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Showing posts from 2018

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.

Porgy and Bess, English National Opera

I quite forgot the first number in Porgy and Bess is Summertime! Beautifully sung by Nicole Cabell as Bess. On a whole, the chorus number was better sung than the solo numbers - where the diction was generally inadequate. The set (Michael Yeargan) was three-dimensional and worked really well with the many scenes in this work. John Wilson was in his elements in the pit and the orchestra responded with a rhythmic boisterous sound - the best part of the evening.

I'm Not Running, National Theatre

David Hare's new play about a more-or-less accidental politician in the Labour Party seem contemporary at the time when politicians are about the parties, rather than the people. Siân Brooke's portrayal of the protagonist Pauline Gibson was strong and nuanced - especially when there were flashbacks to her doctor training days and a difficult mother. Alex Hassell's Jack Gould was equally effective at delivering a main stream process-focused politician.

At times, some dialogues seem too contrived, too many pauses. It's definitely a play of the moment. Perhaps David Hare will write one for a yet-to-be-fathomed post-Brexit England.

Les Huguenots, Opéra Bastille

I don't know why so few Meyerbeer operas are staged in London. In order to see his grandest grand opera, I traveled to Paris to see Les Huguenots staged at Opéra Bastille.

The star of the show was Lisette Oropesa who sang Marguerite de Valois - she got the warm yet regal tone for the role, her delivery of the emotions was fantastic. Yosep Kang, a late replacement for Bryan Hymel, was passable. His rendition of Raoul de Nangis could do with a few more rehearsals. And his voice strained a little at the higher register (there was one gasp in the audience when we all thought he was going to crack!) His love interest Valentine, sung by Ermonela Jaho, was good - a more youthful if pensive voice.

The male chorus was a little agricultural in act 1 - untidy and lacking in focus. Luckily, the men were saved by the women (again) when the ladies of the court sang lusciously while frolicking along a real stream.

Where was the BALLET???

The set design had modern lines and shades - a Parisien c…

Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Royal Opera

Once every few years, the Royal Opera stages Wagner's Ring Cycle. Nowadays, only the big houses have the budget to mount such mammoth undertakings. So I count myself a lucky one to be able to sit through these four operas at one go.

Das Rheingold. I never liked the messy set, or even the clever vertical stage movement. John Lundgren was a reasonable Wotan, though a little on the tame side. Sarah Connolly's Fricka had depth.

Die Walküre. Hunding (Ain Anger) was pretty angry and good - especially when he first met Siegmund (Stuart Skelton). Nina Stemme - is she the Brünnhilder of the moment? Definitely. The last act was pretty magical as Wotan put her to bed.

Siegfried. Stefan Vinke appears to be the only heldentenor who can sing the part of Siegfried right now (he is to appear at The Met's Ring Cycle in 2019). His voice takes a lot of getting used to - it sounded like he was wearing a orthodontic retainer in his mouth. His diction, for a German, had room for improvement.…

Joyce DiDonato sings Berlioz at BBC Proms

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique started this BBC Proms concert with Le corsaire - it was tightly played and a sonorous sound. I wonder whether this was due to the whole orchestra standing up while playing had anything to do with it. It sounded good.

Joyce DiDonato first sang La mort de Cléopâtre - her performance was mesmerising due to her dramatic delivery of text and the wonderful lines. Sir John was ever sensitive to the flow of the music. Dido’s death scene was short, yet no less powerful with DiDonata's breadth of emotions. Some may moan about her over dramatic delivery at the expense of pitch accuracy - but that's just nitpicking.

The second half of the concert was Harold in Italy - a whimsical and eclectic piece that's interesting to listen to - but I wonder whether this should have been played in the 1st half of the concert.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts Ravel at BBC Proms

The evening started with Ravel's Mother Goose (orchestrated version). It was a straightforward play, but somehow I couldn't quite engage with the work.

Magdalena Kožena delivered a fine rendition of Shéhérazade. Her dark timbre suited the exotic Arabian adventure. Text delivery was good, and Sir Simon Rattle conjured up this moody and magical world with the London Symphony Orchestra.

L’enfant et les sortilèges was in the second half of the concert. As a concert performance, the rich and resourceful score was beautifully rendered by Sir Simon. Magdalena Kožena sang the boy, with a strong cast to portray the various tea cups, animals and insects. The London Symphony Chorus obliged with various noises, including a synchronised nose-pitching number. The cat duet (Anna Stéphany and Gavan Ring) was particularly fun!

Vanessa at Glyndebourne

Indeed it was a rare opportunity to see Samuel Barber's Vanessa. Keith Warner's direction was super - working in sync with Ashley Martin-Davis's stage design of big mirror cases - to bring this intriguing plot to life. Emma Bell was a pensive and stoic Vanessa, but occasionally out-shown by Virginie Verrez's portrayal of Erika. Jakub Hrůša led the London Philharmonic to deliver this lush Barber sound world.

Saul at Glyndebourne

What a superb revival production directed by Barrie Kosky. The big choruses were done with the singers doing slo-mo mannerism action. Markus Brück was particularly fine with Saul, and the rest of the cast did a super job to bring this oratorio to life.  Laurence Cummings maintained dramatic momentum with the OAE while darting from the rostrum to the organ - including playing the solo intro on a spinning organ on stage!

Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera

Saw a revival of Don Giovanni directed by Kasper Holten and set by Es Devlin. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo brought a dark tone to Leporello, while Mariusz Kwiecień was a handsome if slightly lost Don Giovanni. The entire cast had good, strong voices. Somehow, they all tended to look down, or look at Marc Minkowski in the pit. I wondered was it because Minkowski's cues were few and not forthcoming. Coincidentally, the ensemble had lots of rough edges and there seemed to be a lack of rapport between the cast and the audience.

Oh and I did not like the last scene: Mariusz Kwiecień sang about imaginary supper, wine and handshake - but he was effectively dangling from the first floor of the set. The complete lack of representation of the final interaction between Don Giovanni the Commendatore (fine dark singing from Sir Willard) made for an unsatisfying end. A new production please.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera

There is a lot to like about Lohengrin - big choruses, brassy sound, bit soprano roles, big tenor roles. So it is always a challenge to take this much-loved Wagner opera to the next level.

Jennifer Davis as Else von Brabant was excellent - her strong acting skills were matched by her vocal abilities and clear delivery of text (always important for Wagner). Christine Goerke gave us a gutsy and verminous Ortrud in sharp contrast to Davis. Thomas Mayer's Telramund started out bombastically in act one, but reduced to a suitably weak and introspective voice by the end of act two - which I think what the role demanded. Klaus Florian Vogt, the horn player turned tenor, gave us an otherworldly Lohengrin. The timbre of his voice sat "apart" from the rest of the cast - ethereal for quiet contemplative moments, heroic where needed. It's not a voice that you need to "like", but a voice that suited the role.

David Alden's direction took advantage of the three dime…

Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne

I think this David McVicar production of Giulio Cesare really brings to life this rather long Handel opera. This revival retains all the freshness and fun of the well-known Caesar meets Cleopatra tale, enough action to be entertaining, but subtle for those introspective moments.  Sarah Connolly was Giulio Cesare - which was sung with intelligence and pose. Cleopatra was sung by an athletic Joélle Harvey - don't know how she managed to dance and sing those difficult arias at the same time. The highligh was the playing of OAE, under the baton of William Christie, which delivered the superb Baroque sound world that really let the music shine.

La bohème at the Royal Opera

I went to see Danielle de Niese in La bohème. This was a revival of Richard Jones's production: it's lighthearted without straying too far away from the verismo genre. De Niese made a fabulous Musetta (at first I thought she was going to be Mini, which would have been questionable) - the flamboyant stage presence coupled with a fine voice added real fizz to act 2. Nicola Luisotti help delivered a fine and clear orchestra sound from the pit. Quite enjoyable.

Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne

Another revival of Richard Jones's production of Der Rosenkavalier. This time, Kate Lindsey gave us a less tomboy Octavian compared to the previous production. Rachel Willis-Sørensen was a strong Marschallin and Brindley Sherratt was a growly Ochs. Second act worked the best, the shiny presentation of the rose and the tender duet between Octavian and Sophie (Elizabeth Sutphen) with the nouveau riche stage set. Robin Ticciati help the LPO deliver a lush Straussian sound.

The Inheritance, the Young Vic

Earlier in the week I saw George Benjamin's Lessons of Love and Violence, a contemporary loosely based on Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. A couple of days later, I saw The Inheritance, a play by Matthew Lopez which was loosely based on E M Forster's Howards End. Set in the present, with flash backs to the AIDS epidemic in New York during the 80s.

Lopez was very clever in mapping the interactions between the characters in The Inheritance onto Howards End. No, it wasn't a direct retelling. But the mapping re-created the emotions of young love, heated political debate, compassion, intense passion, and resignation. Samuel H. Levine who played Adam / Leo was outstanding - especially where he met his own likeness (Leo meeting Adam) and how they had a conversation. Andrew Burnap's Toby was intense, with his past gradually catching up with him. Kyle Soller as Eric Glass was the pivot in the play (the equivalent of Margaret Schlegel in Howards End) - where he was confront…

Lessons in Love and Violence, the Royal Opera

It's always special attending a world premiere. Nobody knew what the work sounded like. No "opinions". So there I was watching George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence. This was a re-telling of Edward II's story drawing heavily on Christopher Marlowe's play about this monarch. From the first bar we entered into George Benjamin's immersive, intriguing and intimate sound world. Martin Crimp text was crisp and jagged, and beautifully set by Benjamin - loved the overlapping speech rhythm. Stéphane Degout delivered an intense and troubled King. Gyula Orendt's Gaverston and Peter Hoare's Mortimer were well matched.

As Benjamin himself conducted, I guessed that's how he wanted the work to sound. I'd need to see it again to hear everything properly (as I found watching Written On Skin second time round more rewarding). Then again, what do I know about 21st Century operas?

Poème symphonique, British Museum

Now how often does one get to hear Ligeti's "joke" Poème symphonique? It came about recently at the British Library. Or rather, it was performed in the old British Library reading room. 100 metronomes arranged neatly on a platform, lit, and poised to commence. After a short introduction, a small team of museum staff flicked the metronomes and the performance started. It was a cacophony of sound echoed by the reading room's unique acoustic. It's strangely mesmerizing and hypnotic. From time to time, some metronomes came together into unison, and then dissipated. It had an organic quality to it. If one ever wondered, it took about 25 minutes until the last remaining metronome on Largo came to a stop. It was fun!

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the Royal Opera

This was a great revival of the 2004 Richard Jones production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District for the Royal Opera. The production hadn't aged and felt relevant. Eva-Maria Westbroek was a fantastic Katerina - taking the lead in this credible and crazy story of a small Soviet town. Brandon Jovanovich's portrayal of Sergey was cool and boyish, complimenting the lead. I loved John Tomlinson's boorish Boris - no doubt he enjoyed being mischievous, stomping around and terrorizing everyone on stage!

This probably wasn't Pappano's native territory - but he brought the subtle ironies in the score out, helped by the farting extra brass section in the boxes. What if Shostakovoch wrote more operas? We would never know.

Iolanthe, the English National Opera

ENO brought a lot of fun to this production of Iolanthe, with witty costumes and stage designs (Paul Brown). All the roles were well cast and the chorus did the Lords proud!

From the House of the Dead, the Royal Opera

Janáček's From the House of the Dead was not going to be an "easy listening" piece. The drama was intense and claustrophobic - perhaps that's intentional. Unlike Káťa Kabanová or Jenůfa where there was a greater story arc, The House was more choppy - including two plays within the opera. All in all a very intense evening.

Carmen at the Royal Opera

Carmen, but not as I knew it. The fast paced overture lured me into a false sense of security - Bizet's Carmen. That security was shattered when the drama began. There was a single staircase on stage, nothing else - no props, no backdrops, nada. Dialogues were replaced by a French monologue of the drama told in third person tense.

Vocally the singers were very good. Anna Goryachova was an energetic and alluring Carmen. Francesco Meli was a straight acting Don Jose. The boys made a great sound and the main chorus was punchy. The choreography took advantage of the stair case with lots of creative movements.

Now, the music. Indeed much scholarly work went into this production of Carmen - focusing on music that was genuinely written by Bizet (and not Ernest Guiraud). In practice, while many of the big arias, duets and choruses were intact, there was less music then what we were used to. In the interest of authenticity I could live with that.
The production was a different matter. Th…

Salome, the Royal Opera

Malin Byström (Salome) was amazing - from the serene high-born princess to the (almost) flesh eating monster in the space of two hours. Great acting. Great voice. One can overlook the non-dance of the seven veils. The true star of the evening.