Thursday, 21 January 2016

Chris Addison interview

You won't often get opera and Donald Trump in five minutes? A clip from Channel 4  news, where Chris Addison is interviewed ahead of his appearance in L'etoile. This new production of Chabrier's opera appears to be something akin to French G&S, but I haven't heard anything beyond the overture. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Currentzis does Beethoven in Berlin

Teodor Currentzis, enfant terrible (or simply terrible depending on your point of view) has released a video of the famous bit of Beethoven 5. Whatever your view on him, I defy you not to enjoy this!
I really hope he is in the UK soon. Maybe the Proms? It might be the one circumstance under which I would contemplate Edinburgh Festival.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Not that expensive a form of noise after all: Grange Park £10m appeal

Molière once quipped that of all the forms of noise known to man, opera is the most expensive. Quite a reasonable assertion. At £10m, the campaign for the new opera house for Grange Park seems rather modest: Glyndebourne's cost £34m in 1990 (approx £90m today). So this seems woefully low.  It is also to be built super-quick: they hope to move in for 2017 (even if 'scaffolding will envelop an unfinished theatre'). This will seat 700 (Glyndebourne 1200; currently 550), so even if it came in at half that, this still seems awkward. Presumably big donors have been tapped already, and I'd hazard a guess that the Vivien Duffield has already dug deep, and likewise David Davies, both of whom have been chosen to run the campaign. How much is it really going to cost? Will the £10m secure the full thing? Apparently so, according to their press release:
Sir David said:
'The Appeal has been set for £10 million which will cover the cost of building the new opera house with related fees and ample contingencies. An amount equal to nearly a third of the target has already been pledged from major donors in the two months leading up to the formal launch.'
It seems unlikely you could have even a basic structure of the scale and strength needed for the cash. But certainly all good wishes to Grange Park 2.0, and to the indefatigable Wasfi Kani. If anyone can make it work, she can. If you do have the cash, or some of it, please give them a ring.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A successful period interlude (Philharmonia/DMH)

Haydn and Mozart (Michael Collins cond. Philharmonia at the De Montfort Hall).
The standard for orchestral Mozart over the previous month has been high: the SCO and English Concert raising it to the very highest standard. A whiff of danger about a Mozart and Haydn programme from the Philharmonia. This season has been underwhelming, and they aren’t a period setup – their most impressive performances of late have been of C20th music.
The major disadvantage for the Philharmonia doing this is that they are not a period orchestra- and do not have any period instruments as far as I am aware. I will not do the newspaper critic thing of complaining that I’d rather hear a different orchestra in a different venue play and alternative programme. The advantage of a modern symphonic orchestra is that it gives power and a more robust sound. Is this a worthwhile trade-off? The short answer is that for the Mozart it really worked.
Firstly Haydn’s 49th symphony. I forget how many symphonies he wrote; fairly few are memorable, and this isn’t really one of them. Perhaps with some really special period forces it would be different. Mozart only wrote once for the harp (apparently), and his Concerto for Flute and Harp K299 is it.Maybe this worked better in a rococo salon or something. All the same, there is a palpable sense that the boy genius wasn’t all that sure what to do with a harp, it was rather a plucked harpsichord, and I found all this a bit uneasy, frankly. An awkwardness when on principal was “in-sourced” from the Orchestra Samuel Coles (Flute). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if the space wasn’t set up on a stage properly, etc – well it is a bit disrespectful to the musician. So is getting the violins to stand up and kick their chairs back a few feet.I am afraid the harpist Catrin Finch made less of an impression, but I think this was all the unease of the piece. So blame Wolfie. 
Any shortcomings can be forgiven for the blessed half hour of Jupiter. And this was a good account of it. Elemental forces were summoned and it was a thrilling ride from start to finish. It is not hard to believe it was written at around the same time as Don Giovanni: I was waiting from the Commendatore to appear during the first movement. In fact I don’t think anyone would have batted an eyelid if he had appeared. The same thundering, booming orchestral forces are deployed as in the DG overture, and give that impending sense of doom, and the music is almost as gripping. Here the benefits of modern instruments were apparent. The second is more gentle – perhaps a chat with Leporello. But the pace continued and it was an extremely enjoyable half-hour. This was impressive
In the absence of any Russian music on the programme, there seemed rather too many empty seats for comfort. Surely Saturday nights are more convenient?

Not having come across Michael Collins before, I was interested to read his programme note – his woefully out-of-date site is here.   He had the Philharmonia on a consistently tight leash, not least so that the music wasn't overpowered. Pretty successful, really, and worth another visit. 
Next time there will be no complaints about power: it is Mahler.

Programme in full:
Haydn S49 Passione
Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp K299
Mozart S41 Jupiter K551

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Better than Callas? (ROH/Tosca)

Puccini, Tosca (Emmanuel Villaume cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House)
After the distinctly underwhelming Eugene Onegin last week, there was an element of anxiety last night:  would Tosca be another turkey? A nice lady in the queue to get in (a new invention with all this bag-searching) assured me that yes Onegin had been a disgrace, even if better than its original outing -the mind boggles - and that Tosca was lovely. And a fine cast with no sicklist at least, promised good things.  
Some have suggested Gheorghiu might just be a finer Tosca than Callas. That's no modest claim. Last night, for all the perfection on offer, there wasn't quite enough power in Act II - with the essential 'Vissi d'arte', surely one of the most beautiful arias Puccini wrote. Yet as it is not bel canto it doesn't call for a demonstration of endless fire-power Gheorghiu sings it here, but a smidge more volume would not have gone amiss. Was there, dare I say it, a touch of the old park-and-bark?; certainly her movement seemed a little uncertain in Scarpia's library, and there was a certain uneasiness kinetically throughout. But then it would be, I suppose. By Act III, her voice had really hit a sweet spot, and the Callas claims made more sense, and Gheorghiu's voice glittered more than her dress (pictured below). As she plunged over the battlements, however, it wasn't as moving as it ought to be. Likely because of a rather drab final set, with some grey thing hanging down (a death star or something? a radical proposal for staging it there), this didn't have the full emotional impact it can.
A sparkling Tosca
Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca in Tosca © ROH 2016. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Back for a long-ish run, this was the most prestigious of the two casts, and there were no weak points. Samuel Youn as Scarpia, one the meanest baddies in the repertoire, was a warm bass which still sent shivers down the spine. Deeply impressive, Youn is one to look out for undoubtedly. Tosca's lover Mario had a commanding presence on stage, but at times  Riccardo Massi seemed to be at the upper-end of his limit, giving a slightly strained sound at the top of his register, which I didn't find especially appealing. Importantly, however, there was real chemistry between Tosca and Mario. Angelotti was sung by Yuriy Yurchuk very finely. Despite some chemistry between the two, something did not quite gel. It was a series of bilateral agreements, rather than the sweeping trade agreement which was needed, and as such fell short of an ensemble piece.

Riccardo Massi as Cavaradossi in Tosca in Tosca © ROH 2016. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

What a difference a conductor makes: from the pit, the orchestra was on very fine form under Emmanuel Villaume. Tosca is so well-known it is in the category of hard-to-really-hear, yet this was a lively and fresh if fairly clean, ungimmicky interpretation. Puccini does make it easy to get a response from an audience. 
Tosca is on the list of critical operas. Big houses cannot take much of a gamble of productions as they bring in a devoted audience  -probably older, conservative in tastes, deep in pocket, but only come to this handful of favourites. Jonathan Kent's is not the most lovely of productions, but it works. The sacristy and ecclesiastical setup at the start are spot on, and the lair in which Scarpia has installed himself works well in II. Perhaps only in the third is the staging rather anaemic. However it doesn't distract, and after last week, that's enough. Better than Callas? hard call to make.

Overall: a decent production and some beautiful singing let down by a lack of cohesion and uneasy movement.


Giacomo Puccini
Director - Jonathan Kent
Designer - Paul Brown
Lighting designer - Mark Henderson
Conductor - Emmanuel Villaume
Floria Tosca - Angela Gheorghiu
Mario Cavaradossi - Riccardo Massi
Baron Scarpia - Samuel Youn
Angelotti - Yuriy Yurchuk
Spoletta - Hubert Francis
Sacristan - Donald Maxwell
Sciarrone - David Shipley
Gaoler - John Morrissey
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Vasko Vassilev
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

The thrill of the baroque (English Concert/Wigmore)

Bach, Bach & Mozart (Kristian Bezuidenhout dir. English Concert at the Wigmore Hall)
I was ready for something better than Holten's fiasco. The English Concert at the Wigmore Hall promised this last Friday night.
The first half was little bro and big bro of the Bach family. Firstly JC's Symphony in G op.3, no. 6; then CPE's Concerto for Fortepiano and Strings in C Wq.20. I hadn’t quite got over the magical CPE Bach from the SCO before Christmas, but his Concerto for Fortepiano and Strings in C Wq.20 was an unalloyed delight. In this more intimate setting, even more energized. The sort of thing to make one feel alive. Kristian Bezuidenhout seemed as director to have quite a close eye on this, moving his head around much too, but also leaving the musicians to do their own thing.
If the Bachs made one glad to be alive, the Mozart which followed the interval was of scarcely imaginable energy and vision. Foolishly, I am ashamed to say that I tend to class orchestral Mozart as a little musak-y (Moszak?). Then I hear it and quickly change my view. No farther from classic FM is it possible to get than this. Symphony 15 (K124) and concerto for fortepiano and orchestra no 9 (K271) were presented here as really special pieces. What a shame it finished. 
Bezuidenhout on In Tune here. Skip to 01:13.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Lots of opera for free (Opera platform)

The Europe-wide Opera Platform has just announced its programme for the first half of 2016. A varied selection of traditional favourites, new and obscure, this does a pretty good job of satisfying people with varying interests.Videos remain online for several months to catch up. First on the 17th of January there is La Clemenza di Tito, but  I am most interested there in what Kosky does with Onegin. It can't be worse than the disappointing effort from Kaspar Holten last week, and it might be inspired.

31/1 Eugene Onegin (Komische Oper Berlin, directed by Barrie Kosky)
12/2 Carmen  (Opéra de Lyon, directed by Olivier Py)
4/3 Die Walküre, (Dutch National Opera, Pierre Audi)
18/3 Peter Eötvös’ Tri Sestri (Wiener Staatsoper, Yuval Sharon)
15/3 Manon Lescaut (Latvian National Opera,Ināra Slucka)    
6/5 Philippe BoesmansReige (Oper Stuttgart, Nicola Hümpel)
11/6 Macbeth (Latvian National Opera. Viesturs Meikšāns)
2/7 Iain Bell, In Parenthesis (WNO)

All of these will be free to watch. Isn't that splendid? Go here for details.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A howler from Holten (ROH/Onegin)

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin (Semyon Bychkov cond. Orchestra Royal Opera House)
Thursday night’s Eugene Onegin, the final of the run at the Royal Opera House was extremely disappointing. It possibly fell harder at the end of this revival because everyone really wanted to step into the velvet and gilt world of War and Peace. So the question on everyone’s lips, what was Holten thinking? This wasn’t daring or innovative (such as the Munich production with Eugene and Lensky romantically involved). It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t pretty (like the wonderful Grange Park production in the summer). It was a real howler, with fundamental flaws on every level. Tedious is not quite the right word. Half-arsed, frankly, might be closer. 
The set design was simple, shabby affair: four doorways with single lights above each; through these windows lighting hinted at chandeliers (these didn’t marry up when the door opened – very amateur). Perhaps this is what people who have never actually seen a Russian building think one might look like. Behind this different images were shown: a wheat field at the start, after the letter scene an ugly, out-of-focus red-illuminated.
The horrible red trees
Nicole Car as Tatyana and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin earlier in run
© Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
The single beautiful moment was when a curtain fluttered in the breeze from each of the doors, but alas this lasted for around a minute.
Nicole Car as Tatyana in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin © Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
Movement was disappointing. The peasant dances in the first act were nonsense. Indeed generally, “dancing” seemed to consist of mainly a lot of uncoordinated milling around. Some leftover furies from Orfeo perhaps, in long grey dresses danced around immediately after the duel; how, pray tell, was this someone struggling even with the consolations of society? It ought to be a fashionable ball. 
From the original production: The Royal Opera in Eugene Onegin © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Holten seemed to lose any vision for the piece after this duel, leaving Lensky dead and what looked like the remains of a Christmas tree on the front of the stage. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing. 
Why haven't you put out the Christmas tree yet, dear?
Nicole Car as Tatyana and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin earlier in run.
© Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
I don’t think there is a more heart-breaking scene in opera than the letter scene. Given the over-sharing to which the current age is prone, it is both incomprehensible and commandingly contemporary: surely it is a matter of time before we see a production with a twitter post instead. OMG Tatyana hearts Eugene. The censure with which C19th society would have met this cannot be recovered. Even sending explicit selfies would meet with little criticism today. Yet as the younger Tatyana slouched over a chair and scribbled a billet doux, whilst the older Tatyana watched, it was an object lesson in how to completely disarm one of the most poignant scenes in opera. This was indeed hard-to-watch, but for all the wrong reasons. 
Bychhov did not get anything like the best from the ROH orchestra, with a very uneven performance. Tempi varied – some bits were rather slow, others hurried; the orchestra ran ahead of the singers at times. In the first scene especially, either the orchestra was too loud or voices were taking time to warm up. Only Fabiano was able to comfortably rise above this consistently. These orchestral problems were the conductor’s.
Vocally this was far from perfect. The only real banker was Fabiano who was on good form, but frankly not as good as in the summer.  Nicole Car as Tatyana had become quite good by the end. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Monsieur Triquet) was too brief, with perfect enunciation. There had been illness necessitating a certain amount of shuffling around. But this simply didn’t explain or justify things. It felt like a first night, and not a very memorable one – the sort after which directors would be giving rather extensive notes to all involved.
There is more picking and whingeing to be done here, but I feel it sapping energy. Praise for a few voices and a couple of curtains in the wind was a poor deal really. Thank goodness for Tchaikovsky’s utterly exquisite score. It had to carry the evening, which it did –there or thereabouts, anyway.
Overall: a concert performance would have been preferable.
Prediction: when Holten goes, we won't see this again.

Director - Kasper Holten
Set designer - Mia Stensgaard
Costume designer - Katrina Lindsay
Lighting designer - Wolfgang Göbbel
Video designers - 59 Productions
Choreography - Signe Fabricius
Conductor  - Semyon Bychkov
Eugene Onegin - Artur Rucinski
Tatyana - Nicole Car
Lensky -  Michael Fabiano
Olga - Oksana Volkova
Prince Gremin - James Platt
Madame Larina - Diana Montague
Filipyevna - Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Monsieur Triquet - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Captain - David Shipley
Zaretsky - John Bernays
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Peter Manning
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Sunday, 3 January 2016

I wonder how much they paid him?

One can only wonder just how much the BBC paid Bryn Terfel to sing - briefly - in the family festive offering Billionaire Boy. I hope he gets back to doing proper opera, full-time, soon.
However much Bryn was paid, it was likely rather less than Amazon handed over to the likes of Lang-Lang or Dudamel to appear in series two of the entertaining-even-if-inaccurate Mozart in the Jungle. It probably works mostly because of well-chosen, powerful excerpts from great music as much as anything. Apart from anything, they weren't making music, just cameos. The mind boggles.