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Robert le diable at the Royal Opera

Robert le diable was very interesting for me on so many counts. In David Cairns' biography of Hector Berlioz, there was a lot of mention of Meyerbeer in Paris at the time - yet I'd no exposure to Meyerbeer's operas. Then a friend of mine said "there are reasons why some operas don't get performed much - they weren't any good". And there was my sheer curiosity to be exposed to one of the first "grand operas".

So, voila, Robert le diable at the Royal Opera. Laurent Pelly's new production was grand. Lots of movements and textures. Lots of people. The cast of many sang well - and in particular Bryan Hymel. Not sure whether the "ballet" worked in the middle act - it was dancing around lots of obstacles.

And how was it in the end? There was not a dull moment. Musically? No, it's no match for later grand operas. But then one has to put this pioneering work into context. For sure, one felt entertained for the evening. Perhaps it's…

Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Royal Opera

It was an epic journey. Having seen the complete Ring a few times now, I still found myself completely immersed in the experience. Here were some memorable moments (good and bad):
Sarah Connolly as Fricka was a surprise. Having seen her mainly in trouser roles, she was a convincing Wagnerian mezzo!Bryn Terfel as a less bombastic and more pensive Wotan. His best yet. The ring of fire had a hiccup  at the end if Die Walküre - but the fire came on eventually so all as well.Simon O’Neill was super as Siegmund, and well matched by Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde - their duet at the end of Act I was exhilirating.It took me a long time to get used to Stefan Vinke as Siegfried - there is something odd in the way he shaped the beginning of the words. Then again, you can't beat him for the stamina he'd demonstrated throughout Siegfried.Woops,  Wotan's spear was shattered before Siegfried got there ... there was this collective gasp in the audience!  Susan Bullock was fab as Brünhil…

Juan at the Linbury Studio

OK. This is a film. But it's Don Giovanni. Oh wait, it's not an opera on film. But it's a film opera. Or is it opera film? Anyway, I went to a private screening of JUAN and it was surprisingly good. Kasper Holten (current Director of Opera at the Royal Opera) directed the film. The plot is based on Don Giovanni - but with a big chunk cut out. It's in English. Christopher Maltman (singer, not librettist) translated Da Ponte's text. The film was engaging, intriguing, and not bad entertainment. If you have not seen it, give it a whirl - you might like it!

Islamic Art at Musée du Louvre, Paris

The New Department of Islamic Art was only opened on the 22 Sept 2012. As I was in Paris, this had to be a must stop! And I was not disappointed. As more and more museums around the world re trying to raise the profile of this great culture, none was more bold than this at the Louvre - a new wing, exciting architecture and superb curatorship.
One of the most amazing pieces of art on display was the mosaic from the Damascus Mosque in Syria. The colours are so vivid and exiting, yet the abstract quality (when looked at up close) almost pointed to impressionist art that was yet to come.
The curves, lines, motifs and chiaroscuro were just enchanting. There were a wealth of display of ceramic, tiles, mosaics etc., and one needed at least a couple of hours to give the exhibits justice. Do go!



Café Marly, Paris

I couldn't cope with the hordes of tourists inside Musée du Louvre. So, breakfast had to be at Café Marly. It's one of my old favourites and I'm glad to report that the staff continued to be professional with just enough politeness to stop you thinking how rude Parisians can be. Sadly, even this establishment was showing signs of economic strain - look at the chipped plate.

Les Fines Gueules, Paris

Yes, Paris, on a rainy night eating alone. Les Fines Gueules was just round the corner from where I was staying near Place des Victoires. Having read about it in the Time Out Paris guide, I thought I'd pop round for a late bite.


The Veloute aux Petits Pois was delicious - enough substance to feel and taste the pea, yet velvety smooth in texture. Lovely.
Next up was the steak with mash. Sounds simple. It was beautifully done - the beef was of very good quality (diners nearby had it a la tartar). Each bite was juicy and full of that beefy taste. A delight.

Dessert. I have to confess I didn't have enough space to eat this whole hazelnut pastry with a hazel cream sandwiched. But every mouthful was an explosion of ... praline! It was wonderful.

Albert Herring, English Touring Opera (at the Linbury Studio)

Britten's Albert Herring really works in an intimate theater - such as the Linbury Studio. This ETO production was pretty well cast: with most singers falling into their roles well. Mark Wilde' Albert Herring was earnest, fun and whimsical. Lady Billows (Jennifer Rhys-Davies) had the right sort of pomposity. The rest of the cast sang well. Diction was good. Michael Rosewell conducted the Aurora Orchestra which was relatively tight, though there were the occasional intonation problem.

The direction from Chirsopher Rolls was effective at portraying the kind of small village of Loxford that Britten wanted to depict. Above all, it was funny - and the audience enjoyed it very much.


Otello, Royal Opera

The opening of Elijah Moshinsky's production of Otello packed punches. And it was no different at the recent revival of one of Verdi's great operas. The chorus took a few bars to settle in but otherwise they were great.



Aleksandrs Antonenko carried the title role well. There were the add wooden moments. He did look menacing from Acts 2 onwards. Anja Harteros as Desdemona was ok - a lyrical voice but lacked vulnerability. Both leads were on occasion under-pitch. Lucio Gallo was a nearly credible Iago - though I did feel his voice lacked that evil quality (think Kurt Rydll or Sergei Leiferkus).

And once again it was the super-human-conductor Sir Antonio Pappano at the helm creating a punchy and crisp Verdian sound.

Les Troyens at the Royal Opera

Les Troyens is even rarer than Wagner's Ring Cycle. I have only seen one part of it staged by the ENO many years ago. So a full scale grand opera staging of Berlioz opera was not to be missed.

David McVicar's production and Es Devlin's set designs had strengths and weaknesses. The early part of the opera (in Troy) was atmospheric and gritty, really conveyed the doom and gloom mood of the narrative. The Carthage scene setting was breathtaking - wonderful colours and textures. Somehow, the set (and to a certain extent the production) went out of steam from Act 5 - it got repetitive. And what was that statue about?



Bryan Hymel sang and acted the role Énée well. Eva-Maria Westbroek as Queen of Carthage was fantastic - from dancing along the streets in the city to those love-torn courtship moments. The chorus was also wonderful - commanding an unfamiliar score with complex stage directions. It was Pappano's herculean effort that was most impressive. Not only did he (and the…

La bohème at Glyndebourne

Under a gloomy sky I carried my picnic hamper and rug to Victoria Station - looking slightly out of sorts. But by the time the train pulled into Lewes the sky was blue and Glyndebourne was at its glorious self.

I have not seen La bohème at Glyndebourne before so it's exciting. David Lomeli sang Rudulfo well. Ekaterina Scherbachenko was fabulous too. Act II was believably Christmas in Paris, and Act IV was spring like. The whole cast really gelled. Needless to say the LPO sounded wonderful under the baton of Kirill Karabits.

Billy Budd at the English National Opera

It was a new production of Billy Budd. First night too. What happened to the nautical theme of the opera? There was the odd rope and ladder. The stage set (designer Paul Steinberg) looked more like some cheap sci-fi show - with men wearing faux military uniform. Best ignored.



Ed Gardner conducted. And as ever, kept a tight reign in the pit. Benedict Nelson sang the title role. He was ok - sweet enough voice though lacking in power for the large space of the Coliseum. Kim Begley who sang Captain Vere had much more presence - pensive, questioning, authoritative. The chorus was the best part. Numerous, strong and tight. Words were clear, as if they meant every word of it.

Salome at the Royal Opera

Andris Nelsons was in the pit for this revival of Strauss's Salome. He clearly established a good rapport with the orchestra. The sound had intensity and at times almost menacing. Angela Denoke was Salome - who sang the part well though her stage acting / dancing could be better. Sir David McVicar's production, revived by Bárbara Lluch, hasn't aged too badly. All in all still an enjoyable (does one enjoy Salome?) performance.

The Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne

After some unavoidable delays, I finally got to see The Cunning Little Vixen. The production was great. The set design (Tom Pye) was naturalistic and there was lots of three-dimension spaces for the action to unfold. The costumes by Dinah Collin were effective - a hybrid of "country" and iconic (where the coloured tails or pop out eyes denoted which animal they were). And the stage direction (Melly Still) had lots of little touches (including the vixen peeing over the badger) that made the whole opera entertaining.



Lucy Crowe as the vixen was great - the right kind of voice, and agility to convey that sense of youthfulness. Vladimir Jurowski (his penultimate season) was at the helm of the LPO - all sounded fabulously good.

The Flying Dutchman at the ENO

It's a new production of The Flying Dutchman at the ENO. It's a very dark stage. The ghost ship worked as it jutted out from the back. Costumes were not period specific, though not sure about Act II where the sewing machines were replaced by "ship in a bottle" production line. The art of stage projection continues to evolve. There was a lot of subtle projections in this production:  the dreamy girl Senta was framed in her bedroom, the moody feel on  stage, the storm. No doubt we will see more such clever use of projection technologies in the future.




James Creswell sang the title role well enough, though his acting was somewhat wooden. Orla Boylan's Senta was very good - firm with conviction. And the cast of chorus gave all the big numbers enough welly. Ed Gardner's tempi were measured: too measured I'd say. It worked in the more pensive moments of the piece, but lacked urgency especially in the last act.

Blue Ribbon, Boston

After Hill Country in New York, I just needed to check out similar places in Boston. Well, Blue Ribbon was nearby so I thought it's worth a try. Clearly, BBQ meat eateries are not places you linger ...

The place was somewhat functional. The number plates (including a UK one) were an interesting. Chairs were hard. Metal top tables were utilitarian. But let's focus on the meat.
A big slab. The ribs were meaty, had a good bite and taste. The magic appeared to be how flavouring were rubbed into the meat and how everything was slow cooked. The BBQ sauce had a wholesome feel - in fact there were big tubs with a push dispenser: one could mix spicy with sweet to one's taste. The cornbread was ok. But this time there was no brisket. Still, it tasted finger linking good.

44 & X, New York

That's 44th Street on Tenth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. 44 & X was the perfect remedy on a rainy Sunday before a Broadway show. The tables were on the cosy side. Everyone was churpy (too churpy? must be New York!) The menu was americana. My baby muffins in the bread basket were delectable. The "Maryland crab cake, poached eggs, tomato and hollandaise" was superb.
I could not resist trying their signature macaroni and cheese ... OMG I do not remember when I last had it but it tasted so good I wanted to eat the whole plate!
You know where to go for a decent brunch.

Manon at the Metropolitan Opera

Yes I have seen this at the Royal Opera. As Manon is seldom staged, I grasp the opportunity to see it at the Metropolitan Opera. At the helm was Fabio Luigi who brought this lush score to live. Anna Netrebko, as Manon, was fabulous - from the innocent little girl to the temptress par excellence - though the seduction scene in St Sulpice was, ahem, a bit over done - I didn't remember seeing Manon in the Royal Opera production acting like a nymphomaniac!

Hill Country, New York

I have read about how serious a BBQ can be on this side of The Pond. So I thought I'd better check out some of the restaurants that offer the BBQ experience. Hill Country was tucked away off the main avenues. It's kind of no non-sense - you get a ticket, go over to the meat counter to pick up the meat (ordered by weight) wrapped in paper, then sides, then sit down and eat off the tray.

And oh my god, the brisket was fabulous - good bite, meaty, juicy, smokey and melt-in-your-mouth! So so very good (and high in fat). The ribs were excellent too. The sides were wholesome which matched the meat dishes.
I can't imagine eating this everyday (unless I want to cut short my life), but the meat was definitely memorable!

Miss Fortune at the Royal Opera

New operas don't come by everyday. Miss Fortune, by Judith Weir, was a thoroughly contemporary work that reflects life in the 21st century. I thought the staging, lighting and projects / electronics were great - adding enough interest without being distracting. The projections were particularly good - probably due to artists' familiarity with the technology and capability of projectors.



As for the music, it was clean and "easy on the ears". Emma Bell sang the title role exceptionally well - especially the long monologue at the beginning. Fate (Andrew Watts) was well suited to the role with good and firm projection. Chen Shi-Zheng's direction was modern - from using today's Evening Standards to the hip break-dancers.

Rusalka at the Royal Opera

I managed my expectations well. Having seen the Glyndebourne acclaimed production of Rusalka a couple of times, the yardstick was set very high. Then again, it's one of my favourite conductors Yannick Néget-Séguin in the pit.

Let's start with the production. What happened to the nymphs, water goblins, and the forest? Oh no, it's all transported to a Nordic looking sitting room. Lots of wood (forest?) and lots of scantily clad costumes (nymphs?). I had to stretch my imagination quite a bit.Though it was so offensive - nobody booed at the performance (2nd of the run).



As for the music, Néget-Séguin was in his elements with Dvořák's rich orchestration and a strong cast. Camilla Nylund sang the title role very well (including that famous aria in Act One). Bryan Hymel was slightly wooden in his acting but nonetheless made a passable Prince. Ježibaba, sung by Agnes Zwierko, was fabulously matronly. The music flowed and held back at all the right places. The orchestra respo…

Der Rosenkavalier at the ENO

Not as glittering as the Royal Opera production, but David McVicar's design and production of Der Rosenkavalier was withstanding the test of time. Uncluttered. The focus was firmly on the interaction among the characters.

Amanda Roocroft sang a credible Marschallin with velvety tone and regal presence. Sarah Connolly sang the trouser role of Octavian well, but didn't quite look right in those trousers. Sophie Bevan had a beautiful and clean tone that matched her role as Sophie. John Tomlinson sang his effortless Baron Ochs (and could he be gradually losing that dark Wagnerian ring?)

As ever, Ed Gardner did Strauss's score justice. All very enjoyable (for the second night at the ENO).

Tales of Hoffmann at ENO

Giles Cadle's design for Tales of Hoffmann was witty and bright. Lots of nice touches to bring this otherwise lengthy opera to live. The drinks cabinet transforming into a doorway was a nice touch. The mirror that "snatched" the face / sole was fun too.

Georgia Jarman was incredible at pulling off all FOUR female roles - Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta and Stella - all of them were credible and well sung. Not entirely sure about Barry Banks as Hoffmann - just didn't feel his acting was quite authentic.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Royal Opera

This production of Die Meistersinger was certainly showing its age. A friend remarked that the MDF was looking tired and the tree seemed to have diminished in stature (was that the right tree from the original production?) Then again Sir Antonio Pappano delivered the overture with his typical Wagnerian grandeur.
John Tomlinson was a weighty Pogner. Wolfgang Koch was a light weight Hans Sachs. Toby Spence (clearly recovered from his cold since Eugene Onegin at the ENO) was on superb form as David. Eva, oh dear Eva. Emma Bell lost her voice (cold presumably), her understudy also lost hers that morning so the Royal Opera had to wing someone from Vienna (nobody caught her name, so if you did please let me know) - who sang the role superbly - even in the Act 3 quintet. The chorus was also fantastic - that big fat Wagnerian sound lifted the roof towards the end.
Time for a new production within this decade I think.

Delaunay in Covent Garden

It is ridiculous to say "The Wolseley is too far away." But it's true if your abode is east of Leicester Square. So could Delaunay plug that "continental European brasserie" gap in Covent Garden?


Delaunay opened its doors just before Christmas and I was able to try it out within the first week. However, as it was "opening week" I thought I'd return when it is settled down. So I went there for Sunday Lunch with a friend (before Die Meistersinger at the Royal opera).


My warm salad of mushrooms was seasonal and wonderfully cooked and beautifully presented. There was no fuss - just well cooked high quality ingredients.

Wiener Schnitzel was not bad either - not quite as good as Landtmann in Vienna, but certainly crisp on the outside and tasty on the inside.

Well, it was all in all a positive experience and perhaps this could become my regular.

Inakaya on 101st Floor in Hong Kong

So could Inakaya on Sky 101 be the highest Japanese restaurant on earth right now? The express lift didn't take long but my ears popped a few times. I was taken there for a lunch. My host, as usual, left the executive decision to the chef. So we had an omakase at the sushi counter. The fish was great, very fresh, the seaweed salad was particularly delicious with very interesting textures. Everything was very good. Must go back to try their robatayaki next time.




A couple of days in London

A friend recently asked me about where to go and eat in London for a long weekend. There is so much one can do in London - so it's very hard to be prescriptive. Still, here is a suggested on-foot itinerary if one had a couple of days in London:


Day 1: Covent Garden / Soho

Morning: For a real change, eat breakfast at Dishoom where everything has an Indian twist. Also a fairly quiet place to start the day. Afterwards, explore the boutiques on Neal Street. Walk down to Covent Garden to enjoy the buzz all around. Remember to visit the Apple Store - nicely slotted into a period building.

Lunch: A light Thai lunch at Busaba on Floral Street. Their Phad Thai is not half bad.

Afternoon: Walk up to Soho (but avoid Leicester Sq as it's still a building site as of Jan 2012), and explore the unusual shops around Old Compton St and Berwick St. Here are a few suggestions for afternoon tea and coffee: Flat White on Berwick St for a gritty feel. Princi has good Italian coffee and pastry, but c…

Revisiting Lung King Heen in Hong Kong

Yes, a Chinese restaurant that has three Michelin stars. Yes, I booked the table 2 months in advance. Yes, I had to confirm the table TWICE. The service was pretty good all the way through. The maitre d' was helpful yet not intrusive (hate being over-serviced). The Imperial Lobster Dumpling (below) was exquisite as ever - a beautiful prawn on top, crab meat wrapped around a filet of lobster.
The roast suckling pig was very good - comparable to Summer Palace at the Island Shangri-La. That melt-in-the-mouth feeling was unmistakable.
And for a real change, deepfried frog legs in a salt and pepper batter. Beautifully crunchy outside, very succulent inside.
My only quibble was that the tea service was a bit slow. We drank tea by the gallon and we had to remind the waiters to keep pouring several times. Apart from that, it was nice to return to this superb restaurant.

New Year Dinner at Nadaman in Hong Kong

Japanese New Year falls in January and most Japanese restaurants will offer a celebratory menu to mark the occasion. I went to Nadaman to try their New Year kaiseki dinner. As usual, the presentation was exquisite - colours, textures and crockery all worked in harmony.