Friday, 5 December 2014

Tristan und Isolde at Royal Opera

OMG Nina Stemme was absolutely fabulous as Isolde - not only she had that BIG Wagnerian voice, she also did an amazing job at acting the role. Stephen Gould was a pretty good Tristan - strong stage presence and the right kind of voice (apart from the odd wayward moments). I continue to be amazed to see Sarah Connolly in Wagnerian roles (this time as Brangäne), when not so long ago she was still doing Handel trouser-roles. She was fab, stole the show in Act 2.



And the production? I forgot I'd seen it. So it was that memorable. And then I remembered how distracting it was. Perhaps someone should explain to the audience what was going on with those curtains. Never mind.

Pappano gets Wagner. Full stop.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

L'elisir d'amore at Royal Opera

The set by Chantal Thomas works - there was depth and height, and the production made full use of it. Vittorio Grigolo was superb as Nemorino - just the right degree of madness. Lucy Crowe's Adina was a little static at the beginning, but got better as the act went on.



Bryn Terfel was almost playing his laid back self. Daniele Rustioni did a good job giving this performance a real fizz.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Idomeneo at Royal Opera

The singers: Franco Fagioli as Idamante was pretty good - full of drama. Matthew Polenzani was a profound Idomeneo. And under the baton of Marc Minkowski, this Mozart set piece came to life musically. As for the production, I wasn't convinced by Annette Murschetz's set design, nor Martin Kušej's direction (the whole Nepture / Wedding scene just didn't work). Next.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fully Committed at the Chocolate Factory



This one-man show by Kevin Bishop was truly amazing. Bishop portrayed effectively the full spectrum of characters who might pass through the phone / door of a top notch restaurant in Manhattan. There was hilarity and sadness, ups and downs, as well as plot development. Fabulous!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

I due Foscari at Royal Opera

Hats off to Placido Domingo singing senior Foscari. His voice resonated the auditorium with convincing weight and emotions associated with the role. Junior Foscari, sung by Francesco Meli, had that bold freshness that was perfect. Lucrezia was sung by Maria Agresta, who delivered the goods.

The set, by Kevin Knights, gave enough 3D interest and Venetian cues. Pappano did wonders with this early Verdi score - keeping the orchestra and chorus tight. I hope they bring this production back in the not too distant future (I last saw this in 1995!).

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Gran Teatre del Liceu and Royal Opera

I saw Il barbiere di Siviglia within the space of a fortnight. And for me it was really interesting to compare and contrast.

The set design: Joan Guillén (Liceu) used big props to dwarf the performers thus creating a comic effect on stage. Christian Fenouillat (Royal Opera) used a tilting sound box to thrust the performers forward, thus leaving the singers to deliver the comic drama. I think the latter work better - as the focus remain on the people, rather than the set.


Set for Act One Scene One, Royal Opera 



Set for Act Two, Gran Teatre del Liceu

The direction: Direction from Patrice Caurier (Royal Opera) was superb - the interplay of the comic characters was wonderful. Joan Font's (Liceu) approach was more straightjacket comedy - though one cannot help there was over reliance on the super-sized props.

The singers: Annalisa Stroppa as Rosina came up top at Liceu with strong acting and an agile voice while Mario Cassi was a passable Figaro: the rest of the cast was ok but not memorable. Michele Angelini as Lindoro / Almaviva (Royal Opera) delivered some pretty good vocal pyrotechnic while Serena Malfi's role as Rosina was playful, feisty and dramatic.

The conductor: Giuseppe Finzi (Liceu) maintained the momentum but there were times when I thought the singers were taking the lead and he merely followed. Sir Mark Elder was at ease in the Covent Garden pit keeping the orchestral playing light (the lack of vibrato in the upper strings during the overture revealed some maltuning) and agile.

Overall? It's good to experience a familiar work in an unfamiliar house, just to see how others do it. But I have to say the Royal Opera's current production wins on so many levels.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Alban Gerhardt and Cecile Licad play Cello Sonatas

Saw Alban Gerhardt and Cecile Licad play
Fauré Cello Sonata No 1. Pretty good. Got the exciting subtle rhythms and harmonies across.
Saint-Saëns Cello Sonata No 1. Probably the most exciting work of the evening. Such exuberance.
Rachmaninov Cello Sonata. Pretty good, but wasn't as good as the other two.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Salome at BBC Proms

There is so much music in Salome, it was a wonderful to hear all the details in concert. Donald Runnicles conducted the fine Deutsche Oper Berlin (did they bring all those big drums with them?) Nina Stemme was a poised Salome: from being a more hesitant, almost innocent girl to an intense monster in the space of just 90 minutest. Her final monologue was stupendous. Burkhard Ulrich was super as Herod - every line and nuance was believable.



Friday, 18 July 2014

La finta giardiniera at Glynedbourne

There was lots of skepticism around this very early Mozart opera (that's the one before Idomeneo). One can see why - the music is light, limited character development, and a somewhat chaotic plot. Hats off to Frederic Wake-Walker, the director who used movements and gestures to make the plot and music work. A strong cast coupled with Robin Ticciati's clear direction made the show work.



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ariadne auf Naxos at the Royal Opera

As ever, one can only marvel at the double-decker stage design by Herbert Murauer. Still awesome.



Karita Mattila made a fine Prima Donna / Ariadne. Still a wonderful quivering Straussian soprano voice. The Tenor / Bacchus, sung by Robert Sacca, was pretty good too. As ever, the band and Pappano gave their best.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cosí fan tutte at the English National Opera



Not at all sure about this production. While the Blackpool stage design gave it intrigue, it felt too "outdoor" and didn't have enough intimacy - especially when the male / female couples were together. Ryan Wigglesworth conducted the score well. Mary Bevan as Despina was almost funny. But one felt somewhat unfulfilled.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera

Jonas Kaufmann was clearly the star of the show. Superb singing. And the stage set by Paul Brown really worked - especially in Act II / the Boudoir scene where the voyeurs gave it that extra seedy quality.





As ever, Pappano gave his best with this Puccini score.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Benvenutto Cellini at the English National Opera

Was this Benvenutto Cellini a crazy production? Terry Gilliam's direction gave it that crazy fantastical feel that married up to Berlioz's score. Michael Spyres sang and acted the Cellini role well. Corinne Winters as Teresa gave a fine performance. But it's to Edward Gardner who held everything tightly together.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne

New staging by Richard Jones, conducted by the new music director Robin Ticciati, and with a strong cast - there was much anticipation.

The Marschallin, sung by Kate Royal, was well cast: a great voice with that Straussian sheen and enough gravitas to carry the role. Tara Erraught's Octavian was androgenous enough. Teodora Gheorghiu as Sophie was pretty good. Lars Woldt's rendition of Ochs was funny and tragic at the same time. 




Now onto the set design (Paul Steinberg) - I thought it was funny in the first two acts with larger than live tables, neon signs and trappings. The last act didn't do it for me - the dining room scene was just too contrived. Luckily that didn't get in the way of the trio Hab' mir's gelobt. Still, the music shone where it needed - a rewarding Glyndebourne experience.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera

Michael Levine's set design for Dialogues des Carmélites was minimalist. Actually, was there any set design? I suppose the director Robert Carsen was clever at introducing formation of human figures in many different ways to suggest the context of the opera. It kind of worked.



Blanche, sung by Sally Matthews, was pretty good. Though I did find the whole work quite tedious - I think the intimate nature of the dialogues needed a small and intimate performing space i.e. not the Royal Opera House. The ending was worth waiting for. Dramatic. Poignant.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Thebans at the ENO

Julian Anderson's first opera. A new commission from the ENO. Its music director at the helm. And an eagerly awaited production from Pierre Audi. There was much anticipation of this new opera in the musical world.



Roland Wood's portrayal of Oepidus was superb, and with much gravitas. Julia Sporsén as Antigone sang the part well and delivered drama throughout the three acts - and the powerful final note. Matthew Best was pretty good as the non-sexual Tiresias. The chorus deserved a prize for learning the difficult parts and delivered with much gusto.

Pierre Audi's production was powerful - especially in the first act when the dynamic movement of the different characters and the crowds really heightened the drama. Ed Gardner was superb in the pit - with clear directions (key to keep the choruses tidy) and enough breathing space for the drama to come through. The band was responsive and accurate (loved the contra-bassoon).

And how was the music? It felt right. At times it portrayed the drama / events, other times it faded into the background to support the vocal lines. It sounded new and fresh, yet not alien. Most important of all, it came across as a complete opera (as oppose to episodes of numbers or a glorified symphonic work).

All in all, it was an engrossing performance - one was drawn into the tragic-drama, the narrative, the textural music and superb stage direction. It's a bit like watching Strauss's Elektra - one feels exhausted at the end - in a good way.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Faust at the Royal Opera

David McVicar's fabulous production of Gounod's Faust makes a return to Covent Garden. The women turned out to be the strong cast of this run - Sonya Yoncheva was fantastic as the alluring, innocent, naive and vulnerable Marguerite. Renata Pokupic's Siébel was also very good. Simon Keelyside (Valentin) was probably the best of the male cast. Could't work out what's wrong with Bryn Terfel (Mephistophélés), but he seemed "distracted" on stage. Joseph Calleja should have been the big draw - but I didn't find his sung French convincing.

All in all good, but could be better.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Prince Igor by Novaya Opera at the London Coliseum

Sometimes it is good to see a traditional opera production. And it doesn't get any more traditional than this Prince Igor from Novaya Opera. Big realistic stage set, sumptuous costumes and good crowd scenes.



The main cast Vladimir Baykov (in the title role Igor Svyatoslavich), Marina Nerabeyeva (as Yaroslavna) and Aleksey Tatarintsev (as Vladimir) were all superb Russian singers delivering a rich sound. Vitalay Efanov (as Khan Konchak) was probably the weakest singer - his low notes didn't quite reverberate in the auditorium. The chorus was stupendous - delivering a rich and punchy sound.

In the West, we don't seem to do operas like that anymore.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera



The good: Emily Magee (Empress), Elena Pankratova (Wife of Dyer) and Michaela Schuster (Nurse) made a good trio. Johan Reuter (Dyer) had a lovely ringing tone that fitted the role best. The arm waving of Semyon Bychkov created a stupendous sound from the pit - with punch!

The bad: Wayward intonation of Johan Botha (Emperor) and the cello solo. Couldn't decide who was more wayward.

The indifferent: Christian Schmidt's design was a wee bit scandic for my liking, a bit dull, a bit "Ikea". Sure, play out the psychoanalytic in the open with images,  animals, children, and the "waking up from a dream" at the end. Clever? Do I care?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera

New production yes. What's to like? It's three dimensional with top notch projection to make scenery changes interesting yet unobtrusive. Barihunk Mariusz Kwiecień (which translates to Matthew April) was a fabulous Don. The rest of the cast was good too. What's not to like? I think Kasper Holten's production was trying too hard for a different interpretation - that the whole opera was just a dream in the mind of the characters. A good night's entertainment it was. Though not an interpretation of this classic that I buy into.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

An intense experience at Sushi Shikon

Sushi Shikon is NOT your everyday sushi restaurant. For a start, you don't have a choice of what to eat. Instead, you are offered the most seasonal, the freshest, and highest quality seafood from Tokyo Fish Market.

We sat at the sushi counter which was made of a single piece of maple facing the sushi chef (there is a 50% chance that you will be served by the executive chef). Each course was prepared in front of us with utmost care and attention: the lack of music and noise meant one can maintain focus on the most important thing - the food. The stewed octopus was supple yet full of flavours. The O-toro was stupendous. And the anago (grilled eel) was prepare from fresh eel filets. Everything was exquisitely fresh and tasty.



It's over in two hours. But it's an experience that one doesn't forget easily. That's worth it.