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Tosca at the Royal Opera

The last time I saw Tosca, I was very disappointed. This is, again, a revival of the now tried-and-tested Jonathan Kent's production (revival director Andrew Sinclair). I was hoping to be entertained.

On the night I got the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais - who was by-and-large right for the title role. There was enough drama and her voice hit all the right notes. Vissi d'arte was sensitively sung. Vittorio Grigòlo was his usual heroic self - at times his singing was a little shouty and lacking in finess. His fans loved him. Bless. Bryn Terfel brought Scarpia to live effortlessly. Unlike the other two leads, he was very much at ease with the role, with nothing to prove, and it was enjoyable to get absorbed into his character.

Alexander Joel's took a more symphonic approach to Puccini's score. There were movments when that approach worked with the drama. But there were times when the singers were being held for too long - thus losing the dramatic tension intended. Wa…

The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Royal Opera

The Diary of One Who Disappeared is a staged production (Muziektheater Transparant) of the song cycle by Janácek, with additional music by Annelies Van Parys. The Lindbury Theatre turned out to be the right size venue for this intimate production. Jan Versweyveld's set re-created a simple photographer's studio with subtle use of projections. The on stage movements were natural while recreating the love tension depicted in the songs.



Ed Lyon (man) and Marie Hamard (woman) delivered the song with sensitivity and the ocassional emotional outbursts (as with many Janácek's works). The linking music by Annelies Van Parys, while obviously modern, did work to turn this song cycle into an hour long piece of theatre.

Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera

OK it's not Puccini, but Giordano's work telling of this Les Mis drama is still worthy of today's opera houses. Roberto Alagna sang a heroic, at times shouty, Andrea Chénier (Jonas Kaufmann last tackled the role with far greater sensitivity). Sondra Radvanovsky was a wonderful Maddalena di Coigny who carried the role well from innocent aristocratic girl to lovelorn madame in revolutionary France. Carlo Gérard, sung by Dimitri Platanias, sounded great.



David McVicar's production really worked, from the sumptuous chateau opening scene through to an urban prison. Daniel Oren did a good job to bring out this richly score and seldom performed work to life. Glad to have seen it again.

La damnation de Faust at Glyndebourne

Did Berlioz intend to have La damnation de Faust staged? Perhaps he did. But the score had everything in it. So it's interesting to see any staged performance of this fantastic work.

What worked? I thought Richard Jones's direction for recreating various imaginary scenes on an austere stage set worked pretty well, from the beer halls along the Rhine through to Marguerite's prison. Christopher Purves was a good, not-too-intrusive Méphistophélès. Allan Clayton attacked the challenging role of Faust with sensitivity. Robin Ticciati waved his stick and the super LPO complied.



What didn't work? Sixty-odd singers in the chorus didn't do the work justice. Berlioz intended a big chorus sound. The velvety Songe de Faust sounded thin, and the big drinking song climax was disappointing. When Mark Elder did Faust recently with the Hallé (Feb 2019), there were over 100 men, plus a big children's chorus - Berlioz would like to have 200-300 children in the final scene - the …

Billy Budd at the Royal Opera

This was a new production of Britten Billy Budd. It was last staged at the Royal Opera before the turn of the millennium.



Billy Budd was sung by Jacques Imbrailo who portrayed a playful and naive youth well. His voice was in character, though seemed a little tired towards the end. Toby Spence gave us a nuanced and at times helpless Captain Vere. Brindley Sherratt's portrayal of Claggart was subtle, and his verminous streak really came out in the confrontation with Budd. Donald was sung by a muscular Duncan Rock.

Michael Levine's three dimensional set did the job, though the nautical theme relied heavily on the  20th century Royal Navy uniform. Ivor Bolton's reading of Britten's rich score was good - I loved the drums coming from the boxes during the battle scene. Let's hope they bring this great work back sooner.

All My Sons at The Old Vic

Got an unexpected chance to see this Arthur Miller play at The Old Vic with a starry cast. The play is set on a simple but detailed stage. All action evolved around the backyard of this simple house.



The first half of the play was slow. I thought the clues about the events to come were either too subtle, or too hidden. Either way, it took a long time for the audience to begin to realise something darker and complex was to come. Still, it took a while to get there.

The second half, on the other hand, moved much more quickly with greater dramatic effect. The best was probably the clash between Bill Pullman (who played Joe Keller) and Colin Morgan (his son Chris Keller). Colin Morgan's about turn from a love-struck puppy to a vengeful grown up was powerfully delivered. Jenna Coleman (played Chris Keller's love interest Ann Deever) and Sally Field (played Kate Keller) drew out the more emotionally torturous plot.

Was the "price of the American Dreram" laid bare? Not sur…

Faust at the Royal Opera

This is a revival of Charles Edwards (design) / David McVicar (director) production of Gounod Faust. Visually, it is still exciting to watch with the ever changing stage sets of this fantasy. In this production, Erwin Schrott was Méphistophélès - who had style and poise as this devilish character. Michael Fabiano did a good job at portraying Faust - especially in the first act when he had to start off as an old man before turning into an energetic youngster. Irina Lungu had the right French voice type for Marguerite - somewhat vulnerable with sufficient warmth for the romantic scenes.

Dan Ettinger in the pit kept the pace going, and the chorus did magnificently in those big numbers.

La forza del destino, Royal Opera

I read in the press that tickets for La forza del destino were available in the black market for £3,500 each. Ouch! Luckily mine was bought months ago directly from the Royal Opera.

The set design by Christian Schmidt started well in a 19th century palazzo in. The video projections were more distractions than anything. But I think they ran out of money because the same palazzo set was re-used just too often, including the final scene (it was supposed to be in a hermit!)



The star-studded cast delivered the goods. Anna Netrebko sang Leonara - her prima donna dramatic outbursts, impassioned lines and rich tone were perfect for this traumatised character. Perhaps she went to all the rehearsals after all. Jonas Kaufmann, as Don Alvaro, interpreted the character with poise. It's very easy to sing everything loudly. Yet Kaufamann observed the composer's typically detailed musical directions - and took some well judged artistic risk to deliver some vulnerable pianissimi. Not to be out…

Brahms 2nd Symphony and others, LPO

Tannhäuser at the start of this concert eased the audience into the Germanic sound world for the rest of this evening. It was well played, perhaps with a touch too much stiffness for such a luscious piece. Andreas Ottensamer the delivered some rich tones and fine clarinet solo playing in Weber's Clarinet Concerto No 1. This was followed by Alice Mary Smith's Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra - a bijou  work well worth listening for. Though I felt the Weber and Smith were a little under-rehearsed: the ensemble could be tighter and less timid. Brahms 2, on the other hand, was well rehearsed. Under Jurowski's firm grip, the orchestra played with intensity,  expansiveness and above all it sounded Germanic. How this related to the programme cover page "Isle of Noises", I don't know. But it was an enjoyable evening all the same.

Káťa Kabanová, Royal Opera

Katya, sung by Amanda Majeski, had the passionate timbre making her role convincing. Boris (Pavel Cernoch) was ok, and his duet with Majeski was a delight. Susan Bickley's Kabanova was steely and overpowering. Antony McDonald's design and Richard Jones's direction worked well together - the faux 70s decor and costumes added a certain softness to the harsh reality of the society Janáček portrayed. Edward Gardner did the score justice, bring out fabulous melodic lines, nature and the edgy textures.

Die Walküre, Jurowski and LPO

Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) and Ruxandra Donose (Sieglinde) made a good match in the first act, while Stephen Milling made a superb and dark Hunding. In the absence of staging, the orchestral colours shone through and it was a delight to hear it all. Svetlana Sozdateleva's Brünnhilde as firm, nuanced and had the emotional breadth to be convincingly half-god / half-human. Markus Marquardt's Wotan, sadly, was too subdue and introspective for my liking (I didn't see Das Rheingold, but I have heard stories of a certain bass-baritone staring at the score in performance).  I wonder whether we will get yet another Wotan / Wanderer in Siegfried later in the cycle.

This must be part of Vladimir Jurowski's preparation of his Ring cycles at future opera houses (Munich? Bayreuth?). Having checked with a few friends, we thought the LPO has not played the complete Ring for at least a few decades. Perhaps that's why it sounded bright, fresh and exciting.

The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera

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

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