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Showing posts from 2007

An ecstatic Parsifal at the Royal Opera

It's not even Christmas yet, but inside the Royal Opera House tonight, it felt like Easter has come early.

Tonight's performance of Parsifal was a revival of the 2001 production. Christopher Ventris sang the title role with conviction. Petra Lang was a convincing mad and schizophrenic Kundry. John Tomlinson sang a more lyrical than usual Gurnamanz and Willard White added wickedness to the scorer Klingsor. Its minimalist design and light-touch stage direction really let the music carry the drama. OK, there was the feet washing and flying sword, most of the time the singers were allowed to give the music care and space.

The real star was Bernard Haitink. The orchestra gave Haitink 110% tonight - not a split note in the brass section, the woodwind department was full of rich colours, even the strings were adding warmth to the music (I recall the drunken-sounding brass section in the Ring). But Haitink didn't take any of this for granted - he was phrasing and shaping the mus…

Aida in Technicolor at the English National Opera

Last night I went to see Aida at the English National Opera. When I booked a few weeks earlier, there were just  the odd single seats left - clearly I forgot about the fact that Aida is a bit of a crowd-puller. So being two seats behind Ed Gardner I had a rather wide-angle view of the stage!

Claire Rutter was  the defiant yet passionate Aida. Jane Dutton made a tempestuous and bitchy Amneris. John Hudson, as Radames, took a little while to warm up at the beginning. He was brave enough to sing the last note of Celeste Aida with a pianissimo sotto voce rather than blasting it out. However, against the strong voiced Aida and Amneris, Ramades sounded at times overwhelmed (there were one or two moments where his voice sounded pushed). The chorus did very well in the second act with multiple divides - there were slaves, women, high priests, normal priests - and added much atmosphere to the subsequent trial and entombment scenes. The acrobatic show during the ballet music also worked well.


Sakenohana brings honest Japanese to London

Located adjacent to the Economist Building, Sakenohana opens its doors this week serving Kaiseki cooking. Apart from tempura fish and vegetable, all the dishes are authentic using lots of real Japanese ingredients (I'd dread to think what's the carbon footprint). Yam with fish eggs, slow cooked yellow tail tuna and fried rice balls in dashi fish stock all tasted real and honest. The deco had a peculiar combination of Japanese tatami with Nordic wood fixtures.

There is no omakase yet, but that would be a nice addition to a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The exuberant Lang Lang at the Royal Festival Hall, London

Lang Lang (郎朗) opened his concert at the Royal Festival Hall with Mozart's piano sonata K 333. He played it with much fluidity, though I was not sure whether it was Lang Lang or Mozart that I was listening to. His playing of Schumann's Fantasie in C was captivating - with longing pensive moments (at least for a 25 year old).

The second half of the concert began with him describing the few Chinese works that we was going to play. It was nice to see such a young performer at ease on stage not performing but talking to the audience. These pieces were playful yet evocative of Chinese (taking a broader sense as he made a point to describe the west Chinese origin of one of the pieces) poetic and instrumental colours. These were followed by a stylistic playing of a Granados. We were then thrown into the complex Wagnerian world with Liszt's transcription of Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde - Lang Lang was able to sustain a rich and complex orchestral sound taking us through to t…

An unexpectingly decent Canteen at the Royal Festival Hall

It was the London Jazz Festival and there was much happening at the South Bank Centre last night. I was with a friend and we didn't warm to the kind of rapping jazz that they were playing so we thought it was a good idea to eat. Rather than popping down riverside, we went to the rearside to try out Canteen.

The backless chairs and chunky wooden tables gave the place a distintively Nordic feel. The food was decidedly English fayre - pies and roast aplenty. I had a chicken pie followed by an apple crumble. It was surprisingly good and there was a distinctly clean taste. The waiter explained to us the most ingredients were locally sourced.

A witty L'elisir d'amore, Royal Opera

Having just seen the Ring, it's a big mind shift to go to L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera tonight - with no gods, semi-gods, superheroes, etc. - it turned out to be an evening of light-hearted entertainment - nothing too demanding. Aleksandra Kurzak gave a superb performance with wonderful coloratura and witty acting as Adina. Her opposite number Stefano Secco gave a convincingly mad and idiotic portrayal of the love sick Nemorino. The production was clever with bails of hay giving a lot of visual interest. Mikko Franck conducted the band with much needed steadiness.

Coming to an end with Götterdämmerung (Royal Opera)

The three norns in the prologue were fantastic - who told the "story so far" with mysticism and conviction. The opening love duet between Siegfried (John Treleaven) and Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) was almost good as both were fresh voiced at the start of the opera. Kurt Rydl's Hagen had bite and evil - perfect for the character. Gunther (Peter Coleman-Wright) and Gutrune (Emily Magee) were good as supporting characters. The chorus was a much welcome addition to Act II with the wedding procession. The whole thing dipped a bit in the second half of Act II and the beginning of Act III - was it the pitch of the tempi, the poor string ensemble in the orchestra or the wayward brass section? The audience laughed at the horrendous entry of the horns at the beginning of Act III - I guess it was a funny way to say "you have had a long evening, but don't relax too much". The whole cast rose to the challenge for this final act of the last opera in the Ring. Lisa Gasteen&…

Siegfried - the elusive heldentenor

After the high of Die Walküre, I had to readjust my expectation for Siegfried - John Treleaven didn't impress me last time, so I didn't expect to be impressed this time round. Just as before, in this performance e was not convincing as a adolescent hero, nor effective at sing the heroic tenor role. Then again, so few in the world are. The first two acts went along ok - a grisly Mime added a bit more drama to the proceedings. The act came to life a bit more - especially when Brünnhilde "woke up" and both Treleaven and Lisa Gasteen came rose to the occasion to bring the opera to an effective end.

And who dropped the cymbal in the middle of it all?

The perfect couple in Die Walküre

The first act of Die Walküre is not easy - with lots of dialogues and monologues. We had, on Sunday night, the perfect match. Placido Domingo sang a world-weary yet lyrical Siegmund while Eva-Maria Westbroek gave a stoic yet passionate portrayal of Sieglinde. The drama, lyricism and music fitted perfectly together. John Tomlinson was on good form as the War-Father. Lisa Gasteen was not a bad Brünnhilde, though I was a wee bit worried about her getting the high notes ... Pappano kept the tempi up and everything moving!

Anticipating Das Rheingold (Royal Opera)

I have seen the Ring Cycle several times over the past two decades, and have enjoyed them immensely. So, with much anticipation, I went to Das Rheingold  last night  at the Royal Opera. As with any  great opera, there is much room for interpretation even when the current production was first staged as individual operas a couple of years ago. The musical passage that depicted Fasolt's longing for Freia was played out with much tenderness, though I was not sure about Albericht pricking his eye with Wotan's spear after the former had  cursed the infamous ring. The set looks more bedded in without the initial awkwardness. The Valhalla / Rainbow music was magical with a bit of restrain that gave an inkling of what is to come.

Le cinq is still a delightful dining experience

It used to have 3 Michelin stars, now it has two, but the food and service is still remarkably good and friendly. Le cinq is still one of my favourites in Paris - where the dining room is sumptuous without being over-bearing, the service is first rate without being intrusive, the food remains inventive while reflecting diners' trend towards lighter dishes.

musée du quai Branly is worthy of its reference collection

Jacque Chirac opened  musée du quai Branly during the final few months of this presidency. The museum definitely lives up to its aspiration for presenting the arts from Africa, Asia, Americas and other countries justly. The architecture of the museum adopts a more recent trend of directed flow where visitors are guided by undulating slopes, colour codes and shapely walls as amazing arts and artefacts of these under-represented cultures are revealed.

The exterior of the museum is also very impressive: the carefully landscaped garden brings much humanity to the sympathetic museum building.

Wonderful veg at L'arpege

I didn't know a salt roasted beetroot could taste so wonderful! Alain Passard's L'aperge lived up to its reputation of being able to make vegetables exciting and super tasty - remember the French were never great at veg apart from puree everything. We took the menu degustation that comprised of mostly vegetables with a course with scallops. Granted, there were some meat flavours in some of the dishes (smoked bacon and chantilly cream foam on top of a parsnip soup), but the star ingredients were definitely of early origin.

MTT and San Francisco Symphony gave incisive performance Mahler 7 at BBC PROMS

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony have acquired a bit of a reputation for their Mahler symphonies - probably made more famous by their incredible recording of the 6th Symphony on 12 Sept 2001. Last night at the BBC PROMS, MTT and SFS were on form and reveal the wonders of this atmospheric work - from the darkness of night and deep forest horn calls to the blazing sun light of the finale. MTT took the liberty / risk with the tempi - lots of rubati and rallentandi, which made sense in joining the various sections of the work together. The percussion department was having a fabulous time with swinging cow bells and glissandi timpani!

(a packed Royal Albert Hall, with the SFS awaiting MTT onto the rostrum)

Knussen conducts Webern, Anderson and his own works late at night

Oliver Knussen conducted a marvelous programme of contemporary music at the late night PROMS yesterday. His interpretation of his Ophelia Dances and Requiem (sung by Claire Booth) conveyed the emotions without loosing the cool - the latter work was a solemn and personal tapestry of feelings. Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra was a real joy to listen to - the 4th piece which contained only 7 bars gave a new meaning to "Less Is More". Knussen did a customary repeat of all five pieces just in case if anyone in the audience missed it the first time round! The evening concluded with Julian Anderson's Book of Hours - with the composer at the console interweaving sampled electronic sound into the live performance. Knussen's "cartridge onto the vinyl LP" gesture was a firm
acknowledgemnet of the importance of the recorded elements of the work.
The work sounded more sonorous then when it was first performed in Birmingham a few years ago, and had a indescribably s…

A deep Bruckner Symphony No 8, Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw

It was not so many years ago when Bernard Haitink was Music Director at the Royal Opera, yet he somehow managed to maintain his link with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra over all these years. So it was a wonderful evening to listen to their performance of Bruckner 8th Symphony at the BBC Proms.

It was a deep and pensive performance - with beautiful strings and woodwind playing, the brass section was always forward without being aggressive. The whole architecture of the piece was nicely laid out before us - especially for work that is so immense and complex. Most memorable.

Is decorum compatible with individualism?

A recent visit to one of the top restaurants in Hong Kong has caused me to ponder on this question: is decorum compatible with individualism?

It was not so long ago (think pre-dotcom boom) where smart restaurants required guests to put "jacket and tie" on and investment bankers wore sharp suits to work. Just as military uniform (precursor to the modern day gentleman's suit) signified an officer's rank, one's clothing arguably provides an important non-verbal cue to one's desires, intentions and social ranking. Individuals thus observed the social contract with society and adopted their behaviour accordingly.

The dotcom era brushed much of this aside - "dress down everyday" meant out-of-shape investment bankers (or lawyers or consultants) wore ill fitted shirts and trousers, while millionaire twenty-something paraded their designer t-shirts and jeans at trendy places. Many smart establishments have succumbed to this pressure by relaxing dress code - …

Good food at Pierre, Mandarin Oriental, ambiance could be better

This new French haute cuisine restaurant by Pierre Gagnaire at the Mandarin Oriental hotel had been opened for a few months when I made my visit on Saturday evening. The foyer has a peculiar look and feel of haute couture meets night club with those big LCD display of fade-in and fade-out images. What happened to just an elegant and dramatic floral arrangement?

The deco is coherent with predominantly dark tones. I took the menu degustation just to check out the breadth and capability of the kitchen. The wine list was OK - main stream catering for the ostentatious clientele.  The dishes were all well presented and executed - with the richer seafood dishes better than the lighter variety. The presentation of the dishes was very good - with judicious use of unusually shaped porcelain and arrangements.

What was enjoyable? The generally well prepared and presented dishes, harbour view (if you have a window next to you).

What was not enjoyable? The sound level could be enhanced - it's too …

Wagyu on Hollywood Road, Hong Kong

It's Friday, it's the beginning of the weekend, and Lan Kwai Fong was positively buzzing last night. Even though it was one of the hotter days, the streets were heaving with expats and locals alike.

We found ourselves having dinner at Wagyu on Hollywood Road. It's a New World joint serving up generous portions of crab martini (lumps of crab meat mixed with finely chopped cucumber and bell peppers) and Wagyu beef (presumably it's from Australia). My 8 oz. fillet steak was cooked to perfection, though the accompanying Bearnaise Sauce was a disaster - a pool of barely emulsified butter with not a speck of tarragon.

We ordered Aussie Pavlova as a pudding to share among the four of us - and lucky we ordered just the one as it's huge!

Top notch canto nosh in Hong Kong

Where to find the best Cantonese food in Hong Kong? Do you mean the best ingredients? The best known? The best crowd? It appears that Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) is one that most would agree on. It's tucked away in a non-descript building in Wai Chai - you need to know where you are going. Lots of people are chauffeur driven there. Of course, if you are a mere mortal, valet parking is at your service. The busy-body ground floor receptionists will whisk you away into the lift lobby where you will be taken to one of two floors for your table (yes, booking is advisable).  The decor is pleasant (considering it's a windowless environment0, and there is a certain gentility among the guests - many of whom are regulars. You'll also see a fair amount of hob-nobbing - but hay this is Hong Kong.

The dimsims at lunch are delectable and  evening dishes are made with the finest ingredients - you name it, they've got it. Advice is naturally at hand on menu composition. The taste, textures and…

A real gritty Rigoletto, Royal Opera

Unexpected pleasure is always the best. Went to see the relatively new production (David McVicar / Michael Vale) of Rigoletto tonight - what a treat. While I was not familiar with any of the singers (or my ignorance rather), Woo Kyung Kim sang a lustful and decadent Il Duce, Patrizia Ciofi was a vulnerable yet (musically) articulate Gilda. Franz Grundheber was a vengeful and full blooded Rigoletto.

The stage design (Michael Vale) and costumes (Tanya McCallin) worked really well, not to mention Renato Palumbo who was daring to bring about some of the rubarti with the whole case.

Poor Tosca didn't deserve this treatment

There was a lot of buzz when the new Jonathan Kent / Paul Brown production of Tosca was premiered last year. The current revival should encourage many more to see it. Alas, the cast was not great - Tosca sung by a mediocre but large soprano, Cavaradossi a below-par tenor with the inability to maintain the line, and Scarpia was passable. The conductor was somewhat lacking in enthusiasm. Oh poor Tosca ...

Renée Fleming is Thaïs, Royal Opera

It was only a concert performance, but Renée Fleming have 100% singing the title role Thaïs this week at the Royal Opera.

Andrew Davis conducted the ROH Orchestra on stage (rather than in the pit). Thomas Hampson had to pull out so Athanaël was sung by an equally capable Simone Alberghini. Of course, Renée was the star of the show - even though it was only a concert performance, there were gestures, emotions and drama in her voice. The final tableau was particularly memorable - with her voice soaring up on high. A standing ovation at the end barely did justice to the quality of the performance. Will the Royal Opera stage it any time soon?

Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

I've seen Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenleyside as Don Giovanni in this Zambello production, but I have to say Erwin Schrott was marvelous in tonight's performance at the Royal Opera. Back in 2003 he sang Leporello - which showed him as a real performer. As Don Giovanni, he was able to establish that magical rapport with the audience (a flirtatious moment on the edge of the stage) while not losing the singing voice. Of course, having a muscular body (still rare among opera singers) made the whole character believable and he seemed to have enjoyed being on stage scantily clad.

The rest of the cast was great too - particularly the emotionally torn Donna Elvira sung by Ana Maria Martinez. The simplicity yet effective set design by Maria Björnson continued to serve this production well.

La Cenerentola, Glyndebourne

A revival of the 2005 production, La Cenerentola got off to a good start this season at Glyndebourne with Jurowski at the helm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.  The whole cast worked really well together (including the last minute role change Raquela Sheeran singing Clorinda). Pietro Spagnoli sang a particularly charming Dandini, Ruxandra Donose was a sure-footed Cenerentola a Maxim Mironov sang a decent Prince. The production was fun, with a lot of loving touches such as the coach crashing just outside Don Magnifico's palazzo. A very enjoyable and light hearted  entertainment.

Káta Kabanova, Royal Opera

Janice Watson gave a convincing portrayal of Káta Kabanova at the revival of this fantastic Royal Opera production with the swirling stage hinting at the doomed Káta. Felicity Palmer sang Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova with venom and Kurt Streit a passionate lover. Sir Charles Mackerras conducted with much gusto - while the pace of drama moved along nicely.

Schnittke, Mozart and Prokefiev, LPO, Royal Festival Hall

The first LPO "paying" concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Jurowski conducted a fun and witty performance of Schnittke's (K)ein Sommernahstraum. Imogen Cooper played in Mozart D minor piano concerto. I was not entirely at ease with her somewhat masculine playing of the flowing runs. I wonder what Mitsuko Uchida thought of it (she was also in the audience). The Alfred Brendel cadenza was interesting though. The last piece was Prokofiev Fifth - a humanistic and positive symphony without too much of the cynism one find int his music. The LPO rose to the occasion with tight strings and brass, effective percussion and fantastic woodwinds.

First Night Gala Concert, Royal Festival Hall

The much anticipated re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall was officially upon us. There was neither pomp nor circumstance: even the Duke of Kent was
happy to be amongst the audience rather than in the ceremonial box.
The opening work by Julian Anderson was a lovely collage of choral and orchestral textures - both expansive and intimate. The Byzantium section was marvellous - just hearing a wash of organic and energetic sound. Jurowski conducted the work with much confidence. This was followed by Firebird which really showed off the hall's new found dynamism.
The rest of the programmes was somewhat eclectic including the last movement of Beethoven 9th Symphony (The reviewer from New York Times obviously did not realise there was a cast change - Philip Langridge and Brindley Sherratt were replaced by Simon O'Neill and Neal Davies). Marin Alsop brought the evening to a stylish and climatic end with Bolero.

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall

It was billed as a "Warm Up Event". But I think it was to do with contracts signed prior to the discovery of asbestos at the Royal Festival Hall which added six months to the renovation programme.

Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Strauss Four Last Songs and Mahler 5th. The band made a good sound tough the upper strings were a bit subdue (or was it the Hall?) The Four Last Songs were a bit fast to my liking - and it was only Beim Schlafengehen where I felt the tempo was right. Measha Brueggergosman sang relatively well, though her BIG HAIR was in the way of the sound projection.

Mahler 5th was thunderous and supple at the same time - the latter much helped by the strong viola and lower string section. It was exciting and forward but could do with a bit more rubati. Otherwise it was an enjoyable evening out at this much loved venue.

Skylon at the Royal Festival Hall, London

It must be nerve wrecking for any maitre d' top open a restaurant's doors for the first time to the public. It must be doubly so on a freezing cold, wet and windy day at the end of May. The reservation desk of Skylon called me in the afternoon to say their heating has broken down!!!

Unfazed by the potential chill, it was a delight to arrive at this new Conran restaurant in pristine condition - sympathetic lighting and a soft colour palette made the austere interior of the 50s space welcoming. Soon after we sat down, the waiters brought a round of mulled wine to warm us up!

The menu contained many egg dishes - so I tried the Egg Skylon (kind of Egg Florentine with Cornish crab meat). My main course was pan fried lemon sole topped with grey prawns. It was also entertaining to watch the staff trying various ways to warm the large space - all with a good sense of humour. Let's hope such high spirit will carry on through to the re-opening night of the Royal Festival Hall on 11 J…

Fidelio, Royal Opera

Karita Mattila stared in Fidelio at the Royal Opera's new production (co-produced with the Metropolitan Opera) was fantastic. Mattila has made such an epic transformation from Musetta in La Boheme in the early 90s to the demanding and dramatic role as Fidelio. Beethoven's score is demanding and Pappano ensured the drama moved at a progressive pace.  Endrik Wottrich made a convincing Florestan and Eric Halfvarson as a humanistic Rocco. This was backed by an enlarged opera chorus which made the prisoner and final crowd scenes emotive.

A matter of life and death, National Theatre

I don't think I have ever seen the original film "A matter of life and death" by Powell and Pressburger. So it was quite interesting for me to see the play at the National Threatre on its own terms. It was a delight to watch such creative and exciting theatre - where nurses on bicycles were mimicking the Lancaster Bombers, or the Tarantino-esque slow motion tennis sequence on stage!

Takacs Quartet and Stephen Hough, Queen Elizabeth Hall

While I do hate the Queen Elizabeth Hall as a venue for the symphonic orchestra (it was never intended, plus cramp back stage facilities), it is a suitable venue for chamber concerts. It was a delight to hear the animatic Takacs Quartet play string quartets of Dvořák (No 12)  and Shostakovich (No 11). Then Stephen Hough joined the Takacs to perform the mammoth Brahms piano quintet - so much energy  and  lyricism.  It was a delight.

On The Town, English National Opera

It's not as good as when it was staged back in 2005. The production still sported three convincingly rampant sailors. But somehow the magic was not there. The rowdy numbers like New York New York and Gabey's Comin' were great, but the whole show just felt a bit flat.

Barrafina in Soho, London

Tapas in Soho is nothing new. There are plenty. Barrafina, which opened earlier in 2007, offers a posh venue for eating tapas. The sherry menu was good value. The food menu is well chosen - and all the dishes were well presented without being fussy. The place comprises a long bar with stools and standing places behind does not encourage punters to stay too long - which is good - though it could have a few more standing places for those who are merely passing through.

Britten, Anderson and Walton, BBC Symphony Orchestra

OK, two concerts in a row of relatively modern music in a week!

The baby-face Edward Gardner conducted Britten's A Charm of Lullabies and Phaedra with Sarah Connolly singing. The narrative was free flowing with drama. This was followed by Anderson's Symphony - the opening rustling (produced by back of bows scratching along the strings) was atmospheric with wonderful evocation of nature and felicity.  The concert concluded with Walton's Symphony No 1 - not my favourite work: I still prefer him going crazy with strings, percussion and voices (i.e. Belshazzar's Feast). But hay ho, can't have everything.

Hear and Now, St Luke's on Old Street

Once in a while it's nice to be dragged along to hear works that one would otherwise avoid, miss out or neglect. So it was a welcome change after a long day at work to go to a concert of works by contemporary and living composers (i.e. Gerald Barry, Michael Finnissy, Ian Vine).

All the works were exciting and fun to listen to. Richard Baker was at the helm of the London Sinfonietta with the requisite decisiveness. I particularly enjoyed how classical musical instruments were making new textures and sounds that one would not expect. Perhaps I should listen to more contemporary works.

Macbeth, Glyndebourne

Not having read any reviews, I had no idea what to expect at this new production of Macbeth at Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Was I shocked, disappointed, annoyed? Words fail me here. The music was fine - Jurowski commanded the LPO with usual eloquence and fire. The soloists and chorus were on good form too (though the latter had had one or two wayward moments). The problem appeared, alas, when you opened your eyes. As the witches came out of the caravans (trailer-park analogy) it was comical. But when the whole stage design was around some undecipherable social-psychological coding, it became enormously hard to form any understanding between the visual and the audio - the stage was the distraction. Glyndebourne played a crucial role in bring early Verdi operas back to the UK - it was ever more disappointing to see a production of such poor quality.

Acoustic Tuning, Royal Festival Hall

I don't recall ever having been to a concert hall before it was open to the public. The Acoustic Tuning concert at the Royal Festival Hall yesterday was probably the most sought after event in London: I was lucky enough to have a ticket to sit in the newly renovated concert hall and listened to the London Philharmonic Orchestra played a variety of works - from string trio to a big fat romantic Brahms symphony. The audience was asked not to spoil it by revealing anything to the public - so I won't - but I have to say my expectations were met and am much looking forward to many more years of great concerts at this iconic venue.

Stiffelio, Royal Opera

I saw the first production of Stiffelio back in the early 90s when Jose Carreras came back to the opera stage singing opposite Catherine Malfitano. It was a seasonal production - Jose was pensive, emotionally torn and his voice had a rare vulnerability that made him the ideal Stiffelio. I saw Covent Garden's latest re-run of Stiffelio with Jose Cura singing the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky as Lina. Unfortunately, this was yet another shouting match - hmm, was it my hearing or  every body could only sing f, ff or fff? It's the same production as before - which portrayed Protestant New World very well. However, Jose Cura's voice had just too much heroism in it to make him a believable Stiffelio. Sondra Radvanosky's voice was really not to my taste - that weird fast tremolo coupled with a limited range of facial expressions didn't do it for me. It was also my first time seeing Alastair Miles (as Jorg) with long hair!

Gianni Schicchi, Royal Opera

Gianni Schicchi paired with L'Heure espagnole at the Royal Opera tonight. Again it was a Richard Jones production.

The "trailer trash" design (that's how my friend Daniel Snowman described it) really set the scene for these greedy and selfish relatives of Buoso Donati. Dina Kuznetsova (Lauretta) gave a good rendition of the famous aria O Bambbino Caro. Bryn Terfel was the "lager lout" Gianni Schicchi - complete with a cigarette dangling off his mouth. It was a great performance - both on stage and in the pit - and the drama really did come to life.

L'Heure espagnole, Royal Opera

Richard Jones' latest production of Ravel's L'Heure espagnole at the Royal Opera was fabulous. The entire cast of 5 did a sterling job of bring this comic opera to life.

Christine Rice gave a realistic portrayal of the frustrated housewife Concepcion and Christopher Maltman the hunky remover man. It was a lot of fun and the audience really enjoyed the production. All this was coupled with a well rehearsed orchestra with Pappano at the helm. It's such a gem I wonder why it isn't performed more often.

Is it necessary to pounce on singers during intervals

I was listening to the Saturday Matinee Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 - live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York tonight. It's Gounod's Faust. I noticed recently they have started popping back stage to interview the stars during the interval. Is it a good idea?

In tonight's broadcast, Ildar Abdrasakov who sang Méphistophélès certainly gave a strong hint of irritation when he was interviewed. It was embarrassing to listen to the interviewer pushing for comments and scoops when clearly Abdrasakov wanted to rest his voice. Surely singers deserve a rest during the interval - having sound a big aria towards the end of Act II. Was it really necessary to pounce on these tired souls when they would have given so much on stage?

Gilbert & George - Major Exhibition, Tate Modern

It's billed as a major exhibition. The latest Gilbert & George show at the Tate Modern certainly has pulling power. It really is a retrospective exhibition of the artists / personalities / brands of Gilbert & George. It is fascinating to see how their identity evolved with the times, events and people around them, yet being able to maintain a high degree of "brand consistency" - brand managers around the world have plenty to learn from them.

The best part of the exhibition was the works that explored and communicated death, life and hope (Rooms 12 onwards). There was something very touching about these frank and direct collage of images and shapes.

Orlando, Royal Opera

I went to see Orlando at the Royal Opera last Thursday. This was the 8th performance at the Royal Opera House - I also saw the 4th performance a few years back. I'd to re-read the synopsis to remind myself the story, so I guess it did not stick last time.
Bejun Metha was an agile Orlando and his interpretation of the mad scene / coloratura was outstanding. The rest of the cast was fine. Charles Mackerras kept the pace of the opera moving - but clearly not as energetically as he would with a Janácek number.
I just don't get Handel operas - Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne was great, but only because of the production and the array of fabulous singers who pulled it off. Is it something for me to discover still? I wonder.

Arbutus, London

Frith Street plays host to many eateries - from the institutional Bar Italia and Alastair Little to many other modest establishments. Arbutus is one of the more recent successes on this strip. It's decor is contemporary and clean, with only a handful of tables arranged cleverly within this challenging site.

It's recently earned Michelin star is well deserved. The menu is adventurous - offering lamb neck, pork belly, smoked eel with beetroot, and a "squid and mackerel burger" (see below). The dishes that we have sampled were all carefully presented and delicious. Even the pudding menu demonstrated much innovation - hot and cold blood oranges was very pleasing dessert to cleanse the palate.

What was enjoyable: an exciting array of dishes that were delicious without being boring.
What was not enjoyable: No bread plate (OK it's a small restaurant) and not a well amalgamated team - the French waiters were enthusiastic, professional and fun, but the English speaking one…

Il trovatore, Royal Opera

The Fat Lady strikes back! Azucena (sung by Stephanie Blythe) out sang and out sized everyone at this production of Verdi Il Trovatore. She definitely filled the Victorian theatre with her penetrative voice. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast fell into the trap of trying to out do each other - by singing louder and louder - there were unpleasant moments when I could not quite distinguish whether it was singing or shouting.
Manrico was sung by Marcelo Alverez who has gone podgy though he still possesses his dramatic tenorial ring - time to go on a diet. Leonora was sung by Catherine Naglestad who seemed to have a plum stuck in her buccal cavity - text text text! Anthony Michales-Moore was the Count di Luna - whose acting was good but intonation was wayward. And mama mia the Italian diction was awful - could hardly hear the words.
All in all, it was an unremarkable and forgettable performance.

Nadaman and Kenjo for Kaiseki and Chirashi, Hong Kong

In a feature article in this weekend's FT, Gwen Robinson discussed the ins out outs of Kaiseki (懐石料理) - a branch of Japanese cuisine - and its lack of visibility in London and continental Europe. Well, while I was in Hong Kong in January, I revisited Nadaman and had a delightful Kaiseki dinner with my family. 

The modern and stylish decoration accurately portrays its locale (Hong Kong, though it could equally be Tokyo or Osaka). Their Kaiseki dinner consisted of dishes that were varied, seasonal and delightful - all expertly executed. Some of the dishes are arranged as if for a still life painting. And it did take more than two hours to complete the courses.

However, if one was pressed for time yet wanting to have one's eyes and palate tickled, then a classic chirashi dish will also do the trick. One of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong is Kenjo 見城 (which is on the Kowloon side). It 's  a tiny restaurant with just four tables plus a sushi bar. Every ingredien…

Village East, London

Bermondsey is between Tower Bridge and London Bridge on the south side of the river. It has always been an interesting area - the variety of restaurants, galleries and museums attest to that. A friend dragged me to an eatery on a Sunday evening - Village East - where we had a delightful dinner.

There is a homely unpretentious feel to the place. A bar fronts the restaurant (a trend that's returning to London after an absence of a decade or so), with dining tables sprawling the irregular space. The menu is Modern British - simple dishes well cooked. I had mackerels on a bed of mash and chopped choriso sausages - very nice.  My glass of prosecoe unexpectedly arrived in a wide-mouth champagne glass - the kind you used to see in B&W films!

What was enjoyable? The ambiance, the staff and the unpretentious food. It was a Sunday night and they had run out of a few ingredients - it's nice to know not everything was coming from the deep freezer.
What was not enjoyable? Nothing really.

La fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti's La fille du régiment really came to life with this fab cast - Natalie Dessay was a spritely and convincing Marie, Felicity Palmer was the fabulous Marquise, Juan Diego-Flórez was the young handsome and madly in love Tonio, topped with the fabulous Dawn French as the larger-than-life Duchesse de Crackentorp! Much effort went into the production - the opening scene was full of little touches like Marie synchronising the regiment's ironing with her coloratura. The choreography was also clever - often used to mark out the dramatic situation. All in all a good night's entertainment.

Edo de Waart conducts Debussy, Ravel and Gerswin, Hong Kong

After the pagan festivities of Christmas and New Year (can somebody stop shopping malls and lifts from playing bad interpretations of and out of tune Christmas favourites?), and just before the Hong Kong Arts Festival, it was a delight to attend a concert with a Franco-American early 20th century flavour.

The concert began with Debussy's La Mer. Edo de Waart and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra captured most of the nuances in this evocative work. The best was in the scherzo-like second movement "Jeux de vagues" - with the strings and winds rippling about. A young pianist Kirill Gerstein played the Ravel piano concerto in G with much eloquence and fluidity, accompanied by HKPO's warm sound - bringing the first half of the concert to a nice close. Gerswin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris formed the second half of the concert. For such a well known work, it was surprising to hear the more than occasional smudges from Gerstein and wayward tempo from t…

Nobu at InterContinental Hotel, Hong Kong

The latest Nobu restaurant is a surprisingly modest affair - not too big, dim lighting and contemporary music. It seems to follow the Nobu Berkeley formula in London where a decent size bar greets diners and no doubt will attract pre- and post- dinner drinkers.

The food? You get most of the Nobu classic dishes - Rock Shrimp Tempura with Ponzu (comparable to New York and London), scallop cerviche (refreshing as ever), and the usual Toban-Yaki and sushi menu. Fortunately there is a few dishes only available at the Hong Kong outfit - we tried the Eggplant Special (why have they not given it a more fancy name) which consists of a juicy roasted eggplant with a minced fish and prawn paste topped with a concoction of chili, garlic and roe (I think).

What was enjoyable? New dishes alongside the tried and tested classics. The eagerness of the staff - no doubt influenced by the newness of the restaurant (three week old)  and the presence of  the name sake proprietor.
What was not enjoyable? The h…

Nobu at InterContinental Hotel, Hong Kong

Hong Kong finally gets the treatment of the Nobu restaurant experience. It is quite disturbing to be told, even with the most feminine voice  "your table is booked for 6PM, there is a 15 minute grace period before it is surrendered, and the table shall be vacated by 8.15PM". That's this evening and I shall indeed find out what I can experience in 135 minutes.

Café Causette at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

A great deal of "nip and tuck" went on at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong. The significant work saw the relocation of the cafe from ground floor up to the 1st floor with good height windows all round. It also has a new name - Café Causette. It continues to serve respectable international fare - with a judicious selection of Eastern and Western classics - no doubt to the delight of well-heeled corporate diners in the vicinity.

What was enjoyable? The bright decor and fairly attentive service in a convenient location in Central.
What was not enjoyable? The loud and ostentatious diners at lunch time - I wonder whether the atmosphere improves in the afternoon when most people would return to their offices toiling way. I'd dread to think what breakfast would be like - barking bankers having their power breakfasts!

Pasar, Hong Kong

Lots of eateries in Hong Kong are tucked away above street level with signs so tiny you would know they ever existed. Pasar's newest joint on Wellington Street has a modern and simple decor serving up decent Singaporean dishes (well, that means a Singaporean interpretation of Malay, Indian, Indonesian and Chinese cooking). My bowl of Singapore Laksa and my friends' fried rice noodles were all tasty and authentic. The Pandan Cake (feather-light sponge cake perfumed with pandan leaves) rounded off a hearty meal.

What was enjoyable? The simplicity of the decor, the enthusiastic staff and lovely food.
What was not so enjoyable? Having to give instructions to friends on how to locate the restaurant which is rather complicated "up Wellington Street, pass the Japanese furniture store, go into the building and take the lift (not the stairs as they will lead you to the fire exit and kitchen of the restaurant)".