Sunday 3 May 2020

A Life On-Line: Alan Bush, Tudor queens in Italy and Jakub Józef Orliński at the Wigmore Hall

Alan Bush at his home in Radlett, taken from Anna Ambrose's 1983 documentary Alan Bush: A Life
Alan Bush at his home in Radlett, taken from Anna Ambrose's 1983 documentary Alan Bush: A Life
Thanks to someone on my Twitter feed, I found out about Anna Ambrose's 1983 documentary about the composer Alan Bush on BFI Player, Alan Bush: A Life. Just over an hour, it contains a fascinating interview with Alan intercut with his music, archive footage and other interviews including the composer Michael Tippett whose life very much intersected with that of Alan Bush in the 1930s particularly. I met Alan Bush twice, at his home in Radlett, in connection with him providing music for the Pink Singers, and he and his wife Nancy (who was librettist to some of his operas) were full of remarkable reminiscences. Alan Bush's music still seems underrated, and his opera Watt Tyler is very high on my want to see list.

On YouTube, Stile Antico has been having fun creating an on-line version of Tallis' glorious 40-part motet, Spem in Alium [YouTube], performing a work rather larger than their regular repertoire. Pianist Tom Poster and violinist Elena Urioste's #UriPosteJukebox continues including, this week, the premiere of new pieces Bloom by Cheryl Frances-Hoad [YouTube], and  Arietta by Huw Watkins [YouTube]. Baritone Jake Muffett has been posting a series of Corona-Projects, involving his own singing and instrumental talents, I was particularly taken with his version of Handel's duet 'The Lord is a man of war', featuring himself on baritone (x2), and multiple clarinets, with Benedict Williams on keyboard [YouTube]

Jake Muffett may be familiar to readers from his year at the National Opera Studio (he also kindly sang in the chorus for my opera The Gardeners last year), and you can catch up with what the current crop of Young Artists are doing there on the NOS website.

Clarinettist Anthony Friend (who also played in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners) posted a lovely video of some Gluck, performed by himself, Bridget O'Donnell (violin), Anthony Tress (violin) and Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass) originally broadcast by the Tait Memorial Trust [Instagram]. Viola player Lawrence Power

Composer Adrian Sutton, who wrote the score to the National Theatre production of War Horse [see my interview with Adrian], has posted a lovely version of Polperro Beach from the show with himself on vocals, guitars, keyboards and more [YouTube]

Guitarist Andrew Keeping (who premiered one of my song cycles more years ago than either of us care to remember), gave a live recital for May Day, which is still available on Facebook, and composer Alison Willis (who won London Concord Singers' 50th Anniversary Composition Competition in 2016) also posted a lovely track in celebration of May Day [Facebook]

English Touring Opera's lively sequence of instructional videos continues on YouTube, I was particularly taken with harpist Aileen Henry and theorbo player Toby Carr [who performed in ETO's recent production of Handel's Giulio Cesare, see my review] talking about the use of theorbo and harp within baroque opera [YouTube].

Record company Orchid Classics has created its own blog page, The Lockdown Sessions 2020 with its own selection of postings of artists performing in the own homes around the world. Violinist Tasmin Little was due to be retiring from live concerts this Summer, instead she has been busy fundraising [Instagram], making e-greetings to send to people who cannot visit loved ones and if you visit her website you can ask her to make one for as little as £35, which goes to Help Musicians UK.

If you have enjoyed any of these performances, then please do think about making a donation to Help Musicians UK.

On Monday, we caught the Wigmore Hall live-streaming of counter-tenor Jakub Józef Orliński and pianist Michał Biel's 2018 recital originally given to celebrate 100 years of Polish Independence, so that the recital mixed Handel, Purcell, Schubert and Hahn, with Polish composers Karol Szymanowski, Tadeusz Baird, and Pawel Lukaszewski. This was a recital we missed live, so lovely to catch up on it. Orliński's way with Purcell was very creative, and it was lovely to hear a counter-tenor in Schubert and Hahn (including the Baroque-inspired A Chloris) on the hallowed Wigmore Hall stage.

Over at the Metropolitan Opera, last week was Tudor Queen in Italy week as they broadcast their productions of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. Commonly referred to as Donizetti's Tudor Queens trilogy, this rather ignores the fact that Donizetti did not write the operas as a trilogy and that there is a fourth opera about Queen Elizabeth I which is rarely done (the early Il Castello di Kenliworth, written the year before his first big success with Anna Bolena).

In 2016, the Met performed all three operas with Sondra Radvanovsky in the three leading roles, but the broadcasts featured each production's debut. Anna Bolena from 2011 with Anna Netrebko and Stephen Costello, Maria Stuarda from 2013 with Joyce DiDonato, Elza van den Heever and Matthew Polenzani, and Roberto Devereux from 2016 with Sondra Radvanovsky and Matthew Polenzani.

David McVicar's productions were all traditional and Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda seemed to use the same selection of sets (design's by John Macfarlane), though Roberto Devereux (with set designs by McVicar himself) seemed to be set in a version of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre. McVicar opted for a sort of stylised naturalism, which might work well on a smaller stage but at the Metropolitan Opera, where everything was writ large, it seemed to simply blow things up. And the result made some of the costumes seem unflattering in the extreme (for both men and women).

These operas are not history, but are based on Italian and French plays and romances, and I read a very illuminating article about Maria Stuarda which explained that in early 19th century Italy, Mary Stuart was very much the heroine and Elizabeth I the villain; Elizabeth being seen through very different eyes than the English Good Queen Bess.

In production terms, I rather found Alessandro Talevi's approach more convincing in the Anna Bolena [see my review] and Roberto Devereux [see my review] he directed for Welsh National Opera's Tudor Queens trilogy.  Still the singing was superb, and it was a chance to hear these three operas performed as a trio by some of the finest bel canto singers of the day.

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