Saturday, 2 December 2017

Cavalleria Rusticana at the Royal Opera

It was great to see the return of this fabulous production of Cavalleria Rusticana. Bryan Hymel (Turiddu) and Elīna Garanča (Santuzza) made the perfect pair for this verismo opera. The Royal Opera's chorus is getting punchier and more focused. What not to like?

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Semiramide - Royal Opera

Joyce DiDonato was superlative in the title role of this Rossini number. She was poised. She had commanding presence (required for the role). And her vocal delivery was fantastic.

Arsace, sung well by Daniela Barcellona, had a bit of a tomboy look. On the first night, there were two Assur: Michele Pertusi sang the first half, but fell ill to be replaced by a shorter version in Mirco Palazzi. They both did well, but it took a bit of getting used to.

This new production by David Alden seem to have worked. The drama and dynamics played out well among the cast. The chorus / actors together helped maintain the court intrigue throughout the opera. Pappano, as ever, moved the drama along nicely.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

THE LIE, Menier Chocolate Factory

Samantha Bond's Alice was funny yet serious. The way she effortlessly flipped between questioning the lie and living the lie was fantastic. Her "husband" Paul, played by Alexander Hanson was equally manic and funny. Tony Gardner (Michel) and Alexandra Gilbreath (Laurence).

Christopher Hampton's translation and Lindsay Posner's direction did a good job at portraying a none-too-typical French social construct to London.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Network, National Theatre

Not having seen the film, I was not entirely sure to expect. But I couldn't help to be blown away by the opening scene - the count down to live tv news. It was exciting. It felt authentic. It was three-dimensional. Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale was suitably poised (as newscaster) and manic at the same time. He was definitely the star of the show.

One could not help but admire the production, stage design and camera work for this production. The constant movement of sets, shifting from scene to scene, was phenomenal. They help bring the dynamism of the tv studio to a live audience. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Les Vêpres siciliennes, Royal Opera

Wasn't Bryan Hymel fabulous as Henri? All those conflicting and torturous emotions. Nice to see this sumptuous production returning to the Royal Opera.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

La bohème, Royal Opera

Another tear jerking performance. Loved Mariusz Kwiecień as Marcello. Nicloe Car's Mimi was ok.

Friday, 25 August 2017

BBC Prom 54: La Scala Philharmonic and Riccardo Chailly

This prom concert was 15 minutes late starting, which was very unusual as it was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. And the rehearsal didn't finish even when the audience started to come into the hall.

Leonidas Kavakos was the soloist in the Brahms violin concerto. Truth be told, the whole concerto felt uneven - everyone was together, it's a standard repertory piece, but somehow musicians on stage didn't gel. No fault to Kavakos as he played well.

The Filarmonica della Scala sounded like a different orchestra under Riccardo Chailly in Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome. Perhaps the orchestra is more accustomed to more atmospheric (and operatic) sounds. The bright light of Pines of the Villa Borghese was shinny, The Pines of the Janiculum was beautifully balanced with the mandated nightingale songs, and finally The Pines of the Appian Way brought the concert to an epic end.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Ariadne auf Naxos, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

The Prologue. A fun filled act with snippets of the melodies to come. Music Master (Thomas Allen) busied himself with everyone else. Angela Brower's Composer was urgent and torn.

The Opera. While Erin Morley (Zerbinetta) delivered some fine vocal pyrotechnic, it was Lise Davidsen (Ariadne) who was the true star of the act. Her soaring and penetrating soprano lines were Wagnerian in quality, and we were in no doubt of her torments and doubts. Sadly, AJ Glueckert's Bacchus was completely out-sung by Davidsen toward the end (at least he kept his voice, unlike the first night of this production a couple of years back when the tenor barely made it to the end).

Conductor Cornelius Meister took everything at a pretty brisk pace, he also let the somewhat decadent side of the music emerge. The LPO played everything beautifully.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Otello, The Roya Opera

The buzz was huge just getting into the house, invaded by opera glitterati and pan-European fans of the one star we were here to see: Jonas Kaufmann. He didn't disappoint. Kaufmann gave a nuanced, thoughtful and emphatic performance. His portrayal of Otello was multi-faceted. The duet with Iago (Marco Vratogna) was gripping, so was the murder scene in the last act. Maria Agresta's Desdemona was excellent - particularly the willow song in the last act.

Keith Warner's direction was excellent in the last act - with all that contrasting emotions and dramas. But the first act somehow lacked direction - there were times when even Otello was milling about. Set designer Boris Kudlička's dark and moody motive went along with the drama, rather than contrasting against it. So after a while, I got bored looking at the set. Wish there were more colours.

Pappano took a brisk tempo throughout, at times risking the choral and orchestral ensemble, but the rewards was a full-blooded sound from the pit and on stage.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas & Ictus — Rain

Somewhat hypnotic choreography made for a fun night out with friends. It took me a while to get to the idiom of the dancing, but finally got there. The Ictus Ensemble played Steve Reich’s "Music for 18 Musicians" metronomically. Altogether a satisfying night out.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Exterminating Angel

Having not watched the film before, I was somewhat baffled by the whole opera. Surreal it was for certain. I felt the dramatic development was not so much supported by the music nor the direction - even when the soprano Leticia repeated the aria / action there was not sufficient oomph to get the audience to realise "this is the way out".

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Royal Opera

Mia Stensgaard's set design and Kasper Holten's direction worked in Act I in a gentlemen's club setting. The set totally failed in Act II - if you didn't know the opera, you wouldn't know the drama took place on a street corner with the action taking place in front of the houses of Sachs and Pogner. The fight / crowd scene was OTT - was it necessary to have shiny golden codpieces / phalluses? Act III worked a little better, with a slowly rotating set.

Bryn Terfel gave us a broody Hans Sachs, and delivered the long monologues with intelligence. Johannes Martin Kränzle was a superlative Sixtus Beckmesser: he had a certain Mr Bean quality to his demeanor and made the comedy part of the opera come to life. Gwyn Hughes Jones was Walther with a ringing heldentenor voice, though his costume (rags, t shirt with a tailcoat) didn't quite portray his knightly provenience. I was hoping for some funky designer outfit, the Walther's costume hardly changed during the entire opera. The quintet, led by Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva, was sublime - while Pappano created a sense of suspense for this highlight in the work.

Pappano solved the potential lull in Act I by adopting a very upbeat tempo. There was no standing around - he maintained onward momentum leading all the way to the finale sung stupendously by the ROH Chorus.

Commentators continue to be troubled by Wagner and the somewhat nationalistic tone in Die Meistersinger. Wagner wrote "die heil'ge deutsche Kunst" putting Art before people: to be truly and vehemently nationalistic, he could have written "die heil'ge deutsche Volk". But he didn't.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera

This was a beautiful revival of David McVicar's production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. Angela Gheorghiu starred in the title role with poise and elegance - she was particularly good in the last act (after she was poisoned). Brian Jagde's Maurizio was gallant - he made the most of his tenorial ring in a role that somehow lacked character development. Ksenia Dudnikova was a fruity mezzo as the Princess. Michonnet was sung by Gerald Finley - who excelled in this supporting role.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Kite Runner, Wyndham's Theatre

Having never seen the play nor read the book, I was quite overwhelmed by Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. Ben Turner's Amir was a tortured soul with complex emotions. Andrei Costin's Hassan was equally powerful. The rest of the cast was excellent in the telling of the story. The simple set did its best to convey the different geographical locations - though more could be done to portray the opulence of Amir's home at the beginning and the frightening truck journey to Pakistan.

The play came at a poignant moment of this uncertain geopolitical time.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Written On Skin at the Royal Opera

This was the first revival of George Benjamin's Written On Skin. As with contemporary operas, familiarity goes a long way in appreciating the work. In this revival, I found Christopher Purves's The Protector powerful and moving. Barbara Hannigan, who sang Agnès, was superb. The pure and slightly eerie tone of Iestyn Davies as The Boy completed the perfect cast.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Experience Hong Kong in 2 days

You are on business or stopping over on your way to Australia / New Zealand / Mainland China / Europe. You have one or two days in Hong Kong. What to do? Here is a short itinerary for those who want to get a feel for this exciting city.

Day 1:

Morning - Take the Peak Tram on Garden Road to Victoria Peak where you will find high rise apartment blocks along Mid-Level on your way up. Enjoy the view of the Victoria Harbour and the picturesque south side of Hong Kong Island (take the well sign-posted circular walk if you have the time). To get back to the city centre, take the Peak Tram back to Garden Road, or if you are particularly energetic, walk down Old Peak Road (shoes with good grip advised), past Canossa Hospital,  onto Albany Road, then turn right onto Upper Albert Road where you will see Government House (where British Governors lived), then onto Garden Road via St John's Cathedral and eventually Queen's Road Central.

Lunch - Have a dim-sum lunch at City Hall Maxim's Palace in City Hall, Central (one of the many places where you will find office workers in Central get their hot lunch but do get there before 12:00 or after 14:00 otherwise the queue could be very off putting).

Afternoon - Take a taxi to Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road - it's quite a small but characterful temple (10 minutes will do) - then walk along Hollywood Road to look at the myriad of antique and knit-knack shops - and eventually you will reach the top of Lan Kwai Fong (some not-so-hip haunts for ex-pats and party-goers). Alternatively take a taxi to Hong Kong Park.

Dusk/Evening - A must-do is to cross the harbour on Star Ferry (service between Central Piers and Tsim Sha Tsui) - if you time your crossing around sunset, it could be a magical experience with shimmering building lights reflected from the water. If you don't have vertigo, go to Ozone for a sunset cocktail (taxi or MTR to Kowloon Station, head to the Ritz Carlton Hotel through the shopping mall, get to the hotel lobby on 102th floor, then change lift to Ozone at 118th floor) with a truly spectacular view of the harbour. DO check sunset times!!!

Day 2:

Sunny weather

Hit the beach - hop into a taxi and get to Repulse Bay, walk along the promenade and grab a bite to eat along The Pulse. For a more secluded experience, go to South Bay (beyond Middle Bay and Repulse Bay) where you will find an idyllic little beach away from the noise and crowd of the city. There is one small cafe, changing room and lifeguard. Very safe but you might have to walk a bit to find a taxi back to town.

Visit one of the islands. Try Lamma Island (by ferry from the terminal in front of the International Finance Centre)  for a bit of local village cum seafood fest, or Lantau Island to see: Giant Outdoor Buddha at Po Lin Temple, Ngong Ping 360 (new attraction  re-creating Hong Kong's past), and one of many beautiful beaches such as Silver Mine Beach (popular with locals) or Cheung Sha (quieter, but taxis required).

Rainy weather or toxic smog
Go shopping (even if you don't like it) at one of the gleaming shopping complexes - such as International Finance Centre in Central or Time Square in Causeway Bay. A nice and comfortable way to observe the locals (and tourists). Also, the posh shops in Central are all interconnected by air conditioned foot-bridges.

Have afternoon tea at one of the following establishments: Peninsula Hotel Lobby (frequented by Japanese and Chinese tourists), Clipper Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental (a de rigeur for the local lunching ladies), or Verandah at Repulse Bay Hotel (fewer tourists, laid back decor means you can actually enjoy the tea and read a good book). All have dress code.

Additional activities:
  • For weather reports, see Hong Kong Observatory
  • For a bit of colonial history, visit: Murray House (Stanley), Tea Museum in Hong Kong Park and Western Market.
  • For a bit of nature, visit: Wetland Park (booking essential) or one of the many walking trails, Botanical Garden, Zoological Garden, Aviary in Hong Kong Park.
  • Of course, you may actually want to take a guided tour if you are really pressed for time. Check out the Hong Kong Tourism Board website where you will find recommendations.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

La traviata at the Royal Opera

This classic production by Richard Eyre has aged well, considering I first saw it when the young Angela Gheorghiu was under the baton of Sir Georg Solti.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera

I was super excited to see Der Rosenkavalier at Royal Opera with Renée Fleming in one of her finest roles as Marschallin. And it didn't disappoint. The super energetic Andris Nelsons plough into the opening bars with such intense energy so to make the post coital scene at the opening so tender. Alice Coote's interpretation of Octavian had that adolescent quality that somehow worked (though at times it bordered on tomboy-ish). Matthew Rose was a gigantic Ochs on stage - his less sophisticated Viennese German (as intended by von Hofmannsthal) sometimes got lost as the tempo quickened. Sophie Bevan, as Sophie (!) was on fine form and sang with a beautiful innocent sheen.

Andris Nelsons lured the entire audience into the climax of the opera - you could hear a pin drop - when Fleming started ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ - the pacing, the effortlessness, the meaning and the beauty of her voice. The others joined in with intense intertwining and soaring lines - oh my it was to die for!

The production and set design worked most of the time. The farce in the last act was sufficiently farcical, except the very end with the return of those arm dealers (von Faninal was a arms dealing family in the opera).

There was a very good rapport between Andris Nelsons and the orchestra. While there were the occasional slips in the strings section, it was more a case of the players taking risks and going with the Nelsons' tempi so to deliver a super performance.