Thursday, 19 November 2015

An honest review?

A stir has been created by actor Jesse Eisenberg's honest film review for the New Yorker, unpicking the subtexts and what is really going on in a film review. I reckon much of this would hold for grumpy opera reviews too.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Don Carè to the rescue (ROH/Carmen)

Georges Bizet, Carmen (Alexander Joel cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera)
There's a grim inevitability about it. Several months ago a mortgage-sized payment for tickets. Two nights at Covent Garden because -gasp - Kaufmann is singing Don José. And then an email. Jonas is sick. And so was I for a few moments. But I bounced back pretty quickly. A nice weekend in town, a premiere  and some Carmen. It turns out, his replacement was pretty decent by any reasonable standard. If Kaufmann is Dom Pérignon (or should that be Don? [groan]) then Carè is a young vintage broachable now, but with much potential.

Andrea Carè © Andrea Carè, 2015

To the rescue: Andrea Carè © Andrea Carè, 2015
On Saturday things began with a moment's silence for Paris. In opera, so often the silences are the most powerful. There was no marsellaise as elsewhere. It wasn't needed with Carmen: the French opera.

Having been back on the Monday too, I combine comments in a comparative fashion;  the performances were surprisingly distinct, but are best dealt with together.
Firstly , the production by Francesca Zambello is fairly straight-down-the-middle and includes a replica Seville orange tree so realistic I was searching for my maslin pan. Alexander Joel - who made a fine job of Puccini in the summer, delivered a sensitive, punchy interpretation of the score. Monday night finished well ahead of Saturday, and a minute's silence hardly accounts for this. This is meant to please, and a horse, a donkey and some chickens (watered on Saturday but not Monday) achieve this animal element guaranteed to entrance the British public. What I didn't like was smuggling of "explosivos": it was all a bit G&S at this point and it ought not to be amusing.
The singing was excellent and at times sublime. Carmen (Anita Rachvelishvili) made for a sexy performance, and brought a physicality to the production which was to be admired; in so doing it was a bullfight with so many of the male characters. Initially-docile Don José was taunted to the horrible conclusion of the opera. On Saturday he took a little while to warm and I think he possible felt the pressure with the flower song; by Monday this was much more powerful. A much rounder-sounding tenor than Jonas, he didn't stretch to cover all the notes so generously, but in the middle-ranges his sound was sweeter and fuller. A José with slightly too much composure perhaps; at the end it was hard to believe he had really been driven to kill Carmen.  All the same, Carè is one to watch.
The rest of the cast was almost as big a draw as Kaufmann.  An estimable toreador, Escamillo (Gábor Bretz) has more depth and power than when I heard him as Bluebeard in July 2014, when he had just arrived at Covent Garden. And he can ride a horse on stage. With this swagger, he was every part the toreador.
The best singing of the evening came from aMicaëla (Sonya Yonchev). Fine and clear, perhaps ever so slightly shrill on the Monday night at the very top end: this was a highly memorable performance.
Yoncheva takes curtain call.
An especial mention must go to Frasquita (Vlada Borovko). A fairly small part, but really very wonderful  - more noticeable from the front of the stalls than the back of the stalls circle, a commanding presence and really beautiful instrument. I anticpate her in Godunov and I might well plonk for Nabucco too.
Zuniga (Nicolas Courjal) came almost fresh from his psychopathic peformance in Guillaume Tell. The quality of his diction was as remarkable as the meance he brought again. I am quite sure he is a very nice person, but on stage he does rather suit the villain of the piece. I don't think I shall tire of him any time soon. Since Gerhaher's unfathomably perfect recital I had been pondering the value of native-speakers. Courjal makes it rather more eloquently than I ever might. I look forward to hearing him in Oedipe in 2016.
With quite different locations over the two nights, it was a joy to see so many new aspects on the second night. The team had settled more on Monday  and there was so many good things, one almost forgot about Jonas. Almost. 

Overall: a very memorable Carmen despite the illness of the main attraction; I wouldn't be surprised if in 2030 the excitement is that Carè is to sing José.

Conductor: Alexander Joel
Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili
Don José: Andrea Carè
Escamillo: Gábor Bretz
Micaëla: Sonya Yoncheva
Frasquita: Vlada Borovko
Mercédès: Rachel Kelly
Le Dancaïre: Adrian Clarke
Le Remendado: Harry Nicoll
Zuniga: Nicolas Courjal
Moralès: Samuel Dale Johnson
Royal Opera Chorus
Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Music: Georges Bizet
Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Director: Francesca Zambello
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting designer: Paule Constable
Choreography: Arthur Pita
Fight director: Mike Loades

Must the show go on?

Sunday night's Orpheus at the Sam Wannamaker playhouse was cancelled due to illness. Kaufmann's replacement  in Carmen didn't seem quite so dramatic in this light. So much for the show must go on! A sicklist here of Norman Lebrecht's dreams, surely.

Coffee concert (Wigmore/Gaspard)

Haydn, Fauré, Liszt and Beethoven (Trio Gaspard at the Wigmore Hall)
It is absolutely the most civilized thing you can possibly do with a Sunday morning - possibly anywhere, certainly in London: a coffee concert at the Wigmore Hall. An hour of invariably excellent chamber music, followed by a glass of sherry or cup of coffee.
On Sunday morning, hot-shots from Germany thoughtfully drew a musical weekend to a close.
The Fauré was the most beautiful piece but it made sense that resequencing placed Beethoven at the end. 

The Liszt was perhaps the least-satisfying of the pieces. With Beethoven, the concert finished with fireworks. 
I do wish the Wigmore would provide some contextual notes in the programme sheet for these concerts.
Trio Gaspard
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Piano Trio in E flat major HXV:10
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Piano Trio in D minor Op. 120
Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Orphée S98 (arr. Camille Saint-Saëns)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): 10 Variations on 'Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu' in G major Op. 121a

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fishers of men (ROH/Morgen)

Georg Friedrich Haas, Morgen und Abend (Michael Boder, cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House)
The stage at the Royal Opera looked like the White Company and Farrow and Ball had taken on the job of decorating. But in Vick's hands this was a powerful storyscape to match the soundscape Haas generated with (probably quite a lot of musicians making only) a very small amount of noise at times.
 Add to this Gisueepe Di Iorio's lighting, which was powerful and moving, and '59 Productions' projection of the text - simply in Times New Roman. Whitish objects revolve around the stage, and gain coherence and the elements of the novella. Not the least of which was a death-bed and a the boat. For these were Fishers of men. God featured more prominently in the novella:
...he can hear a little of what his God wants to tell him when a musician plays well, yes then He is there, because good musicians turn away from the world of course, but Satan doesn't like that, that's why he arranges so much commotion and deviltry when a truly good musician is playing and that's horrible... 
Musically, it was by turns astonishing and moving; at others puzzling. The first half hour was filled with Olai (Kalus Maria Brandauer) speaking on stage, with amplification. This was a peculiar element and detracted: could they really find no actor who was unable to do this without? the came Sarah Wegender as Midwife, announcing the birth of Johannes, in what was undoubtedly the finest, most lyrical moment. The realization of his death by Johannes Sr sent a real shiver down the spine too. The singing was generally good, but often formed part of the sound scape.

A new, full-scale opera is a big deal, and accordingly there is loads of super information about it on the ROH site - a veritable slew of videos to watch and interviews to enjoy: click here to see them all.

Fosse's novella has been ably translated by Damion Searls (published only last month). It is a beautiful  text, and worth reading. It is almost a stream of consciousness, beautiful, lucid; a realising of death and a meditation on what it might be like if life meant something. Vick's achievement was to take the almost-plotless story and construct a narrative within it - Johannes' journey to the other side. Some how the lucidity of the text - its quiet luminance is transferred exquisitely. The audience clearly had mixed views: some cheered, a few even stood to ovate, whilst others sat in silence. At the birth of a new opera, many were unsure; a bit like Johannes perhaps?
The loudest ovation was reserved for Haas.
Overall: moving, meditative, but why was it amplified at the start?
Cast and credits:
Music: Georg Friedrich Haas
Libretto: Jon Fosse
Director: Graham Vick
Designer: Richard Hudson
Lighting designer: Giuseppe Di Iorio
Projections: 59 Productions
Translation: Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel and Damion Searls
Performed by: The Royal Opera
Conductor: Michael Boder
Olai: Klaus Maria Brandauer
Johannes: Christoph Pohl
Signe / Midwife: Sarah Wegener
Peter: Will Hartmann
Erna: Helena Rasker
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Concert Master: Sergey Levitin

Friday, 13 November 2015

Pastel-hued perfection (Glyndebourne Tour/Don Pasquale)

Donizetti, Don Pasquale (Duncan Ward cond. Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra at Milton Keynes Theatre)

There may no longer the ritual of a trip to Stoke for Glyndebourne Tour, but there still is bunking off for the afternoon for a matinee in Milton Keynes. The quality of the opera on Glyndebourne's reduced Tour is still very high.  Having seen Die Entführung and Saul at the Festival, however lovely, these weren't really a priority. But Don Pasquale is nothing but unalloyed delight.

Don Pasquale (José Fardilha) is furious with his nephew Ernesto's (Tuomas Katajala) choice of girlfriend Norina (Eliana Pretorian). Trickery engineered by Pasquale's doctor, Malatesta (John Brancy) saves the day and the lovers are united. Mariame Clément's production, revived by Paul Higgins for the tour is an absolute and utter delight. They might not have quite the comic opera firepower of Alessandro Corbelli and Danielle di Niese (reuniting, incidentally for Il barbiere, another opera stuffed with medical and legal men, at the 2016 Festival), but they really weren't too far off, if truth be told. Fardilha had a hard job, as in many ways has to carry the whole thing, and was more than up to the task; Pretorian has a whale of a time spending Pasquale's money - sort of a not-quite-Rake's progress. And the various attendants were fine too. The chorus revolve around in white wigs almost as if an opera crowd from some unknown Hogarth series: a touch of some of the opening vignettes from Saul, I thought; but this came first.Stalwarts of comic opera figure importantly here: notary (Timothy Nelson) and doctor (Brancy) as well as the inevitable faithful servant (Anna Marie Sullivan). A strong well-rehearsed cast gelled to get the most humour they could from it.

With Glyndebourne's tour, as always, and perhaps slightly tedious of me to keep going on thus, are the impressive production values, and quality of what a scratch orchestra. Not as perfect as OAE or LSO, but  a more than creditable account fo the score. Those production values (apparently not trimmed down from the Festival all that much), were crucial. As was rehearsing properly and fully - essential given how crucial timing was to this pastel-hued production. The large revolve spins, and our characters move through scenes,flopping through doors and paintings. Changing out flowers for fresher ones by placing them in a cupboard (I'd like that at home). You hopefully get the picture. In the resolution, with a tea party sur l'herbe, we couldn't help but think of summer months.

Archive footage here: but who isn't envious of Danni's "commute"? 

Overall: an unalloyed joy. 
On tour and in rep to 4th December; festival production on disc.

Cast and creative team:
Conductor Duncan Ward
Director Mariame Clément
Revival director Paul Higgins
Designer Julia Hansen
Lighting designer Bernd Purkrabek
Revival lighting designer Andrew May
Assistant conductor Gareth Hancock
Music preparation Nicholas Bosworth, Steven Maughan, Duncan Williams
Language coach Barbara Diana
Supertitles Ian Julier
Staff director Rachael Hewer
Costume supervisor Kate Vaughan
Wig supervisor Sheila Slaymaker
Head of Make-up Sarah Piper
Cast includes

Don Pasquale José Fardilha
Dr Malatesta John Brancy
Ernesto Tuomas Katajala
Norina Eliana Pretorian
A Notary Timothy Nelson (Jerwood Young Artist 2015, member of the Glyndebourne Chorus)
Servant Anna Marie Sullivan
Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Chorus master Jeremy Bines

It was the horns what fluffed it (Philharmonia/Beethoven)

Weber, Mendelssohn and Beethoven (Philharmonia, cond. Juraj Valčuha)
Sunday's evening concert is in the running for performance of the year. So tough luck to whoever comes next, right? The Weber overture with which the programme offered should offer ten minutes of sheer Romanticism. As it was, this was a decent enough rendition spoiled only by the horns. The whole thing didn't exactly scream that Valčuha was in control of things.
Next the Mendelssohn's VC - Krylov have a respectable tender version of this work, and it was the best performance of the evening. Valeriy Sokolov was sick, and replaced by Sergej Krylov due to illness

After the interval, Eroica; this is real bread and butter stuff, or should be. A serious orchestra like the Philharmonia no matter how much popular stuff it does, should have something special to say with a work of such genius; but with Valčuha they thundered along and wanted nuance or genius, in a pretty uneven fashion. A shame.

One wondered: had allegations in Private Eye put the orchestra of its footing?

Overall, a moderately disappointing evening but with many good things and fine moments.

Juraj Valčuha conductor
Sergej Krylov violin
Weber, Overture, Der Freischütz
Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto
Beethoven, Symphony No. 3, Eroica

Monday, 9 November 2015

Musical painting with a single-hair brush (Wigmore/Gerhaher)

Beethoven, Schoenberg, Haydn and Berg (Gerhaher and Huber at the Wigmore Hall)
Is there a better singer than Gerhaher? when it comes to recitals, almost certainly not. And a better pairing than Gerhaher and Huber? it is hard to imagine. They may have had a genuine and deep rapport, but no eye-contact was needed. The Wigmore Hall was absolutely packed (in the audience James Baillieu had not rushed home after his consummate display earlier, and guitarist Milos Karadaglic.

It started with a  visibly nervous Gerhaher seeming almost to clutch the piano for support. Why on earth this might be the case is beyond me and everyone else there. Beethoven's Ferne Geliebte to start, a pretty easy introduction. At times so quiet, but perfectly audible even in the lowest register. Projection perfection. It was followed by a heart-breaking but hardly easy-listening Schoenberg cycle Book of the Hanging Gardens. After the interval, some Haydn - in English - which somehow highlighted just how clever it all was, just how much attention to detail was given. I have no German but could have transcribed the entire cycle quite confidently (not just because of being on the second row).  The Berg's Altenberg Lieder, hardly easy listening either. Programmatically, even if they share the connexions of love at a distance, Vienna, this second modernist piece made the evening harder work. Nobody seemed to mind.
To finish, touching Beethoven again: Adelaide. As an encore, some Mozart (unidentified, likely from his new Mozart CD). Only in Britain would an audience stay firmly seated after that.
What was really breath-taking, was the extend to which each syllable- or even some smaller element than this -was crafted in the most utterly exquisite fashion. This was the sort of craftsmanship you can't really fathom. In a museum some tiny painting executed with a single-hair brush. And with a pairing so deeply in sync, you really couldn't ask for more.
Christopher Cook captured the concert for radio 3, and you can listen here. Many times over the coming month. Click here.
Overall: a deeply and profoundly impressive display

Christian Gerhaher baritone; Gerold Huber piano
Beethoven, Schoenberg, Haydn and Berg
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): An die ferne Geliebte Op. 98
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951): Das Buch der hängenden Gärten Op. 15
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): The Spirit's Song HXXVIa:41
Content HXXVIa:36
The Wanderer HXXVIa:32
Sailor's song HXXVIa:31
She never told her love HXXVIa:34
Alban Berg (1885-1935): Altenberg Lieder Op. 4
Ludwig van Beethoven: Adelaide Op. 46

Going for the emotion (Wigmore/Erraught)

Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition Showcase  (Tara Erraught mezzo-soprano; James Baillieu piano at the Wigmore Hall)
Tara Erraught offered a genuinely impressive showcase yesterday afternoon. The programme opened with Songs of a Wayfarer, one of Mahler's most immersive song-cycles. My preferences for it would be a male voice (Gerhaher or Hampson, perhaps), and an orchestra. But able accompaniment from James Ballieu made this memorable for its sheer emotion. It demonstrated the tactical choice which was made too: emotion was privileged over demonstration of technical skills. Rather than fine-grained detail, long, luscious lines or colourtura, the audience were hit - full-bore as it were -with emotional firepower. Baillieu seemed too to match this - what a first seemed slightly uneven playing was actually designed (or at least served) to match Erraught's approach perfectly. And the results were deeply impressive.
The Copland selection which followed were folksy and well done; an Irish-American tribute, perhaps.
A selection of exquisite Strauss songs followed. Surely there are few songs perfect than Morgen. It was again done justice in the emotional way - perhaps not as fine as (Joyce DiDonato's encore in April) but scarcely less touching. Cäcilie draw the Strauss section to a close. 
The programme finished with an aria each from Rinaldo and Il barbiere. Not bad for an hour.
Overall: maximum emotional and plentiful skill. If this is a competition, then we have a winner!

Full programme:
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Old American Songs I and II
Long time ago
Simple Gifts
At the river
Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Acht Gedichte aus 'Letzte Blätter' Op. 10
No. 8 Allerseelen
No. 1 Zueignung
No. 3 Die Nacht
Ständchen Op. 17 No. 2
Morgen Op. 27 No. 4
Cäcilie Op. 27 No. 2
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): Rinaldo HWV7
Aria: Lascia ch'io pianga
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868): Il barbiere di Siviglia
Una voce poco fa
As an encore: "Non v'e donna piu felice" from Balfe's Falstaff. Another touching Irish connexion.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Peregrinating performances

In Los Angeles, everything is drive-thru-  even the churches. Now opera too.
This is mad, but fantastic. You get your own route. It makes me think only of Graham Vick's Birmingham Opera Company. Tickets are $125 and you get your own personal route, so presumably need your own car. Luxury valet parking (!) is included. How much more LA could you get?