Sunday 31 July 2022

South Pacific: Stupendous performances from Julian Ovenden & Gina Beck head this striking new version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic

Rodgers & Hammerstein: South Pacific - Julian Ovenden, Gina Beck - Chichester Festival Theatre, 2021 (Photo Johann Persson)
Rodgers & Hammerstein: South Pacific - Julian Ovenden, Gina Beck - Chichester Festival Theatre, 2021 (Photo Johann Persson)

Rodgers & Hammerstein: South Pacific; Julian Ovenden, Gina Beck, Joanna Ampil, Rob Houchen, director Daniel Evans; Chichester Festival Theatre production at Sadler's Wells
Reviewed 30 July 2022 (★★★★★)

A striking reinvention of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic that reflects its big Broadway roots as well as the story's remarkable complexity

That Rodgers and Hammerstein could write belting songs can sometimes disguise the fact that they used their shows to examine complex issues. They effectively reworked the American musical into a genre that could tell serious stories, integrating music, drama, song and dance. That the structure of their pieces can be somewhat formulaic and that they reflect social attitudes of the time should not hide their remarkable achievement. We all remember South Pacific for its songs, some of the greatest in American musical theatre, but who on hearing a fine rendering of 'This nearly was mine' remembers that Emile is singing it because the woman he loves has just told him she can't marry him because she cannot accept that his previous wife was a local, Polynesian girl. And this song comes in a scene where Lieutenant Cable, recognising his own prejudices, has the musical's most remarkable song, 'You've got to be carefully taught'. A song that caused problems during the musical's early runs but which Rodgers and Hammerstein refused to cut.

Daniel Evans' production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific debuted last year (2021) at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it has now arrived at Sadler's Wells Theatre for a month's run with many of the original cast. Julian Ovenden was Emile, Gina Beck was Nellie, with Joanna Ampil as Bloody Mary, Robe Houchen as Lieutenant Cable, Douggie McMeekin as Luther Billis and Sera Maehara as Liat. Designs were by Peter Mckintosh, choreography by Ann Yee, the musical director was Cat Beveridge, orchestrations by David Cullen, sound design by Paul Groothuis, video by Gillian Tan and lighting by Howard Harrison. (Note, the photos were taken from the 2021 run at Chichester).

Rodgers & Hammerstein: South Pacific - Sara Maehara, Rob Houchen- Chichester Festival Theatre, 2021 (Photo Johann Persson)
Rodgers & Hammerstein: South Pacific - Sera Maehara, Rob Houchen- Chichester Festival Theatre, 2021 (Photo Johann Persson)

Daniel Evans and Ann Yee have deliberately sought to refocus the work without changing its essentials. Key to this was their approach to the piece's two most problematic characters, Liat (Sera Maehara) and Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil). Here, the production makes it clear that the Bloody Mary we see in the first scene trading with the American servicemen is a construct, designed to entertain the soldiers and sell more goods. Later Ampil strips off the make-up and reveals Bloody Mary to simply be a woman who will do anything to provide her daughter (Liat) with a better life. And that daughter is incarnated by dancer Sera Maehara so that throughout the piece, we 'hear' from Liat far more than in a traditional production via expressive dance. The love scene between Liat (Maehara) and Lieutenant Cable (Rob Houchen) becomes far more balanced.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Little Women & after: I chat to composer Mark Adamo about the UK premiere of his opera & more

Mark Adamo: Little Women - Kitty Whately as Meg, Elizabeth Karani as Amy, Charlotte Badham as Jo and Harriet Eyley as Beth in Little Women - Opera Holland Park, 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Mark Adamo: Little Women - Kitty Whately as Meg, Elizabeth Karani as Amy, Charlotte Badham as Jo and Harriet Eyley as Beth in Little Women - Opera Holland Park, 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Mark Adamo's opera Little Women (his first opera) debuted at Houston Grand Opera in 1998 and went on to have major success both in the USA and internationally. The opera has not, until now, received any performances in the UK (though there have been some near misses). The work received its first UK performance on 22 July 2022 at Opera Holland Park, conducted by Sian Edwards and directed by Ella Marchment [see my review, and my interview with Ella]. A few days before the performance, I was lucky enough to be able to chat to Mark Adamo about Little Women and how he views the opera almost 25 years since its creation, as well as chatting about more recent projects and what he will be getting up to next.

Mark has found working on Little Women with Opera Holland Park to be a wonderful experience, and there has been no need for translation, either collegial or emotional, and they will experience what happens on Friday (at the premiere). He has tweaked the opera a little, the opening is slightly different and now all the ghosts that haunt Jo are vocal rather than simply being in the orchestra, which Mark feels makes things a little clearer. Also, in the intervening years, he had made revisions to the orchestration, as he learned that it could come off the page more easily. But for Mark, Little Women remains in 2022 what it was in 1998.

Friday 29 July 2022

A contemporary take on Bach: his Orgelbüchlein, completed by contemporary composers, receives its UK premiere

Bach's title page to the Orgelbüchlein
Bach's title page to the Orgelbüchlein 

Bach began his Orgelbüchlein whilst he was organist at the ducal court of Weimar. The plan was for 164 chorale preludes covering the entire church's year, but Bach only completed 46 of them, yet he tantalised posterity by listing the titles of all 164 preludes. The Orgelbüchlein project has invited contemporary composers to complete the work. 

Over more than a decade, project director and organist William Whitehead has commissioned contemporary composers such as John Rutter, Judith Bingham, Sir Stephen Hough, Sally Beamish, Louis Andriessen, Daniel Kidane, Roxanna Panufnik and Nico Muhly to fill in these missing pieces and rise to the project’s central challenge: if Bach were alive today, how might he go about writing a short chorale prelude in the Orgelbüchlein style?  

The result is a new and complete Orgelbüchlein for the 21st century, a collection of 164 short chorale preludes containing a fascinating cross-section of contemporary European styles, together with newly edited versions of Bach’s original pieces: a grand homage to Bach, held together by the common thread of his original plan.

The completed Orgelbüchlein was first heard in Amsterdam in 2019 (at a nine-hour concert given by four organists). The work will be receiving its UK premiere in September at a group of concerts presented by the Royal College of Organists. On Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September, nine concerts at Temple Church, St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, St James Garlickhythe, St Paul's Cathedral, St George's Church, Hanover Square, Westminster Central Hall, St James's Palace Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey, the complete Orgelbüchlein will be presented.

Full details from the RCO website.

2117 / Hedd Wyn: Stephen McNeff & Gruff Rhys' Welsh-language music theatre piece for WNO to be released on Tŷ Cerdd Records

Stephen McNeff - 2117 / Hedd Wyn
2117 / Hedd Wyn is a Welsh-language music theatre piece by composer Stephen McNeff and librettist Gruff Rhys (best known as a member of Super Furry Animals) that was originally commissioned by Welsh National Opera (WNO) in 2017 for cinematic distribution followed by TV broadcast. An audio recording was made but plans for the film were put on hold. Now 2117 / Hedd Wyn is being released on Tŷ Cerdd Records in partnership with WNO.

2117 / Hedd Wyn celebrates the death of the Welsh bard Hedd Wyn. Hedd Wyn was the nom de plume of Ellis Evans who was killed in the World War I trenches and posthumously awarded the Chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. Born in the village of Trawsfynydd, Wales, he wrote much of his poetry while working as a shepherd on his family's hill farm. His style, which was influenced by romantic poetry, was dominated by themes of nature and religion. He also wrote several war poems following the outbreak of war on the Western Front in 1914. 

The music theatre piece takes place in 2117, 200 years after Hedd Wyn's death. A nuclear disaster at the Trawsfynydd power station has displaced communities. An intense dose of radiation has blurred the distinction between past, present and future, and the Welsh language faces extinction. The drama instils a dystopian future with Welsh mythology and Hedd Wyn’s own verse.

Hedd Wyn (Ellis Evans) in 1910
Hedd Wyn (Ellis Evans) in 1910

Stephen McNeff conducts the WNO Orchestra, with members of members of WNO Youth Opera and Only Boys Aloud, plus Steffan Lloyd Owen (baritone), Meinir Wyn Roberts (soprano), Paul Carey Jones (bass baritone), Llio Evans (soprano), Alys Mererid Roberts (soprano), Craig Yates (baritone), Laurence Kilsby (tenor) and William Rennie (tenor).

The recording is released on 5 August 2022, and it will be launched with an event on the #Encore stage at the National Eisteddfod on Friday 5 August at 3pm, where Gruff Rhys will be interviewed by Sioned Webb, and soprano Ellen Williams, baritone Dafydd Allen and répétiteur Rhiannon Pritchard will perform excerpts from the work.

Stephen McNeff commented, "The release of 2117 / Hedd Wyn is a milestone in the development of this opera, a project I have wanted to fulfil for over ten years. Working with Welsh National Opera – a company I grew up with and watched since my earliest interest in opera began – has been an ideal outcome, as has collaborating with such a range of unique and diverse creative talents and the cream of young Welsh singers."

Full details from the Tŷ Cerdd website.

Welcome to L'isola di Alcina: Glyndebourne's first production of Handel's opera

Handel: Alcina - Jane Archibald - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Handel: Alcina - Jane Archibald - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Handel: Alcina; Jane Archibald, Svetlina Stoyanova, Soraya Mafi, Beth Taylor, Rowan Pierce, Thomas Elwin, dir: Francesco Micheli, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, cond; Jonathan Cohen; Glyndebourne Opera
27 July 2022 (★★★★½)

The magic of Alcina recreated as a 1950s showgirl in a lavish production that combined spectacle with performances at the highest level

When Handel wrote Alcina, he had parted company from most of the stars of his opera company and had been forced to seek a new theatre. But, ever the practical man of the theatre, he made the best of the circumstances. The Covent Garden Theatre, where Handel gave his next few seasons, was known for its spectacular productions, there was also a small chorus available and for the first season, a dance troupe led by Marie Sallé. Handel would create the ballet, Terpsicore, for Sallé and would include dance into both Ariodante and Alcina. Ariodante would feature a complex integration of dance and drama, though it is likely that the opera was never performed in the form that Handel originally wrote it.

Alcina is based on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, a poem that composers regularly mined for operatic plots. Handel had already written Ariosto-based operas, and his patrons would be completely familiar with the essentials of the plot. The opera represents a return to the exotic magic-based operas of Handel's early days in London (Rinaldo, Teseo, Amadigi di Gaula), again with a sorceress who, though technically not on the side of good, to whom Handel shows great sympathy. It was a plot perfectly designed to show of the spectacular settings of the Covent Garden Theatre, and we should imagine those first audiences being spellbound by the settings, by the combination of visuals, music and dance.

Few modern directors, however, are interested in the mechanics of Handel and his librettist's plot. The libretto describes the final scene as taking place in 'A Prospect of the Splendid Palace of Alcina surrounded with Trees, Statues, Obelisks and Trophies, and Dens of wild Beasts; an Urn rais'd in the Middle which incloses the whole Power of the Inchantment' and the ending to the scene includes a moment when Ruggiero 'throws down the Urn and breaks it, when the Scene wholly disappears, changing to the Sea, which is seen thro' a vast, subterraneous Cavern, where many Stones are chang'd into Men; and among them is Astolfo, who embraces Oberto: They form the Chorus and they Dance'. 

Now, how often have you seen that represented in a production of the opera?

Handel: Alcina - Soraya Mafi - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Handel: Alcina - Soraya Mafi - Glyndebourne Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

We caught a performance of Francesco Micheli's production of Handel's Alcina at Glyndebourne Opera on 27 July 2022. Jonathan Cohen conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with Beth Taylor as Bradamante, Alastair Miles as Melisso, Soraya Mafi as Morgana, Jane Archibald as Alcina, Rowan Pierce as Oberto, Svetlina Stoyanova as Ruggiero, Thomas Elwin as Oronte and James Cleverton as Astolfo. Set designs were by Edoardo Sanchi, costumes by Alessio Rosati, choreography by Mike Ashcroft and lighting by Bruno Poet.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Sarojini: a new work by Shruthi Rajasekar celebrating Indian Independence

Sarojini Naidu on a 1964 Indian stamp
Sarojini Naidu on a 1964 Indian stamp
This year is the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence, and in honour of this the Hertfordshire Chorus will be premiering a new work by Indian-American composer Shruthi Rajasekar, Sarojini, which will be performed alongside Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man at St Albans Cathedral on 22 October 2022, with David Temple conducting the Hertfordshire Chorus, London Orchestra da Camera, Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano), Osama Kiwan (muezzin), Nirmala Rajasekar (veena - a long-necked, pear-shaped lute - & voice), and Tanjore Murugaboopathi (mridangam - a double-sided drum).

Rajasekar creates music that draws from her unique background in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) and Western classical idioms. Her new work, Sarojini is written for chorus, orchestra and Indian classical instruments and her guru and mother, Nirmala Rajasekar, will be one of the premiere's performers. Sarojini is named for the remarkable freedom fighter, poet, and women's rights activist Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949). She was an important person in India's struggle for independence from colonial rule, and her work as a poet earned her the sobriquet 'the Nightingale of India', or 'Bharat Kokila' by Mahatma Gandhi because of colour, imagery and lyrical quality of her poetry. She was also the first woman to hold the office of Governor in the Dominion of India.

Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man was composed for the Royal Armouries Museum's Millennium celebrations and was dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. Subtitled, 'A Mass for Peace', it combines a setting of the ordinary of the mass with other texts which were selected by Guy Wilson, former Master of the Armouries.

Full details from the Hertfordshire Chorus' website.

French-style elegance, Italian lyricism and virtuosity: Adrian Butterfield in Leclair's violin sonatas

Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Sonatas, Opus 5, Nos. 9-12; Adrian Butterfield, Sarah McMahon, Silas Wollson, Clare Salaman; NAXOS

Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Sonatas, Opus 5, Nos. 9-12; Adrian Butterfield, Sarah McMahon, Silas Wollston, Clare Salaman; NAXOS
Reviewed 26 July 2022 (★★★★)

Combining both French and Italian sensibilities, the sonatas by French violinist Leclair prove wonderfully civilised yet engaging in these enjoyable performances

As a violinist Jean-Marie Leclair is considered to have founded the French violin school and his surviving publications are an important testament both to his skill as a violinist but also to his talents as a composer. Violinist Adrian Butterfield has been recording Jean-Marie Leclair's Violin Sonatas, Opus 5 for Naxos and his fourth volume features the sonatas nos. 9 to 12 performed with Sarah McMahon, cello, and Silas Wollston, harpsichord, plus the late Clare Salaman, hurdy-gurdy.

Leclair trained in Italy both as a violinist and as a dancer, and when he returned to Paris in 1723 his reputation as a violinist was made by his performances with the Concerts Spirituels. His first two books of sonatas were published in 1723 and 1728, with the third book (those on this disc) in 1734. In 1733 he had been appointed Director of the Music of the Chapel and Apartments by King Louis XV, so Leclair's third book of sonatas was dedicated to the king. A dispute, however, led to Leclair's resignation and he went to work for the Princess of Orange (who as Princess Anne, had been Handel's pupil in London).

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Young Composers & Young Conductor

CBSO's Sounds New

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) celebrated its centenary in 2020 and as part of the celebrations has commissioned 20 new works from 20 young composers to be premiered at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 29 January 2023. Whilst over at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), Tom Fetherstonhaugh has been announced as Assistant Conductor for the 2022/23 season.

As part of its centenary celebrations, the CBSO created its Sounds New Initiative, 40 new commissions to be premiered over four seasons. 20 of these are major works from composers across the globe, the last of which will be premiered in the 22-23 season including world Premieres by Brett Dean, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, Freya Waley-Cohen and Dani Howard and the UK premiere of Thomas Larcher’s Third Symphony. But the other 20 commissions shine a spotlight on 20 diverse, creative voices from across the country, who will each write 4-minute works for full orchestra. These short works will be given their world premieres in a celebration of new music by the CBSO, conducted by Clark Rundell at Symphony Hall on 29 January 2023. 

The composers in question are, Anna Appleby, Kristina Arakelyan, Tyriq Baker, Stephane Crayton, Nathan James Dearden, Benjamin Graves, Millicent B James, Joel Järventausta, Chloe Knibbs, Ryan Latimer, Florence Anna Maunders, Ben Nobuto, Laurence Osborn, Rakhi Singh, Angela Slater, Aileen Sweeney, Liam Taylor-West, Héloïse Werner, Bethan Morgan-Williams and Yfat Zoul Zisso. 

Congratulations to all concerned. Further details from CBSO website.

Tom Fetherstonhaugh (Photo BSO)
Tom Fetherstonhaugh (Photo BSO)
Tom Fetherstonhaugh is the new Assistant Conductor at Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, a bursary-supported training position is designed to offer a platform to build professional experience through performance opportunities and mentoring from the BSO’s world-leading conductors and musicians, which include chief conductor Kirill Karabits, principal guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth, and associate guest conductor David Hill.

Tom Fetherstonhaugh trained with Roland Melia and later with Sian Edwards at the Royal Academy of Music, where he graduated with Distinction in 2021. He is the founder of Fantasia Orchestra, which has recently been joined in concert by soloists including Alim Beisembayev, Jess Gillam, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and Tasmin Little. Tom's engagements this season have included conducting the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra 'Playing to Inspire' project with the Kanneh-Mason family, and assisting Francesco Cilluffo on Verdi's Macbeth at The Grange Festival with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Further details from the BSO website.

2022 winners announced for Garsington Opera's awards for young artists

Garsington Opera 2022 awards winners (Photo Julian Guidera)
Garsington Opera 2022 awards winners (Photo Julian Guidera)
John Findon, Polly Leech, Ellie de Jongh, Frazer Scott

We caught tenor John Findon at Garsington Opera last month when he played the role of the Prince in Rusalka, covering for Gerard Schneider [see my review]. Findon impressed greatly in what was his role debut and so it is no surprise that he was awarded the Leonard Ingrams Award in Garsington Opera's recent announcement of its 2022 awards to young artists. The other recipient of a Leonard Ingrams Award is mezzo-soprano Polly Leech who played Dorabella in the revival of John Cox's production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

Two Alvarez Young Artists also received awards. Frazer Scott received the Helen Clarke Award; he played the role of Caronte in Monteverdi's Orfeo, was the understudy for the role of Harry in Roxanna Panufnik's Dalia, and was a member of the ensemble. Ellie de Jongh received the Simon Sanbach Award; she was a was a member of the chorus for Rusalka and performed the role of the Foreign Princess in at one performance when Sky Ingram was indisposed. She was also the understudy for Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw.

Full details from the Garsington Opera website.

Prom 14: Flavours of late romanticism, Yamada and the CBSO in Rachmaninov and Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth in 1922
Ethel Smyth in 1922
Four years before she began the concerto
Glinka, Smyth, Rachmaninov; Elena Urioste, Ben Goldscheider, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Kazuki Yamada; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 25 July 2022; (★★★★)

Smyth's imaginative concerto in a rare outing paired with Rachmaninov's great warhorse in a performance of great subtlety, refinement and elegance

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and chief conductor designate Kazuki Yamada made their first London appearance since the announcement of Yamada's appointment on Monday 25 July 2022 at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with an eclectic programme that paired two 20th century late-Romantic works, Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor and Ethel Smyth's Concerto for Violin and Horn, with soloists Elena Urioste and Ben Goldscheider, and the evening began with a Russian work from a far earlier generation, Glinka's overture to Russlan and Lyudmila.

Glinka's two operas, A Life for the Tsar (1837) and Russlan and Lyudmila (1842) form the founding elements of the 19th century Russian operatic style, though in the West Glinka's music is better known through concert excerpts than complete productions of operas, and in fact despite its wonderful music Russlan and Lyudmila is something of a dramatic muddle. The overture to the opera has become something of an orchestral showpiece, an excuse for an electric concert opener. Yamada and the CBSO took off like a rocket, crisp, vivid and tightly controlled, with a wonderfully resonant second subject. Despite the fast speed, detail was wonderfully clear, though not for the first time I wondered what this music would sound like played on a period instrument orchestra.

Monday 25 July 2022

Sit back and enjoy: London Early Opera's engagingly virtuosic performance of Handel's pasticcio, Caio Fabbricio

Handel, after Hasse: Caio Fabbricio - Fleur Barron, Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvi, Miriam Allen, Hannah Poulsom, Morgan Pearse, Helen Charlston, Jess Dandy, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; SIGNUM CLASSICS

Handel, after Hasse: Caio Fabbricio - Fleur Barron, Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, Miriam Allan, Hannah Poulsom, Morgan Pearse, Helen Charlston, Jess Dandy, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; SIGNUM CLASSICS

Handel's late pasticcio showcasing the music of Hasse and the younger generation; perhaps weak on drama but featuring some stunning, stylish singing

Having heard it in concert [see my review], and now listened to it on disc, you feel that Handel's pasticcio Caio Fabbricio makes ideal home listening, you can enjoy the music and not have to worry about the more awkward corners in the drama. And there is some spectacular music. Handel created the pasticcio in 1733 to showcase the music of his younger contemporary, Hasse, using a songbook and libretto from Hasse's opera Caio Fabbricio to create a new opera, with Hasse's arias, Handel's new recitatives and orchestration. Except that having a line-up of singers available that differed significantly in voice types from those in the premiere of Hasse's opera in Rome in 1732, the resulting work uses 13 of Hasse's 21 arias along with arias by other composers. What all the composers have in common is that they were from the younger generation of Italian composers of the Neapolitan school, writing arias that were melodic and often simpler than Handel's large-scale structures. This was music the audience could come out humming.

Bridget Cunningham and London Early Opera's premiere recording of Handel's Caio Fabbricio is now out on Signum Classics, with Fleur Barron, Miriam Allan, Morgan Pearse, Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, Helen Charlston, Hannah Poulsom and Jess Dandy.

It has to be said that the compression of the plot, and the adjustments for voice type, mean that the drama does not always make complete dramaturgical logic. Handel allocates his higher voices to the women and to the lovers in the opera, the title character (who is a general and a father) was originally played by his reliable but less than virtuoso bass, Gustavus Waltz, who only got one aria. The plot is supposed to be about the contrast between Fabbricio's nobility of purpose and Pirro's selfish, quixotic nature, but in fact really becomes a fight between three men (Pirro, Turio, Volusio) about two women (Sestia and Bircenna). That Volusio was played by one of Handel's castratos leads to a significant role in the drama for him, when he is actually rather inessential to the plot. In effect, the librettist needs to constantly make Volusio pop up in unexpected moments, but he gets some terrific music.

So, we must sit back and enjoy the music. 

Friends & Lovers: London Song Festival explores the close relationship between poet & composer

Paul Laurence Dunbar & Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Paul Laurence Dunbar & Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
The 2022 season of Nigel Foster's London Song Festival (LSF) will be presenting eight concerts between 28 October and 9 December 2022 on the theme of Friends and Lovers. Each concert explores the a close relationship (whether romantic or purely friendship) between a poet and a composer, their stories told with sung and spoken words, actors as well as singers. I have to confess a particular interest in the series as my setting of poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar will be premiered at the concert on 2 December 2022, when tenor Ronald Samm and soprano Gweneth Ann Rand perform Coleridge-Taylor's settings of Dunbar, alongside music by Florence Price, and William Grant Still.

The season opens on 28 October with  Lotte Betts-Dean, Julien Van Mellaerts, Harriet Slater and John D Collins, in an exploration of the relationship between Ralph Vaughan Williams and his poet wife Ursula, including new songs by Roderick Williams. Then on 4 November, Alessandro Fisher, Marcus Farnsworth and David Mildon, explore the relationship between Schubert and Mayrhofer.

On 11 November it is the turn of Berlioz and Théophile Gautier, with Clara Barbier Serrano, Alexandria Moon, Ben Vonberg-Clark, James Atkinson and Kevin Moore, and music by Berlioz (including the complete Les Nuits d'Eté), and Gautier settings by Debussy, Fauré, Duparc, Pauline Viardot, and Paladilhe, Then on 12 November there is the Association of English Singers and Speakers Prizewinners' concert, with Jemima Price, Hector Bloggs, Michael Lafferty, Sophie Clark, Matthias De Smet and Theo Diedrick.

The winners of the 2021 LSF British Art Song Competition, Anika France and Cole Knutson, look at Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Walter de la Mare on 18 November.  Emma Rob, Michael Lafferty and David Mildon's exploration of the relationship between Poulenc and Paul Eluard on 25 November will include all of Poulenc's Eluard settings.

On Friday 2 December comes the Coleridge-Taylor and Dunbar concert with Ronal Samm and Gweneth Ann Rand, then the final event is on 9 December, exploring Britten and Auden's relationship.  Lottie Bowden, Harry Grigg and David Mildon perform a programme that includes On This Island, the Cabaret Songs, many individual songs and extracts from Paul Bunyan, Our Hunting Fathers and Ballad of Heroes.

All concerts take place at Hinde Street Methodist Church, full details from the London Song Festival website.

Young musicians take to the stage in Birmingham!

Audience members at Music for Youth's National Festival in Birmingham
Audience members at Music for Youth's National Festival in Birmingham

Under the banner A Festival For All, the annual Music for Youth National Festival was held earlier this month at three world-class stages in Birmingham: Symphony Hall, Town Hall and CBSO Centre, and tickets were free this year in recognition of a challenging few years for the arts sector; over 4000 young musicians performed in the venues. And as part of the festival, Music for Youth hosted an Industry Day for 16-25 year olds at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 

Music for Youth's National Festival

This year’s theme was A Festival For All, highlighting Music for Youth’s inclusivity. The programming of the event differed to previous years, creating varied sessions with a range of performers in each one, including jazz, brass and folk bands, choirs, ensembles and quartets. Musicians travelled to Birmingham from all corners of the UK.

Music for Youth invited tv/radio presenters, Summaya Mughal and Robyn Richford to host the weekend alongside three young presenters who are all hoping to make a career out of their passion. Music Mentors also watched each session and provided groups with detailed feedback about their performances.

Saturday 23 July 2022

More than just sisterhood: Mark Adamo's Little Women finally gets its UK premiere in Ella Marchment's imaginative production at Opera Holland Park

Mark Adamo: Little Women - Opera Holland Park  (Photo Ali Wright)
Mark Adamo: Little Women - Opera Holland Park  (Photo Ali Wright)

Mark Adamo: Little Women; Charlotte Badham, Kitty Whately, Harriet Eyley, Elizabeth Karani, Frederick Jones, Harry Thatcher, Benson Wilson, Lucy Schaufer, Victoria Simmonds, Nicolas Garrett, director Ella Marchment, City of London Sinfonia, conductor Sian Edwards; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 23 July 2022 (★★★★½)

Adamo's imaginatively engaging opera finally gets its premiere in a sophisticated and appealing production with a superbly balanced quartet of sisters at its heart

Mark Adamo's opera Little Women has had some 135 different productions world wide since its debut at Houston Grand Opera in 1998, and finally it came the UK, courtesy of Opera Holland Park. Last night (22 July 2022), Sian Edwards conducted the City of London Sinfonia at Opera Holland Park in Ella Marchment's new production of Mark Adamo's Little Women. Charlotte Badham was Jo, with Kitty Whately, Harriet Eyley and Elizabeth Karani as her sisters Beg, Beth and Amy, Frederick Jones was Laurie, Harry Thatcher was John Brooke, Benson Wilson was Friedrich Bhaer, Lucy Schaufer was Aunt March with Victoria Simmonds and Nicholas Garrett as the girls' parents. Designs were by Madeleine Boyd with lighting by Rory Beaton and movement by Sarah Louise Kristiansen.

Adamo's libretto for the opera takes key moments from the novel, John Brooke's (Harry Thatcher) wooing of Meg (Kitty Whately), Jo's (Charlotte Badham) bad reaction to this, the wedding and Laurie's (Frederick Jones) declaration of love to Jo, her subsequent move to New York and meeting with Frederick Bhaer (Benson Wilson), the beginnings of romance between Laurie (Jones) and Amy (Elizabeth Karani), and Beth's (Harriet Eyley) death. 

Mark Adamo: Little Women - Kitty Whately, Elizabeth Karani, Charlotte Badham, Harriet Eyley - Opera Holland Park  (Photo Ali Wright)
Mark Adamo: Little Women - Kitty Whately, Elizabeth Karani, Charlotte Badham, Harriet Eyley - Opera Holland Park  (Photo Ali Wright)

From Bayreuth to Grimeborn: having assisted at Bayreuth Festival's new Ring Cycle, Peter Selwyn moves on to conduct the concluding parts of the Grimeborn Festival's ambitious Ring Cycle

Wagner: Die Walküre - Bethan Langford, Elizabeth Karani & Katie Stevenson as the Valkyries - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire in 2021 (Photo Alex Brenner)
Wagner: Die Walküre - Bethan Langford, Elizabeth Karani & Katie Stevenson as the Valkyries - Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival at Hackney Empire in 2021 (Photo Alex Brenner)

As Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival opens on 26 July 2022, I chat to conductor Peter Selwyn who is conducting the festival's new productions of Wagner's Siegfried and Götterdämmerung as part of its ongoing Ring Cycle. The festival's ambitious Ring Cycle project began in 2018. Staged by Julia Burbach with Peter Selwyn conducting, the first instalment, Das Rheingold [see my review], opened at the Arcola Theatre in August 2019. 

Peter Selwyn
Peter Selwyn
They are using reduction by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick, but it is still an ambitious project and when the planned staging of Die Walküre was postponed in 2020, the project looked evening more challenging. But Burbach and Selwyn returned in August 2021 with Die Walküre at the Grimeborn Festival, yet staged at the Hackney Empire [see my review]. Now the cycle is being completed and Peter conducts Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the Hackney Empire on 6 and 7 August 2022. I recently caught up with Peter by Zoom from Bayreuth where has been assisting on the new production of the Ring Cycle which opens at the Bayreuth Festival at the end of this month.

Peter says he has to keep pinching himself that what he describes as a crazy project is still managing to take place. When we spoke, they had already started rehearsing without him and it was all systems go. Das Rheingold was rather special, taking place within the confines of the larger studio at the Arcola, but it stretched the orchestra almost beyond its capabilities. To fit in the space, violins and cellos had to play in a specific attitude. So whilst for the audience it might have been highly effective and very immersive, Peter and Julia felt that they had to move on to the Hackney Empire for Die Walküre. And with COVID, there was of course no way to do the project at the Arcola, as the closeness would not work. So the move gave them space, for the players and for the staging, but also for health reasons. For Die Walküre, last year, the auditorium was around half full but hopefully this year it will be full. Also, there are fewer performances this year, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung  done as a double bill on two days.

Friday 22 July 2022

Operatic rarities in a striking double bill at Opera Holland Park

Delius: Margot la Rouge - Anne Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Delius: Margot la Rouge - Anne Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Delius: Margot la Rouge, Puccini: Le Villi; Anne Sophie Duprels, Samuel Sakker, Paul Carey Jones, Sara Minns, Peter Auty, Stephen Gadd, director Martin Lloyd-Evans, City of London Sinfonia, conductor Francesco Cilluffo; Opera Holland Park
21 July 2022 (★★★★½)

An enterprising and well worthwhile double bill that combined two apparently disparate operas by Delius and Puccini which have a shared history, and both give us an intriguing new view of their composers

Opera Holland Park's intriguing new double bill was planned originally for 2020, and finally hit the stage last night (21 July 2022) featuring Delius' Margot la Rouge and Puccini's Le Villi, two works which seem at first sight rather disparate. Both are comparatively early works, Delius' opera (his fifth), comes after A Village Romeo and Juliet but before Appalachia, Sea Drift and A Mass of Life, whilst Puccini's work was his very first opera. 

What the two have in common, surprisingly, is that they were both unsuccessful entries in the opera competitions organised by the Italian publishing house of Sonzogno (which gave us Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana). And neither opera is quite what you might expect.

At Opera Holland Park, Delius' Margot la Rouge and Puccini's Le Villi were directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, designed by takis and Francesco Cilluffo conducted the City of London Sinfonia. Anne Sophie Duprels sang the title role in Margot la Rouge and Anna in Le Villi. Margot la Rouge also featured Samuel Sakker, Paul Carey Jones, Sarah Minns and Laura Lolita Peresivana. Le Villi also featured Peter Auty and Stephen Gadd.

Puccini: Le Villi - Anne Sophie Duprels, Peter Auty - Opera Holland Park 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Le Villi - Anne Sophie Duprels, Peter Auty - Opera Holland Park 2022 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Glenarm Festival of Voice

Finalists of the 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice

Northern Ireland Opera returns to the village of Glenarm on the North coast of Northern Ireland for the first time since 2019 for the 12th Glenarm Festival of Voice which runs from 26 to 28 August 2022. Five opera singers have been selected as finalists from applications received from across the island of Ireland. They will compete for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize, the Audience Prize and the Song Prize by performing arias, ensemble pieces and Irish art songs in front of an audience and a judging panel.

This year's finalists are Hannah O’Brien (soprano), Heather Sammon (mezzo-soprano), Michael Bell (tenor), Owen Lucas (tenor), David Kennedy (baritone) and the Peter Rankin Piano Intern for 2022 is Doireann O’Carroll.

The team who will coach the finalists includes Kathryn Harries, Dr Ingrid Surgenor and pianist Simon Lepper. They will work with the finalists on their competition repertoire across the weekend in the build-up to the finale on Sunday 28 August in Glenarm’s Church of the Immaculate Conception. 

The festival includes three recitals with NI Opera’s festival partners, BBC Radio 3, with tenor Alessandro Fisher, baritone Seán Boylan and soprano Soraya Mafi; tickets for these recitals are free but must be booked in advance from the company's website. 

The 2021 winner of the Festival’s Deborah Voigt Opera Prize, soprano Ellen Mawhinney, will be giving a recital at the historic Londonderry Arms in Carnlough.

Full details from the company's website.

Bank Holiday treat: Southwell Music Festival features 40 events including Mendelssohn's St Paul

Southwell Music Festival in 2019
Southwell Music Festival in 2019

Southwell Music Festival returns with its first full-scale festival in three years, featuring over 40 events from 24 to 29 August 2022. Resident ensembles the Festival Voices, Sinfonia and Chamber Soloists join forces under festival artistic director Marcus Farnsworth for Mendelssohn's oratorio St Paul

Guests to the festival include Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell, pianist Martin Roscoe and organist Anna Lapwood. Concerts include baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Libby Burgess in Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s new song cycle, Everything Grows Extravagantly, a celebration of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams featuring the poetry of his wife Ursula Vaughan Williams with soprano Anna Dennis and tenor Mark Le Brocq, and James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross alongside music from Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov with the Festival Voices and Sinfonia Strings.

The festival also supports the future generation of music-makers, and this year welcomes early career apprentices to play alongside its ensembles of professional musicians, plus a Masterclass for selected young musicians and showcases for young musical talent through the Young Artists Series.

Homegrown talent is showcased at the free Festival Fringe, including the popular outdoor picnic concert Brass on the Grass, which makes a welcome return on Saturday afternoon. Proceeds from all fringe events go towards local disability charity, Reach Southwell

Full details from the festival website.

Thursday 21 July 2022

2022/23 classical music season at Perth Concert Hall

Perth Concert Hall
Perth Concert Hall

Perth Concert Hall was a Millennium project, raising £20 million to build a concert hall with an auditorium and studio. The hall opened in September 2005 and is known for its fine acoustics. The hall has recently announced its 2022/23 classical music season programmed by James Waters, Creative Director for Classical Music for Horsecross Arts, the creative organisation and charity behind Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre, 

The hall's 2022/23 classical music season opens with Scottish Opera in Massenet's Thérèse with Justina Gringyte in the title role, and the Dunedin Consort in Mozart's Mass in C minor with soloists Anna Dennis, Lucy Crowe, Benjamin Hulett, and Robert Davies conducted by John Butt.

The orchestral series opens with violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conductor Maxim Emelyanychev in the world premiere of James MacMillan's Violin Concerto No. 2 plus music by John Adams and Tchaikovsky, then Joana Carneiro conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Chopin, Bartok and Anna Clyne's This Midnight Hour

Other concerts include a Viennese New Year concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers in Bach and Stravinsky, Maxim Emelyanychev and Scottish Chamber Orchestra return with an all-Mendelssohn programme, Thomas Søndergård conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in A Festival of Brahms

International visitors include violinist Maxim Vengerov with conductor Sergey Smbatyan and The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 1, Alexey Shor’s Seascapes and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra is joined by violinist Jennifer Pike for music by Khachaturian and Tchaikovsky.

Chamber music visitors include recorder player Tabea Debus and lutenist Alex McCartney, accordionist and BBC New Generation Artist Ryan Corbett in a mix of baroque, romantic and contemporary music, Resol String Quartet present Haydn, Mendelssohn and Florence Price, and Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer in Mozart, Sibelius, Khachaturian and Chopin. The Perth Piano Series includes pianists Elisabeth Brauss, Steven Osborne, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Imogen Cooper, and Piotr Anderszewski in Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Full details from the hall's website.

The Dragon of Wantley: a fine Handelian cast have terrific fun with Lampe's parody of opera seria

John Frederick Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley - Mary Bevan, Catherine Carby, Mark Wilde, John Savournin, The Brook Street Band, John Andrews; RESONUS CLASSICS
20 July 2022 (★★★★½)

Lampe's delightfully satirical opera combines a crazy English plot with fine Italianate music, performed here with great style to superb effect.

Following the success of The Beggars Opera in the early 1730s, there was a renewed interest in the idea of English opera. Few significant works came out of this, but one that had a major success was somewhat in the same vein as The Beggars Opera. John Frederick Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley takes a satirical view of opera by combining a tale that is pure earth English fun and setting it to fine music. This combination of wit and pastiche worked well, and the work was popular. Though since the early 19th century it has rather languished and is certainly not as well known as it should be.

Now Resonus Classics have issued a new recording of John Frederick Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley with John Andrews conducting the Brook Street Band, and Mary Bevan as Margery, Catherine Carby as Mauxalinda, Mark Wilde as Moore of Moore Hall and John Savournin as Gaffer Gubbins and the Dragon.

Unlike The Beggars Opera this is no simple arrangement of existing tunes. Lampe was a professional bassoonist in Handel's orchestra and The Dragon of Wantley uses finely Italianate-style music, linked to the slightly crazy text. The story originally comes from a 17th century broadside ballad; the dragon is ravaging Yorkshire, the hero Moore is more interested in beer than heroics and he has two women, Margery and Mauxalinda interested in him. One of the reasons why the work has not been seen much of is that the sources are patchy. There are two scores, a very full one published in London in 1738 that includes the arias and ensembles but no recitatives, and a shorter score from the 1740s which has recitatives but is heavily cut, probably for touring purposes. John Andrews' booklet article explains the details. The version used is a synthesis of the two and Andrews comments that it is probably far longer than versions performed in the 18th century. 

Wednesday 20 July 2022

21st Birthday: Oxford Lieder Festival comes of age with a celebration of Friendship in Song

Oxford Lieder Festival

This Autumn, Oxford Lieder Festival celebrates its 21st birthday with a fortnight of song (from 14 to 29 October 2022) under the banner Friendship in Song: An Intimate Art. The focus of the festival is of song-making as a social art, from gatherings round the piano to salons to composers writing for friends. Mark Padmore will be artist in residence, giving an all-Schubert recital, performing lute songs, giving a lecture on Britten's poets, being in conversation with Kate Kennedy as well as leading the festival's Mastercourse with young singers.

Holywell Music Room
Holywell Music Room
Baritone Thomas Oliemans will be giving a performance of Winterreise, accompanying himself on the piano, and there will be appearances from Dame Sarah Connolly, Christoph Prégardien, Kate Royal, Carolyn Sampson, Camilla Tilling, Dorothea Röschmann, Roderick Williams, Birgid Steinberger, Thomas Oliemans, Claire Booth, Benjamin Appl, Christopher Purves, James Gilchrist, Iestyn Davies, Christine Rice, Werner Güra, Sarah Wegener and  Julian Prégardien. 

But it is with the themed events that the festival really creates something that is distinctly Oxford Lieder Festival. RVW's 150th birthday is celebrated with a series of lunchtime recitals of music by RVW and his contemporaries by performers including Kathryn Rudge, William Thomas, and Ailish Tynan, plus Alessandro Fisher, William Vann and the Navarra Quartet in On Wenlock Edge, and there will also be a new song cycle by Ian Venables commissioned by the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society. There is a lecture recitals on RVW's friend, George Butterworth, and on RVW and women.

There will be a recreation of a typical Schubertiade, a quintessential example of music amongst friends, and the middle weekend of the festival is devoted to Schubert, with a lecture by Graham Johnson on Schubert and his friends in 1822, Natasha Loges on Schubert's social music and recitals from Mark Padmore and Till Fellner, Birgid Steinberger and Julius Drake, and Werner Güra and Christoph Berner in Schubert's Ballads. And the weekend ends with the return of Birgid Steinberger, accompanying herself on guitar in a programme of folksongs.

A focus in intimate music making brings a series of recitals devoted to lute songs, both ancient and modern, with performances from Helen Charlston and Toby Carr, Benjamin Appl and Thomas Dunford, Iestyn Davies and Thomas Dunford, and Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny. Christopher Purves, Rowan Pierce and the choir of Queen's College will recreated an 18th century Catch Club, preceded by a study event and followed by the jazz-infused close harmonies of the Oxford Gargolyes.

Purcell writ large: a lavish Dido and Aeneas at the BBC Proms

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Nicky Spence, La Nuova Musica - BBC Proms (Photo: Christopher Christodoulou)
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Nicky Spence, La Nuova Musica - BBC Proms (Photo: Christopher Christodoulou)

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas; Alice Coote, James Newby, Gemma Summerfield, Madeleine Shaw, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 19 July 2022 (★★★)

A large-scale account of Purcell's opera that revelled in the sheer gorgeousness of orchestral textures, and gave us a series of striking moments that never quite added up to operatic drama

We have no idea what the first performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas sounded like, we're not even sure when it took place. All we have are possibilities, probabilities, and a few certainties, plus manuscript material that dates from well after Purcell's death. So conductors and soloists are free to create a performance in their own image. And whatever the circumstances of the opera's first performance, it is highly unlikely to have taken place in a space as large as the Royal Albert Hall, so a Proms performance of the work is a time for further reassessment and imagination.

For the first late-night BBC Prom of the 2022 season, on Tuesday 19 July 2022, David Bates conducted La Nuova Musica in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Alice Coote as Dido, James Newby as Aeneas, Gemma Summerfield as Belinda, Madeleine Shaw as the Sorceress, Nicky Spence as the Sailor, Tim Mead as the Spirit, Nardus Williams as the second woman, and Helen Charlston and Martha McLorinan as witches.

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Alice Coote, La Nuova Musica - BBC Proms (Photo: Christopher Christodoulou)
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas - Alice Coote, La Nuova Musica - BBC Proms (Photo: Christopher Christodoulou)

The last time I heard Dido and Aeneas the accompaniment was provided by just seven instruments (HGO at the Cockpit, see my review). After all Purcell's score, as it survives, is not lavish in its instrumental requirements and very much adheres to the economic requirements of the London theatre of the time. 

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Protean Quartet wins this year's York International Young Artists Competition,

Protean Quartet
Protean Quartet

The Protean Quartet from Germany has been announced as the winners of this year's York International Young Artists Competition, a biennial competition that takes place at the National Centre for Early Music and came as the climax to this year's York Early Music Festival. Playing repertoire that included Josquin des Prez and Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet, the quartet (Javier Aguilar, Edi Kotler violins; Ricardo Gil viola; and Clara Rada cello), fought of competition from finalists including Ensemble Augelletti and Palisander from UK, plus artists from France, Netherlands, and Italy.

The judging panel was Edward Blakeman (BBC Radio 3); Albert Edelman (President, Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne 2019 - 2022); Producer and recording engineer Philip Hobbs (Linn Records); violinist Catherine Mackintosh; and harpsichordist, Professor Barbara Willi. The winning ensemble receives a professional recording contract from Linn Records, £1,000 cash prize, and opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and the NCEM.

The Prize for the Most Promising Young Artist, a cash prize of £1000 awarded to the most promising individual instrumentalist or to the most promising ensemble specialising in baroque repertoire was awarded to UnderStories from Italy with works by Benedetto Marcello, Antonio Caldara and Antonio Vivaldi.

Further details and a film of the whole final on the NCEM website.

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