Sunday, 30 August 2015

Learning Lessons (Ravel Double Bill/Glyndebourne)

Ravel, 'L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges ' (Robin Ticciati cond. LPO, Glyndebourne Festival)
It is impossible to imagine that Danielle de Niese has only recently returned to the stage having had a baby. Reports that her voice might have changed were quite unfounded, and it is a perfect fit for the Ravel double bill. She may not offer the longest, most luscious lines but the warm sounds and character were spot on.
L’heure espagnole is a romp with something of the sensibility of Il Turco but in Spain. Concepción (Danni) has a husband and number of lovers. Clock-maker husband, air-headed poet, old, and a bald town clerk; none prove satisfactory. The muscular muleteer who carries grandfather clocks hiding these lovers with ease up and down stairs turns out to be Concepción’s best bet. Innuendo abounds to a degree which might begin to embarrass the Carry On brigade. 
Glyndebourne Festival 2015, L’heure espagnole. Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Glyndebourne Festival 2015, L’heure espagnole. Concepción (Danielle de Niese), Gonzalve (Cyrille Dubois), Torquemada (François Piolino), Ramiro (Étienne Dupuis) and Don Íñigo Gómez (Lionel Lhote). Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Ticciati and the LPO produce beautiful music, with the wonderful ticking sounds at the start particularly fine. An even-handed account of the score gives space for the warmth and comedy. The stage is crammed (by Caroline Ginet) to the roof with the trappings of dreary life above a shop –washing machine and powder, and very many clocks. And a bull. So Concepción learns how to choose the best lover.

After the interval, Danielle is a naughty child in L’enfant et les sortilèges. A wretch made wise by compassion, I suppose. To teach it a lesson, the things she destroys and the animals she mutilates come to life in spectacular style. The giant tea-cup and tea-pot and frogs displayed on the underground made sense (by elimination I had figured this out I might add). The real heroes here have to be the stage crew who managed an unbelievable number of scene changes- as many as you might have in the Ring I suspect.  All a bit Alice-in-Wonderland. Sublime and surreal at once. 
Glyndebourne Festival 2015, L’enfant et les sortilèges.  Child (Danielle de Niese) with Glyndebourne Chorus as wallpaper figures. Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Glyndebourne Festival 2015, L’enfant et les sortilèges. Child (Danielle de Niese) with Glyndebourne Chorus as wallpaper figures. Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Overall: a perfect end of the festival. 
Many images here and here.

Cast and team:
Conductor Robin Ticciati
Director Laurent Pelly
Set Design
L’heure espagnole
Original Set Design Caroline Ginet & Florence Evrard
Set adapted by Caroline Ginet
L’enfant et les sortilèges
Set Designer Barbara de Limburg
Costume Design Laurent Pelly
in collaboration with Jean Jacques Delmotte
Lighting Designer Joël Adam
L’heure espagnole cast
Concepción Danielle de Niese
Ramiro Étienne Dupuis
Torquemada François Piolino
Don Íñigo Gómez Lionel Lhote
Gonzalve Cyrille Dubois
L’enfant et les sortilèges cast
Child Danielle de Niese
Mother/Chinese Cup/Dragonfly Elodie Méchain
Grandfather Clock/Tom Cat Étienne Dupuis
Armchair/Tree Lionel Lhote
Chair/Bat Julie Pasturaud
Fire/Princess/Nightingale Sabine Devieilhe
Cat/Squirrel Hanna Hipp
Shepherd Emma Kerr
Shepherdess Charlotte Beament
Teapot/Little Old Man (Arithmetic)/Frog François Piolino
Owl Pamela Wilcock
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Fall from power (Saul/Glyndebourne)

Power II: Cruel fall (Saul/Glyndebourne)
The current production of Saul at Glyndebourne is astonishing stuff, and I was glad of a second chance to see it, to mull it over. I was even more convinced by it on second watching. The movement – especially dancing jars at time and rarely contributes all that much to Saul’s story. The whole thing seemed more coherent: Saul’s descent to madness was at Purves’ hands, terrifying. A darkness exuded from his presence usually only found in Otello. The technical difficulties on opening night were overcome by singing Author of Peace from the front of the stage. As for Iestyn Davies: ‘O Lord Whose Mercies’ in particular was even more astonishingly, gut-wrenching perfect, something I wouldn’t have guessed possible. He must surely be at the very top of his game and perhaps the finest countertenor at present amongst very steep competition. 
It remains, however, that the ambiguous and curious movement detracts from the first-order music making and clever production.

A fuller review may be read here.

Images 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

Brutal rise to power (Macbeth/Glyndebourne)

Luke Styles, Macbeth (Bines cond. LPO/Glyndebourne Festival Jerwood Studio)
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Orchestra with Jeremy Bines (cond.); Photo Glyndebourne/Robert Workman.
 Luke Styles has come to the end of this tenure as young composer in residence. His final piece is a one-act chamber opera dealing which has adapted Macbeth. The text is a fairly straight setting by Ted Huffman (also directing) of Shakespeare’s words. Worth noting this is in Modern English – not what Huffman describes as ‘Shakespeare’s original language’, which is rather disconcerting and hardly suggests deep textual consideration. Jeremy Bines (also Festival Chorus Master) conducted eleven players from the LPO  with Timothy Anderson (Piano, listed in the programme as Glyndebourne), and singers from the Chorus. By some way the standout was Ed Ballard as Macbeth, with perfect diction and character. Astonishingly he was back on stage later for Saul.  
A simple staging by Kitty Callister saw green grass-typed carpeting and some flexible furniture sparsely selected. This worked well enough but did look like standard one-act contemporary affair (viz. Cure/Corridor). Was the deal on Astroturf the same as rubberized pellets at the opera director’s warehouse?

Dramatically there was a conflict. Claims ‘to focus on the political, human aspects of the play –portions often overshadowed by the supernatural elements’ such as the witches, presumably, sit oddly alongside claims to respond to, inter alia, ‘the rise of ISIS’. The separation of religious fanaticism from supernatural fanaticism seems tenuous to me.
Opera-goers are familiar with trouser roles; here we have a skirt or rather dress role as Aidan Coburn played Lady Macbeth. Whatever the stated intentions I think this landed rather oddly and hinted at comedy where it wasn’t meant.
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Ed Ballard as Macbeth; Photo Glyndebourne/ Robert Workman
Musically, the piece was effective, even if some portions were reminiscent of flutes in Peter Grimes  and others of the brass in Burgon’s score for Brideshead Revisited . This is not, however, to suggest that it appeared derivative, and it achieved a good deal of intensity. The piece was fluid and the dramatic element coherent. Interplay between the characters had little time to develop but overall this was successful. The full-length work which composer and librettist have indicated their intention to write will certainly be worthy of attention. Styles is clearly worth watching.
Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman
Photo: Glyndebourne/ Robert Workman
Overall: an effective, entertaining hour which whets the appetite for the full version.
Image gallery now posted here.

On a second trip on Friday, 28th, perhaps I was feeling better, but the whole thing came together far more effectively. A drum a drum indeed: the percussion was highly effective and all the singing seemed even finer. No doubt at all that this is worth hearing, or that the full-length one will be too.
Ticket holders for selected performances at the Festival can obtain free tickets to see this work this week; presented at ROH in the autumn.
Cast and Creative team
Composer Luke Styles
Libretto Ted Huffman adapted from William Shakespeare
Director Ted Huffman
Conductor Jeremy Bines
Duncan/Second Murderer John Mackenzie Lavansch
Malcolm Michael Wallace
Sergeant/First Murderer David Shaw
Lennox/Third Murderer James Geer
Ross Benjamin Cahn
Macbeth Ed Ballard
Banquo Alessandro Fisher
Lady Macbeth Aidan Coburn
Macduff Richard Bignall
Fleance (boy) Luke Saint
Lady Macduff/Porter Andrew Davies
Macduff’s son (boy) Xavier Murtagh
Members of London Philharmonic Orchestra

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Figures at the base of a crucifixion (Lucretia/Glyndeboure)

Britten, Rape of Lucretia (Leo Hussain cond. London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival)

I first saw Fiona Shaw's production of The Rape of Lucretia on tour in Milton Keynes in the autumn of 2013, when everyone was going nuts for the Britten centenary. It was then conducted by Nicolas Collon and included Kate Valentine as female chorus. This has now been taken to the festival with substantial overlap of the modest cast (an asterisk on the list below indicates continuity).
This change is something like the jump between a second wine and a grand vin: more power, more style, but many similar characteristics, and in a good vintage, one might even confuse the two. So too here, such was the production values. How much does the upgraded festival add to the production? Not all that much. How much does the LPO bring to it over the Tour Orchestra? A lot. The really clever thing which is achieved is to bring the beauty of the libretto to the fore: one could sit and read it as poetry. One fine example:
'So will my little vase contain
the sun's exuberance
slaked with rain'
It must be read in the context of 1946, and the preamble film made an especially good job of doing this. The number of coupons to get the cheesecloth to make the costumes; the small orchestra. And the aching harp motif.
Two years earlier Bacon painted his famous triptych Three studies for figures for the base of a crucifixion (Tate). The suffering seems to have struck a chord in the aftermath of war. I still don't feel comfortable with the God bit tacked on at the end of the opera. This is partly the opera at fault, but partly how it is managed in the production. It's the only bit of it I don't like.

Overall: this isn’t the sort of opera you’d want to see every year, however clever the production. However I think deciding not to see it at the festival due to having seen it on tour was probably a mistake. This is just done so well.

Performances 14 and 19 August to follow; stream online here until Sunday.

Cast and creatives
Conductor Leo Hussain
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Male Chorus Allan Clayton
Female Chorus Kate Royal
Collatinus Matthew Rose
Junius Michael Sumuel
*Tarquinius Duncan Rock
Lucretia Christine Rice
*Bianca Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Lucia Louise Alder
*Director Fiona Shaw
Set Designer Michael Levine
Costume Designer Nicky Gillibrand
*Lighting Designer Paul Anderson

Back to the start (probably) (Orfeo/Proms)

Monteverdi, Orfeo (John Eliot Gardiner  cond. English Baroque Soloists)
Orpheus has fascinated composers of “opera” since the earliest days of the art. Even before there was opera (see Gardiner’s piece on Orfeo in the Guardian here), there was Orfeo, and it is considered the earliest surviving piece.
Early opera isn’t my first love. It is probably fair to say it is harder work – you could sit and shut your eyes through much Mozart or Verdi or Wagner and the music would tell you everything. When it is done as well as this
There was some attempts to stage everything; this wasn’t altogether successful and sometimes getting the choir on and off stage proved a smidge noisy. Rethinking footwear might have solved this. At times, however, a number of coups were pulled off. Gianluca Buratto slumped over a keyboard and leaping to life; nymphs dancing around Gardiner as he continued conducting; Francesa Aspromonte appearing from amidst the promenaders.
Three very strong principals: Krystian Adam (Orpheus), Mariana Flores (Eurydice/Hope), and in particular Francesa Aspromonte (Music/Messenger) were able to fill the space easily. Gianluca Buratto (Charon/Pluto) provided rich and full bass. This was as good an account as one might hope to hear. Sitting somewhere between side-on and behind, I was surprised at the sound quality. A memorable evening at the Royal Albert Hall.

Krystian Adam Orpheus
Mariana Flores Eurydice/Hope
Francesca Aspromonte Music/Messenger
Gianluca Buratto Charon/Pluto
Francesca Boncompagni Persephone
Andrew Tortise Apollo/Shepherd 1
Esther Brazil Nymph, Proms debut artist
Gareth Treseder Shepherd 2/Spirit 2/Echo
Nicholas Mulroy Spirit 1
James Hall Shepherd 3   
David Shipley Shepherd 4/Spirit 3
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner conductor

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Opera for Free (Lucretia/Glyndebourne)

It had been put to me that fake soil is in with opera at the moment: William Tell (review) at Covent Garden and both the Abduction (review) and Lucretia at Glyndebourne. But Lucretia had it first on tour in 2013. You can judge for yourself over the following week by streaming Lucretia from Glyndebourne.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Ampgate 2: Christiansen couldn't tell if it was

Re. Christiansen's outrageous allegations in the Telegraph over the amplification of Orfeo at the Proms, I was interested to see his response  on Norman Lebrecht's blog. It can be summarized as it was cut out on the web page when he learnt he was wrong - which was after it went to print; a response with celerity but without apology. A letter in the Telegraph today from the Proms Director Edward Blakeman, explains the microphones were for broadcast. Apparently everyone other than the expert critic realised that the dozens of microphones were for broadcasting on the radio. And indeed could hear the difference. As a big clue, no Proms audience would have applauded like that if it had been.
The question as to why the Telegraph feels it is okay to make these adjustments online without announcement is unanswered. Their selection of critic remains mind-boggling. Does it explain all that about Tara Erraught? You don't need to listen to call someone fat.
It is actually a back-handed compliment: that they were so clear, so audible, so perfect in the barn that is the Royal Albert Hall. But not very impressive critically, editorially, or in terms of basic manners. 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Ampgate: Telegraph quietly redacts allegation of amplification

A review of Orfeo at the Proms is yet to be finished for this site, but the professional critics have already pronounced. Most astonishing was Rupert Christiansen for the Telegraph who reckoned it was amplified. He “was rather disturbed by evidence of opera's equivalent to doping in athletics: electronic amplification.” 
A wonderful line, just a shame it wasn't true. Radio Three was broadcasting it, and they tend to use rather a lot of microphones. Yes, some of the keyboard instruments were amplified, but that is quite common in larger venues for this kind of music.
Today, that portion has been removed, apparently without any explanation or apology. As an amateur without any musical training, I might be fooled. But isn’t the point of professional critics that they can tell the difference? Or was the line about doping just too clever to cut? The silent removal doesn’t say much for editorial standards at the Telegraph either. If one makes a mistake, one apologizes.
We can probably conclude that Christiansen could lead the way without any temptation to look behind him.
The latest version is here.