music. However, there was one thing that stuck out to me: Contemporary Music.

Now when I say “contemporary music” I mean everything from 1945 to present day. I can’t recall the details of my first run in with contemporary music, but I’ll give you the gist of the experience in one sentence: “Is this even music?!?” Insert face of utter disgust here.

In all seriousness, what I heard that day was very hard to listen to.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Lithe & musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival

Verdi: I Lombardi - Leon de la Guardia, Pavel Kudinov, Daniel Dropulja - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: I Lombardi - Arvino and his supporters with the hermit
Leon de la Guardia, Pavel Kudinov, Daniel Dropulja - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi I Lombardi; Pavel Kudinov, Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba, Leon de la Guardia, dir: Tobias Heyder, Cappella Aquileia, cond: Marcus Bosch; Heidenheim Opera Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A musically lithe and engaging performance, in production which side-steps the work's problems

Verdi: I Lombardi - Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
The Heidenheim Opera Festival is working its way chronologically through early Verdi operas, having given us Oberto (in 2016) and Un giorno di regno (in 2017, see my review), this year it was the turn of Nabucco and I Lombardi.

We caught the second performance of Verdi's I Lombardi at the Heidenheim Congress Centre on 20 July 2018. Directed by Tobias Heyder with costumes by Janine Werthmann and lighting by Hartmut Litzinger, the cast featured Leon de la Guardia as Arvino, Pavel Kudinov as Pagano, Anna Werle as Viclinda, Ania Jeruc as Giselda, Daniel Dropulja as Pirro, Christoph Wittmann as the prior of Milan, Andrew Nolen as Acciano, Marian Talaba as Oronte, Kate Allen as Sofia and Klaus Peter Preussger as Folco. Marcus Bosch conducted the Cappella Aquileia with the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno. As with previous productions, Heidenheim takes a more intimate, chamber view of Verdi's operas, with a chamber orchestra in the pit and more lyric voices, thus restoring the operas more to the scale of the early performances.

Verdi wrote I Lombardi for La Scala in 1843, a follow up to Nabucco and with the same librettist, Temistocle Solera. As with Alzira (written two years later, and recently revived at the Buxton Festival, see my review), you sense Verdi experimenting. I Lombardi takes the feud between two brothers and spreads it across Italy and the Middle East during the First Crusade, mixing in religion and redemption.

Verdi: I Lombardi - Leon de la Guardia, Anna Werle - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Leon de la Guardia, Anna Werle - (photo Oliver Vogel)
In many ways, the opera explores themes which Verdi would return to in La forza del destino, the workings of fate, family feuds, the dramatic possibilities of co-incidence, religion and religious conversion. But whereas La forza del Destino sprawls, I Lombardi is highly compact. In four acts, with 11 scenes, it forms more of a series of tableaux, rather than worrying about narrative development. Verdi seizes some strong situations, without bothering about how the characters got there.

Though there is a large cast, the focus is very much on a few characters. The result is tight and fast paced, lots of emotions and drama. And this production, with its lively tempos, lithe textures and impulsive drive really went with the flow of the drama, successfully carrying you along.

Tobias Heyder directed with economy and clarity, using colour to indicate the different factions, red for Arvino, blue for his brother Pagano (turning to neutral when he became a hermit), green for the Muslims. The production used plain colour projections for the back-drop and, with a superb economy of means, relied simply on a table and chairs for all the scenes. Costumes were all modern dress. What the production lacked though was a sense of who these people were and what the 'crusade' really was.

Accessibity, intimacy & engagement: festival co-director Guy Withers on Waterperry Opera Festival

Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry Opera Festival is a new venture,  presenting opera and more in and around Waterperry Gardens from 17 to 19 August 2018 with Rebecca Meltzer and Guy Withers as festival directors and Bertie Baigent as musical director. The season includes stagings of Mozart's Don Giovanni in the garden's amphitheatre and Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park in the house's ballroom. I recently met up with Guy Withers to find out more.

Waterperry house
Waterperry House
Waterperry includes the historic gardens created by Beatrix Havergal, a house which goes back to the Tudor period and a medieval chapel. A women's horticultural college, founded by Beatrix Havergal, flourished on the site from the 1930s to the 1970s, and since then it has been run as a retreat centre by the School of Economic Science. From 1976 to 2016 the Art in Action festival was run at the gardens, a huge annual event with 26,000 visitors over three days with food, visual arts and performing arts.

After 2016 it was decided to close the festival and re-focus. Guy Withers, Rebecca Meltzer and Bertie Baigent toured a production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte to the amphitheatre in Waterperry Gardens, and the success of this led to the team being asked to curate an opera festival for Waterperry which takes place alongside planned ceramics, family storytelling and other festivals throughout the year.

In fact, some of the team from the current Waterperry Opera Festival were also involved in Art in Action and are keen to keep something of the earlier festival's ethos, aiming at accessibility, participation and encouraging engagement with art and how it is made.

Friday 20 July 2018

A fantasy coronation at Ely Cathedral

Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Roar
Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli are celebrating An English Coronation on Monday 23 July 2018 at Ely Cathedral, when they will be performing music from four 20th century coronations, that of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1936), and Elizabeth II (1953). Gabrieli will be bringing together nearly 400 musicians, including 250 young singers from Gabrieli Roar, not to mention a full symphony orchestra and fanfare trumpeters. And the following day will be recording the music for Signum Classics.

The repertoire will include music by Elgar, Wood, Tallis, Howells, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and more, in addition to the world premiere of a new Fanfare and National Anthem by David Matthews.The result will be music for a fantasy coronation service, taking in some of the music iconic British music from the 20th century and beyond.

Gabrieli Roar is a partnership between Gabrieli and a network of diverse British youth choirs. Taking a bold stance on the ability of young singers, Gabrieli challenges the young singers to perform side-by-side with professional musicians and immerses them in the renowned energy of Gabrieli’s performances and recordings.

Full details from the Gabrieli website.

Having the chance to hear the premiere of a mature Donizetti opera does not come every day: L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara & Royal Opera

Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury - Opera Rara & Royal Opera (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury - Opera Rara & Royal Opera
(c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Donizetti L'ange de Nisida; Joyce El-Khoury, David Junghoon Kim, Vito Priante, Lauren Naouri, Sir Mark Elder, Opera Rara; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on July 18 2018 Star rating: (★★★★) 5.0
The world premiere of a mature Donizetti opera!

Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - Laurent Naouri - Opera Rara & Royal Opera (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Laurent Naouri - (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Whilst Donizetti's success in Paris in the late 1830s and 1840s was sufficient to make critics like Berlioz comment, not every project came to fruition and two notable operas fell by the wayside, Le duc d'Albe for the Paris Opera was abandoned after two acts in favour of La favourite, whilst this latter opera used music from another project, L'ange de Nisida. This latter opera was written for a theatre which went bankrupt and the work was long thought irretrievable. But clever detective work has given us an edition by Candida Mantica which seems to be 96% complete.

Opera Rara in collaboration with the Royal Opera gave the premiere of Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida a the Royal Opera House on Wednesday 18 July 2018. Sir Mark Elder conducted the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, with Joyce El-Khoury as Sylvia (the angel of  the title), David Junghoon Kim was Leone, Laurent Naouri as Don Gaspar, Vito Priante as King Fernand and Evgeny Stavinsky as a Monk.

Donizetti wrote L'ange de Nisida (Nisida is the name of the island near Naples where the heroine resides) for the Theatre de la Renaissance which had just put on the French language Lucie de Lammermoor with some success. L'ange de Nisida reached rehearsals but the opera house went bankrupt and L'ange de Nisida was never produced. As an opera semi-seria with recitative, finding another home for it in Paris was impossible (too grand for the Opera Comique and not grand enough for the Paris Opera) so Donizetti recycled part of it for La favorite written for the Paris Opera, but much of the original score languished.

L'ange de Nisida and La favourite have plot elements in common, a humble hero (Leone) in love with a woman (Sylvia) whom he does not realise is the mistress of the King (Fernand). But L'ange de Nisida is quite a different opera, it is semi-seria for a start with the role of Don Gaspar (the King' chamberlain) central to the part, yet always comic, the heroine is here a coloratura soprano and the main engine of the plot is somewhat different to La favourite is in L'ange de Nisida  the Monk appears at court brandishing a Papal Bull against the King's illicit relationship with Sylvia.

So what is the opera like?

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