Beg, borrow or steal a ticket!
Opera North, Leeds, 15th June 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
It occasionally happens in a TV series that your favourite character is suddenly replaced by a totally different actor, and this phenomenon is also happening to some of the recurring principal roles in Opera North's ongoing Ring cycle; for example, this evening's superb Siegfried and Brünnhilde sung by Mati Turi and Annalena Persson will be replaced in next year's Götterdämmerung by Daniel Brenna and Alwyn Mellor. But more on the singers later - the "character" constant throughout the four music dramas is, of course, the wonderful Orchestra of Opera North conducted by their music director Richard Farnes.
Handbags and cucumber sandwiches at the Linbury
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, 15th June 2013, Miranda Jackson
It’s official: according to Kasper Holten “It is a great pleasure now for the Royal Opera to curate all opera work that happens on all the Royal Opera House stages…This space [the Linbury] gives us the chance to work with innovation, explore the newest and most exciting works and artists and to re-invent our art form.” Gerald Barry possesses a unique ability to write modern comic opera and, to its credit, the Royal Opera House has programmed The Importance of Being Earnest less than two months after its stage premiere in Nancy. However, many of my friends and fellow fans of both opera and contemporary opera (for Mr Barry’s work has a universal appeal which crosses boundaries) would have loved to obtain a ticket for this production and were unable to do so. I hear the tickets sold out within ten minutes of the opening of Friends’ early booking. So I have to ask, why on earth did they decide to programme a Barry opera in the tiny space of the Linbury, rather than on the main stage?
Gardner and his orchestra provide the star turn
English National Opera, 14th June 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Given the acclaim, both popular and critical, that this staging received when it was first mounted at the Coliseum in May 2007, it’s rather surprising that it’s taken more than six years to enjoy its first revival in the house (though it has been seen elsewhere in the interim, most notably at La Scala). When it was new, the cast comprised Ian Bostridge as von Aschenbach, Peter Coleman-Wright as his multi-headed ubiquitous baritone nemesis, and Iestyn Davies as Apollo (no longer just “the voice of” since he gets to appear in this show). This time, we have John Graham-Hall – who deputised for the ailing Bostridge in Milan - as the world-weary writer, Andrew Shore as the baritone hydra, and Tim Mead as the sun-god. But common to all these performances has been the conducting of Edward Gardner, whose debut as ENO Music Director in 2007 this was. He, and Deborah Warner’s in many ways admirable staging, have been the constants: and, not entirely to my surprise, remain the whole undertaking’s most persuasive advocates.
Another triumph for WNO
Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Hippodrome, 13th June 2013, Gavin Dixon
Welsh National Opera has pulled off an impressive coup with this new production of Lohengrin. The piece makes huge demands, visually, dramatically and musically, and although the opera is deservedly popular, most productions have to cut a few corners to make a staging viable. But not here. Director Antony McDonald updates the action to an unspecific mid- to late-19th century setting, but otherwise remains faithful to every aspect of the libretto. The characters are vividly portrayed, their complex emotions and interactions explored in sometimes painful detail. And musically this performance was close to ideal, with conductor Lothar Koenigs giving a dramatic, passionate and deeply committed reading of the score, and leading a uniformly strong cast who all brought a distinctive musical persona to each of their roles.
A coruscating web of echoes and half-remembered dreams
As I have written here before, I subscribe to Richard Strauss’ view “Prima la musica.’ If you want to move your audience engage with them, beguile them, offer something thought-provoking, then commission new operas like the rest of Europe, rather than annoying your audience of opera fans by describing as ‘new work’ yet another production of 18th or 19th century repertoire set in Guantanamo Bay or a public lavatory. It is no surprise then that I considered David Pountney’s programming of Wagner Dream juxtaposed with Lohengrin a masterstroke. Not only has he made a clear statement that a British opera company can offer world class productions which put us on the European cultural map so we don’t have to schlepp to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam to see the best Europe can offer, but he also celebrates the fact that British composers have produced some of the finest new opera in recent decades.
Since my first report from the operatic trenches, my second feature covering the operas in C Major Entertainment’s Parma-based series Tutto Verdi from Alzirato Rigoletto has appeared in International Record Review. As previously promised, here is a potted version of that 4-page article for Opera Britannia readers. The set itself is impressive in its presentation. It’s the size of a boxed set of LPs, two inches thick. The case contains a huge booklet (120 pages) with each opera occupying four pages: photograph, cast list, track listing and synopsis. The DVDs or Blu-rays themselves are housed in a hard-backed book rather like a photograph album, discs on one side of the page, cover art from the individual releases opposite. Its sumptuous presentation is worthy of the project’s ambition.
A Butterfly which flowers after the interval
Opera Holland Park, 8th June 2013, Gavin Dixon
Madama Butterfly offers little scope for innovation, so there’s no point in describing any staging as ‘traditional’. For this new production at Opera Holland Park, director Paul Higginsand designer Neil Irish find elegant and efficient ways to fit together all the familiar tropes. The opening night performance dragged occasionally, especially in the first act, where it often felt like the performers were just going through the motions, but conductor Manlio Benzi ensured that the musical proceedings were well-paced and emotionally intense, especially for the set-piece arias.
Britten fans, rejoice! Opera North will be celebrating the centenary of the composer’s birth in style with a new autumn season dedicated entirely to three of his best-loved works. The season opens on 14th September with a revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s popular production of Peter Grimes starring Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Giselle Allen and Robert Hayward, followed later in the month by a revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with James Laing, Jeni Bern, Yvonne Howard, Henry Waddington and the exciting young mezzo Kathryn Rudge.
Damp squib opens new season
Opera Holland Park, 4th June 2013, Mark Pullinger
Experience dictates that the typical kitbag for any expedition to Holland Park in early June includes sweater, scarf and golfing umbrella (galoshes an optional extra). Although the sunshine yesterday wasn’t quite Sicilian in intensity, it made for one of those balmy summer evenings in which to enjoy opera almost al fresco. Opera Holland Park is often at its considerable best when serving up a verismo rarity (Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna is a tasty treat to conclude its season), but it goes back to its roots to open the season with the opera largely credited as kicking off the whole verismo school, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, alongside its familiar double act partner, Leoncavallo’s I pagliacci. On an evening when the sun shone, it was a great pity that it was the performances which provided such a damp squib.
Consolidation of the new team
Last year we saw the appearance of the new broom at the annual Göttingen Handel festival, namely Artistic Director Laurence Cummings and Intendant Tobias Wolff; this year they consolidated last year’s successes, bolstering predictions of a bright future for the world’s oldest continuing Handel fest. Most notably, the Festspiel Orchester Göttingen has gone from strength to strength, clearly building a close rapport with Director Cummings. Also to be noted is that this year, for the first time, the centrepiece opera (Siroe) was conducted by Cummings, as well as the oratorioJoseph and His Brethren and the Gala Concert.
Early Verdi emerges from darkest Peru
Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2nd June 2013, Mark Pullinger
It’s not just Paddington Bear and Juan Diego Flórez who hail from darkest Peru. Alzira, Verdi’s eighth opera, is set there, a tale of Inca tribes and their Spanish invaders, in a plot very loosely based on Voltaire’s Alzire, ou les Américains. It was composed for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and was Verdi’s first collaboration with the renowned librettist Salvatore Cammarano. It was not a success. Verdi was under no illusions and himself described it as “Quella è proprio brutta” (‘This one is really bad’). His great friend Andrei Maffei wrote that ‘No one likes the piece, and I too find it unworthy of such a capable composer’. The jury’s been out ever since.
Disney myth debunked in new Glass opera
English National Opera, 1st June 2013, Mark Pullinger
The music of Philip Glass is occasionally described as the aural equivalent of Marmite – you either love it or hate it. I find my response to his music somewhat more ambivalent; if in a receptive mood, it can have hypnotic power – I was completely entranced by Satyagraha, for example – or it can grab you with its driving, pulsating rhythms – the Eighth Symphony or the Violin Concerto. Glass’ music resembles a mosaic of sounds; aural doodles, repetitive phrases or cells that can make little sense individually but can build a satisfying whole. Approaching a work about Walt Disney, the world-famous animator who also worked on oft-repeated doodles where variation is minimal from cell to cell to create a moving image, would seem natural territory for Glass, but his resulting work for English National Opera, The Perfect American, adds up to nothing of consequence at all.
A Ronseal production faithful to Tchaikovsky and Pushkin
Grange Park Opera, 30th May 2013, Mark Pullinger
Audiences at Grange Park Opera are accustomed to Wasfi Kani bustling onto the stage before a note is delivered to offer up thanks to the numerous sponsors responsible for generously helping fund the production – it receives not a sou of government or lottery funding. For instance, you could sponsor the Polonaise, or the duel, or even Onegin’s ‘arrogant and callous heart’. Public coercion on private promises for future endeavours may well be undertaken.Stephen Medcalf’s staging of Eugene Onegin is so faithful to Tchaikovsky and Pushkin that, with due respect to Gazprom Marketing & Trading, sponsorship for this production should have been sought from Ronseal, for it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Handel too reined in?
Barbican Hall, 29th May 2013, Llyr Carvana
Handel started writing Imeneo in 1738 but it did not receive its first performance until St Cecilia’s Day 1740 at the Lincoln’s Inn Field theatre. Sadly, St. Cecilia seems not to have attended to offer her support as the opera only managed two performances in London, followed by two more in a revised version in Dublin the next year. Imeneo was the composer’s penultimate opera and it seems rather unfortunate that it should open in the same theatre that premiered The Beggar’s Opera twelve years previously, the popularity of which led to the closing of Handel’s first Royal Academy of Music. That it took Handel two years to present this opera to the public in the first place is rather peculiar for an astute businessman like Handel who was capable of composing an opera on demand to meet audience expectation and fancy even if this was to cobble together a pasticcio. Following the lacklustre reception ofImeneo and Deidemia, though not solely due to this, Handel concentrated on oratorio, which led to over 150 years of English oratorio and up to the works of Elgar. Handel, may you be forgiven!
The 2013-14 Rosenblatt Recital series has been unveiled, with an enticing blend of up-and-coming young singers and a few veteran performers. The biggest surprise is the appearance of Italian baritone Leo Nucci, who gives a special one-off concert with the Italian Opera Chamber Quintet at Cadogan Hall on 12thDecember, featuring some of the Verdi repertoire on which he’s built his long career. Nucci was last seen in London as Nabucco, warming up the production for Plácido Domingo. All other Rosenblatt Recitals take place in their usual home at Wigmore Hall.
The silvery strains of Portuguese soprano Susana Gaspar have recently been heard emanating from on high in the Royal Opera House’s auditorium as the (suitably angelic) Voice of Heaven in a starrily-cast revival of Don Carlo. When we met last week, we mused that the final performance on Saturday would be her last role at Covent Garden as a Jette Parker Young Artist, aside from their matinee summer showcase on the main stage. “I’m singing First Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Adina and Magda in Act II of La Rondine,” she reveals. We discussed her progression as an artist and what she has learnt from colleagues with whom she has worked (and whom she has covered), as well as how she is preparing for the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in which she is appearing next month.
NL: Let’s start from the very beginning. I know you were born in the U.K. and grew up in Australia. Could you tell us something about your background?
JP: I was born in Bristol. My father was a tenor and changed professions when my mother was expecting me. He was offered a position as a director of music at a local school, and decided to accept it because it was a more stable position, and we lived in England until I was 11. I enjoyed watching his lessons. He would only teach me and my brother solfeggio and musical games, and we liked to compete, such as who could pick the most difficult note in a chord
Impressive Haroutounian, peerless Furlanetto
Royal Opera, 25th May 2013, Mark Pullinger
Opening and closing nights of the current run of Nicholas Hytner’s production of Verdi’s Don Carlo, revived by Paul Higgins, proved remarkably different affairs. The prima was one of those unforgettable evenings at Covent Garden, featuring Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros. I watched it from a Stalls Circle standing position, yet my feet barely tired in the wake of some incredible singing. However, the last night also had much to commend it. Kaufmann and Harteros had been replaced, the latter after that single performance, so much interest centred around Roberto Aronica as the Spanish Infante and Lianna Haroutounian as his fiancée-turned-stepmother, Elisabetta di Valois. The rest of the cast was on fine form, with two performances notably stronger than on the first night.