Monday, 30 March 2015

Cabaret Style

John Hackett and Nick Fletcher, Music for Flute and Guitar 

A very pleasant evening last night was had by the handful of people who attended a flute and guitar recital at the Embrace Arts centre in Leicester. John Hackett (vertical flute) and Nick Fletcher (guitar) played an astonishing range of music: some obscure composers, many with a Latin American theme, and some compositions of their own (Hackett’s Overnight Snow and Red Hair as well as Fletcher’s Ciudado con el Gato – beware of the cat).

The piece I enjoyed most was an adaptation of Vivaldi’s Il Cardellino “The Goldfinch”. The only detraction was some interference on one of the speakers in the room. It had been amplified for balance, apparently, but it seemed unnecessary to me quite frankly. All the kit led to quite a bit of faffing. But these were two consummate professionals show range and skill in what they played. These deserve much better attendance. But as it was, the intimate atmosphere was really splendid.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Spring (ON Figaro)

Mozart, Marriage of Figaro (Anthony Kraus, cond. Orchestra of Opera North)

We are over the threshold for Spring by over a week. Figaro got married last night; it was a lovely service, and a fine time was had by all. Mozart’s score carried us along –as if on a river I always think; and da Ponte’s libretto had all laughing out loud.
Photo: Opera North/Clive Barda
Opera North’s new production, the final and third taken to Nottingham this week, was an utter delight. A lovely production, a few eccentricities – such as the rain at the windows which gurgled during arias and whose meaning was opaque, and Figaro fiddling with a lightbulb at the start, notwithstanding, this was deeply funny and highly enjoyable. The orchestra sounded the best they have this week, under Anthony Kraus, and noticeably this was not their first performance with this conductor. It is tempting to conclude that more rehearsal time needs to be given to alternative conductors.
Richard Burkhard played Figaro as the charming chancer he is. Generally the male voices seemed stronger and finer than the female ones, especially Quirijn de Lang: not only can he sing, but he is a superb actor, and his performance was as memorable as on Tuesday.
Jeremy Sams has adjusted his translation for the performance, the programme notes tell us, and it worked well. This was genuinely funny- and not in the sort of forced/educative/demonstrative way you get with an RSC audience, laughing to show they get it. Mozart presents here the humour of humanity: as Figaro observed during a scene change: you get it… and you…any you. After my initial pangs – for some reason measuring for a bed is best done in Italian, I settled down very happily. The audience seemed close to sold-out. No wonder with music of this quality.
Alas, that's it from Opera North for now- just the Dutchman to come this summer.
Overall: a really funny production, gorgeous music – what more could anyone want? 

Figaro Richard Burkhard
Susanna Silvia Moi
Count Almaviva Quirijn de Lang
Countess Almaviva Ana Maria Labin
Cherubino Helen Sherman
Doctor Bartolo Henry Waddington
Don Basilio Joseph Shovelton
Marcellina Gaynor Keeble
Antonio Jeremy Peaker
Barbarina Ellie Laugharne
Don Curzio Nicholas Watts

Creative Team
 Conductor Anthony Kraus
Director Jo Davies
Set Designer Leslie Travers
Costume Designer Gabrielle Dalton
Lighting Designer James Farncombe
English translation Jeremy Sams

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Opera for free: Tycho's Dream (Glyndebourne Youth Opera)

You can presently stream or even download Luke Styles' opera Tycho's Dream produced by Glyndebourne Youth Opera, libretto by Peter Cant.

A new single-act opera by the same Young Composer-in-Residence will be part of the festival in the summer.

The composer's website is here.

Snuff film at a bagnio in the wrong arrondissement (Opera North Traviata)

Verdi, La Traviata  (Orchestra of Opera North cond. Justin Doyle).
ON's Traviata is dark, seductive but fundamentally uneven. The first act seemed rather rocky: the orchestra was uneven as Justin Doyle conducted the first performance of it, and really quite unsatisfying staging. An orientalist sort of bagnio was set up, with the majority of the set looking like the sort of thing only advertised in tile catalogues – far too much of a loud tile pattern . A giant, ugly bed covered in horrible blanket – many oriental in pattern would be measuring. This was the sort of place to set Hausmann thinking about refiguring. Projected through the aria was a round disc: either a microscope showing Violetta’s TB, or the moon. This was the one clever device in the first scene. But when Violetta (Anna Jeruc-Kopec ) and Alfredo sang, any concerns leapt out the window. I didn’t believe that our wonderful singers had the slightest hint of attraction to each other.
Image: Opera North/Richard H Smith.
The first of two intervals. Act two, scene one opened in a lovely place by the sea or a lake. The bed had become a decking or dock and the most gentle sky scene was projected. This slowly turned to clouds. This was a beautiful piece of staging, but again unconvincing. Stephen Gadd’s Giorgio Germont lacked gravitas or power.
The second scene was a swish party, and it was great. Here the set got really clever. A giant rose window with glittering stars behind. And faceless men in masks and white tie watched on at Violetta’s suffering. Previous ‘friends’, presumably. The Gipsy entertainments at the party were presented as Carmen's troupe of entertainers to great and comic effect.
Image: Opera North/Richard H Smith.
Act three hits the emotional climax. It is a hard slog. Now Violetta and Alfredo had chemistry. His arrival really did seem to be warmly greeted. As the heroine expired, the masked gentlemen stood up behind the gauze and the window, and applauded. This was all a big snuff film.

Overall: this was much less stylish, coherent or exquisite than the Glyndebourne production last year (both at the festival and on tour), but with a Violetta and Alfredo of this quality, and many clever moments in the staging, much can be forgiven.

Opera north site.

Violetta Valéry: Anna Jeruc-Kopec
Flora Bervoix: Victoria Sharp
Annina: Louise Collett
Alfredo Germont: Ji-Min Park
Giorgio Germont: Stephen Gadd
Gastone: Daniel Norman
Baron Douphol: Peter Savidge
Marquis d'Obigny: Nicholas Butterfield
Doctor Grenvil: Dean Robinson
Conductor: Justin Doyle
Director: Alessandro Talevi
Set and Costume Designer: Madeleine Boyd
Lighting Designer: Matthew Haskins
Choreographer: Victoria Newlyn

Friday, 27 March 2015

Darkness and dark humour go back-to-back (Opera North, La vida breve and Gianni Schicchi)

La vida breve and Gianni Schicchi as a double bill (conducted by Martin Pickard, Opera North)

Opera North’s double bill of La vida breve and Gianni Schicchi could not be farther apart. de Falla compresses the darkness of Tristan with great brutality in deed and music. Yet both have a comedy-of-manners edge to them. The set wasn’t lazily adapted, and cast did not have that much overlap. These were two productions back to back.
Despite being two short pieces, neither lacked sufficient drama. La vida had rape, masturbation, and self-harm and suicide. In 60 minutes. Edgy? Audiences in 1913 must have gone berserk. Anne Sophie Duprels did it all a with the most astonishing range.  Schicchi saw murder, fraud, but in old-fashioned style, a very happy ending, the sort of justice which fits with the moral economy of a crowd.
Wonderful acting throughout de Lang, with a waxen pallor had a woodenness and comic effect which made his Singer superb. Grandmother was good too, played by Elizabeth Sikora, whose Giovanna was part of a disappointing Rigoletto at the ROH in the autumn.
Schicchi on the other hand is a pretty light-hearted comedy with a stunning aria. There’s an Anna-Nicole sort of darkness, and an Ortonesque humour (think Entertaining Mr Sloane). Rather more demure here than as a niece in Grimes (the earth-shattering one at Jac van Steen’s baton in 2013), Lauretta was sung by Jennifer France. This is a one-hit wonder, Pucinni’s only comic opera has one aria in it which must have broken hearts over the years: O mio babbino caro. France combined power, skill and tenderness
This final performance was conducted by Martin Pickard rather than Jac van Steen, the only one he was conducting; it showed. ON has a fine orchestra, and they clearly knew what they were doing. But just occasionally, especially in La vida breve it made more noise than the excellent cast could take, and drowned them out.
A theme in keeping with the Flute last week is that Christopher Purves was stunning. I can’t wait for his Saul in the summer now.
Overall: these didn’t feel bolted together bracketed in a stylish, thoughtful fashion. The Schicchi would be worth seeing every year, and the de Falla was disturbing and powerful.  


Salud Anne Sophie Duprels
La abuela Elizabeth Sikora
Carmela Beth Mackay
Paco Jesús Álvarez
Manuel Gavan Ring
Uncle Salvador Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Singer Quirijn de Lang
Off stage voice Daniel Norman

Gianni Schicchi Christopher Purves
Lauretta Jennifer France
Rinuccio Jesús Álvarez
Nella Victoria Sharp
La Ciesca Claire Pascoe
Zita Elizabeth Sikora
Gherardo Daniel Norman
Marco Peter Savidge
Ser Amantio di Nicolao Jeremy Peaker
Betto di Signa Dean Robinson
Simone Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Dante / Buoso Donati Tim Claydon

Creative Team

Conductor Jac van Steen
Conductor Martin Pickard (24 Mar)
Director Christopher Alden
Set Designer Johan Engels (La vida breve)
Costume Designer Sue Willmington (La vida breve)
Set Designer Charles Edwards (Gianni Schicchi)
Costume Designer Doey Luthi (Gianni Schicchi)
Lighting Designer Adam Silverman
Movement Director Tim Claydon

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Magritte’s Magic Flute in Milton Keynes (WNO Flute)

‘The Magic Flute’ (WNO, cond. Lothar Koenigs, Milton Keynes Theatre, on tour).
The current Welsh National Opera Magic Flute is revival of their 2005 production.  It takes the same Jeremy Sams translation which ETO used last year, to much better effect.  The stage opened to blue skies and white clouds (augmented at times by cloud-like shadows) and a series of wooden doors. The traditional snake (which always has to look silly) was replaced with a giant pink lobster, with claws and head coming through three doors. This was, however, a one-trick pony. The prospect of a series of vignettes was thrilling; but this was only one picture at an exhibition, and the shoddily-made set (reminiscent of Crossroads clips with wobbling walls) didn’t make things seem slick. The second act needed something different, but as a series of holes were used repeatedly on the bottom of the stage, and this was clearly where the money went. The lighting (Chris Davey) was generally inexplicable, and if there was a point to it, I missed it. The bright set made a nice change to a gloomy Hollander and a gloomy Donna del lago which have been on my operatic menu recently. The legions of orange costumes for Sarastro’s servants-  with matching bowler hats, umbrellas, shoes, etc – all in identical tones were a triumph for the wardrobe department.
Image: WNO.
The production did not strange the story and the opera. From the pit came a very solid interpretation of the score at the hands of Lothar Koenigs. There was nothing to take offence at, and perhaps paired with a weird and wonderful interpretation, best not to meddle. The singing was all spot on. The Queen of the Night (Samantha Hay) delivered the firepower and hit the notes –and once warmed up was frankly superb; Pamina’s performance (Anita Watson) was tender and brought a human touch to an opera which always risks a kind of coldness amongst cult, trials, magic and the harsh rule of law. The male voices were very strong too, and Tamino (Benjamin Hulett) sang beautifully. It will be a delight to hear him in Saul at Glyndebourne in the summer.
Movement was greatly constrained falsely by the set which narrowed to a picture frame and made it small in three dimensions. The cast seems to change quite a bit as the produciton moves around, and perhaps this made it all sound a feel quite fresh.

In the second half especially, the dialogue seemed to drag; this might have been a product of the fact the staging had become quite tired. The trials at the end were laughable. The orange lights, sheets of white cloth and fans producing a flame, through the holes in the stage, not all of which work screamed “out of ideas”. But not loudly enough to drown out an opera company in fine voice.

Overall: good singing, fine music; Magritte very witty but that which opened up Mozart's other world in first act constrained it in second.

On tour until 10th April, details on WNO site. Including trailer.

Conductor Lothar Koenigs

Tamino Benjamin Hulett
Pamina Anita Watson
Papageno Jacques Imbrailo
Sarastro Scott Wilde
Speaker Ashley Holland
Queen of the Night Samantha Hay
First Lady Camilla Roberts
Second Lady Máire Flavin
Third Lady Emma Carrington

Director Dominic Cooke
Set Designer Julian Crouch
Costume Designer Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer Chris Davey
Movement Director Sue Lefton