Sunday, 29 June 2014

Love among the ruins (ROH/Manon Lescaut)

Manon Lescaut (Royal Opera, ROH and cinecast)

Setting operas in versions of the present is an awkward thing to do. It calls for a certain kind of impossible realism. Yet the tackiest, tawdry aspects of the current age are used in caricature by Jonathan Kent to great effect in the present ROH Manon Lescaut. Early Puccini it may be, but pure Puccini it is indeed. Puccini uses strings in his own inimitable fashion. The first act opened in a seedy nightclub-casino-motel. The second act followed in the most revolting kind of Perspex-silver-and-pink mansion possible. Visually, you are getting about as much bang for your buck as you might hope- and it does seem to be distinctly American – even before transportation. The deco lines and casino culture have more than a whiff of Americana about them. The fourth act is set on an almost Dali-esque ruined desert highway. As is often the case, the cameras are in too close, and what is gained in intensity and passion here, is lost from the spectacle. And spectacle is always an important part of the operatic art. 

Photo: Bill Cooper/ Royal Opera House

Whilst I only saw the cinema relay, and therefore hold off detailed comment on voices, music and balance, it is apparent that Joanas Kaufmann and Kristīne Opolais are a class act. They were believable and acted well. In the interval programming, Antonio Pappano’s genius is as clear as it is from the pit. This isn’t the most popular of Puccini’s works, but it deserves more attention. By no means an unpleasant way to pass a rain Sunday afternoon.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten: the untold story of Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne: the untold history (BBC4, and on demand this week)
Last night, the BBC broadcast 'Glyndebourne: the untold history'. A friend who (rather obviously) has a TV held a small viewing. We celebrated with foods which would not easily transport to a picnic and my contribution was some cooking wine and a strawberry pavolva with redcurrant sauce. Three of us ate this. 

What was really curious was that Benjamin Britten didn't feature at all. Much of the material was recycled from the intermission material from the relay of Der Rosenkavalier. I thought the programme rather good, and following a specific production (Der Rosenkavalier) was a nice way to pull things together. I would have enjoyed more on the history. I was not persuaded that Glyndebourne was as influential in terms of operatic culture in Britain as the programme claimed, however.
Now on demand.

As a special treat, Der Rosenkavalier is available, on demand, for three months via BBC Arts

Wagnerian perfection?

Götterdämmerung (Opera North, Symphony Hall, still touring)

It was thoroughly indulgent to have a second visit to Götterdämmerung, but a very wise move.

In Symphony Hall, the acoustics were clearer, sharper; all 200+ had settled in to their roles, so it seemed slightly looser. I present that only as observation, not criticism. It was still incandescent, but the cooler climate, whilst undoubtedly more comfortable, perhaps made the whole thing seem slightly less fevered.

The extra foot of space given, most visible from out position, gave the Rhinemaidens in particular room to flow more river-like. The First Norn, Fiona Kimm, was much improved. So with the two miniscule gripes demolished, I might seriously posit this was perfection. Alwyn Mellor shone still; Mati Turi, remained a wonderful Siegfried; Eric Greene seemed even stronger, even more ambitions; Mats Almgren was even more grasping, menacing. Jo Polheim left everyone wishing Alberich starred much more heavily in this instalment.

Overall: it could be decades before a Ring of this quality; the forecast for 2016 is pretty good when Farnes says farewell with complete Rings. I'm saving cash now. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Some of us are trying to EAT!

Summer is most decidedly here. So it seems a wonderful moment to share the following account of summer evening attending a production of Cosi on the Sussex Downs. You might already know the wonderful account by Wallace Arnold (Craig Brown); if you don’t, you should, and now is your chance
Much like the fictional Mr Arnold, I do think Summer is the time for music. That and Autumn and Winter and Spring. But how much nicer to bask on balmy evenings than scurry from a cab through the rain to shiver in the foyer.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Over the top and overboard

I had been looking forward to the telecast of The Death of Klinghoffer (John Adams, 1985) amongst the Met 2014/15 relays – and was dismayed to hear it has been cancelled on grounds it might ‘genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe’ (Peter Gelb, general manager of Met). 

I find this as unbelievable as I do remarkable. To be very clear, I don’t know the work (and won’t thanks to weak-willed approach). The point is rather that surely art has a moral right to ruffle a few feathers, or even grossly offend, providing it doesn’t incite hatred. Regardless of the contnet, I find it very hard to believe that telecasts might have any such effect. The careful presentation the Met makes with introductions and interval discussions and interviews offer generous scope to handle this with necessary caution. It seems to be a work with real relevance to the current age, and it is really a shame to see this. I would have thought the kind of publicity generated by these decisions is more likely to incite hatred than anything else. If it is all that poisonous, then why are the live performances going ahead?  Perhaps New Yorkers are made of sterner stuff than the rest of us. 

There is a very serious point here and the Met have, in my view, behaved very poorly indeed. What if there is a similar cry, as hears periodically but falsely about Wagner? Or what about Cosi, which is fairly offensive towards women? 

As for Klinghoffer, I want to see it more than I did before: I shall seek a DVD instead.I imagine quite a lot of people will do this. 

Turtle Doves

The Sixteen, ‘The Voice of the Turtle Dove’ (St James the Greater, Leicester, but Choral Pilgrimage touring nationwide until 25 October)

I saw a positive review of the Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage on the Guardian website yesterday. It jogged my memory of the visit to Leicester. I thought the selection was good - Davy, Sheppard, Mundy  -  but that the voices did not shine quite as brightly as they had in the past. The Early Flemish Rennaisance selection a few years back was stunning and I wondered if this fell slightly short of the mark. There had been a mix-up with seats, so we were at the back of the nave, where they could be heard perfectly well, but this may account for the less than startling quality. 

Overall: very fine, but just not quite as sublime as on previous occasions

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Golden Python?

Benvenuto Cellini (ENO, cinema relay from Coliseum)

I saw the cinema relay of the ENO Benvenuto Cellini last night. With design and staging by Terry Gilliam, perhaps this was designed to be a crowd-pleaser; even by operatic standards a fairly absurd plot, so it perhaps lends itself to Python-treatment.  Enjoying the 2-for-1 cinema voucher, the auditorium at the Coliseum looked busier than it has ever been when I’ve been there (on cheap nights at that). I had decided against this until the arrival of the voucher. Despite the limitations of relays, and singing in English (more on this another time) it was delightful. That it is realtively unknown helped with the translation: the lovely Boheme I saw there was absurd when the famous arias came with English lines, and they sounded wrong. I have never been convinced that the singing-in-German/French/Italian is really an issue, and that those people still want or require English surtitles despite the audibility. 

The movement (Leah Hausman) was generally naturalistic and relaxed: despite the crowded set. Indeed the set was huge – there seemed to be so much crammed on the stage, but it didn’t get in the way.
I would be weary of making too much comment on singing –it all seemed good – but the limitations of microphones and speakers mean there is a limit to how much can be said.  No weak links appeared. The star, for me anyway, was Willard White’s Pope Clement VII – in look and sound and character and movement. 

ENO Benvenuto Cellini - Willard White (c) ENO/Richard Hubert Smith
The statue, when it comes, is a big one. It makes for a super climax, and is wonderfully executed. The whole thing is a hoot, and is played in the light-hearted manner we might hope.

Overall: rather funnier than much of the Python oeuvre, as it happens.