Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Anna Nicole

The Royal Opera House's PR machinery was in full throttle weeks before the premier of Anna Nicole. So I wasn't surprised to see all the little touches on the night - the Warhol-esque portraits of Anna Nicole plastered everywhere, the vivid pink stage curtain with AR at the bottom (read Anna Regina, but you have to read it quickly in English Latin ...) and the American accent PA to remind patrons to switch off their "cell phones".

Eva-Maria Westbroek was great - singing her way from her trailer-trash look through to the Hollywood glitzy blings, then to her fattened end. Her voice rang all the way with clear diction. Gerald Finley who sang The Lawyer Stern was equally good - with sufficient sleazy acting to make the role convincing. And the chorus was great - especially in Act I where the harmonies were thick and complex. It also played a significant role as the spectators of the story.
And the music? Antonio Pappano seemed to have spent sufficient time getting to know Mark Anthony-Turnage's score. The main orchestra played and responded well. And the rock band seemed to have given the whole work that "American" feel. The music sounded (to me at least) like an updated mesh of Berstein and Shostakovich - lots of patiches, lots of complex rhythms and harmonies, but somehow not losing touch with the audience. So in that respect I thought it was well crafted. Will I go back? I think so.
Yes, the audience. Well the PR machinery must have done its job well. There were lots of young faces and on the night that I went many trendy fashion types (from London Fashion Week?) and they seemed to have enjoyed the performance throughout. Let's hope they will return to see other operas.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Parsifal at the ENO

I must have missed it when Nikolaus Lehnhoff's Parsifal was staged in 1999. Well I was very glad to have seen it on the first night this time round - for it was a very good production and performance. Mark Wigglesworth took the overture at the right pace - just enough solemnity and poignancy without making it overbearing. The first half of act one was always the tricky one - relatively long dialogues and Sir John Tomlinson's presence was essential in keeping the whole thing moving. The transformation music was great (though the brass could have been bigger) and the chorus was on form.

Jane Dutton's Kundry really shone through in act two - with clarity, urgency and sufficient degree of other-worldly quality. This was matched by Stuart Skelton's Parsifal - who gradually lost his innocence culminating in the showdown with Klinsor (Tom Fox). The stage set for the act three was a bit wierd with a half completed rail track into the barren "garden". Still, the trio of Tomlinson, Dutton and Skelton was absolutely superb. Yes it was a long opera but it was captivating and well worth the post-Parsifal numb bum.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Pleasant surprises at Hibiscus

There are times when one wants certainty when eating out - such as a light fritto misto at Polpo, or beautiful pied du cuchon at Koffmann's. But there are times when one wants to be surprised. If it's the latter that you are after, then try Hibiscus of Regent Street. Rather than choosing from an a la carte menu, or a tasting menu, the diners have to select whether they wish to eat 4, 6 or 8 courses. The dishes that could appear on your table are listed - that's right you wouldn't know for certain which dish will turn up.

So here is a scallop with crumble on top. They were the huge and hand-dived from Scotland. The crust on top added interest but did not detract from the taste of the sea that the scallop offered. Another dish that came was pan-seared smoked duck breast (see below). It was cooked just right with beetroot garnish and spices. It was tender and flavourful. 
The portions were (too) generous, the service was good, the wine list was interesting, and the ambiance was just right. So go there and be surprised.

Friday, 4 February 2011

An out of sync Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera

There seemed to be some sort of battle between what was being played in the pit and what was being sung on stage at the Royal Opera last night. The 6'4" Joseph Kaiser as Tamino started well in the opening aria with a strong tenorial ring in his voice. But when the three ladies turned up things started to change - the ensemble of the singing was good, but somehow it went out slightly with the orchestra. Christopher Maltman's Papageno also got off to a good start - but there was tension in the tempo. It all came to a head when the three ladies and the Queen of the Night (Jessica Pratt) returned - it was touch and go at times whether they will reach the end of the bar together. Sadly it went on like that for the remaining first act. 

The second act started well, and Jessica Pratt sang the famous Queen of the Night aria with accuracy and conviction. But the ensemble problem came back - the chorus wasn't together with the orchestra, the tempo of the three brave boys rocked, and so on. In the solo arias, the singers wanted to take more time with the lines but the pit didn't go with the flow. Luckily the final scenes were more or less together and everyone stopped at the same fermata.
To me, the whole performance sounded like a rehearsal. Except it couldn't have been as it was the second performance of this revival production by David McVicar. Based on my personal observation, I think Sir Colin Davis was unwell - his walk to the rostrum was slow and timid, he didn't look up to the singers much nor give them the leads when expected, and he seemed to have focused more on the orchestral players than on stage. At the end of the performance, Sir Colin took his curtain call in the pit rather than on stage. So perhaps he was unwell. Or perhaps it was something else ...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Grand Imperial - too grand for Victoria?

There isn't a shortage of Chinese restaurants in London. And the likes of Hakkasan and Royal China have set the bar relatively high at the upper end of this crowded market. Though with an increasing number of Chinese expats and well-heeled tourists in London, there may be room for more.
Grand Imperial is situated in a hotel attached to Victoria Station. The decor is contemporary Chinese. There were several large fish tanks - one couldn't be sure whether they are for displaying tropical fish, or storing live stock to be eaten.
The menu had a good selection of traditional and modern dishes. We tried the thin slices of braised beef shin (cold starter dish) which was tasty. The soup of the day (pork with Chinese medicinal roots) was piping hot though probably not to Western taste. The pan fried egg, sprouts and vegetarian shark's fins was fragrant (see below). The shredded chicken with jelly fish and salty ginger dressing was ok. The roast Peking duck at the next table looked good.
The staff were attentive (though when we went the restaurant was less than half empty) and crockery was fine. But somehow Grand Imperial lacked a certain something. The fish tank was too imposing and out of place. The high ceiling was crying out for a buzz from the bar, which was quiet. The price point was set too high to attract passing traffic from Victoria. The food was not bad, but somehow wasn't sophisticated enough to marry up with the decor. It will be sometime before Grand Imperial works out its clientele and positioning in the market.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Online guide to the Asian culinary world

A friend of mine just sent me this article about Danielle Chang (ex CEO of Vivienne Tam) launching LUCKYRICE in NYC. Looks like it's going to be a food festival (in May) to start with - but will it go beyond that?