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Showing posts from 2013

An imperfect experience at Tin Lung Heen 天龙轩

Tin Lung Heen is perched on the 102nd floor of this very tall tower, as part of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Hong Kong. It's meant to cater for the very rich by offering them a truly luxurious experience from the moment they walk into the lobby.

I went there when the 'hype' of a new top Chinese restaurant has subsided. It was a nice enough lunch with family. We took the executive lunch which offered a choice of BBQ black-foot pork, assorted dimsum and other seasonal dishes. Everything was tasty and comparable to other top Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong.

The disappointing part for me, however, was the service. Not that there was anything wrong with the service, but it just wasn't quite right. The staff were attentive, but lacking in warmth and smile. They were courteous, but short of making you feel welcome. They were efficient, but clinically so. All in all, I did not feel that quintessentially Chinese hospitality.

Viewing a Canaletto in Venice, Abbey of San Gregorio, Venice

I had the most amazing afternoon. Went to an intimate viewing (I was one of six) of a Canaletto (still held in private hands) in a gorgeous monastery next to Salute, in a room where Canaletto had painted the painting. Complete with an armed security guard who explained to us the intricate details of the painting, and allowed us to be within touching distance.

And at the end of the viewing, we had the pleasure of taking a cup of coffee or refreshing drink in a delightful salon. That was a "once in a lifetime" experience.

L’africaine at La Fenice

Meyerbeer's L’africaine is rarely staged. So it was a "must see" at La Fenice when I was in Venice. Well, the cast was pretty good: Zuzana Marková was Inés who had presence despite the somewhat minor role. Luca Grassi was a heroic Nélusko - and had the right look too. Vasco was sung by Antonello Palombi who could fill the auditorium with a booming tenorial voice, though it lacked finesse and tenderness: his version of O paradis was ok. Patrizia Biccirè was Sélika who was superb - especially in the last act.

The staging and lighting was poor. Clearly the house didn't have money, but to have a few chairs in act 1, some box-standard prison gates in act 2, a bit of a ship in act 3, NOTHING for act 4 and just a plank and a tree for act 5 simply did not do the genre justice. Oh and there was no ballet. Everything was poorly lit - they even for got to light the lead soloist at the final curtain call!

I thought it was an engaging opera. The music followed (a mature Meyerbe…

Wozzeck at the Royal Opera

I think Wozzeck is far too sophisticated for me. I have now seen it a couple of times, and have still found it hard to understand. One comes away feeling slightly empty (is that the intended effect?) Nonetheless, Karita Mattila was fab as Marie, and Simon Keenlyside was a very involved actor on stage. Rick Fisher's lighting was particularly atmospheric.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Poulenc and Prokofiev at the Royal Festival Hall

Poulenc's piano concertos are fun to watch and listen to. Last night, Alexandre Tharaud played his piano concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There was not question of his command of the keyboard - fingers gliding elegantly up and down, and always dancing with the orchestra (musically speaking). Yannick Nézet-Séguin ensured there was much harmony on stage and maintained a brisk tempo for this fun work.

This was followed by Prokofiev Symphony No. 7 - a short work with rich colours and rhythmic brilliance.

The concert concludes with Poulenc Stabat Mater (as I was on stage singing it).

Les Vêpres siciliennes at the Royal Opera

I went to the first performance (ever) of Les Vêpres siciliennes at the Royal Opera: so there was much anticipation as you can imagine.

As grand operas went, it was pretty grand. A tall and deep set (designed by Philipp Fürhofer) that made the Covent Garden stage even bigger. The proportions were generous. And there were enough mirrors and faux gilding to enhance the "grandness" of the set.

Michael Volle as Guy de Montfort brought out the complex character and emotions of the character. Procida, sang by Erwin Schrott, was no less interesting - with his funny boots and dress, he was an effective antagonist. Lianna Haroutounian, who sang Helene, could have been better if she didn't have so many intonation problems. Bryan Hymel who sung Henri was superb: rich tone, believable emotions, and acting as well!

Antonio Pappano, as ever, gave this score full justice - bringing out those tender and nuanced moments. And the chorus was superb too - singing with that big Verdian ring…

Die Fledermaus at the English National Opera

Strauss's Die Fledermaus conjures up images of opulence, glitz, and champagne! Oh no, Christopher Alden's production of Die Fledermaus at the English National Opera only delivered one of these. The "idea" was to explore the contradiction, decadence and Freudian background of the work. The brain had to work very hard to try to understand what's going on stage - was there something to be "understood"?

So opulence was replaced by austere wall papers and a dull stair case, glitz turned into omni-sexual high camp. There was champagne all right. The singing was fine. Tom Randle's von Eisenstein was credible. Julia Sporsén's Roaslinde had enough drama. Even Edgaras Montvidas had enough high camp in his tenorial rings to add a bit of humour. Andrew Shore's Frank was tolerably funny. Jan Pohl (as Frosch) was trying to be funny with his native German accent.

I think this was a case of "trying too hard".

Le Nozze di Figaro at Royal Opera

It isn't everyday that Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts at Covent Garden. While I have seen David McVicar's production of Figaro many times, I was quite looking forward to hearing how Gardiner does Mozart.

Well there was no disappointment. The tempi were brisk. The strings were tight and precise without vibrato. The whole work really flowed well. Then there was Christopher Maltman singing the role of Count Almaviva - with poise, drama and presence. Luca Pisaroni and Lucy Crowe played the tight team of Figaro and Susanna. All the soloists really took on Gardiner's flowing brisk touch and delivered a stunning performance of this work.

Elektra at the Royal Opera

It's the one after Salome and before Der Rosenkavalier. Elektra, for me, has always been an opera that one experiences, rather than enjoys. It's dark, yet melodic in places. There is not much character development, yet the drama moves forward.

From the sound of the first bar (and sitting close to the percussion department meant I could feel it too), it's a whirlwind of emotions. Christine Goerke was a bold yet dark Elektra with a commanding stage presence. Adrianne Pieczonka had a nice sheen on her voice which suited her role as Chrysothemis. Charles Edwards' production of Elektra remained a striking one.

The energetic Andris Nelsons maintained momentum and drive, and the somewhat exaggerated dynamics really made Strauss's score come alive. The audience held its breath until the last bar ... when all could breath easy again. Fantastic.

Turandot at the Royal Opera

It's that dreaded aria that made me stop listening to Puccini's last opera Turandot.

Last night's performance of Turdandot was pretty good. Punchy chorus (though there were the occasional wayward moments). Big sound from the pit with Henrik Nánási at the helm. Marco Berti was a big, bolshy and tenorial Calaf. He sang everything well, and didn't give us a bombastic Nessun Dorma. Lise Lindstrom was a steely Turandot, with a tone that's reminiscent of Eva Turner. Eri Nakamura was a superlative Liu. And the three mandarins Ping (Dionysios Sourbis), Pang (David Butt Philip) and Pong(Doug Jones) were jumping, dancing, turning and singing it all. Go see it!

Billy Budd at Glyndebourne

It was simply superb! Saw it first time round and was already very impressed by Christopher Oram's design. This revival allowed me to enjoy the production from a different perspective (sitting somewhere else in the auditorium). Mark Padmore really stepped up to the role of Captain Vere - with his wide emotional range. Jacques Imbrailo was the youthful and handsome Billy Budd - who sang it handsomely.

Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne

Something light-hearted at Glyndebourne. A new production of Don Pasquale. Alessandro Corbelli sang the title role with bags of experience. Vocally dramatic, but never too serious. Enough gusto. Danielle de Niese's Norina was, as expected, full of that joie de vivre. After a little over-acting at the beginning, she settled well into her role as the mischievous "bride". Nikolay Borchev's Malatesta was not bad either.

Julia Hansen's rotating set design was fun and light-hearted. Just the right amount. Mariame Clément' direction was interesting - not least by introducing a bit of double-entendre into the relationship between Malatesta and Norina (was there something going on?)

Enrique Mazzola was secure at the helm of the LPO.

Siegfried at the BBC Prom 2013

Daniel Barenboim conducts Wagner. Yes, as part of BBC Prom Wagner 200.

By and large it was a reasonable performance. Staatskapelle Berlin played well under the baton of Baremboim. Nina Stemme was a pretty good Brünnhilder. Lance Ryan was a heroic Siegfried - in more ways than one. He looked good. Had a good ringing heldentenor voice. And with the occasional wayward pitching and shouting, he made a passable Siegfried.

The cast did move about on stage a bit. But I wish they'd had more props - a proper spear, Notung, etc. Yes it's a concert performance, but they could have made a bigger effort.

And has anyone noticed there is no full length Verdi opera at the Proms this year?

La Rondine at the Royal Opera

This has to be my favourite operetta: lovely tunes, lush orchestration and nobody dies at the end!

Ermonela Joho was a superb Magda. At first, I thought she was over-acting a little. But her voice was fabulous and those soft and high notes were to die for. Atalla Ayan also made a fine Ruggero - sung with much passion and gusto. When paired with Joho in the Act 2 duets, they were superb. Sabina Puértolas was a funny and perfect Lisette, especially in the last act.

Marco Armiliato took the opening act at a brisk pace. But with lots of quality phrasing and judicious pauses, he shaped the work well. All in all, everything was very well done.

Capriccio at the Royal Opera

OMG, it's Renée Fleming singing Countess Madeleine in Capriccio!

Capriccio doesn't get performed much. It's an opera lover's opera - with little quotations here, a few parodies there. Staging and props play a very minor role in Capriccio, so I thought the decision to give a concert performance of it was a reasonable one. Andrew Davis was at the helm containing some wayward playing on stage. The lacklustre horn playing at the beginning of the Moonlight music was unnecessary.

The case was well balanced. Andrew Staples sang a full blooded Flamand. Christian Gerhaher was a good Olivier. Peter Rose's rendition of La Roche was superb. And how was Renée? She was fabulous. In the first half of the opera she was in conversation with the other characters, fitting in with the context. The golden moment was her monologue at the end - pensively and beautifully sung. Well worth the wait.

Gloriana at Royal Opera

I went to the 15th production of Gloriana at the Royal Opera. Yes, it was only the 15th.

The overture / fanfare was great - crisp and sonorous. This was well coupled with the slightly comical town-hall cum lineage lesson. Susan Bullock and Toby Spence were well matched Queen and Essex, with convincing character development along the drama. The choral dances "Time and Concord" were superbly sung by the chorus. Paul Daniel maintained a good pace too.

La Donna del Lago at Royal Opera

The story line was ok. The production? It was ok. Didn't quite get the glass-casing of Scott and Elena. But with an all-star cast, Royal Opera's production of La Donna del Lago delivered all the vocal pyrotechnic that made the effort worthwhile. One moment we were treated to Joyce DiDonato's (Elena) amazingly well controlled collatura, the next moment it was Juan Diego Flórez's super lyrical lines. Daniela Barcellona was fantastic Malcom with a rich and fruity tone.

Don Carlo at the Royal Opera

This production of Don Carlo, designed by Bob Crowley, hasn't dated much. Strong colours. Lots of chiaroscuro.

It's very rare for a production with the entire cast being well cast and well matched. Ferruccio Furlanetto's Philip was profound, torn and weighted. Mariusz Kwiecien (Rodrigo) and Roberto Aronica (Don Carlos) were well matched, and their bromance duets were great. Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian replaced Anja Harteros as Elizabeth was a very fine substitute.The chorus was also on fine form.

Antonio Pappano, once again, delivered a tight and moving performance of this great work.

Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne

It was a delight to go to Glyndebourne to watch one of my favourite opera -Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos. The set design by Julia Müer was very effective. Act 1 was set in a modest stately home (contradiction in terms here?) looked a bit like Glyndebourne. Act 2. The end of Act 1 hinted at what might happen in Act 2 ... the bombed country home now turned into a sanitorium.

Kate Lindsey sang the role of the Composer, and surprisingly she returned on stage in a non-singing part. Zerbinatta was sung by Laura Claycomb - lots of vocal pyrotechnic and she carried her role in solo well. But when singing at her opposite Ariadne (Soile Isokoski) she seemed a bit less sympathetic. Prima Donna / Ariadne started out somewhat subdue, but by Act 2 she was well in command of the role. And it was a shame that Sergey Skorokhodov (Bacchus) was losing his voice soon after the opening phrases.

Vladimir Jurowski conducted the opening performance (to be his last season at this house). The LPO played wonderfu…

Götterdämmerung at The Met

Carl Fillion's set design for The Ring at The Met caused a real stir at the premier. Though not having the luxury of seeing the whole Ring, I managed to get a ticket to see Götterdämmerung.

Fabio Luisi at the helm of the large Met orchestra kept everything going. There was enough breathing space for the drama to unfold, and there were muscular moments that needed to punctuate the drama. Probably not as poised as Bernard Haitink at Covent Garden many years ago, or as gutsy as Antonio Pappano this season in the same house. But nonetheless very good.

Deborah Voigt was a fine Brünhilde - as the role demands from beginning to end. Lars Cleveman was quite a believable Siegfried - youngish looking, jumps about, looking slightly naive on stage. Hans-Peter Köonig was OK - none of his phrases sent shiver down my spine as there was not enough evil.

Back to the set. The rotating 'fingers' really worked (you can see them in this pic - sitting above the performers), especially when acc…

Café Boulud, New York

Having spent a whole morning at the Metropolitan Museum, it was a delight to walk into Café Boulud and be looked after well.

The bread was great. Wine selection, with a European bias, was very good. The food was wonderfully prepared and with imaginative presentation. Pictured above was my starter - Smoked Sturgeon with american caviar, buckwheat crêpe, cucumber, dill. Delicous. This was followed by House Made Fettucine razor clams, sea urchin, lemon, fines herbes, bottarga:

And this was equally delicious.

Nabucco at the Royal Opera

A new production of Nabucco at the Royal Opera. As usual, there was a lot of anticipation, not least because Plácido Domingo was singing the title role as a baritone! The somewhat barren set was by Alison Chitty. That's ok so long as the production has enough movement and choreography. Alas no. People (slaves, priests, etc.) were just milling about. Almost to the point of being tedious. Never mind.

Liudmyla Monastyrska was a very strong Abigaille. But the real treat was watching and hearing Domingo - sure it's a baritone voice without the tenor ring, but he really got into the role - from confident, to mad, to reflective. That's a hard act to follow. The chorus was great too - and va pensiero was sung with spirituality.

Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera

I really liked the way Julia Jones conducted this production of Die Zauberflöte: it's brisk, it's light, and had enough breathing space for the critical moments. Christopher Maltman portrayed Papageno well, with lots of nice touches in the acting and singing. Albina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night did not disappoint at the crucial aria. And David McVicar's production is till fun to watch.

Written On Skin at the Royal Opera

It says "The Fifth Performance at the Royal Opera House". Didn't get to see it on the first night, but managed to enjoy Written on Skin nonetheless. And I do mean enjoy. Opera goers are often too stuck in their ways with the canonic works - Tosca, Carmen, Figaro, etc. So it's a real treat to see something new.

The set by Vicki Mortimer was great - there was lots of details portraying the 'period' of the story, while bringing the singers "in and out" of the period. Very well lit by Jon Clark. As for the music and libretto, it was most intriguing. It took me a while to gang the hang of the phrases being sung in first and third person terms. Somehow it got me listening harder, thinking harder, and being drawn into the drama. George Benjamin's music felt very much an integral part of the work, very well crafted, and approachable too. I think it made a real difference with him conducting his own work too.

Tosca at the Royal Opera

Yes, it's all about Tosca. So it was good to have Amanda Echalaz as Floria Tosca in this recent Royal Opera revival - a strong voice, wide range of vocal colours with fairly good acting. Massimo Giordano took a long time to warm up to the role of Cavaradossi - and the opening sequence in Sant'Andrea della Valle looked a bit haphazard (not enough rehearsal time?) Michael Volle was an adequate Scarpia - the voice was fine but I didn't really get enough evil from him.

Puccini's music was still gripping after all these years, and the afternoon (yes, 1pm start on a Saturday) turned out to be fine.

Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera

One Gin was not quite enough for me to get through this. New production. Directorial debut of Kasper Holten. Simon Keenlyside as Eugene Onegin. It could have been so good. It wasn't. The least distracting was the staging - a few pillars, projected backdrops to portray the fields, bedroom, sun rise, snow storm did work. The orchestra played the score well under Ticciati, bar a few moments that lacked momentum.

Krassimira Stoyanova just didn't have the appropriate mannerism for Tatyana. Her voice was good but there was not enough ring and agility to portray the character adequately. And what's this dancing in the Letter Scene? I thought the female dancer was supposed to be Tatyana's imagination. But it really didn't work when Nurse (Kathleen Wilkinson sang that well) started singing at the dancer! Nyet!

The same thing recurred during the duel between Onegin and Lensky. There it was - the alto ego of Onegin milling around. Double Vision! Nyet!

And there was NO BALLROO…

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

One has to admire Singapore's ability to refresh and renew the city. Gardens by the Bay was a fantastic example of this. Great architecture, unusual flora (by local standards) and a fun way to spend the better part of a day looking at plants, climbing structures and get educated.

Long Beach, Singapore

It was too dark to see whether Long Beach (the restaurant) was next to a long beach (Changi East Coast). But that's not important. I was there to eat their famous pepper crab.

But before the pepper crab, we'd ordered some other local delicacies. One was deep fried bean curd and squid covered in sesame seeds. All was washed down with a nice pint of Tiger beer. 

Then there were these lovely deep fried white baits. Super crunch. Great when washed down with another pint of Tiger beer.
And voila! White Pepper Crab (the crab was of Sri Lankan origin)! Lightly fried and coated with a white pepper sauce. The crab was very fresh (no shrunken meat behind the shells), spicy to the right degree and great with Tiger beer.