Wednesday, 29 April 2015

How to get a ticket to Bayreuth

I came across this in a number of Cook’s Excursionist for May 1886. For those wondering how they might get a seat at Bayreuth, the answer, was Thomas Cook. I do wish it were as easy as asking Thomas Cook now. 

"It has been decided that nine representations of Wagner’s “Parsifal” shall be given at Bayreuth, commencing on Friday, July 23rd, and to be continued every Monday and Friday up to August 20th. And eight performances of “Tristan and Isolde,” commencing on Sunday, July 25th, and to be continued every Thursday and Sunday up to August 19th. These representations will  be under the patronage of King Ludwig II. of Bavaria.

Particulars of fares to Bayreuth can be obtained at any of our offices; also tickets for reserved seats at twenty marks each. We shall also be pleased to give quotations for other and more extended tours, combining France, Italy, Switzerland, the Tyrol, &c."
‘Wagner Festival at Bayreuth’ Cook's Excursionist (1 May 1886), vol. XXXVI, no 4, p.2

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

And the winner is.. (International Opera Awards 2015)

After Saturday's Il Turco  it is little wonder that readers of Opera Now chose Aleksandra Kurzak for one of their singers of the year; and Jonas Kaufmann as the other - who sang the title in  Andrea Chénier in January. Es Devlin (designer of Mahagonny and also the ROH Don Giovanni), and Christian Gerhaher also won awards (note his forthcoming residency at the Wigmore Hall). Birmingham Opera won the New Production award for  Khovanskygate. Great credit, and not for engagement but quality of output. Chorus of the year was WNO's, praise doubtless welcome. All details here.

The Ghosts of compression

So when music and video is compressed, some information is lost. This is what is sounds and looks like.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sparkling Beethoven (Vienna Piano Trio/Wigmore Hall)

The Vienna Piano Trio played a capacity Wigmore Hall at coffee time today – in the most civilized way imaginable to ease from repose to Sunday afternoon. It was a rather dreary morning but the all-Beethoven programme was delivered with astonishing, intense thoughtfulness.
After an awful lot of telephone calls, I managed to get a return, on row E which meant I had a tremendous view of the performance and group dynamic. Each of the three - Bogdan Božović, Violin, Matthias Gredler, Cello and Stefan Mendl, Piano operated within their own world. Yet so in sync was the group, that the communication seemed invisible. Playing for tatty, well-loved scores, the freshness was all-the-more remarkable. I wondered in particular with the remarkable Božović was being taken unwell. I cannot recall observing a musician feeling every note he and his colleagues played. The familiar here was new again to everyone in the room. The hall went pretty wild in response. No wonder. If only they had offered an encore.
The programme opened with 10 Variations on 'Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu' in G major Op. 121a, followed by Piano Trio in B flat major Op. 97 'Archduke'.

Nothing but fun in the sun ('Il Turco', ROH)

Rossini, Il Turco in Italia (ROH cond. Evelino Pidò) 

Rossini’s Il Turco is opera at is lightest, frothiest; cappuccino without the espresso. So sun-drenched is this that I was tempted to look for the after-sun when I got home. There are, arguably, some heavier themes in the libretto: the orientalism for one, the comments on art for another. Very wisely, this production just ignores this. It is just fun in the sun.
There are many things in this production to like. It is showing its age a little –so I thought - but is actually only 2005; I could have believed 1985. The moving shapes painted two colours (obliquely sails?) at the start and so forth, are rather flimsy and pointless – a sort of Rothko on wheels thing going on there. They might have made more of the beach too – rather than what appeared to be beige linoleum. Most of the costumes were a delight, but not Fiorilla’s wasp costume act two; and the glitter balls and blue rigouts were a bit too much. The car, taxi and scooter were great fun. The props were a scream too: wicker chianti flask and giant pizza, for example, are just fun. The Turk's ship is great fun as it arrives, pulled by great numbers; the pick-pocketing and removal all but undergarments from unsuspecting tourists are enormously entertaining. At times it all seems a little overdone, but that isn't the point. We are meant just to enjoy it, and that's what the audience was doing.
Evelino Pidò’s conducting of the ROH Orchestra gave heat to the sun, even if things seemed slightly uneven – I wondered if they the percussion was little too much at the start.
The singers and acting presented a wonderful ensemble piece. Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiorilla)  was the star of the show, and particularly towards the end –that’s when some of her big numbers come. Alessandro Corbelli (Don Geronio) made great work of the put-upon husband. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo’s Selim was swarthy and charming, and is happily paired off with Zaida (Rachel Kelley). Luis Gomes (Albazar) did much to get humour out too. Thomas Allen seemed to guide effortlessly his (Prosdocimo’s) characters through the plot – we could feel Rossini’s empathy exuded from every pore. Barry Banks (Don Narciso) was an absolute scream, not least at the very end when he apologises for lying, and grabs a male member of the chorus to the surprise of the others.

Barry Banks (Don Narciso), Thomas Allen (Prosdocimo), Rachel Kelly (Zaida) and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Selim
© 2015, ROH. Photo by Tristram Kenton
There’s lots of jokes it in, and it is delightful. But the humour seems more like that you’d watch ona plane: because it’s there. the production has some very nice aspects. But it’s all worth the admission because of the music and the singing – which are beyond fault, and once Kurzak really gets going at the end, utterly superb.
After noting how little Donizetti gets much by way of regular hearings, I was surprised, looking through the Penguin Guide at how many of Rossini’s operas I hadn’t heard- or even heard of:.
it is likely the earliest of his opera’s you will hear.
Il turco has enjoyed nothing like the popularity of Il barbiere. It is hard to imagine a more enjoyable evening of opera than this.
Conductor - Evelino Pidò
Fiorilla - Aleksandra Kurzak
Selim - Ildebrando D'Arcangelo
Don Geronio - Alessandro Corbelli
Don Narciso - Barry Banks
Prosdocimo - Thomas Allen
Zaida - Rachel Kelly
Albazar - Luis Gomes
Chorus - Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Vasko Vassilev
Orchestra - Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Directors - Moshe Leiser, Patrice Caurier
Set designs - Christian Fenouillat
Costume designs - Agostino Cavalca
Lighting design - Christophe Forey
Movement director - Leah Hausman

Saturday, 25 April 2015

What does a chorus master actually do?

I've often pondered what it is a conductor actually does. Obviously it makes a major difference - most recently demonstrated here by Ashkenazy last Saturday night (review). There are other roles like this. For example what about the Chorus Master? An interview with Metropolitan Opera Chorus Master Donald Palumbo on NPR might offer some pointers if you have pondered this too. Listen here.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Particle physics and cockatoos

Making opera in a theatre is difficult enoguh. Outisde, the weather would be the big proble, right? guess again Cockatoos might eat the set as discovered recently in Australia.

A film has been made of an opera set in a particle physics lab - details here. Film site here. Screenings only at the moment. Of course making it available to stream or on disc would make life much easier for people to watch it.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Picking over the Proms programme

It seems like summer might not be a million miles away. Warmth, sunshine, ice-creams on sale in the park, and a glass of wine in the garden before supper. But the real give-away is the launch of the BBC Proms.
There are of course many good things on which to feast in the line-up, but it seems for opera fans that, interim anyway, nothing approaching the 2013 Wagner feast (as a reminder: Barenboim Ring, as well as a Bychkov Tristan and Runnicles Tannhäuser, not to mention Billy Budd  from Glyndebourne).
I have no problem with the Sherlock Holmes, Ibiza clubbing, etc stuff, if there is sufficient weighty stuff. 
For those looking for opera(tic) performances:
#01 17/7 Belshazzar’s feast with Maltman
#11 25/7 Fiddler on the roof –with Terfel bound to be popular
#25 4/8 Monteverdi, Orfeo – John Eliot Gardiner
#39 14/8 Serail ex. Glyndebourne
#65 3/9 Alice Coote sings Handel – English Concert/ Bicket
#69 6/9 Orff Carmina burana
#75 Elgar Gerontius cond. Rattle
#76 (Last night) features Kaufmann and de Niese.

Joyce for free

Joyce's programme with the NY Philharmonic will be available for free on 25th April and for a period of time thereafter. More information on the NYP site.

Dulcamara-sur-mer (ETO Wild Man of the West Indies)

Donizetti, Il Furioso all’isola di San Domingo (Jeremy Silver cond. ETO)

Heard of Il Furioso all’isola di San Domingo? Heard it? You would be forgiven if the answer to these is no; you can have a recording of it (on Cantus Classics/Line Music – which I reckon would be almost unbearable, but it can only be a matter of time until Opera Rara records it. Interim, it can be summoned on Spotify. There may be up to a thousand neglected Donizetti operas mustering in music libraries (actually he wrote about 70: see this list on Wikipedia).
So why do these lie gathering dust? The music is beautiful. In the case of Il Furioso, slightness of plot is the answer. Man is separated from wife after she cheats on him; he is driven mad; she is thrown on island by shipwreck; he rejects her; jumps in sea in his madness, comes to senses; duelling with wife; when she turns gun on herself rather than shooting him, he realises her love is real; happily ever after. There’s a bit more to it, but not much.
What fills the time then? Well mainly a hearty slice of Donizetti’s music– even if rather thinly-spread with plot. Musically it starts all a bit Don Giovanni; and there is more than a whiff of Rossini (think Il Barbiere) about it. But for the main part, it was just good old Donizetti. If the sea-water served to bring Cardenio, it might as well have been Dulcamara’s Bordeaux Wine bottled as Elisir. A handful of fine arias set off the thing to make a more than tolerable way to spend an evening.
Who is doing this? ETO, essentially a shoe-string operation, with no real permanent base, takes opera to places which might not otherwise see opera; and operas which might not otherwise see these places; it also commissions new works, and it is not all in English despite what the name suggests. Last year I saw their Flute (in translation- the same as the WNO production last month), and Britten’s Paul Bunyan which pushes at the door leading into the music hall.
You might expect a tight operation to go for crowd pleasers (à la Ellen Kent). But they don’t. There’s a bit of that – when I relented on Saturday, I discovered that La bohème had sold out for Monday night, so I didn’t go to that; but the Wild Man was only about half-full. The economics might make any producer break out in a cold sweat. Presumably popular stuff pays for the more obscure. 
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
The staging was simple, and really quite disappointing. The set has to fit the smallest theatre. But it was uninspired, and designer (Florence de Maré ha)d stretched out a large piece of cloth and arbitrary coloured lights (Mark Howland) were projected on to this, without any apparent meaning. A sort of damaged boat/wicker affair (see rear of image) suggested some kind of maritime theme. Somehting in the distance suggested a beach. We were supposed to be on San Domingo: but nothing really suggested this. We might well have been on Aldeburgh beach. 
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
One reason the opera might have dipped in popularity is that it was written in 1833, but features a fairly uncritical representation of slavery. The large whip brandished by Bartolomeo (Njabulo Madlala) in this production was about as much as we got down this route , even if the costumes fitted this idiom too. There’s no way this opera would support more inventive interpretations or transpositions.
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
Cardenio (Craig Smith) was superb, as was Eleonora (Sally Silver). These two could really sing. Silver's costume (above) showed wonderfully the decay of higher-status woman. Kaidamà (Peter Brathwaite) brought a great deal of humour to the production. Nicholas Sharratt (Fernando) seemed to struggle at times. Given his pedigree – which according to the programme includes Glyndebourne, Wigmore Hall and Opera North – when he was fine in the Coronation, I can only assume it was an off night.
More than anything, I was impressed by Jeremy Silver’s conducting and the playing from the pit, which even if the score was somewhat slight, was an unreserved delight. I presume this is a scratch orchestra, and all may hold their heads high.

Overall: given the nature of the set up, really not that bad - please keep coming, and bringing such exotic treats.

Details of tour and production here.

Jeremy Silver - Conductor
Iqbal Khan - Director
Florence de Maré - Designer
Mark Howland - Lighting Designer
Nicholas Sharratt - Fernando
Sally Silver - Eleonora
Craig Smith - Cardenio
Njabulo Madlala - Bartolomeo
Donna Bateman - Marcella
Peter Brathwaite - Kaidamà