Thursday 30 April 2020

Lockdown edition of Opera North's Resonance programme

Nishla Smith: What Happened to Agnes - Opera North Resonance 2019 (Photo Opera North)
Nishla Smith: What Happened to Agnes
Opera North Resonance 2019 (Photo Opera North)
Opera North's annual Resonance programme is designed to support UK-based BAME music-makers in exploring new ideas and collaborating with other artists. This year's edition is being presented in somewhat more challenging circumstances than usual. 

Applications for the 2020 edition of Opera North's Resonance are open now, and as part of its drive to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on artists and the making of music, the company is seeking applications from professional UK-based music-creators from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, working in any genre.

Singer-songwriter Nishla Smith’s song cycle, What Happened to Agnes, developed during last year’s workshops, completed a national tour just before lockdown began, and another work from 2019, a musical by composer, rapper and MC Testament telling the story of the first Black woman to run for the office of US President, recently spent a further week in research and development with a full cast at Leeds College of Music. A participant in one of the first Resonance projects, sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun, performed the world premiere of Arya, his new sitar concerto, with the Orchestra of Opera North in February of this year

Five successful lead artists will each receive a grant of up to £800 to cover fees for themselves and collaborator/s for 2-2.5 days’ work, and small equipment purchases. Project management and support to access other resources, funding and assistance will be provided. To be eligible for Resonance: The Lockdown Edition, applicants must be UK-based professional composers or music-creators aged 18 or over who are not in full-time education.

Full details from the Opera North website, applications close at 10am on Friday 8 May 2020.

Russian opera before Glinka: Karina Gauvin & Pacific Baroque Orchestra's Nuits Blanches on ATMA

Bortnianski, Fomine, Berezovski, Dall'Oglio, Gluck; Karina Gauvin, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann; ATMA Classique
Bortnianski, Fomine, Berezovski, Dall'Oglio, Gluck; Karina Gauvin, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann; ATMA Classique
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Canadian soprano and ensemble explore Russian operatic music from the 18th century in a fascinating disc which illuminates life before Glinka

In many ways this new disc from soprano Karina Gauvin is complementary to Cecilia Bartoli's 2014 disc St Petersburg [see my review]. Bartoli explored the work of 18th century Italian composers writing for the Imperial court in St Petersburg. In Nuits Blanches: Airs d’opéra à la cour de Russie au XVIIIe siècle, on ATMA Classique, Karina Gauvin, and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra under conductor Alexander Weimann, spread the next a little wider and explore Italian operas by the Russian composers Dmitri Stepanovitch Bortnianski, Evestignei Ipatievitch Fomins and Maxime Sozontovitch Berezovski, plus music by Domenico Dall'Oglio and Christoph Willibald Gluck [Released 1 May 2020].

For much of the 18th century, operatic music and more at the court of St Petersburg was in the hands of foreigners, usually Italians (kapellmeisters including Giovanni Paisiello), and in fact in 1726 Johann Sebastian Bach enquired about a job working at the Russian court! From the mid-18th century there was a School for Court Singers, the first Russian institution for training professional musicians.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

The projects so-far: Mahogany Opera Group's blog explores the creative processes of its projects for this years Various Stages Festival

Mahogany Opera Group -Various Stages Festival
Mahogany Opera Group -Various Stages Festival
Mahogany Opera Group's Various Stages Festival was meant to culminate in a showcase day on 19 March 2020, when the five different groups working on five new operatic projects (at various stages in the project's development) would be able to present work and enter into discussions about it with the audience [see my article about the 2017 festival]. Inevitably, the 19 March event was cancelled, but that does not mean that the work put in by the creators over the last year has entirely disappeared.

Mahogany Opera Group has pulled together a blog with postings from the various different creative artists talking about their work, and giving us a hint of what we might experience when we are finally able to see and hear these new pieces.

There are five works in development, Anna and Isobel Hughes's A Place to Fall to Pieces, Toria Banks and Amble Skuse's A Reasonable Adjustment, Wojciech Rusin's Cymphonium, Nwando Ebizie's Hildegard: Visions, and Peter Cant and Jessica Maryon Davies's Hooligan. We also hear from Mahogany's artistic director Frederic Wake-Walker, and from composer Rolf Hind whose Rumi Passion was also due to be showcased at the festival.

Full details from the Mahogany Opera Group website.

From your living room to the audience's via Cockpitch: a new on-line broadcasting intiative

The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone is going on-line with an initiative which is aimed at giving performers a platform and a chance to earn a bit of money. Cockpitch, part of the theatre's Cockpit Broadcast initiative, is a new on-line platform where the Cockpit will be broadcasting performers via Facebook live.

There is currently a call-out for performers; whether you are a regular street artist or musician or more accustomed to performing in concert halls, if you’re unable to work under lockdown conditions, Cockpit Broadcasting can help you to reach your audience. In place of the traditional hat/violin case, a donate button will enable viewers to show their appreciation.

Full details from the Cockpit website.

Bach: Sonatas and Partitas - Tomás Cotik treads a thoughtful, intelligent middle way when approach these icons of the violin repertoire

Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin; Tomás Cotik; Centaur
Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin; Tomás Cotik; Centaur
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 April 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A new account of Bach's great solo violin works treads a thoughtful way through the various interpretative possibilities

Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin are works which every violinist needs to approach. On this new disc, from Centaur, violinist Tomás Cotik brings has some thoughtful solutions to the questions which every performer must answer about these works.

The tradition of virtuoso, polyphonic writing for the violin grew in Germany in the 17th century with Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and the composers of the Dresden school – Johann Jakob Walther and Johann Paul von Westhoff. This was repertoire that Bach would have known and it is thought that he would have encountered Westhoff in Weimar where Westhoff was court musician from 1699 to his death on 1705. Whilst little in the way of manuscript evidence for Bach's early instrumental works survives, there are hints that the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin might have their origins in works written during Bach's Weimar period (1708-1717). The main manuscript that we have dates from around 1720 during his time in Cöthen (1717-1723), and the manuscript was copied by Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach.

Bach's aim in the works is to write satisfying polyphonic music using an instrument mainly renowned for producing a single melodic line. He does so brilliantly, and part of this brilliance is the way Bach is able to imply the harmonic development with just a few notes. The works alternate Sonatas and Partitas, the sonatas being four movement sonatas da chiesa (slow-fast-slow-fast), each with a fugue for the second movement, whilst the partitas are suites of dance movements.

When playing the works, a performer needs to make a considerable number of decisions, about the type of instrument and strings, the type of bow, the role of ornamentation, articulation and bowing, not to mention speed and the relationship of the partitas to dance music.

Tomás Cotik (Photo: So-Min Kang Photograpy)
Tomás Cotik (Photo: So-Min Kang Photograpy)
And then there is the question of the order? Do you play them in the published one, or is there some sort of fundamental logic to the pieces. Some performers think so, and when I talked to Kyung Wha Chung about playing them [see my interview with her from 2017] she explained how her thinking had changed and how her ordering of them was inspired by Bach's Lutheranism. There have been suggestions that the Chaconne from Partita No. 2 might be a memorial to Bach's first wife Maria Barbara Bach, who died in 1720, with explorations of it in the context of Lutheran chorales.

We have no idea for whom the works were written, perhaps one of the violinists at the Dresden court, or the leader of the court capelle in Cöthen.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts goes on-line with a playlist and programme notes

Like other venues, Conway Hall has had to cancel and postpone its planned season for April to June 2020. Some of the hall's spoken word events have gone on-line, whilst as a little compensation for the music that we will be missing at the Sunday Concerts series, music director Simon Callaghan has put together a Spotify playlist of the music that would have been performed.

And, so that you can re-created the experience a little more, my programme notes for the concerts have gone on line, so you can catch up with reading about the music as you listen.

The early Romantic guitar: Johan Löfving takes us into the salons of Europe at a period when the instrument's popularity blossomed

Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor, Giulio Regoni, Luigi Boccherini - Fandango! Music for solo guitar and string quartet; Johan Löfving, Consone Quartet, Nanako Aramaki; Resonus Classics
Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor, Giulio Regoni, Luigi Boccherini - Fandango! Music for solo guitar and string quartet; Johan Löfving, Consone Quartet, Nanako Aramaki; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An exploration of early Romantic guitar music culminating in Boccherini's Fandango guitar quintet

This new disc Fandango! from guitarist Johan Löfving on Resonus Classics explores early Romantic guitar music. Playing a French guitar from around 1850, Löfving takes us on a journey through the salons of Europe, as the guitar becomes a popular instrument. He plays solo guitar music by Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor and Giulio Regoni, and then is joined by the Consone Quartet and Nanako Aramaki for Luigi Boccherini's Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, G 448.

The development of the six-stringed guitar at the end of the 18th century meant that the instrument, temporarily, took Europe by storm and it rather left its Spanish roots behind as it moved into the salons of Paris, Vienna and beyond. The instrument's sheer portability meant that it moved away from the stiff aristocratic conventions of keyboard-based music. Schubert played the guitar, and it was Berlioz's main instrument, whilst Paganini carried one around with him constantly.

Löfving opens his recital with a work by one of the leading Spanish guitarists of the day, Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849), a composer/performer who wrote music directly inspired by Spanish folk music, unlike many of his contemporaries. So that his whilst his Fandango Variado Op.16 takes the standard Romantic form of Adagio - Allegro vivace - Allegro, with introduction, theme and variations, the theme itself is based on the Spanish dance of the Fandango. The result is a fascinating combination of Spanish folk-idiom given a Romantic polish.

Monday 27 April 2020

Chineke! goes on-line

Chineke! Junior Orchestra at Southbank Centre’s Imagine Festival, February 2020 (credit Orlando Gili)
Chineke! Junior Orchestra at Southbank Centre’s Imagine Festival, February 2020 (credit Orlando Gili)
Chineke! Orchestra's most recent live performance was at the Southbank Centre on 23 February 2020, evidently an electrifying evening when the orchestra, conducted by Fawzi Haimor, performed Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Othello Suite, Op.79, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with violinist Tai Murray, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Now there is a chance to re-live this as the recording has been released on-line and is available on YouTube.

Chineke! Founder, Artistic & Executive Director, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE said:

It was an electrifying evening, marking the end of a concert tour of Coventry, Ludwigshafen and London. The whole orchestra, Tai Murray and Fawzi Haimor put their hearts into this performance, and little did we know that it was to be the last time we would see each other for a while. 

We are grateful to all the healthcare staff and frontline workers who are delivering their utmost day after day during the Covid-19 crisis, and we would like to dedicate this concert to them and to all those who have lost their loved ones.

While the musicians are not able to rehearse together in person, they are developing a suite of 'at home' performances and collaborations. Before lockdown was imposed, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra performed at the London Palladium as part of the 2020 season of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, to a live audience and panel of judges, playing a medley of classical and contemporary pieces from memory, and without the aid of a conductor. As a result the ensemble is scheduled to appear in the auditions round of the series.

Postcards from Composers

As part of its Culture in Quarantine, BBC Radio 3 has commissioned a series of 30 second compositions for solo instrumentalists from twenty composers. Each Postcard will be premiered in BBC Radio 3 by one of the instrumentalists from one of the BBC orchestras, with the work being played on Breakfast programme and then repeated in Afternoon in Concert and in the evening.

The first five composers are:
  • Monday 27 April – Belle Chen: ocean shadows on turqoise reflection, performed by Paul Patrick (marimba), Principal Percussion BBC Philharmonic
  • Tuesday 28 April – Raymond Yiu: Berceuse (with feathers), performed by Martin Owen (horn), Principal horn BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Wednesday 29 April – Anna Clyne: Evening Light, performed by Gillian Callow (cor anglais), Principal cor anglais BBC Philharmonic
  • Thursday 30 April – Jonny Greenwood: Postcard, performed by Benjamin Hughes (cello), Principal Cello BBC Concert Orchestra
  • Friday 1 May – Kuljit Bhamra: It Rains Diamonds on Saturn, performed by Stephen Whibley (tabla), percussionist BBC Concert Orchestra
Linked to the Postcards from Composers, the BBC is also launching its 30 Second Challenge Competition, to challenge 12 – 18 year-olds across the UK to create their own short new compositions. The 30 Second Composition Challenge encourages young people to get creative and write new 30 second compositions written for single instrument or voice.

Each month will see examples of recently submitted pieces selected, performed and recorded by musicians from the BBC’s Orchestras and Choirs and shared across social media and on Radio 3’s New Music Show. Further information from the BBC Young Composer website.

In search of Elijah: an exploration of the premiere of Mendelssohn's oratorio in Birmingham and its first performers

Birmingham Triennial Music Festival at the Town Hall in 1834
Birmingham Triennial Music Festival at the Town Hall in 1834
When I first heard Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah, in Manchester at the Halle in the 1970s, it was in a performance which gave the work a very traditional oratorio shape, four soloists, choir and orchestra, the work's awkward moments such as the trio  'Lift thine eyes' and the octet being sung by semi-chorus. What other way was there to perform it?

It was only quite some years later that I discovered Wolfgang Sawallisch's recording with the Gewandhaus orchester Leipzig (on Philips), in German, which used eight soloists and had both quartets, the octet and the trio sung by solo voices. This intrigued me, and I began to wonder about Mendelssohn's original intentions. I gradually came to realised that Mendelssohn's work was predicated on rather more than four soloists, and that its 'awkward moments' (the two quartets, the octet and the trio) were originally sung by solo voices with nary a semi-chorus in sight.

It has to be said, that not everyone shared my concerns and I vividly remember an edition of 'Building a Library' on BBC Radio 3's Record Review where the reviewer in question seemed completely oblivious as to whether the 'awkward moments' were sung one voice to a part or many. And then there was the matter of the solo roles, were soloists meant to double up so that the mezzo-soprano played Jezebel and the Angel, and the tenor played Obadiah and Ahab, or did Mendelssohn intend the Swallisch allocation of one soloist per role? Then there is the question of The Boy, was this the soprano soloist or should a boy treble be imported.

Thankfully, nowadays we have plenty of recordings which explore Mendelssohn's master work from the point of view of the forces used, but my intrigue has continued and I thought it would be illuminating to explore a little of the background to the first performance.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy by Wilhelm Hensel 1847
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy by Wilhelm Hensel 1847
Mendelssohn's Elijah was premiered in Birmingham Town Hall on Wednesday 26 August 1846, with the composer conducting forces assembled by the Birmingham Triennial Festival.

Sunday 26 April 2020

A Life on Line: Gluck's Alceste, Cilea's Adriana, Strauss' Frau ohne Schatten (not to mention the young man without clothes)

Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten - Bavarian State Opera on-line
Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten - Bavarian State Opera on-line

Welcome to my weekly review of what I have been perusing on-line. Bastard Assignments had been taking a typically creative view of collaborative performance on Twitter, and for St George's Day William Vann and the choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea posted an on-line version of Parry's Jerusalem. Harpsichordist Christophe Rousset of Les Talens Lyriques posted a lovely version of the final duet from Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, in lieu of being able to perform the work live.

And there was more Monteverdi from Ceruleo on YouTube with Si dolce e'l tormento, SV 332 with Jenni Harper (soprano), Kate Conway (viola da gamba) and Toby Carr (theorbo). Also, on YouTube the Kanneh-Mason family decided that being as pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason had her performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 cancelled, that they would do a performance at home, with the family orchestra. Conservatoire Concerts continue its regular slot, last Saturday was Alessandro Viale (piano) and Rebecca Raimondi (violin) in Beethoven's Spring Sonata and Ferdinand Ries' Sonata in D Major. Pianist Sandro Ivo Bartoli is working his way through Scarlatti's sonatas, one per day, on YouTube, so plenty of repertoire for him to go at!

On Facebook, the musicians of the orchestra of the Opera de Lyon gave conductor a virtual birthday greeting, an on-line performance with a nice mixture of humour, and the Ballet Opera de Paris has also posted an imaginative video, baritone Benjamin Bevan (with his wife on piano) posted a lovely performance of Quilter's Now sleeps the crimson petal.

On Instagram, Jacob Heringman posted a lovely video of Zan duetting with herself on the viol,  whilst pianist Simon Lepper has been posting song accompaniments,

Soprano Marina Rebeka has posted on her website an interview that she did last November for the Friends of the Vienna State Opera (in German). The Tait Memorial Trust is offering regular Tuesdays at Home, most recently Ann Beilby, viola; Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin;and George Fu, piano in Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio. The Culture Fix website provides a valuable digest of the varied on-line content available, and Eboracum Baroque is continuing its weekly series of Virtual Coffee Concerts.

I have always had a weakness for Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur despite the barminess of its plot. I first saw the opera at the San Carlo in Naples in the 1980s with soprano Maria Chiara in the title role, at a time when you never ever saw it in London. There were rumours that ENO sent representatives to the production, but it was Opera Holland Park which gave us the first recent London performances (I remember one production with a thrilling account of the Princess de Boullion from Rosalind Plowright), though the best account of the title role, for me, remains Nelly Miricioiu with Chelsea Opera Group in 2009 [see the review on Musical Criticism, and my review on Music & Vision] where she gave far more bite to the vocal line than most lyric sopranos.

On Sunday we caught a 2019 performance of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur from the Metropolitan Opera in the David McVicar production which debuted at Covent Garden in 2009. Anna Netrebko was a very luxurious (if somewhat placit) Adriana, with Piotr Beczala as an ardent Maurizio, and Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princesse de Boullion, plus Sarah Joy Miller, Ambrogio Maestri, Tony Stevenson, Samantha Hankey, Patrick Carfizzi, Carlo Bosi, Maurizio Muraro, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.

Monday it was the turn of Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten from Bavarian State Opera conducted by Kirill Petrenko  and directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. The setting was modern day, Act One seemed to be in some sort of clinic and in Act Three the Emperor's being turned to stone was represented by him being on the operating table.

The opera is one where the work's complex iconography can sometimes bog productions down, and where the last act (which is rather too long) is fertile ground for director and conductors to cut and re-shape. Whilst Warlikowski and designer Malgorzata Szczesniak brought a great deal of visual stimulus to the production with some complex iconography, the story was told pretty straight and, unlike the recent Covent Garden production, the final act was pretty uncut. Johan Botha was the Emperor, Adrianne Pieczonka  the Empress, Deborah Polaski  the Nurse, Wolfgang Koch was Barak, Elena Pankratova  was his wife, with Sebastian Holecek, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Dean Power, Eri Nakamura, Okka von der Damerau. Warlikowski made great use of a scantily clad male dancer for the young man conjured by the nurse, which provided some lovely visual distraction. But it was the conducting of Kirill Petrenko which gripped, and despite the complex iconography I found the performance riveting.

On Tuesday we went over to OperaVision where we caught the Italian version of Gluck's Alceste from La Fenice in Venice. Pier Luigi Pizzi's production was very, very stylish and Guillaume Tourniaire conducted, with Marlin Miller as Admeto, and Carmela Remigio as Alceste.

We had also been intending to catch Charles Wuorinen's opera Brokeback Mountain from the Teatro Real in Madrid, but unfortunately their on-line videos are all geo-restricted so it did not prove possible to play them. A great shame.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Clean, crystalline emotions: composer Joan Valent on moving away from films & creating his Poetic Logbooks on his return home to Mallorca after 30 years

Joan Valent
Joan Valent
The Spanish composer Joan Valent is perhaps best known for his work on films including Álex de la Iglesia's Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (Witching and Bitching), Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Álex de la Iglesia's El bar (The Bar). But he has decided to take a break from films, return to his native Mallorca and concentrate on concert music. His disc Poetic Logbook was issued on Deutsche Grammophon last year and has recently acquired a companion with two tracks from Poetic Logbook II being released. I recently chatted to Joan (in Mallorca) via Skype to find out more.

Joan has been away from Mallorca for 30 years, and he and his wife spent the last seven living in Mexico (Joan's wife is Mexican), but two years ago they decided to return to Mallorca partly for the sake of their children, wanting to bring them up in a less dangerous environment. Joan had been writing film music mainly for economic reasons and found that he was missing the stage and wanted to return to a sense of creating a composition. Working in films, he was starting to feel more like a sausage maker than a composer, with a bad sense of what he was doing with the music and what it was doing to him as a composer.

Joan Valent and his wife at home in Mallorca (Photo abcMallorca - Sara Savage)
Joan Valent and his wife at home in Mallorca (Photo abcMallorca - Sara Savage)
So when he returned to Mallorca, he turned his back on films and decided to use the time to find his essence, to research what his musical language should be. He describes this as not an easy process, and sometime painful. At first, he found it difficult to get over his existing production system. But after two years he started Poetic Logbook, which contains 'the essence of what he wants to communicate in music'. For Joan this means simplicity, he finds the essence of life in direct communication, in 'clean, crystalline emotions'. 

For his first Poetic Logbook disc, he looked to poems and poets that he had read, including works such as Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night, and each pair of poems connected to a port where he had been and where he has an important connection (hence the logbook element). So that Poetic Logbook contains seven songs linked to five ports. Poetic Logbook is released on the Deutsche Grammophon label and Joan is the only living Spanish composer to have his work on the label. And Joan sees Poetic Logbook II as a way to continue this trip of his life through music, and describes it as very intimate and honest.

Friday 24 April 2020

An intriguing combination: in a new video the New York-based ensemble The Knights combine Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 with Paul Simon's American Song

At first sight the music of Johan Sebastian Bach and of Paul Simon would not seem to have a great deal in common, except that in his American Song Simon used the same Lutheran chorale that Bach repeatedly used (in the St Matthew Passion and others) which we know as the English hymn O Sacred Head Sore Wounded

Colin Jacobsen, co-artistic director of the New York-based ensemble The Knights, took advantage of this in his intriguing version of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 where for the second movement (just a pair of chords in Bach's original which were probably the basis for improvisation) Jacobsen has placed his own arrangement of Simon's American Song, taking advantage of the fact that a violinist in the ensemble, Christina Courtin, is a singer/songwriter herself and so able to step out of the ensemble and sing the vocal line in the Simon song, before returning to play violin in the final movement.

The Lutheran chorale started off its life as a medieval Latin hymn Salve mundi salutare (attributed to the poet Arnulf of Leuven who died in 1250), the words were translated into German in the 17th century by the Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt to become the hymn "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." The melody was written by Hans Leo Hassler around 1600 for a secular love song, which was then used as the basis for Johann Cruger's setting of Gerhardt's text. Bach clearly fell in love with the melody, for he used it in a number of settings including his St. Matthew's Passion, the Christmas Oratorio and other cantatas. Simon sensed the power of the melody to console; its sense of resignation mixed with hope.

See what you think to the combination in the video above, or on YouTube.

MiSST at Home: music education charity takes its mentoring and teaching on-line

MiSST at the London Palladium
MiSST at the London Palladium
Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST) is going on-line to enable it to continue its work of offering young people access to an arts education. [Read my interview with Truda White of MiSST].  MiSST at Home supports its students while lockdown measures remain in place, with students collaborating to learn and teach the BBC Ten Pieces arrangement of Finlandia by Sibelius in the charity’s first virtual orchestra.

Each week advanced students on the programme, with oversight from the charity’s leaders, will record practice videos to share with other students who are then invited to practice their parts as part of the orchestra, bringing them together from the comfort of their own home. The charity is also working to deliver its Andrew Lloyd Webber Programme to years 7, 8 and 9 via online resources. They include video theory lessons and instrumental lessons for violin, clarinet and flute, enabling thousands of students across the UK to complete the curriculum that they would have benefited from over the remainder of the academic year.

This project ensures that all students on MiSST programmes continue to be engaged and are progressing whilst we remain in lockdown. The students partaking in the virtual orchestra have the opportunity to harness vital leadership and teaching skills, whilst also learning valuable practical skills such as how to film and upload videos. The Saturday music school students are given the structure to keep them motivated and give them the opportunity to stay connected with their peers as they face these turbulent times. MiSST has also offered in-school support for the children of key workers in all MiSST schools.

Further information from the MiSST website,

A new chamber version of Holst's The Cloud Messenger, from Kings College, London, gives us a leaner, more transparent version of the rarely performed choral ode

Gustav Holst The Cloud Messenger; The Choir of King's College, London, the Strand Ensemble, Joseph Fort; DELPHIAN
Gustav Holst The Cloud Messenger; The Choir of King's College, London, the Strand Ensemble, Joseph Fort; DELPHIAN
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Holst's rarely performed choral ode, undeservedly neglected and now revived in a new chamber version

For all the popularity of works such as The Planets, there is much of Gustav Holst's mature output that remains relatively unexplored. The recent recording by Joseph Fort and The Choir of King's College, London on Delphian introduces us to one of Holst's major works, the choral ode The Cloud Messenger which remains undeservedly unknown, and the choir also performs Holst's Five Partsongs Op.12.

There is a mystical side to Holst's nature which, if you consider only The Planets, is perhaps insufficiently understood. But in his earlier composing career he had been inspired not by astrology but by ancient Indian literature and religion; he even taught himself sufficient Sanskrit so that, with the aid of cribs, he could make his own English translations of ancient Indian literature. This would lead to his choral settings from the Rig Veda (works which are still not widely appreciated) and his opera Savitri, but also to his choral ode The Cloud Messenger.

Begun in 1903 and completed in 1910, it was inspired by one of the most admired love-poems of Indian literature, Meghadūta (Sanskrit for Cloud Messenger) by the fifth century poet Kālidāsa, considered the greatest of the Sanskrit poets. And Holst's choral ode sets his own text which is part translation, part paraphrase of the lyric poem. The work's premiere in 1913 was somewhat disastrous, as parts of it were under-prepared, and though there were subsequent performances in the composer's lifetime, it never really took off.

Joseph Fort & The Strand Ensemble recording Holst's The Cloud Messenger (Photo Delphian Records)
Joseph Fort & The Strand Ensemble recording Holst's The Cloud Messenger (Photo Delphian Records)
Perhaps part of the problem is that Holst wrote for quite a large orchestra, choir, semi-chorus and alto soloist, which makes the work rather bigger than perhaps most choral societies might wish. For this new recording from The Choir of King's College London, its director Joseph Fort has produced a chamber version of the piece, re-scoring it for instrumental ensemble of 15, here The Strand Ensemble. In a booklet note, Fort explains that he has kept the orchestral colours of Holst's original, including the way particular instruments are associated with particular phrases, but created what he terms a leaner version of the original, which enables The Cloud Messenger to be performed by a good chamber choir (Fort's choir here numbers 22 singers).

Thursday 23 April 2020

Feeling jaded? Why not play Concert Roulette?

Are you finding the welter of on-line performances out there a bit confusing? Alternative Classical have taken the strain out of listening by creating a new on-line tool, Concert Roulette, a classical jukebox, comprising over 200 high-quality YouTube videos curated by the team. Viewers are presented with a random performance – it could be renaissance choral music in a church or an experimental solo piece in a gallery – starting at the moment of the upbeat. They can choose to watch or click ‘another!’ until they find a video they want to watch, jumping across time, continents and performances.

The idea behind the website is to encourage people to discover music and it offers an easy way to explorie without needing any prior knowledge of the artform. Concert Roulette was inspired by the highly-addictive Chat Roulette, an online chat website that pairs random users for webcam-based conversations!

Full details at the Alternative Classical website.

WildKat's Tasting Menu

The team at WildKat PR are encouraging us to explore our senses in interesting ways whilst we are all marooned at home. WildKat will be aiming to enhance virtual classical music experiences with a carefully paired item of food or drink. 

Every week, the team at WildKat will create a brand-new Menu of 14 livestreams, paired with 14 recipes. Each week, a member of the WildKat team will also provide a recommendation of a TV show, book, or a piece of art to help stimulate and inspire during this trying time.

The full menu over at the WildKat website.

Creating Music At Home

Creative music making with BCMG
With the advent of the current crisis, there has been a flurry of music going on-line, and now Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) is encouraging families to participate. BCMG has launched Creating Music at Home, two growing sets of fun digital resources to encourage children to create music in their homes. BCMG has also launched its on-line resources to enable children to complete their arts awards remotely.

There is one set Creating Music at Home resources for children who don’t have a musical instrument and another set for those who do. The activities are inspired by or linked to an existing piece of music by a well-known or living composer, with such themes as superheroes, sounds in the house and garden, code and graphic scores. Starting this week, activities are released on a weekly basis with those for children with instruments of Thursdays and for those without instruments on Tuesdays, and children are encouraged to share their resulting creations with the BCMG family. The resources are Free and open to anyone.

Arts Award is a national qualification that supports children and young people to develop as artists and arts leaders. It is designed to inspire children and young people aged up to 25 to enjoy the arts, offering the chance to develop creativity, communication and leadership skills. BCMG has launched its Arts Awards Discover (KS1) and Arts Award Explore (KS2) on-line resources to enable children to complete their arts awards remotely, either by themselves or with the support of people in their home.

Further information from:

Baroque Violin Sonatas: 17th century virtuoso violin playing on a new disc from Berlin

 Baroque violin sonatas Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Johann Erasmus Kindermann, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber; Elfa Rún Kristinsdóttir, Sabine Erdmann, Magnus Andersson; Solaire Records
Baroque violin sonatas Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Johann Erasmus Kindermann, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber; Elfa Rún Kristinsdóttir, Sabine Erdmann, Magnus Andersson; Solaire Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The byways of 17th century German violin playing explored in this wonderful new disc from a trio of Berlin-based musicians

Whilst 17th century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is reasonably well known, his music apart from a few key works remains relatively unknown, and his contemporary (and work colleagues at the Imperial Court) Johann Heinrich Schmelzer remains perhaps only a name. With two earlier composers from the period, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker and Johann Erasmus Kindermann, even their names will perhaps seem unfamiliar.

This new disc Baroque Violin Sonatas from three Berlin-based musicians, Elfa Rún Kristinsdóttir, baroque violin, Sabine Erdmann, organ, and Magnus Andersson, theorbo, on Solaire Records, goes a long way to remedying these lacaunae by presenting us with a programme of violin sonatas by Biber, Schmelzer, Böddecker and Kindermann (Available from 24 April).

The impulse for the record came from the performers, three friends who decided to explore music from the time of Heinrich Biber, performed by just violin, organ and theorbo. Another impetus was harpsichordist, Sabine Erdmann's chest organ built in 2015 by Karl Friedrich Wienecke and inspired not by existing German or Italian Baroque organs but by one in Knole House. I have no idea how historically informed performing this music with theorbo and organ continuo is, but in these performances you hardly care such is the engaging vitality of the performances.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

St John's College, Cambridge and its choir take services on-line

With the chapel at St John's College being closed during the present crisis, the services have gone on-line. From Tuesday 21 April 2020 for eight weeks, the chapel's regular service schedule including services sung by the choir, musical director Andrew Nethsingha, are being hosted on the choir's Facebook page as daily virtual services featuring archive recordings along with short reflections and sermons by the Chapel’s Dean and Chaplain, recorded from their homes. Each service will be around 15 to 20 minutes long and will be available on the St John's College website for 24 hours.

The College will release virtual services in the same pattern as its usual timetable, with the Choir of St John’s uploading an Evening Service at 6:30pm every evening from Tuesday to Sunday in addition to a Morning Reflection at 10:30am on Sunday. Each Monday Evening Service will feature St John’s Voices and other services include College Communion at 8:30am on Sunday and Morning Prayer at 8:30am Monday to Friday. The services will be in line with the liturgical calendar, including Ascension Day and Pentecost.

About the repertoire being chosen from the archive recordings, Andrew Nethsingha says:

"Whilst aiming to comfort people with familiar repertoire, I am also seeking to introduce people to fine music which they may not have heard before. In the latter category I am especially keen to promote works by women composers. Music which has been commissioned for the College Choir is indicated by an asterisk, together with the year of its composition."
Full details from the choir website, and services available via the choir's Facebook page.

Powerful remembrances: Ian Venables's song cycles 'Remember This' and 'Through these pale cold days' on Signum Classics

Ian Venables Remember This, Through these pale cold days, songs; Mary Bevan, Allan Clayton, Carducci String Quartet, Graham J. Lloyd; Signum
Ian Venables Remember This, Through these pale cold days, songs; Mary Bevan, Allan Clayton, Carducci String Quartet, Graham J. Lloyd; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Andrew Motion's remembrance of the Queen Mother, and a cycle commemorating World War One form the powerful centrepieces of this disc of Ian Venables' songs

This new disc of Ian Venables' songs and song cycles, Love lives beyond the tomb, from Signum Classics features soprano Mary Bevan, tenor Allan Clayton, the Carducci String Quartet, and pianist Graham J Lloyd in Venables' cantata Remember This, Op. 40 for soprano, tenor, string quartet and piano, setting an Andrew Motion poem, the song cycle Through these pale cold days, Op.46 for tenor, viola and piano and a selection of songs for soprano and piano. All are, I think, first recordings.

We open with a group of six songs for soprano and piano, each seemingly a reflection of what I think of as a quintessential quality of Venables' songs, a sense of lyric melancholy with links to the rhapsodic English pastoralism of song writers like Gerald Finzi and Ivor Gurney. Venables' richly textured musical language is tonal and can be more harmonically daring than either of these two composers, but his songs sit clearly in that tradition with a profound response to the English language.

The Way Through, written in 1999, sets a poem by Jennifer Andrews and has a wonderful sense of evoking a particular mood, the concentrated pastoral opening leading to more rhapsodic moments. Aurelia (20160) sets a poem by Robert Nichols, and is full of aching melancholy whilst Chamber Music III, setting James Joyce, brings a feeling of seductive exoticism into its cool textures.

Artists in support of Concordia Vital Fund

The Concordia Foundation supports young artists in a variety of ways including presenting a concert series. During the current crisis, they have created the Concordia Vital Fund to help many of our most in-need, self-employed Artists, who have been terribly affected by the current crisis, with loss of work, earnings and stability

In support of the appeal, former and current Concordia artists are recording performance videos which are being released via the Concordia Foundation website, where you can Donate to the fund.

The first two videos are Concordia Foundation ambassador, flautist Gareth McLearnon (multitracking a flute choir) in 'The Circle of Life' from The Lion King (above), and William Bracken (a pianist in his third year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) in  Debussy's Prelude: Les Collines d'Anacapri.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Le Banquet Céleste's new recording of Alessandro Stradella's late 17th century oratorio San Giovanni Battista reveals a form in transition, looking back to Cavalli & forward to High Baroque

Alessandro Stradella San Giovanni Battista; Le Banquet Céleste, Damien Guillon; Alpha Classics
Alessandro Stradella San Giovanni Battista; Le Banquet Céleste, Damien Guillon; Alpha Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 April 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Highly dramatic 17th century Italian oratorio which strikingly demonstrates the genres debt to Italian opera

If you say 17th century Italian oratorio, then the chances are people will think of Giacomo Carissimi's Jephte (from 1648) and Jonas both of which were premiered in Rome. And during this period Rome had a significant amount of oratorio going on, so that the Latin texted works such as those of Carissimi were succeeded by works with Italian texts, with characters and dialogue. That some might approach sacred opera is not surprising, one of the reasons why such oratorios were popular in Rome is that quite often the Pope had banned opera!

On this new disc from Alpha Classics, the French group, Le Banquet Céleste director Damien Guillon perform Alessandro Stradella's 1675 oratorio San Giovanni Battista with Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian as Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), Alicia Amo as Erodiade la figlia (the Salome figure), Olivier Dejean as Erode (Herod), Gaia Petrone as Erodiade la madre (Herodiade), Artavazd Sargsyan as consigliero (counsellor) and Thibault Givaja as discepolo (disciple).

The libretto, by Ansaldo Ansaldi, tells the story pretty much as we know it based on St Mark's Gospel. The work opens with St John the Baptist (Giovanni Battista) making his way to Herod's court to denounce Herodiade (Erodiade la madre) and ends with her daughter (Erodiade la figlia) rejoicing after St John the Baptist's death counterpointed with misgivings by Herod (Erode). Being an oratorio Erodiade la figlia cannot dance, so instead she enchants with her voice.

This is a large-scale and major work; as well as its premiere in Rome 1675, there are known to have been performances in Modena (1688), Florence (1693) and Rome (1698), and the Modena production, at least, may well have been staged, and indeed this recording is based on staged performances (directed by Vincent Tavernier) at Rennes Opera and Angers Nantes Opera. The work's first modern performance seems to have been in Perugia in 1949, when the role of Erodiade la  figlia was sung by Maria Callas!

At the premiere the role of St John the Baptist was taken by the famous castrato Giovanni Francesco Grossi, known as Siface, who was known for his operatic performances in works by Cavalli, and Scarlatti. Siface also travelled to England where he sang in King James II's chapel, but soon left because of the climate! There is no chorus as such, what choruses there are being sung by the soloists, and Stradella keeps the soloists as the focus. Another intriguing element to the work is Stradella's scoring, as he uses a concerto grosso layout with concertino and ripieno groups of strings.

Stradella: San Giovanni Battista - Le Banquet Céleste, Angers Nantes Opéra - (Photo Jean-Marie Jagu – Angers Nantes Opéra)
Alessandro Stradella: San Giovanni Battista - Le Banquet Céleste, Angers Nantes Opéra
(Photo Jean-Marie Jagu – Angers Nantes Opéra)
Stradella himself was quite a character. Born in Bologna, he moved to Rome in 1667 where he worked for Queen Christina of Sweden (who lived in Rome as a Roman Catholic after her abdication). But he led a dissolute life and at one point attempted to embezzle money from the Church. An affair with the mistress of a Venetian nobleman led to innumerable problems and assassination attempts, so much so that his life rather reads like a melodrama, and he has been the basis for operas by Cesar Franck (unfinished) and Friedrich von Flotow (premiered in Hamburg in 1844) amongst others.

Stradella also found time, between all this other activity, to write music. There are at least six operas, more than 170 cantatas and six oratorios.

Monday 20 April 2020

Cast members from productions in the UK & Belgium come together on-line Howard Moody's Push: Marking the 77th anniversary of a significant moment in the Belgian Resistance

77 years ago today, three men from the Belgian Resistance succeeded in raiding a Nazi  railway convoy, carrying 1600 Jewish deportees, with just one pistol; 238 men, women and children jumped off the train transporting them to Auschwitz. Among the escapees was an 11-year-old Jewish boy from Brussels, Simon Gronowski, who was pushed off the train by his mother.

In 2013, Gronowski told the story to composer Howard Moody and the result was Moody's community opera, Push which was premiered in 2016 at Bexhill, commissioned by the Battle Festival and a co-production with Glyndebourne. The opera has gone on to have a number of other performances and productions, including at La Monnaie in Brussels, Salisbury, London and Chichester.

All four productions of Push have drawn together a large community chorus from each of the cities in which it has been performed, together with children from local schools and amateur singers of all ages, actively engaging professional musicians with their local communities.

Now, on YouTube, singers from all four casts formed a giant virtual choir. 150 singers and musicians have recorded themselves in their living rooms singing the finale 'Ma Vie n’est que Miracles', including soloists James Newby, Sheva Tehoval, Tereza Gevorgyan, Ivan Ludlow, Lars Thorkildsen, Ciaran O'Donovan, Eleanor Farmer, Carlos Bruneel (flute) and Howard Moody (piano), mixed by film editor Shogo Hino.

The date of its release today marks the 77th anniversary of the Belgian Resistance's finest moment, the raid on the 20th Convoy. The final scene of PUSH is the moment when all the voices come together to express optimism in a dark world.

You can also catch the full production from La Monnaie in Brussels on YouTube, with James Newby as Simon.

Creative learning on-line with the Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House creative learning programme
As part of its on-line offering, #OurHouseToYourHouse, during lockdown, the Royal Opera House is creating a free learning programme for children aged 5 to 14. There are weekly activities, creative projects and theatre-craft fun on the Create and Learn page.

The first weeks activities include a look behind the scenes, craft inspired by Cinderella, making a dance video, and activities inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Handel and Gretel. All are free to access and do not require a special login.

Full information from the Royal Opera House's website.

LSSO Alive!

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
London Schools Symphony Orchestra
In the absence of live concerts, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra is making concerts available from its archive. Starting next week, each Monday the LSSO will upload a full length concert to their Facebook page

On Monday 27 April 2020, Music from the Dark Side explores interpretations of Faust with music by Penderecki, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Berlioz and Schnittke's Faust Cantata, conducted by Sian Edwards with narrator Dame Janet Suzman, mezzo-soprano Fiona Kimm, soloists from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the LSSO Chorus  (recorded on 8 January 2020). Then on Monday 4 May 2020, Holst's The Planets and Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915 conducted by Sir Richard Armstrong with soprano Louise Alder (recorded 9 January 2018).

In 2021, the orchestra will be celebrating its 70th anniversary and would love to hear from alumni, contact the LSSO via their Facebook page.

I need a subject that is grandiose, impassioned & original: the influence of Meyerbeer & French Grand Opera on the operas of Verdi

Auto da fe scene - Verdi: Don Carlos - Michele Pertusi, Sally Matthews, Stephane Degout  - Opera de Lyon, 2018(Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
'Auto da fe scene' - Verdi: Don Carlos - Michele Pertusi, Sally Matthews, Stephane Degout  - Opera de Lyon, 2018
(Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
The influence of Giacomo Meyerbeer on the operas of Giuseppe Verdi was significant, an opera like Aida would be unthinkable without French Grand Opera. In this third essay, I look at Verdi's developing relationship with French Grand Opera, how the operas of Meyerbeer fared in Italy and what Verdi thought of Meyerbeer's operas. This is the third, and final, essay in a series which has looked at the development of Meyerbeer's operas, and the complex relationship between Meyerbeer and Wagner.

French Grand Opera in Italy

Meyerbeer’s final Italian opera, Il crociato in Egitto premiered at La Fenice, Venice in 1824, but it would not be until 1840 when the first of his French Grand Operas was performed in Italy. These were all given in Italian versions with Robert le Diable premiering, at the Teatro alla Pergola, Florence in 1840, followed by Gli Anglicani (Les Huguenots) again at the Pergola, in 1841 and Le prophète at the Pergola, 1852. Another French Grand Opera, Fromenthal Halevy's La Juive would receive its Italian premiere in 1858 in Genoa.

These operas' growing popularity reflected a move away from an elitist public in Italy towards the post-unification middle class and Meyerbeer's operas form the first non-Italian genre to establish itself in Italy. By the 1860s there was a vogue for French Grand Operas in Italy. L'Africana was a success at its first outing on Bologna, and in the 1860s a Florentine publisher was producing pocket scores of the Meyerbeer operas. The operas were popular with musicians, and critics were starting to compare Verdi's operas unfavourably with those of Meyerbeer.

Verdi and Meyerbeer

Verdi was less directly influenced by Meyerbeer than Wagner, appreciating him more as a peer. Perhaps partly because Meyerbeer’s operas only started appearing in Italy from the 1840s or 50s. But where the influence is felt is in the necessity of conforming to elements of French Grand Opera if one as going to write an opera for the Paris Opera. And here, Verdi was being influenced as much by the librettist Eugene Scribe (the architect of many grand opera librettos) as by Meyerbeer and in fact Verdi wanted to specifically work with Scribe for his second opera for Paris, Les vêpres siciliennes.

Verdi: Les vêpres siciliennes - Welsh National Opera 2020 (Photo Johan Person)
Verdi: Les vêpres siciliennes - Welsh National Opera 2020 (Photo Johan Person)
Verdi's attitude to Meyerbeer was more measured than that of Richard Wagner.

Sunday 19 April 2020

A Life on Line: Don Giovanni, Rusalka and Easter weekend

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni - Markus Suihkonen, Tuomas Pursi - Finnish National Opera
W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni - Markus Suihkonen, Tuomas Pursi - Finnish National Opera
Last week started with Easter weekend and so much of our on-line content reflected Holy Week, starting with Adrian Butterfield, Rachel Brown and Silas Silas Wollston in the opening Sonata of Bach’s Palm Sunday Cantata 182, Himmelskönig, sei willkommen on YouTube, and the London Handel Players joining remotely for movements from Handel's La Resurrezione on YouTube. Still on YouTube, the choir of St Marylebone Parish Church gathered on-line for the Easter Hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. And also in an Easter mood, Matthew Sharp contributed a baritone and cello Leonard Cohen/JeffBuckley/Johann Sebastian Bach piece on Facebook.

Oxford Bach Soloists, directed by Jeremy Hamway-Bigood, with Daniel Norman (Evangelist), Roderick Williams (Christus) and the Gesualdo Six presented the first episode of St John Passion in Isolation on YouTube and fundraising for Help Musicians.

Still with Bach's William Vann presented the first episode of his Fugue Masterclass on YouTube and on Instagram Anneke Scott reached Day 26 of #AChoraleADay with the final chorale "Gott Lob und Dank, der nicht zugab" from Bach's cantata Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BWV 14. Carmen and Tamaki from Villiers Quartet performed Bach's Invention No. 1 in C Major, BWV 772 for violin & viola

On Instagram, Satoko Doi-Luck multi-tracked herself on harpsichord,  five members of the Marian Consort gave us William Byrd's Emendemus in melius, and James Baillieu plus an amazing variety of friends from around the world assembled on-line for Howard Goodall's The Lord is my Shepherd. Pianist Simon Lepper collaborated with soprano Lauren Fagan and violinist Roberto Gonzalez-Monjas for a lovely account of Richard Strauss' Beim schlafen gehen. The orchestra of English National Ballet and conductor Gavin Sutherland are also working from home, in the overture from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

The City Music Foundation is releasing a series of videos of performances by its artists on YouTube, do subscribe to their channel and help support these young artists. If, like me, you are missing your regular dose of Gregorian chant on a Sunday, then try the Neumz website where you can hear the Benedictine Nuns from the Abbey of Jouques in a project to record the entire Gregorian chant, day by day. And the director of the London Bel Canto Festival, Kenneth Querns-Langley is offering on-line singing tuition at their Bel Canto Vocal Studio, visit the festival website for more details.

Away from music, the general director of Holland Park Opera, Michael Volpe, in his #CucinaVolpe, was describing how to make Oliva all’Ascolana.

We caught English Touring Opera's Easter Sunday transmission of Bach's St John Passion, an archive recording of the performance from the Hackney Empire [see my review] to which contributions from choirs around the country had been added. We also caught the Metropolitan Opera's archive broadcast of its 2014 performance of Dvorak's Rusalka conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with Renée Fleming, John Relyea, Dolora Zajick, and Piotr Beczala in the venerable 1993 Otto Schenk, Günther Schneider-Siemssen production which Fleming first sang in, in 1997. The production was profoundly beautiful, though Schneider-Siemssen's set for Acts 1 & 3 seemed to provide little scope for the director beyond lovely picture making. This was a production for anyone wanting Dvorak's fairytale told without any disturbing undertones.

Rather different was Mozart's Don Giovanni from Finnish National Opera, directed by theatre director Jussi Nikkilä, conducted by Patrick Fournillier with Tuomas Pursio, Hanna Rantala, Koit Soasepp, Tamuna Gochashvili, Tuomas Katajala, Markus Suihkonen, Henri Uusitalo and Olga Heikkilä. This was a modern take on the story, told fairly straight but with great style. Nikkilä used a group of dancers to articulate his vision, and their portrayal of Giovanni's conquests at the opening clearly indicated his bisexual tastes. Oh, and Leporello had the names of Giovanni's conquests tattooed on his body!

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