Sunday 7 June 2020

A Life On-Line: Damnation in London, Midsummer Nights at the Guildhall School, Masked Balls in Holland Park, Candide in Hampshire

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Rosalind Plowright Opera Holland Park 2019 (Photo Ali Wright)
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Rosalind Plowright
Opera Holland Park 2019 (Photo Ali Wright)

We started the week in fine style with Sir Simon Rattle's performance of Hector Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded at the Barbican in 2017, with soloists Bryan Hymel, Karen Cargill,  Christopher Purves, and Gábor Bretz. It is an astonishing work and you could feel it virtually overflowing the Barbican Hall (the children's chorus at the end came and stood in the aisles of the hall). Rattle's was very much a symphonic view of the piece, but anchored by some fine performances, and I was particularly struct by Karen Cargill's Marguerite. Having seen Cargill recently as Anna in Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Met, I was wondering why we don't hear more of her in Berlioz.

On Tuesday we caught up with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's 2019 performance of Benjamin Britten's opera, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The video was released to celebrate the work's 60th anniversary. In this production, Martin Lloyd-Evans directed and Dominic Wheeler conducted, in an imaginative production which was almost abstract but Mark Jonathan's striking lighting brought the different worlds vividly to life. Collin Shay was Oberon, with Madison Nona as Tytania, the lovers were Samantha Clarke, Lucy McAuley, Frederick Jones and Sean Boylan, Christian Valle was Theseus, Carmen Artaza was Hippolyta, Sam Carl was Bottom with the mechanicals Robert Lewis, Damian Arnold, Andrew Hamilton, William Thomas, Tom Mole, and William Sharma, the fairies were all women from the college (not boys) with soloists Regina Freire, Esther Mallett, Olivia Boen, and Irene Hoogveld. The work is ideal for college performance with its very large cast and largely youthful principals; I well remember a previous Guildhall production where the tenor Luis Gomes was Flute. Incidentally, Britten was supportive of performances with women as the fairies, including having a female Oberon (something which happens only rarely, though the Royal Northern College of Music did this in 2015, and contralto Rebecca Starling wrote about the experience).

Opera Holland Park's 2020 season was due to open this week, and in compensation we had their terrific 2019 performance of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. It was lovely to return to Rodula Gaitanou's imaginative production, conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren with Anne Sophie Duprels as Amelia, Matteo Lippi as Gustavo, George von Bergen as Anckarström, Rosalind Plowright as Madame Arvidson, Alison Langer as Oscar, Benjamin Bevan as Ribbing and John Savournin as Horn, with  the City of London Sinfonia. It is always fascinating seeing a video of a production with which you are familiar, and it was great to see so much detail in close-up, particularly Rosalind Plowright's terrific, scary and stylish Madame Arvidson. [see my review of the 2019 performance]

The company has recently announced its 2021 season [see their website], which will feature new productions of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz [a work I have never ever seen], and a revival of the company’s 2018 staging of Verdi’s La traviata; one the best stagings and performances that I have seen in a long time. [see my review].

We finished the week at another favourite festival, The Grange in Hampshire, where we caught up with their 2018 concert staging of Bernstein's Candide (which we missed first time round). Rob Houchen and Katie Hall were Candide and Cunegonde, both come from a musical theatre background which works best in this work I feel, providing you can find good singing actors like these two. Houchen and Hall's appealingly naive yet musical performances were finely supported by Richard Suart as Voltaire/Pangloss, Rosemary Ashe as the Old Lady, Charles Rice as Maximilian, Kitty Whately as Paquette and Robert Murray demonstrating his versatility by singing everyone else! Alfonso Casado Trigo conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Grange Festival Chorus, and the staging was directed by Christopher Luscombe. The video is available via the Grange Festival website.

Elsewhere on the web, counter-tenor Clint Van Der Linde [whom we saw recently in the title role of Handel's Giulio Cesare with English Touring Opera, see my review] showed what could be done with his family with lovely account of  'Ombra mai fu' from Handel's Serse, accompanied by three of his children on violin, cello and harp (the cellist having only been studying for a year!), and filmed by the fourth, and youngest, child. [Facebook].

Soprano Clare Norburn has just completed her #MaySongsChallenge, singing a different song about May every day during the month, and she finished in fine style with Anc May per aytal razon by Guirat Riquier (Known as the last of the troubadours) [Facebook]

Last Sunday, conductor Joseph Fort (who directs The Choir of Kings College London') gave an illustrated talk on Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem for Conway Hall, as part of the hall's fundraising campaign. The work is one that I know well from the inside, having sung it a number of times (including at the BBC Proms and on a commercial recording), so it was fascinating to have the piece lucidly explained in a different way, particularly the work's English links. [See my review of Fort's recent recording of Holst's The Cloud Messenger with The Choir of Kings College London]

Steven Devine (who is more usually found behind a harpsichord with a period performance group) and Kate Semmens have returned with another of their terrific songs satirising our current state, What did you do in lockdown? [YouTube]. Another keyboard player, Julian Perkins, also continues to be busy on-line with his Bach at 9 concerts, number 44 featured Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 2 of the 48 [YouTube], and Perkins' Duets at 10 with pianist Emma Abbate, most recently number 22 with Weber's Moderato e con amore, op. 3, no. 1 and Allegro, tutto ben marcato, op. 60, no. 4 [YouTube]. Perkins and Abbate play a Blüthner piano bequeathed to them by the composer Stephen Dodgson.

Oboist Alexandra Bellamy, from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, introduced an instrument that we are all used to listening to, the oboe d'amore, but really know little about. The video is one of a number of 'Introducing ...' videos on the OAE's YouTube channel. [YouTube]

Matthew Bourne's dance company, New Adventures, was supposed to be touring his ballet The Red Shoes based on the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film The Red Shoes. The ballet features music by Bernard Hermann (1911-1975), and is one which I keep intending to see, particularly as some performances featured Adam Cooper as Boris Lermontov. As a farewell to the ballet, members of the company and TEA Films have produced a delightful short video, The Red Shoes from Home [YouTube]. And for those, like me, that missed the ballet in the theatre, a film is due in Cinemas later this year.

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