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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…
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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.

The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera

I was quite looking forward to seeing and hearing this seldom performed gem of a piece. Thank goodness Pappano was at the helm to deliver an almost symphonic sound world with the overture. That was the good bit.

Why, oh why, we needed the composer to appear as a ghostly shadow to everything??? The duet between Gherman (Sergey Polyakov) and Lisa (Eva-Maria Westbroek) was lovingly sung, only to have a distracting composer loitering. The choreography and staging worked with the story line - except the ever present showy composer figure. If this production is to be revived, please DELETE the onstage composer!

Hansel und Gretel at the Royal Opera

On entering the auditorium, I saw a detailed and realistic image of a valley (presumably concocted from photographs of German or Austrian countryside) projected onto the stage. I had high hopes that this new production of Hansel und Gretel will have staging that relates to the story (the last time the Royal Opera staged this, a 60s trailer and a ghastly morgue were inflicted on us). I was not to be disappointed - Anthony McDonald gave us a realistic design, with the first act set in a cosy house with barren shelves. The forest scene in Act 2 was magical - there were trees, mist, forest creatures - not to mention characters from other Grimm tales during the dream sequence. Act 3 started with a innocent and inviting looking gingerbread house, but on rotation a large cauldron (presumably for turning fat children into gingerbread) was revealed!



Hansel and Gretel were sung by Hanna Hipp and Jennifer Davis respectively. They looked the part and sounded fresh - all helped to convey two misch…

Hagen Quartet, Wigmore Hall

Yes, the legendary Hagen Quartet playing at the Wigmore Hall.

The Schubert String Quartet in G minor sounded rough, with problematic intonation from the first violin. The whole piece sounded like a play through. Not a good start. The playing of the Webern pieces (Five Movements / Six Bagatelles) could not be more different. They got through the grittiness and bleakness of these concise pieces with precision and poise.

The second half of the concert was Haydn String Quartet in Bb (Op 55 N 3). The playing was warm, coherent with the kind of interplay between the quartet members that one would expect. Good tempi choice. This warmth was naturally conveyed through brilliant acoustic of the hall.