Saturday, 25 July 2015

He's not the messiah, he's a very silly director (Glyndebourne/Saul)

Handel, Saul (Ivor Bolton cond. OAE, Glyndebourne Opera)
If you have seen reviews of Barrie Kosky's new production of Saul, you would be forgiven for thinking he is the messiah. (For a flavour click here - via slippedisc).You get a good measure from him by the fact he swaggered around opening night in blue trousers, a country jacket and trainers. What a maverick! How original! Or perhaps just how disrespectful to the first-rate performers and the festival.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Christopher Purves (Saul). Photographer Bill Cooper.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Part I scene. Photographer Bill Cooper.
Musically, the production is sans raproche. Iestyn Davies is at the top of his game, and could be heard perfectly at the very back row. It is, of course, a small enough house for that not to matter. His singing was so fine, so rounded, so utterly perfect that it had to bring a tear or two. I often feel that counter-tenors might best be left in recital -but this was very special.
There were some wonderful moments in it. The opening tableau which set up the hollowness of the baroque state, and indeed the arc by which it would collapse was terrific.
 As madness sets in, the banquet table is stripped. Then eventually there is a battle field, and finally tabula rasa. 
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Christopher Purves (Saul). Photographer Bill Cooper.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Jonathan (Paul Appleby) and Saul (Christopher Purves).Photographer Bill Cooper.
 Cranking-up the pressure after the long interval is always crucial. Here it was achieved - to a gasp and applause - of a stage filled with candles and an organ solo performed as a the instrument rotated on a rising and lowering platform.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Christopher Purves (Saul). Photographer Bill Cooper. After a technical hitch, Lucy Crowe delivered Author of Peace  - possibly my favourite Handel aria - flawlessly. Amongst the candles. With the OAE as band, it was an utterly sublime moment, and worth the admission for this alone.
Yet I must temper my enthusiasm. So what was wrong with it?
1. Singing at an angle (the rubberised soil will remind people not only of Lucretia but also Guillaume Tell at Covent Garden),  is difficult.
2. The Chorus were being forced to move around too much. As a result of (1) and (2) they sounded rather strained, especially at the start.
3. The choreography also suffered due to the angle  - this meant that they were never in time or unison. It felt under-rehearsed and - dare I say - sloppy.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Christopher Purves (Saul). Photographer Bill Cooper.
Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Dancers and Glyndebourne Chorus. Photographer Bill Cooper.

4. Saul suckling the Witch of Endor.  Perfectly ludicrous.
5. The lazy, wrong assumption that as Handel is boring something has to happen on stage at all times to hold the audience's interest. Moreover, because so much is going on, it picks away at the coherence of the work as a whole.
6.  The possibly gratuitous kiss between Jonathan and David.

Perhaps the deep problem is that this is an oratorio, not an opera. Does it really need to be staged? Or rather what does it gain? Not all that much may be the answer. Why would you stage it? To let the Chorus shine was the answer. Well sticking them at an angle and having them run around is a jolly silly way to go about it.

Overall: Kosky is not the messiah - he's a very silly director. I am not throwing out the production altogether, but it does need a heavy edit. The Chorus must be allowed to shine.

At the festival until 29th August; with new cast on tour 24 October - 27 November.


Images from a larger gallery here.

Cast and creative team

Saul Christopher Purves
David Iestyn Davies
Merab Lucy Crowe
Michal Sophie Bevan
Jonathan Paul Appleby
High Priest Benjamin Hulett
Witch of Endor John Graham-Hall
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Conductor Ivor Bolton
Director Barrie Kosky
Designer Katrin Lea Tag
Choreographer Otto Pichler
Lighting Designer Joachim Klein
Assistant to the Choreographer Silvano Marraffa

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Catholic boy gone bad and the quality of mercy (Glyndebourne/Entführung)


Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Robin Ticciati cond. Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Glyndebourne Festvial)

Beyond a shadow of doubt, in the current Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne has hit upon a real classic. Firstly, Vicki Mortimer’s set – with competitive and destructive gardening, an amusing bed,  a shimmering sea, and the production values to be expected. The generous stage seems enormous through a number of clever devices such as sheets and doors. Secondly, this wonderful set is used to draw out the pure Mozartian comedy. The ladder scene at the end seems just out of the Flute. Thirdly, there is a genuinely emotional and surprising climax, which gives the whole thing depth.  Fourthly a beautiful account of the music from the OAE under Ticciati clips along thoughtfully at a decent pace, as we would expect of Ticciati. Period instruments only add the joy of the score. Ticciati suggested the opening bars are like the stalls at a Turkish Market in an Evening Standard interview. This gives some idea of care and interpretation.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Act III scene.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Act III scene. Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith.
The lighting by Paule Constable is perfect – not too much but bright enough to see everything and highly atmospheric.
The voices were all very good, but most importantly well-cast and well-matched. The quartet at the core of things: Belmonte (Edgaras Montvidas), Pedrillo (Brenden Gunnell), Konstanze (Sally Matthews), Blonde (Mari Eriksmoen) were wonderful. Non-singing Pasha Selim (Franck Saurel)
What of the dialogue? Some have criticized the inclusion of all the dialogue. The box office wrote, emailed and telephoned to warn me of the earlier start to accommodate it. Not a word could fairly be cut, to my mind, as a completist generally.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Act III scene.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Pedrillo (Brenden Gunnell). Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith.
The uneasy bit is the use of Oriental stereotypes. There’s a touch too of Carry on about aspects of it- perhaps both in the work and the production. The granting of mercy by the Pasha at the end – despite  Belmonte’s father having wronged him so badly is utterly thrilling. This seems a highly progressive view until you recollect that the Pasha was born Catholic and it can be read as a Christian act. Do unto others, &c. &c. Not so radical after all.
Everything was perfect -even the weather after the wind died down. 
In short: classic a Glyndebourne classic
Still at the festival; on tour this year; available online until 26 July. Also at the Proms. 
Images from a gallery here.
Cast and credits:
Creative team
Conductor Robin Ticciati
Director David McVicar
Designer Vicki Mortimer
Choreographer Andrew George
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Belmonte Edgaras Montvidas
Osmin Tobias Kehrer
Pedrillo Brenden Gunnell
Pasha Selim Franck Saurel
Konstanze Sally Matthews
Blonde Mari Eriksmoen
Klaas, a sea captian Jonas Cradock
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Glyndebourne Chorus

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Hallé takes a gamble

According to the BBC the Hallé are inviting people to pay what they like for one of their concerts. Payment is made after the performance. 
As a move to encourage new audiences, you are apparently allowed to come and go as you please, with drinks. See Hallé site. Top price usually £40. It would be a braver move for a large opera house, but a very interesting idea all the same.

Programme includes excerpts from:
Bach Suite No.3
Handel Water Music
Mozart Horn Concerto No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5
Verdi The Force of Destiny
Wagner Siegfried's Funeral March
Stravinsky The Firebird
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Ligeti Concert Romanesc
Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine

- See more at: http://www.halle.co.uk/pricelessclassics.aspx#sthash.Ga7Xgcnl.dpuf
Bach Suite No.3
Handel Water Music
Mozart Horn Concerto No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5
Verdi The Force of Destiny
Wagner Siegfried's Funeral March
Stravinsky The Firebird
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Ligeti Concert Romanesc
Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Of course such moves are to be commended - everybody will respond to some kind of orchestral music in a meaningful way. But if it succeeds, how will regular ticket-holders and subscribers response to the come in and out as you like business? A great programme. What an introduction. The thought of sitting to Siegfried's Funeral March - one of the most intense moments in the Ring with fidgeting with wine glasses and coming in and out suggests keeping away would be a good idea.

As for what to pay? I never know. When it comes to opera, I would say that about quadruple whatever you think to actually cover the costs met by other sources.

Bach Suite No.3
Handel Water Music
Mozart Horn Concerto No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5
Verdi The Force of Destiny
Wagner Siegfried's Funeral March
Stravinsky The Firebird
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Ligeti Concert Romanesc
Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine

- See more at: http://www.halle.co.uk/pricelessclassics.aspx#sthash.Ga7Xgcnl.dpuf
Bach Suite No.3
Handel Water Music
Mozart Horn Concerto No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5
Verdi The Force of Destiny
Wagner Siegfried's Funeral March
Stravinsky The Firebird
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
Ligeti Concert Romanesc
Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine

- See more at: http://www.halle.co.uk/pricelessclassics.aspx#sthash.Ga7Xgcnl.dpuf

Monday, 20 July 2015

Even worse than online booking?

An interesting item here on the Royal Opera site about queue tickets by which the exuberant purchasing of tickets on the first day on public sale took place. The lettes can be read in greater detail by clicking on the dots underneath on the ROH page or by clicking here. Now one simply hopes the websites will work. I will never complain about using a ticket site again!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Her changing voice (Danielle de Niese)

After giving birth, Danielle de Niese says her voice has changed a little. (Telegraph). Will hear in August when the Ravel Double Bill opens at Glyndebourne, I suppose.

Swiss miss? (Wm Tell/ROH)

Rossini, Guillaume Tell (Pappano cond. Orchestra Royal Opera House, Royal Opera)

Opera rarely hits the headlines, but unless you live under a rock, you will have heard about the Guilluame Tell fiasco Covent Garden. So much comment, objection; how many had seen it, I wonder. I was utterly terrified by the speed with which Holten caved in over this. What if next time it is an objection to Wagner or Cosí? Scary stuff. Finding a production which keeps everyone happy is about as easy as getting an arrow through an apple on someone's head. And that can’t be the requirement.
The acid test is this: did it fit? When I saw the encore relay, absolutely. So much of the focus was on Gesler (Nicolas Courjal) who was given an sadistic psychology and much depth through this scene, as he laughed throughout. The revised scene – of sexual assault rather than rape I suppose- was certainly ‘toned down’. A sheet for a start. There was no visible nudity as such. There were about five people in the cinema, and none booed.
There were many fine performances, and some great arias. Pappano when interviewed at the relay, suggested it was a slow burner. He is right. And until the last half hour, I wondered if there was a reason that we know two pieces from it (everyone knows at least one). But the final act is utterly thrilling, and came alive in this version. I do hope Damiano Michieletto will be invited back. (Note: he is doing the Cav/Pag in the autumn with pricey tickets). Sofia Fomina as Jemmy pulled off one of the best and most-convincing trouser roles one might hope to see.
The dates were inconvenient for me (a very short run of only six performances in late June and July) and I was glad to have seen it in the cinema Would I go to a revival? Very likely.
The Royal Opera is not winning with everything at the moment. Recently, I turned off the radio in horror at an uneven and undignified Don Giovanni, before the end of the overture. There is a vanity project to ‘open up’ the entrance hall and refurbish the Linbury Studio with a budget sufficient to endow the Birmingham Opera Company – I think it in rather bad taste in the present climate.  Then there is the eye-watering salaries paid to Holten, Beard and Pappano whilst so many are so poorly paid at Covent Garden. At the same time, I have seen some extraordinary productions, and almost salivate at the prospect of the autumn offerings. But what a dangerous route it would be for a lavish company with all that giltwork to start compromising on artistic standards to keep people happy.
Credits & Cast
Music - Gioachino Rossini
Libretto - Etienne de Jouy
Libretto - Hippolyte Bis
Director - Damiano Michieletto
Set designs - Paolo Fantin
Costume designs - Carla Teti
Lighting design - Alessandro Carletti

Conductor - Antonio Pappano
Guillaume Tell - Gerald Finley
Arnold Melcthal - John Osborn
Mathilde - Malin Byström
Walter Furst - Alexander Vinogradov
Jemmy - Sofia Fomina
Hedwige - Enkelejda Shkosa
Gesler - Nicolas Courjal
Melcthal - Eric Halfvarson
Rodolphe - Michael Colvin
Leuthold - Samuel Dale Johnson
Ruodi - Enea Scala
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

17 screens of Wagner

This is a couple of years old now, but the Royal Opera's Opera Machine is worth a click. You can follow the third act of Die Walkure.  Go here for multiplex Wagner fun.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Jonas-fever is real



In an epsiode at the Old Bailey worthy of Rumpole, a man has been cleared of attacking a disabled woman at a Jonas Kaufmann recital at the Wigmore Hall.  Evening Standard. Clearly, Jonas-fever may be a real thing. People do get very excited at the prospect of his singing - I know I do anyway.
I wonder if there will be anything like this at Carmen at Covent Garden in November? 
I am reminded of the aprocryphal story of the $1000 Carmen tickets at the Met. 
Who would pay that? Me, probably.