Monday, 22 June 2015

Rattle's replacement

Kirill Petrenko is the new chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Press release here; online stream of the announcement here.

Friday, 19 June 2015

To die a second time? (The Corridor and the Cure/ROH)

The Corridor / The Cure (Linbury Studio/Birtwistle)
The Corridor / The Cure
Image: ROH

Birtwistle’s double-bill which opened at the Linbury Studio Theatre below Covent Garden last night comprises The Corridor (2004) and The Cure (2015).  Both were commissioned by Aldeburgh, and both were made for Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton; the scores fitted their voices like hands and gloves. They both explore coming back to life, both explore the prospect of coming back to life and dealing with renewed (im)mortality. The prospect of a second death, of returning to the underworld is the philosophical heart of these works, despite the setting in Classical mythology, this surely draws on draws on the Judeo-Christian notion of Second Death as punishment.
The Linbury was apt, not just for its small-scale, but also The Corridor features the moment when Orpheus leads Eurydice out of hell. Don’t look back is the deal: if you, you will lose her forever. The opera explores the moments around Orpheus looking back and losing his beloved forever, and the torment inflicted on himself and his lover at this moment. The programme listed them as Woman (Eurydice) and Man (Orpheus) – presumably to render universal, essential. Librettist David Harsent, suggests in a programme interview, he was dealing with the turning around because you realise someone isn’t there. All the same, back down to Hades goes Eurydice, conversing with the on-stage musicians as she does, interrogating them about what happened and its meaning, and receiving musical answers in reply. The musicians took on the role of demonic tormentors. In her exasperation there was something reminiscent of Carol Ann Duffy’s World’s Wife.
The staging (Alison Chitty) was pared back in the extreme. Two arches to form doorways – the drama took place within the liminal space between these. Behind the first, at the back of the stage, a hole into hell; beyond the second arch, a green area with a box of mementoes over which Orpheus lamented. Its simplicity allowed the music the resonate fully. The musicians were on stage, with the harp only in the land of the living, the others were apparently dead. Gentle, pensive lighting by Paul Pyant did so much to accentuate the drama.
The Cure started with a green ring on the stage in which a kind of tree and some rocks were established. This circle bounded Medea’s power. A great number of herbs were positioned around this ring (something like the side of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, dare I suggest- the bar ought to have had themed cocktails). These herbs were collected by Medea, rendered into a potion. When Jason asked her to bring back his dead father, she obliged; the resurrected father was also played by Padmore; indeed this small set provided a surprising number of coups. Quite how Padmore managed to alternate between his father and himself, with such speed and conviction, I will never be able to fathom. Resurrected, Aeson is not thrilled at the prospect of life and death again – something of the Wotan seeking an end about this moment.
Music came from the London Sinfonietta. In stark contrast to the cast of thousands (well hundreds) for Nelsons’ Mahler 3 the previous night with the CBSO, there were six musicians here and two singers. This comparison did serve to highlight the extraordinary intimacy of the Linbury Studio. It seemed as it was a private performance and the audience was clearly gripped by the sheer intensity. The score itself made for remarkably easy listening – not all contemporary opera offers this. Actually it would make a sublime introduction to someone new to either contemporary opera or opera altogether.
Neither Elizabeth Atherton nor Mark Padmore require any introduction. The Corridor was made for Padmore and The Cure for Atherton .These were performances of an astonishing directness, clarity, audibility and emotion.
Overall: intense, spare, mesmerizing. 

Production page. In rep until 27 June.
As Kobbé will be stumped, the ROH has a useful page here.

Music: Harrison Birtwistle
Libretto: David Harsent
Director: Martin Duncan
Designs: Alison Chitty
Lighting design: Paul Pyant
Choreography: Michael Popper

Conductor: Geoffrey Paterson
Orchestra: London Sinfonietta
Soprano: Elizabeth Atherton
Tenor: Mark Padmore

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A long farewell - Mahler 3 (Nelsons/CBSO)

Ešenvalds X, Mahler 3 (Nelsons cond. CBSO)
Image: CBSO

What would you put in a goodbye concert? The obvious Haydn, perhaps? Nelsons said the first of two goodbyes last night, with nothing smaller than Mahler 3; as a small piece by Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds was given its UK premiere. This first piece was a 10-minute tone poem inspired by Latvians running in to the forest to seek shelter from Soviet troops and thus saving their lives. The view of nature - of light tinged with darkness, suited well with the main subject of the evening: the gargantuan Mahler 3 too.
With Nelsons, it required all the CBSO choruses (the men's performed in the first piece only, before retiring to watch the Mahler) - in total something like 230-260 musicians I would estimate. This really was a big farewell.

Nelsons, recently recovered from an acute ear infection (having to pull out last week, took the stage, and conducted as energetically as ever -at times he seemed almost to dance. The scope of the symphony matches the musical forces needed to pull it off. It ran, by my watch, for nearly 1h40, but the pace did not seem to drag. Almost every musician had to stand out at some point. This was all very good, but I didn't feel the CBSO was on fire as it had been of late, with the sublime Parsifal and the impressive programme last week (review). Perhaps emotions were running too high; maybe rehearsals had been slightly less due to illness. Mahler's third isn't my favourite. I think the reason for this is that it is so big, it is almost musically indigestible. It might be that it gels better tonight. I fear they bit off ever so slightly more than could be chewed for this particular concert and circumstances. Or perhaps the CBSO suffers because it has been so very good (and so very busy) recently. They are a busy orchestra.
Yet the overall playing and effect of the Mahler - overwhelming by its composition but stunning by its execution here, was memorable. Mezzo-Soprano Michaela Schuster, comes having sung plenty of big Wagner parts (most recently Kundry in Karlsruhe Parsifal). She offered clarity and audibility which could be heard even even at the top. It's the Wagnerian trick of so many musicians not always making that much noise.
My abiding memory of Nelsons at CBSO will be the earth-shattering Parsifal a month to the day (review). The flower maidens fittingly came back in the second movement. There are so many other fine moments -the echoes of the Wayfarer too. All of this was so very wonderful. But at the back of my mind, I wasn't too sure that the CBSO was surpassing itself - but then that is a very high bar indeed.

Overall: very good indeed, but perhaps not quite vintage Nelsons/CBSO.

Repeated on 18th June; on BBC iplayer

Now we must ask the question: who next? Chouhan, Collon would be good bets.

CBSO Chorus, Youth Chorus, Children’s Chorus

Michaela Schuster mezzo soprano

Eriks Ešenvalds     Lakes Awake at Dawn 13 (CBSO co-commission, UK premiere)

Mahler     Symphony No. 3

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Final rehearsals for Nelsons' farewell concert

As the CBSO gets ready to say farewell to Andris Nelsons, the Birmingham Post has published an online gallery of final rehearsals. Touch wood, it seems he has recovered from the ear infection which left Alpesh Chauhan to pick up the baton last week (review). Gallery here. It isn't the most fascinating image set you'll see, but it is good news if Nelsons is better.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The lady in red?

Joyce DiDonato is releasing the cover of her next album incrementally on Instagram. Two instalments so far: here and here. Looks like a lady in red to me.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Schubert, Strauss, Dvorak - no Nelsons (CBSO/Chauhan)

Schubert, Strauss & Dvořák (Alpesh Chauhan cond. CBSO)
Alpesh Chauhan. Photograph by Patrick Allen
The email which arrived on Thursday morning was the kind which can cause real tears - if you have bought tickets especially to hear a particular  conductor, soloist, or - more likely for me - singer. Andris Nelsons was sick. A midweek trip to Birmingham was indeed fuelled by the idea of can I fit in a bit more Andris before he goes after the earth-shattering Parsifal (review). Symphony Hall was packed, with the choir and other places I didn't even know people could sit filled. And no sense of disappointment when not Nelsons arrived to conduct. 
Indeed, there was no reason for disappointment. the CBSO are on top-form at the moment, particularly after their tour in Europe to ecstatic reviews. They responded well to the Assistant Conductor Alpesh Chauhan brought in at the last moment. I fancied some of his movements were not dissimilar to Nelsons. In any case this was a superb performance, unobtrusive and smooth direction made this highly memorable.
The first piece was Schubert No 8, which is a wonderful piece.
Strauss' Horn Concerto No 2 gave a chance for Elspeth Dutch to shine as soloist, drawn from the ranks of the CBSO. I worried a bit when I saw the music stand in place; but my fears were unfounded and the piece which was new to me offered unadulterated Strauss from the first bar.
Dvořák  7 was the real show-stopper - some fine wind solos in particular reminded me that how important the wind section is to the CBSO. Clarinets (Oliver Janes and Joanna Patton), flutes (Marie-Christine Zupancic and Veronika Klirova) and Oboes (Rainer Gibbons and Emmet Byrne) in particular showed how many skilled musicians play in the CBSO.
Overall: If this is a taste of the CBSO post-Nelsons, then good things are in store. Might the answer to : 'who next?' be under their noses? I rather hope so.
Schubert  Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished)
Strauss  Horn Concerto No. 2
Dvořák  Symphony No. 7
The concert was broadcast on Radio 3, and you can listen again for a month.
Alpesh Chauhan's site is here.

Bohème bows out: but why? (ROH La bohème)

Puccini, La bohème (Ettinger cond. Royal Opera)
Image ROH

The Royal Opera is retiring its veteran Bohème. John Copley. I saw the relay of Wednesday night, and what a delight. A real crowd-pleaser. A set, nearly half a century old, built on a scale and with a solidity which would not be imaginable today even at Covent Garden, still has the ability to charm. The Grange Park  Bohème new this year gave it a biting contemporary edge, in a trendy sort of steam-punk setting. It gave it a believability of one kind. Copley opts for a serious sort of realism. The sorrow is only of a broken heart. An

Overall: fine singing - perfect for an elderly maiden aunt or grandmother. Why are they getting rid of it?

Official page. July performances with a different cast still to come.

Cast and credits
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa
Libretto: Luigi Illica
Director: John Copley
Designs: Julia Trevelyan Oman
Lighting design: John Charlton

Conductor: Dan Ettinger
Mimì: Anna Netrebko
Rodolfo: Joseph Calleja
Marcello: Lucas Meachem
Musetta: Jennifer Rowley
Schaunard: Simone Del Savio
Colline: Marco Vinco
Benoît: Jeremy White
Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell
Parpignol: Luke Price
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master: Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Love and death but no redemption (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe)

Portrait of Carlo Gesualdo: Public domain/Wikimedia commons
'O dolce mio tesoro' (Collegium Vocale Gent, dir. Philippe Herreweghe)

Sweet treasures indeed were on offer at the Wigmore Hall on the 2nd of June, when Collegium Vocale Gent gave a beautiful performance
At 29, Gesualdo killed his wife and her lover in a fit of jealousy, and spent the rest of his life in guilt. His works are, unsurprisingly, preoccupied with death and murder - shot through with a strong erotic. From his Il sesto Libro de Madrigali the majority of songs were performed. Interludes from Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger's Libro primo d'intavolatura di lauto were provided by Thomas Dunford. Indeed, he was the greatest star of the evening and received the loudest ovation by some way. His lute accompaniments were the product very clearly of ferocious concentration and intensity but yet were soft and gentle and lively. This was a real revelation, and he would worthy of attention on his own.

Overall: absolutely terrific.

Official page.
Soloists of Collegium Vocale Gent
Hana Blažíková soprano
Barbora Kabátková soprano
Marnix De Cat countertenor
Thomas Hobbs tenor
Peter Kooij bass
Thomas Dunford lute
Philippe Herreweghe musical direction

Thursday, 4 June 2015

It's a boy!

Danni di Niese has given birth to a baby boy. No name yet. Every good wish to the little boy and his famous operatic parents. Danni recently announced her intention to return swiftly to work which includes a Ravel double bill at Glyndebourne festival this summer as well as last night of the Proms.

A little more here:

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Barenboim's Said lecture (Video)

You can watch a video of Barenboim's Said lecture, as well as the introduction and discussion on the LRB site. Click here.

Brillo BoBos (Bohème/Grange Park)

Puccini, La Bohème (Grange Park Opera, Stephen Barlow cond. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). 

The summer opera season is upon us. Ahead of its opening later this week, the final rehearsal of La

Bohème for Grange Park Opera took place yesterday. Those dusting off hampers are in for a treat. Given it hasn't opened yet, I will restrict my comments to say that it is a really nice, clear, traditional production with a nod towards steampunk. A decent account of the score from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Barlow complements some very good singing. At the end our BoBos showed their true colours. And I won't say any more for now, other than that it is worth the journey to Hampshire.
Grange Park site; Boheme opens on Saturday, until 17th July.