Thursday, 24 June 2010

A well produced Idomeneo at the ENO

I think Idomeneo is a difficult one to stage. The dramas happen in the mind. The gods never visible. The storyline quite impossible. So it was to the credit of Edward Gardner (conductor), Katie Mitchell (director) and the rest of the production team to bring Idomeneo to life at the ENO.


Paul Nilon's pensive interpretation of the title role worked well. Idamante (sung by Robert Murray) was emotionally torn. Illia (Sarah Tynan) was not bad, though not remarkable. Emma Bell's Elettra was fantastic - with high drama and vocal agility. Finally I thought the videos (by Fifty Nine Productions) worked really well. While it was obvious they were projections on stage, they were really effective in delivering the maritime / tempest feel to an otherwise stylish but plain seaside resort set.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A stupendous Manon at the Royal Opera

Massenet's Manon had been absent from the Royal Opera repertoire for nearly two decades. It was great to see it returning to Covent Garden with a fantastic production by Laurent Pelly and a strong cast. The set design by Chantal Thomas was set in fin de siècle but could have been mistaken by Jonathan Miller - kind of geometric and monochrome.



Anna Netrebko was the glamorous / tragic Manon whose vocal colours and strength effectively conveyed the full range of emotions of her character. She was well matched by Vittorio Grigolo as des Grieux - whose voice had a wonderful tenorial ring, sang with real emotions and complete with handsome looks. The two brought the house down at the end of the evening. Pappano was his usual self - ensuring a tight and responsive sound from the pit. Go see it!




Il polpo serves up good Venetian dishes in Soho

I have been meaning to go to Il polpo in Soho for a long time but somehow didn't manage until today. Well the menu has lots of traditional and familiar Venetian dishes - fritto misto, risi e bisi and fegato veneziana. And there were some dishes that took advantage of seasonal English produce - asparagus with anchovy butter and Parmesan cheese. All in relatively small portions which was great as one could sample many different dishes. The staff was relaxed and friendly. Definite a place to revisit.


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Thursday, 17 June 2010

A strong Carmen at the Royal Opera

I went to the 530th performance of Carmen tonight at the Royal Opera - and it is going strong. The current production by Francesca Zambello seems to have weathered well . The current revival introduced a lot of new singers to this canonic work. Christine Rice was a fabulous Carmen - great voice, good acting, and that raunchiness that's often hard to find in an opera singer. Bryan Hymel delivered effective character development from the obedient soldier to deranged murderer. Maija Kovalevska's Micaela was not bad - though her acting was slightly wooden.  

I have never seen Constantinos Carydis in the pit before, and his
enthusiasm and big gestures kept the orchestra moving and the ensemble
together. And the horse, donkey, abseillers and acrobats all added to
the grand opera feel.   


Monday, 7 June 2010

Così at Glyndebourne

It was incredible. The octogenarian Sir Charles Mackerras was bright and energetic in the pit conducting this revival of Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne. Luckily he was supported by a strong cast. Barbara Senator and Sally Matthews as Dorabella and Fiordliligi respectively were convincing as fleeting lovers. Allan Clayton and Robert Gleadow (as Ferrando and Guglielmo) were slightly wooden in their acting, but compensated by good voices. Together the quartet worked well in delivering the fast-paced drama. Despina (Anna Maria Panzarella) was pretty fiesty too.

Though I was not totally convinced by the beginning of the first act. It seemed there was either insufficient drive from Pietro Spagnoli (as Don Alfonso), or the production got stuck - the pace seemed slow and there was not enough build up to the subsequent melodrama. I think the set worked well - but could see why others thought it's a bit dated. The second act picked up a lot - somehow everything geled better. I wonder how long before the Festival decides to retire it.


Sunday, 6 June 2010

Fab Phở at Cafe East

A whole bunch of us had just done a gig at ExCel in London. It was a warm and humid day. We were hungry for something wholesome. Luckily one of us had local knowledge of an allegedly very good Vietnamese restaurant in the area. Well, Cafe East was not easy to find  (here is the Google map reference) but the journey was well worth it. 

We got there and were asked to wait for 5-10 minutes - always a reassuring sign on a Saturday evening. The interior of the place was functional bordering utilitarian (see pic below). However, the clientele was mostly South East Asian (another reassuring sign) and the noise was a slurpy and happy one.


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The rice-pasta rolls were good, and so were the sliced sausages. The true test of any Vietnamese restaurant, however, is still Phở - rice noodles with thin slices of rare beef in a clear beef soup. Well mine turned up looking good (see below). The soup was clear. The smell was excellent - a beefy aroma scented with basil and spices. And it was very good - the noodles were al dente, the beef was succulent and the soup was tasty without being overpowering. I happily slurped up the entire bowl and drank the soup (and didn't feel thirsty later - another sign of a good soup).


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