Barbican Hall, 22nd May 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
When the booking originally opened for this concert back in January 2012 as part of the LSO’s 2012/13 season, no actual programme was offered for our edification, the rubric merely noting, styled as above, that it would be in celebration of the Maestro’s sexagennial anniversary (or Diamond Jubilee if, as many do, you regard him as an absolute monarch). I booked for it blind, like everybody else, vaguely imagining that it would play to his known strengths in the Russian repertoire, or else take the form of some extended musical knees-up with lots of guest stars. In the event it only relatively recently became known that whilst the latter expectation would be partially met, in the shape of concert items played by Alexander Toradze and Leonidas Kavakos, the main musical meat of the evening was to be operatic, comprising Act V of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, with soloists both local (in the largely supporting roles) and Russian (in the case of the two principal ones). Now, Valery Gergiev certainly has form in Berlioz, having conducted concert performances here of both Benvenuto Cellini and (on three separate occasions, no less) La damnation de Faust. And his handling of Les Troyens, staged at the Valencia opera house by the La fura dels Baus collective as some Kubrickian space oddity, has been preserved on DVD.
Barbican Hall, 8th May 2013, Sebastian Petit
Entering the Barbican Hall foyers I suspected I might have, in a senior moment, turned up on the wrong night. While not quite yet colonised by tumbleweed, the foyers were horribly unpopulated considering the centre was hosting a recital by a big name artist like Magdalena Kožená. The rich variety of musical life in our capital can often result in deserving events failing to attract the level of support they deserve. This was clearly the case last night with the lures of the all-star (minus 1) Don Carlo and the opening of Liam Scarlett’s latest excursion into the world of nightmare leading to a less than half-full hall at the Barbican.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 2nd May 2013, Nicola Lischi
The most amazing thing about this performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo is that it took place at all. The troubles that have been plaguing the Fondazione del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino are well known and this writer has already mentioned them in other recent reviews. The bottom line is that, without going into details, the Maggio ended up in such a sorry state that a few months ago the Italian government had no choice but to place an external commissioner, Francesco Bianchi, at its helm, so as to shed light on the actual extent of the deficit and try to save the sinking ship.
St John's Smith Square, 27th April 2013, Miranda Jackson
In December 2008 the great dramatic soprano, Elizabeth Connell, stepped into the breach and took on the role of Turandot in the Royal Opera House production when the leading lady was indisposed. At the time she was playing the role of Hansel and Gretel’s Mother. What a contrast: from impoverished wife of an alcoholic husband to indomitable princess. It was a stellar cast in the Humperdinck with Sir Tom Allen as her husband, but the role of Turandot has to be one of a handful of roles which an aspiring dramatic soprano yearns to tuck under her bejewelled belt.
LSO, Barbican Hall, 25th April 2013, Dominic Wells
For this, one of his numerous 70thBirthday concerts, Sir John Eliot Gardiner chose to deliver an all-Stravinsky programme with an ancient Greek theme: Apollon musagète, and Oedipus Rex. Joining him on stage were the London Symphony Orchestra and, for the second work, the gentlemen of the conductor’s own Monteverdi Choir – a vocal ensemble beyond superlatives. This combination of conductor and ensembles has worked well in the past in other Stravinskian repertoire, including one of the best versions of the Symphony of Psalms I have ever heard (originally on DG but re-released at budget price on Brilliant Classics: 9015) and arguably the greatest CD-recording of The Rake’s Progress (DG 459 648-2). For the most part, the high standard of those recordings was evident last night in London’s Barbican Hall.
Barbican Hall, 24th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
If, like me, you attended Sunday’s “Flórez and Friends” concert at the Barbican – as opposed to sitting through oceans of orchestral filler in the RFH in order to dribble over the unfeasible length of Jonas Kaufmann’s ‘Wälse’ – you may be forgiven for wondering how an audience already in a state of chronic, uncritical delight could possibly be pleasured any more. In which case, you needed to be at tonight’s solo recital, the latest tranche of Juan Diego Flórez’s Barbican residency, which comprehensively proved the time-honoured adage “it ain’t over until the sooty-lashed one sings at least four encores”. The nubile bounced around, whooping; the mature squirmed with satisfaction in their seats, emitting the odd low moan; I shouldn’t be at all surprised if the lame weren’t seen dancing in the aisles, and the dead – always a fair percentage of any opera audience – weren’t newly-risen. Indeed, anyone suffering with scrofula could well have been cured merely by touching his immaculately tailored trousers (though I’m still working out how to explain this to the police).
Barbican Hall, 21st April 2013, Sebastian Petit
There are times in every critic’s life when they enter a place of entertainment in a less than exalted frame of mind, wishing fervently that they were not required to sit in judgement on whatever artistic offering is being given that night. This was undoubtedly the case with me tonight as I entered the Barbican Hall. Despite the fact that I had been looking forward to this concert for nigh on six months, a combination of a rotten night’s sleep and an overlarge dinner had put me in a distinctly un-sunny mood. Had what followed been of poor or even average quality it would likely have received a fairly un-indulgent review. Fortunately the evening was so far up the scale of excellence it is in danger of receiving a rave.
Royal Festival Hall, 20th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Daniele Gatti was the Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for 13 years, from 1996 onwards: and the net result of his long and faithful devotion to them was to end up occupying a kind of twilight existence, seen somehow as not central to the city’s musical activities, having allied himself to the Cinderella of London orchestras. Happily for him, the rest of the world was rather more aware of his worth, and no sooner had he left than he was ensconced at Bayreuth, La Scala and the Met, as well as consolidating his position as a favoured guest with most of the great international orchestras. But after having conducted his way through most of the Verdi repertory at the ROH throughout the 1990s as the House’s Principal Guest Conductor year-in, year-out until the closure, he only reappeared there in 2001, promptly to vanish for the next eleven seasons. When he finally returned last year, to lead the new Falstaff, he was greeted with a homecoming hero’s sense of welcome. And something similar could be sensed tonight, at the Southbank-resident Philharmonia Orchestra’s major contribution to this year’s ongoing Verdi bicentenary celebrations.
Barbican Hall, 16th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
When this pair of concert performances of Britten’s most ingeniously crafted opera – literally, variations on a theme - was first announced early last year as part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s 2012/13, the conductor was meant to be Sir Colin Davis, the band’s Principal Conductor from 1995 until 2006 (after which he became its tirelessly hands-on President). Alas, illness intervened, and the last performances he gave with the LSO in their home hall were the two Der Freischützen almost exactly a year ago - the first of which I reviewed here - followed by dual outings of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts in St. Paul’s Cathedral in July, his absolute public dernière (and a rather more fitting use of the building than that in which it presently finds itself embroiled, hired out for a has-been politico’s overblown obsequies). Sir Colin was too ill to conduct, or even attend, his own 85th birthday concert last September, and we had all long-since been advised that he would not be conducting these Turns of the Screw, entrusted instead to Richard Farnes, the Music Director of Opera North.
London Handel Festival, 6th April 2013, Miranda Jackson
There are in my opinion two compelling reasons to choose an Ensemble Serseperformance in preference to your 259thproduction of Traviata or Carmen. The first is that the South African male soprano Calvin Wells is secretly a musicologist, producing performing editions of operas by the unjustly neglected German composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783.) A while ago, some of us thought Handel only wrote oratorios; but now his finest operas are firmly ensconced in the canon. Vivaldi too is being rediscovered as a composer of operas. But the consummate composer of Italianate opera seria throughout the 18th century is in fact Hasse.
Versailles, 3rd April 2013, Miranda Jackson
About five years ago I was walking alone in the shimmering May heat on the peaceful island of Torcello, when I was captivated by the liquid tones of a nightingale. Apparently lonely male nightingales sometimes sing in daylight, raising the ante to attract the attention of a mate. This week, as a guest of theChâteau de Versailles Spectacles, I once again found myself ‘at the still point of the turning world.’ This time it was not an avian larynx, but that of the American mezzo-soprano, Vivica Genaux, singing “Quell’usignolo che innamorato se canta solo” in Vivaldi’s Farnace.
Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican, 29th March 2013, John E de Wald
It is as yet a far cry from spring in Britain. The bitter winds of winter still hold court, snow looms as recent threat; yet Easter nonetheless approaches, heralded by the annual burgeoning of sacred music endemic to the season. Though none does better justice to it to my taste than the third act ofParsifal, not even the most committed Wagnerian could dispute the power of Bach’s choral writing in expressing the heart of this time of year. Though several displays of this are inevitably on offer with Good Friday to hand, a chance to hear the Academy of Ancient Music performing the St. John Passion with an ensemble of top soloists is surely hard to better.
St Paul's, Covent Garden, 23rd March 2013, Miranda Jackson
What is the link between Jacques Imbrailo, Erica Eloff and Calvin Wells, apart from the fact that they have each performed The Queen of the Night’s aria to considerable acclaim? The answer is they were all born in South Africa but have chosen to make the UK their home. In Miss Eloff’s case, she made her first professional appearances in the UK in 2008, appearing as Fiordiligi in Così at Garsington Opera, making her Wigmore Hall recital debut and winning the 2008 London Handel Festival Singing Competition. The following year she sang the eponymous role of Theodora in the London Handel Festival, in which she showed considerable artistic maturity as well as a superb vocal technique.
Classical Opera, London Handel Festival, 18th March 2013, Miranda Jackson
We all know the legend of Orpheus, but did you know Eurydice’s death was orchestrated by Queen Orasia in a fit of jealous rage and that Orpheus met his end being beaten to death by a horde of Bacchanalian nymphettes? Nor did I, but based on a tragédie written by Michel Du Boulay in 1690, this is the narrative of Die rachbegierige Liebe oder Orasia, verwittwete Königin in Thracien, first performed in Hamburg in 1726.
Wigmore Hall, 18th March 2013, John E de Wald
The Rosenblatt Recitals, now based at the Wigmore Hall, offer a rather unique opportunity to hear some of the world’s most impressive singers to best effect, performing their own chosen repertoire in an intimate concert setting. There is a welcome purity in hearing an artist sing a concentrated programme of music tailored to their voice and taste, and to hear it unembellished by full-scale orchestra, granted only the elegant simplicity of an accompanying piano.
Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
There are fairies at the bottom of der Garten. On the Wagner-Verdi bicentenary dual carriageway, the Chelsea Opera Group charabanc trundled into town for the first of its celebrations to offer up a rare slice of early Wagner (Verdi is served by Alzira later in the season). COG is an unpredictable vehicle at the best of times – it can run smoothly (a fine original version Simon Boccanegra, featuring a lovely soprano) and at times it can judder to an abrupt halt (a truly memorable Traviata for all the wrong reasons). This evening, whilst the cornering was occasionally treacherous and the wheels threatened to come off on more than one occasion, the resulting performance of Die Feen was still rather enjoyable, both for the opportunity to sample Wagner’s first opera and for some spirited vocal performances.
St James', Piccadilly, 7th March 2013, Dominic Wells
It must have been almost exactly two years ago that I was listening to Radio 3, eating my breakfast, when my porridge-laden spoon stopped half way to my mouth, and was slowly returned to the bowl. From the radio came a voice – a new voice – that seemed to possess a Bartoli-like technique. At the end of the aria, the presenter announced the name of Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva, and I quickly got hold of a copy of the disc as soon as possible. The remainder of that CD – of Rossini arias (Naïve V5221) – proved to be just as impressive as the extract that I had heard on the radio, and I was surprised that, with the exception of Gramophone, it received a remarkably lukewarm critical response, with lots of three-star ratings dotted about.
Perth International Arts Festival, 2nd March 2013, Sandra Bowdler
Bartók’s only opera Bluebeard’s Castle is, like much early 20th century music, not for everyone. It is really a chamber opera with only two characters and is often performed (as it is here) in concert; a full-blown setting is hardly necessary. Some find it essentially monochromatic, with not much musical variation, not much action and not much plot. For others (including your critic), it is a fascinating psychological portrayal in music of the states of mind of the two characters - Duke Bluebeard and his latest wife Judith. Based on the fairytale in which Bluebeard’s wife opens a final door in his castle to find the remains of his previously murdered wives, in this version she opens the final door of his psyche to find his previous wives unfortunately alive.
The English Concert, Barbican Hall, 10th February 2013, Miranda Jackson
I vividly remember reviewing the English National Opera's production of Handel's Radamisto at the end of 2010. What struck me about that production was the consistent quality of the singing, with Lawrence Zazzo and Christine Rice worthy of special mention. ENO chose to perform the score on modern instruments, but conducted by redoubtable Handel expert, Laurence Cummings, who has been appointed artistic director of the Göttingen International Handel Festival.
Barbican Hall, 6th February 2013, Sebastian Petit
It is always good to welcome Joyce DiDonato back to London. This concert was based around her recent Drama Queens album which took baroque royalty in various moods, ranging from quiet contemplation to insane fury as its theme. DiDonato is an exceptional recitalist both vocally but also in that she has the ability to make even a large hall such as the Barbican feel like an intimate venue. For the tour, DiDonato had commissioned a truly spectacular red frock from Vivienne Westwood and there was a lovely touch with the male members of Il Complesso Barocco all wearing red socks to match the dress.
Wigmore Hall, 5th February 2013, Sebastian Petit
A glance at Alex Esposito’s website reveals a young bass with a formidably wide ranging repertoire encompassing no less than fifteen Rossini roles but also parts as diverse as Nick Shadow, the four Hoffmann villains and Bottom in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His recital under the Rosenblatt Song Series banner clearly aimed to provide a snapshot of a very varied portfolio. His repertoire in this country has been mainly confined to the Mozart bass roles but on the evidence of this recital he is a genuine basso cantante.
The Rest Is Noise: Inaugural Concert, RFH, 19th January 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
For card-carrying Strauss-fanciers like me, the next eighteen months or so are going to be glory days indeed, culminating in the celebrations – in June 2014 – commemorating, unbelievably, the 150thanniversary of his birth (I know someone who worked with him). The LPO has been staking its claim early. It’s less than two months since they gave performances of Ein Heldenleben and Don Quixote under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and they will be tackling Ariadne auf Naxos this summer at Glyndebourne (it’s odd, then, that most of the Strauss to be heard on the South Bank in the upcoming 2013/14 season will be played instead by the Philharmonia: five tone poems, orchesterlieder - including the Four Last Songs - and the closing scene of Salome).
Zurich Opera, Royal Festival Hall, 15th December 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
It’s nearly four years since Bryn Terfel sang the Dutchman for the first time, at Covent Garden, with Anja Kampe as Senta. In the interim, she, if not Terfel, returned to the role at the ROH last year. And now, here she is once again, singing the part in a concert performance given by the forces of Zurich Opera at the Festival Hall. On both previous occasions, though she was the object of much acclaim at the time, I personally found her singing squally and approximate, and quite without the necessary security above the stave, where anything much beyond A was more-or-less the product of sheer will-power alone rather than any evident vocal ability.
BBCSO, Barbican, 15th December 2012, Mark Pullinger
Hobbits may be the mythological flavour of the month with cinemagoers, but it was trolls that concentrated the mind at the Barbican this evening as Grieg’s complete incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt was given in a concert performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marc Minkowski. The 26 musical items were set in context by Alain Perroux’s sequence of dialogue and narration, immediately recognisable to those of us who have Aeon’s recording (with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande) which features the same script. The young actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama even employed Irish accents for Peer, Ase and Solveig, as did Alex Jennings and Haydn Gwynne on disc, although the adoption of Scottish accents for the trolls may be more contentious for audience members hailing from north of the border.
Barbican, 9th December 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
I couldn’t offhand quantify how many recitals Renée Fleming has given in London since her debut here 23 years ago: it must run easily into double figures. Yet this, without doubt, was the finest of them all, both in terms of the programming and, more surprisingly at this near quarter-century remove, vocal execution. Of course, Fleming has always had her rabid fans (no less than her equally – if not more so – rabid detractors), but this is the first time I have ever witnessed her receive a standing ovation.
Carnegie Hall, 5th December 2012, Eli Jacobson
Beatrice di Tenda has always been something of a stepchild in the Bellini canon, born under difficult circumstances and subject to long periods of neglect. It only emerges when a bel canto diva such as a Sutherland, Gencer, Devia or Gruberova wishes to add another Bellini heroine to her collection. Beatrice di Tenda is Bellini’s penultimate opera composed after Norma and before I Puritani which was his last completed work when he died in 1835.
Royal Festival Hall, 27th November 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Though the printed programme made nothing of it that I could see, this concert effectively marked the 50th anniversary of the work’s premiere in the newly-rebuilt Coventry Cathedral (destroyed during WWII) in 1962. At this remove it’s hard to credit the overwhelming public interest the piece provoked: but it gives some idea of its popularity and sheer fame that the recording subsequently made by Decca and released in 1964 sold over 200,000 copies in its first year alone. (For comparison, Claudio Abbado’s 1990s Berlin Brahms cycle has sold well under 15,000 copies worldwide to date.) Those indeed were the days. And it’s odd in many ways, because the War Requiem is not a notably – in fact, even remotely – consolatory work, starting and ending as it does on a tritone (the Diabolus in musica of mediaeval horror), and makes few if any concessions to an audience’s expectations.
Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 25th November 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Massenet had just turned sixty-seven and was in large part crippled with arthritis when, in May 1909, he began composing what is the 23rd of his 26 surviving operas, and the last-but-one he lived long enough to see staged before his death from cancer in 1912. Like many of his late works, the libretto was written by Henri Cain (after a play by Jacques Le Lorrain rather than directly adapted from Cervantes) and commissioned by Raoul Gunsbourg, the suave shark who ran the Opéra de Monte Carlo (and the lucrative casino concession it embraced architecturally, courtesy of the same Charles Garnier responsible for the Opéra in Paris).
Barbican, 15th November 2012, Dominic Wells
For the past week or so, as I finish work and walk down Oxford Street each evening, I am greeted by the incandescent delights of premature Christmas lights. This year – and perhaps it’s been the case for several years and I’ve just missed it – the main focus of this annual celebration seems to have shifted from the birth of Christ to Marmite. Hanging high above the streets are various Marmite signs, glowing and flashing away, with the famous slogan, ‘You either love it, or hate it’, next to which an animated fluorescent child appears to be vomiting into a Christmas stocking (presumably a hater, rather than a lover, of the rich, brown spread).
Wigmore Hall, 12th November 2012, Mark Pullinger
Greek sopranos have been much on my mind of late. I’ve recently reviewed an Australian Eloquence reissue of Decca recordings by Elena Souliotis, herself proclaimed as the great successor to Maria Callas, who briefly blazed across the operatic firmament before fizzling out, the cost of countless Abigailles taking its inevitable toll. Or perhaps not so inevitable, for the Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, appearing in this latest Rosenblatt Recital, has made a very decent career in such dramatic repertory as Abigaille, Odabella and Lady Macbeth, without seeming to succumb to their voice-sapping demands. It’s been ten years now since her Covent Garden debut as an exciting Odabella in Attila, a booking strangely absent from her printed biography, and I was keen to see how her voice – notoriously unpredictable – held up in a demanding programme; no lieder or romanzas here, but a succession of operatic heroines.
The Warehouse, 25th & 26th October 2012, Miranda Jackson
Nadine Mortimer-Smith is a very British lyric soprano (of Jamaican heritage) but displays a New World, ‘can-do’ attitude which perhaps explains why she is recognised as the foremost British exponent of American song. As part of the biennial Lontano American Music Festival at The Warehouse, she gave a recital with her accompanist Tomasz Lis which comprised songs by William Bolcom, Peter Child, Samuel Barber and Gershwin.
BBCSO/ Opera Rara, Barbican, 28th October 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Belisario, (approximately) the 48th of Donizetti’s (roughly) 70 operas, was first given at La Fenice in Venice on 4thFebruary 1836, and scored a success so immediate that within a decade it had done the rounds of most of the major lyric houses not just in Italy, but throughout the world, including both Americas. Yet Donizetti himself rated it below Lucia di Lammermoor – its immediate predecessor bar one – in his oeuvre by reason of its “less thorough working-out”: and posterity has been even harsher in its judgement, long-since relegating it to the outer margins of repertoire respectability.
City Recital Hall, Sydney, 20th October 2012, Sandra Bowdler
Few would dispute that Richard Bonynge is adept at picking singers and, at 82, he is as sprightly on the podium as ever. Presented by the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Foundation – whose aim is to “to nurture and support our next generation of emerging young Australian opera singers” – this concert performance of Rodelinda was an unmitigated treat for Handel lovers and aficionados of fine singing.
BBCSO, Barbican, 12th October 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Kenneth Richardson has semi-staged any number of operas in concert in London, one of which – Birtwistle’s The Second Mrs. Kong, at the RFH – remains just about the greatest performance of any opera I’ve encountered live. His latter day work with the BBC SO at the Barbican has produced any number of exemplary accounts, not least The Adventures of Mr. Broucek and Julietta. So it’s just my (habitual) bad luck that the very first of his stagings about which I have some serious reservations should, of course, be the (only) one I’ve ever been called upon to review. The odd thing is that the flaw was both basically very simple and easily correctable, but alas exerted an exponentially damaging effect on the cumulative impact of the work as the evening progressed.
Barbican, 2nd October 2012, Mark Pullinger
Time flies. It’s three years to the day now since my first Opera Britannia review assignment at Covent Garden, a revival of Carmen starring Latvian mezzo soprano Elina Garanca. I’m hoping I didn’t put the mockers on her, as she hasn’t been back since – an abandoned Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and maternity duty in the intervening years a plea offered for the defence. It’s a situation one wishes remedied with some haste, for there are few lyric mezzos to come anywhere near her on the form exhibited in this concert, which took us from Joan of Arc to Carmen, via the exotic Orient courtesy of Massenet, Saint-Saëns and Gounod.
Royal Festival Hall, 30th September 2012, Sebastian Petit
This concert seemed something of a missed opportunity, as Anna Caterina Antonacci is a rare enough visitor to these shores. In the last few years she has given us an unmatched Carmen and Cassandre plus a few treasurable Wigmore Hall recitals (the most recent of which has just been released on the Hall’s own label). Having acquired her services for a concert promisingly centred around some of the most interesting classical heroines it seems folly to ask her to perform only three short pieces and then pad the programme with tenuously related items including, bizarrely, Bizet’s youthful Symphony in C.
LPO, Royal Festival Hall, 26th September 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
If he has achieved nothing else, Vladimir Jurowski deserves the undying gratitude of at least this member of the paying public for diversifying and enriching the repertory over the past three or so seasons at the helm of the London Philharmonic. At a time when the Philharmonia launches its season with Beethoven’s 9th under Salonen, and the LSO opens with a fancily tarted-up Brahms cycle under Gergiev (unremittingly bloated and leaden thus far), it isn’t so much a breath of fresh air as a blast of much-needed oxygen which Jurowski brings to proceedings.
Wigmore Hall, 24th September 2012, Miranda Jackson
The twelfth annual Rosenblatt Recitals are being held at the Wigmore Hall for the first time this season. The American tenor, Lawrence Brownlee gave the inaugural performance at ‘Europe’s leading venue for song,’ accompanied by Iain Burnside. As fond as many of us are of St John’s, Smith Square, the move to the Wigmore Hall feels like a step up for the Rosenblatt Recitals, asserting that this much-loved series is now very much at the heart of musical life in the capital. As a further coup, four of this year’s series, including Mr Brownlee’s recital, are being filmed for future broadcast by Sky Arts.