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Billy Budd at the Royal Opera

This was a new production of Britten Billy Budd. It was last staged at the Royal Opera before the turn of the millennium.



Billy Budd was sung by Jacques Imbrailo who portrayed a playful and naive youth well. His voice was in character, though seemed a little tired towards the end. Toby Spence gave us a nuanced and at times helpless Captain Vere. Brindley Sherratt's portrayal of Claggart was subtle, and his verminous streak really came out in the confrontation with Budd. Donald was sung by a muscular Duncan Rock.

Michael Levine's three dimensional set did the job, though the nautical theme relied heavily on the  20th century Royal Navy uniform. Ivor Bolton's reading of Britten's rich score was good - I loved the drums coming from the boxes during the battle scene. Let's hope they bring this great work back sooner.
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All My Sons at The Old Vic

Got an unexpected chance to see this Arthur Miller play at The Old Vic with a starry cast. The play is set on a simple but detailed stage. All action evolved around the backyard of this simple house.



The first half of the play was slow. I thought the clues about the events to come were either too subtle, or too hidden. Either way, it took a long time for the audience to begin to realise something darker and complex was to come. Still, it took a while to get there.

The second half, on the other hand, moved much more quickly with greater dramatic effect. The best was probably the clash between Bill Pullman (who played Joe Keller) and Colin Morgan (his son Chris Keller). Colin Morgan's about turn from a love-struck puppy to a vengeful grown up was powerfully delivered. Jenna Coleman (played Chris Keller's love interest Ann Deever) and Sally Field (played Kate Keller) drew out the more emotionally torturous plot.

Was the "price of the American Dreram" laid bare? Not sur…

Faust at the Royal Opera

This is a revival of Charles Edwards (design) / David McVicar (director) production of Gounod Faust. Visually, it is still exciting to watch with the ever changing stage sets of this fantasy. In this production, Erwin Schrott was Méphistophélès - who had style and poise as this devilish character. Michael Fabiano did a good job at portraying Faust - especially in the first act when he had to start off as an old man before turning into an energetic youngster. Irina Lungu had the right French voice type for Marguerite - somewhat vulnerable with sufficient warmth for the romantic scenes.

Dan Ettinger in the pit kept the pace going, and the chorus did magnificently in those big numbers.

La forza del destino, Royal Opera

I read in the press that tickets for La forza del destino were available in the black market for £3,500 each. Ouch! Luckily mine was bought months ago directly from the Royal Opera.

The set design by Christian Schmidt started well in a 19th century palazzo in. The video projections were more distractions than anything. But I think they ran out of money because the same palazzo set was re-used just too often, including the final scene (it was supposed to be in a hermit!)



The star-studded cast delivered the goods. Anna Netrebko sang Leonara - her prima donna dramatic outbursts, impassioned lines and rich tone were perfect for this traumatised character. Perhaps she went to all the rehearsals after all. Jonas Kaufmann, as Don Alvaro, interpreted the character with poise. It's very easy to sing everything loudly. Yet Kaufamann observed the composer's typically detailed musical directions - and took some well judged artistic risk to deliver some vulnerable pianissimi. Not to be out…

Brahms 2nd Symphony and others, LPO

Tannhäuser at the start of this concert eased the audience into the Germanic sound world for the rest of this evening. It was well played, perhaps with a touch too much stiffness for such a luscious piece. Andreas Ottensamer the delivered some rich tones and fine clarinet solo playing in Weber's Clarinet Concerto No 1. This was followed by Alice Mary Smith's Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra - a bijou  work well worth listening for. Though I felt the Weber and Smith were a little under-rehearsed: the ensemble could be tighter and less timid. Brahms 2, on the other hand, was well rehearsed. Under Jurowski's firm grip, the orchestra played with intensity,  expansiveness and above all it sounded Germanic. How this related to the programme cover page "Isle of Noises", I don't know. But it was an enjoyable evening all the same.

Káťa Kabanová, Royal Opera

Katya, sung by Amanda Majeski, had the passionate timbre making her role convincing. Boris (Pavel Cernoch) was ok, and his duet with Majeski was a delight. Susan Bickley's Kabanova was steely and overpowering. Antony McDonald's design and Richard Jones's direction worked well together - the faux 70s decor and costumes added a certain softness to the harsh reality of the society Janáček portrayed. Edward Gardner did the score justice, bring out fabulous melodic lines, nature and the edgy textures.

Die Walküre, Jurowski and LPO

Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) and Ruxandra Donose (Sieglinde) made a good match in the first act, while Stephen Milling made a superb and dark Hunding. In the absence of staging, the orchestral colours shone through and it was a delight to hear it all. Svetlana Sozdateleva's Brünnhilde as firm, nuanced and had the emotional breadth to be convincingly half-god / half-human. Markus Marquardt's Wotan, sadly, was too subdue and introspective for my liking (I didn't see Das Rheingold, but I have heard stories of a certain bass-baritone staring at the score in performance).  I wonder whether we will get yet another Wotan / Wanderer in Siegfried later in the cycle.

This must be part of Vladimir Jurowski's preparation of his Ring cycles at future opera houses (Munich? Bayreuth?). Having checked with a few friends, we thought the LPO has not played the complete Ring for at least a few decades. Perhaps that's why it sounded bright, fresh and exciting.