Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera



Saw a revival of Don Giovanni directed by Kasper Holten and set by Es Devlin. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo brought a dark tone to Leporello, while Mariusz Kwiecień was a handsome if slightly lost Don Giovanni. The entire cast had good, strong voices. Somehow, they all tended to look down, or look at Marc Minkowski in the pit. I wondered was it because Minkowski's cues were few and not forthcoming. Coincidentally, the ensemble had lots of rough edges and there seemed to be a lack of rapport between the cast and the audience.

Oh and I did not like the last scene: Mariusz Kwiecień sang about imaginary supper, wine and handshake - but he was effectively dangling from the first floor of the set. The complete lack of representation of the final interaction between Don Giovanni the Commendatore (fine dark singing from Sir Willard) made for an unsatisfying end. A new production please.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera



There is a lot to like about Lohengrin - big choruses, brassy sound, bit soprano roles, big tenor roles. So it is always a challenge to take this much-loved Wagner opera to the next level.

Jennifer Davis as Else von Brabant was excellent - her strong acting skills were matched by her vocal abilities and clear delivery of text (always important for Wagner). Christine Goerke gave us a gutsy and verminous Ortrud in sharp contrast to Davis. Thomas Mayer's Telramund started out bombastically in act one, but reduced to a suitably weak and introspective voice by the end of act two - which I think what the role demanded. Klaus Florian Vogt, the horn player turned tenor, gave us an otherworldly Lohengrin. The timbre of his voice sat "apart" from the rest of the cast - ethereal for quiet contemplative moments, heroic where needed. It's not a voice that you need to "like", but a voice that suited the role.

David Alden's direction took advantage of the three dimensional set by Paul Steinberg. There was always movement, and the set provided the essential juxtaposition points for the unfolding drama. Some may not like the overtly militaristic overtone, but the opera was after all set in a turbulent time of warring Germania!

Andris Nelsons, oh boy, didn't he give it all? His baton often raised above the pit to ensure the tenors delivered the essential chorus lines, or the strings maintained the melody. The expansive orchestra, clarionic brass and muscular chorus gave us many spine tinglingly good moments.

Definitely a Lohengrin that one will remember.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne



I think this David McVicar production of Giulio Cesare really brings to life this rather long Handel opera. This revival retains all the freshness and fun of the well-known Caesar meets Cleopatra tale, enough action to be entertaining, but subtle for those introspective moments.  Sarah Connolly was Giulio Cesare - which was sung with intelligence and pose. Cleopatra was sung by an athletic Joélle Harvey - don't know how she managed to dance and sing those difficult arias at the same time. The highligh was the playing of OAE, under the baton of William Christie, which delivered the superb Baroque sound world that really let the music shine.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

La bohème at the Royal Opera



I went to see Danielle de Niese in La bohème. This was a revival of Richard Jones's production: it's lighthearted without straying too far away from the verismo genre. De Niese made a fabulous Musetta (at first I thought she was going to be Mini, which would have been questionable) - the flamboyant stage presence coupled with a fine voice added real fizz to act 2. Nicola Luisotti help delivered a fine and clear orchestra sound from the pit. Quite enjoyable. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne



Another revival of Richard Jones's production of Der Rosenkavalier. This time, Kate Lindsey gave us a less tomboy Octavian compared to the previous production. Rachel Willis-Sørensen was a strong Marschallin and Brindley Sherratt was a growly Ochs. Second act worked the best, the shiny presentation of the rose and the tender duet between Octavian and Sophie (Elizabeth Sutphen) with the nouveau riche stage set. Robin Ticciati help the LPO deliver a lush Straussian sound.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Inheritance, the Young Vic

Earlier in the week I saw George Benjamin's Lessons of Love and Violence, a contemporary loosely based on Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. A couple of days later, I saw The Inheritance, a play by Matthew Lopez which was loosely based on E M Forster's Howards End. Set in the present, with flash backs to the AIDS epidemic in New York during the 80s.



Lopez was very clever in mapping the interactions between the characters in The Inheritance onto Howards End. No, it wasn't a direct retelling. But the mapping re-created the emotions of young love, heated political debate, compassion, intense passion, and resignation. Samuel H. Levine who played Adam / Leo was outstanding - especially where he met his own likeness (Leo meeting Adam) and how they had a conversation. Andrew Burnap's Toby was intense, with his past gradually catching up with him. Kyle Soller as Eric Glass was the pivot in the play (the equivalent of Margaret Schlegel in Howards End) - where he was confronting and reflecting what has happening around him.

Oh boy, it was a 6.5 hour long play - but one wouldn't know as the dialogues had momentum and there was never a dull moment. One felt emotionally drained yet hopeful at the end. I wonder whether it'd ever make it to the big screen?

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Lessons in Love and Violence, the Royal Opera

It's always special attending a world premiere. Nobody knew what the work sounded like. No "opinions". So there I was watching George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence. This was a re-telling of Edward II's story drawing heavily on Christopher Marlowe's play about this monarch. From the first bar we entered into George Benjamin's immersive, intriguing and intimate sound world. Martin Crimp text was crisp and jagged, and beautifully set by Benjamin - loved the overlapping speech rhythm. Stéphane Degout delivered an intense and troubled King. Gyula Orendt's Gaverston and Peter Hoare's Mortimer were well matched.



As Benjamin himself conducted, I guessed that's how he wanted the work to sound. I'd need to see it again to hear everything properly (as I found watching Written On Skin second time round more rewarding). Then again, what do I know about 21st Century operas?

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Poème symphonique, British Museum

Now how often does one get to hear Ligeti's "joke" Poème symphonique? It came about recently at the British Library. Or rather, it was performed in the old British Library reading room. 100 metronomes arranged neatly on a platform, lit, and poised to commence. After a short introduction, a small team of museum staff flicked the metronomes and the performance started. It was a cacophony of sound echoed by the reading room's unique acoustic. It's strangely mesmerizing and hypnotic. From time to time, some metronomes came together into unison, and then dissipated. It had an organic quality to it. If one ever wondered, it took about 25 minutes until the last remaining metronome on Largo came to a stop. It was fun!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the Royal Opera

This was a great revival of the 2004 Richard Jones production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District for the Royal Opera. The production hadn't aged and felt relevant. Eva-Maria Westbroek was a fantastic Katerina - taking the lead in this credible and crazy story of a small Soviet town. Brandon Jovanovich's portrayal of Sergey was cool and boyish, complimenting the lead. I loved John Tomlinson's boorish Boris - no doubt he enjoyed being mischievous, stomping around and terrorizing everyone on stage!



This probably wasn't Pappano's native territory - but he brought the subtle ironies in the score out, helped by the farting extra brass section in the boxes. What if Shostakovoch wrote more operas? We would never know.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Iolanthe, the English National Opera

ENO brought a lot of fun to this production of Iolanthe, with witty costumes and stage designs (Paul Brown). All the roles were well cast and the chorus did the Lords proud!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

From the House of the Dead, the Royal Opera

Janáček's From the House of the Dead was not going to be an "easy listening" piece. The drama was intense and claustrophobic - perhaps that's intentional. Unlike Káťa Kabanová or Jenůfa where there was a greater story arc, The House was more choppy - including two plays within the opera. All in all a very intense evening.



Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Carmen at the Royal Opera

Carmen, but not as I knew it. The fast paced overture lured me into a false sense of security - Bizet's Carmen. That security was shattered when the drama began. There was a single staircase on stage, nothing else - no props, no backdrops, nada. Dialogues were replaced by a French monologue of the drama told in third person tense.



Vocally the singers were very good. Anna Goryachova was an energetic and alluring Carmen. Francesco Meli was a straight acting Don Jose. The boys made a great sound and the main chorus was punchy. The choreography took advantage of the stair case with lots of creative movements.



Now, the music. Indeed much scholarly work went into this production of Carmen - focusing on music that was genuinely written by Bizet (and not Ernest Guiraud). In practice, while many of the big arias, duets and choruses were intact, there was less music then what we were used to. In the interest of authenticity I could live with that.
The production was a different matter. This production was directed by Barrie Kosky with dramaturg by Zsolt Horpácsy. They took a distanciation approach - pairing back everything and leaving the audience facing just the performers. As an intellectual exercise, that was interesting. As an opera, it was cold and lacking in emotions. None of the passionate moments between Carmen and Don Jose was believable. Nor was Micaëla's plea (Kristina Mkhitaryan) in Act 3. Right at the end of the opera, the "stabbed to death" Carmen stood up and gave a shrug. The audience laughed.
I think more work is needed to make the most of this authentic score. Perhaps the dialogue could have been updated with some modern adaption (such as Die Fledermaus). But as it stands, this production left me cold.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Salome, the Royal Opera



Malin Byström (Salome) was amazing - from the serene high-born princess to the (almost) flesh eating monster in the space of two hours. Great acting. Great voice. One can overlook the non-dance of the seven veils. The true star of the evening.