Sunday, 28 February 2016

One day it happens: a victim must be found (ROH/L'Étoile)

Emamanuel Chabrier, L'Étoile (Elder cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House)
Is it opera? Yes –for the most part. Is it panto? Certainly there are elements. Is it Wagnerian? Well largely not, but undoubtedly there are touches of Humperdinck. Is it Monty Python-esque? In Clément’s delightful production, absolutely. Is it G&S? with the plot and style, very much of that vein. Chabrier’s L'Étoile is all of these things, but first and foremost, it is an absolute scream. I haven’t seen an audience laugh so happily in some time.
Kate Lindsey as Lazuli in L’Étoile © ROH 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper
It has a plot which seems to defy explanation, but is actually relatively straightforward when the thing is in front of you: King Ouf is out and about, incognito, in search of a victim to impale for his birthday. Of course had he a list like the executioner carries in The Mikado, it would have been the shortest evening of opera you could imagine. As it is, a victim must be found. The Astrologer Royal advises Ouf that his fate is linked to the victim and he will die the next day. So good news for Lazuli, as she must be kept safe in the palace. In short, she certainly wouldbe missed.
Tropes of pantomime are there too, not least two narrators with added dialogue, including jokes about the king downsizing to avoid the bedroom tax (to raucous laughter – despite this being the cheapest option in the booking window with a top price of £110, I wonder just how many in the audience were at risk of paying this) and Boris Johnson having two jobs. One of these was Chris Addison 'off the telly' (and spotted at the Serail in the summer at Glyndebourne)
The music is not of the first-order- it is really just background. The overture is the most fun bit and sets things up rather well.  Elder does a fine job in extracting a light, fluffy account of things. The musical equivalent of syllabub, this is light and frothy and delightful.
Mariame Clément manages to delight visually, with constant turns and charms. In contrast to her Polituo last year, this has so much colour and fun, and frantic movement. Surely there is no higher complement to pay than this: the only limitations which remain are those of the piece.
Overall: a wonderful production of a limited work, making for a really great night.

Run finished but broadcast live on R3, and therefore available on catch-up; many images here and here.

Emmanuel Chabrier
Libretto: Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo
Director: Mariame Clément
Designer: Julia Hansen
Lighting designer: Jon Clark
Choreography: Mathieu Guilhaumon
Conductor: Mark Elder
King Ouf I: Christophe Mortagne
Siroco: Simon Bailey
Prince Hérisson de Porc-Epic: François Piolino
Tapioca: Aimery Lefèvre
Lazuli: Kate Lindsey
Princesse Laoula: Hélène Guilmette
Aloès: Julie Boulianne
Patacha: Samuel Sakker
Zalzal: Samuel Dale Johnson
Smith: Chris Addison
Dupont: Jean-Luc Vincent
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Bargain but not bargain basement: book now for the Brimingham Opera Company

Two emails arrived in my inbox within a few hours of each other: one offered tickets for Dido and Aeneas from the Birmingham Opera Company. You can go for only £5 - anyone. It may be anywhere. A nightclub is my guess based on branding. Astonishing value. And the BOC productions are unmissable. Do go and support (generously if you can) them. Click on the picture to book now.

The other email offered applications for extra tickets for the Meistersinger at Glyndebourne, for sixty times the price. Both worth seeing of course, that's the trouble. I do wonder if 14,000 members and associate members haven't bought all 6,000 pairs of seats does that mean that they've found the price ceiling? £290 would have psychologically been much better price point. That's unsubsidized Wagner for you, I suppose. 

Thrill and thrust (Philharmonia/Hrůša)

Mahler, Symphony 3 (Philharmonia cond. Hrůša)
Programmatically, the most serious evening in the Philharmonia calendar was Mahler 3, performed last Wednesday. It is enormous. The orchestral forces alone are astonishing. The flaw was that the choirs were not nearly big enough. Yes they only perform briefly at the end (note to stage manager, why not bring the children at least on, quietly, during a pause?).
Hrůša drove things hard. The emphasis was on getting the pace and thrust, the greater meaning of things, not the fine-grain detail; all in all slightly less polished at the edges. The effect was powerful and at times very moving. A tendency towards volume gave the impression some of the brass was almost out of control. Yet this must have been a decision, given how well tempered this was for the singers. In the Midnight Song, mezzo Bernarda Fink was cool, crisp, flawless, and with a depth suiting the words perfectly. She had the power to effortless rise above the orchestra, with no strain. No economy measure here for a symphonic singer. But in the fifth movement, the choirs: 15 sopranos, 11 altos, plus 37 children were simply not enough. They could be heard, their voices were good, but they did not pack the punch needed. Compared to the awe-inspiring masses in Symphony Hall in May, this seemed tiny, empty.
Yet overall this was a very fine evening and a gripping interpretation of the score, with some real urgency about it. I can't wait to hear what Hrůša does with The Cunning Little Vixen.
So why were there any empty seats? I wonder if there is a more conservative audience anywhere. They will tolerate only Russian music. More fool them. 

Jakub Hrůša conductor
Bernarda Fink mezzo soprano
Philharmonia Voices choir
Leicester Cathedral Choristers choir
Mahler Symphony No. 3

A very decent Traviata (ROH/Traviata)

Verdi, La Traviata (Royal Opera cond. Yves Abel)
The pull in going to see the relay of La Traviata, replayed on Sunday afternoon last weekend, was to see Venera Gimadieva singing Violetta again. The short version is this: over the last couple of years she has become even more careful, measured and powerful in her reading. If an already thoughtful and delicate reading has become even more nuanced, it is a shame that the score was unevenly-paced - at times I thought the orchestra were rushing for the last train. Luca Salsi made a fine  Giorgio Germont and from  Saimir Pirgu a very respectable Alfredo with some chemistry. A visually-pleasing production was constrained by the set in the first act and the deathbed occurred in far too large a space.

Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto    Francesco Maria Piave
Director    Richard Eyre
Designer    Bob Crowley
Lighting designer    Jean Kalman
Movement director    Jane Gibson
Conductor    Yves Abel
Violetta Valéry    Venera Gimadieva
Alfredo Germont    Saimir Pirgu
Giorgio Germont    Luca Salsi
Flora Bervoix    Andrea Hill
Gastone de Letorières    Samuel Sakker
Annina    Sarah Pring
Baron Douphol    Yuriy Yurchuk
Doctor Grenvil    James Platt
Marquis D'Obigny    Jeremy White
Giuseppe    Neil Gillespie
Messenger    John Bernays
Servant    Michael Lessiter
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Why not just move to Kansas?

There might be many reasons to move to Kansas, but here is a whole list. It is great to see the English Concert's Ariodante is going to cross the pond. Let's all click our red shoes together.

Harriman-Jewell Series 2016-17
Sept. 24: Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra in a free Discovery Concert. (Folly Theater)
Oct. 1: Jessica Lang Dance (Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)
Oct. 14: Renée Fleming, soprano (Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center)
Oct. 22: Ben Bliss, tenor, in a free Discovery Concert which is also his American recital debut. (Folly Theater)
Oct. 28: Denis Matsuev, pianist (Folly Theater)
Nov. 15: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Choir (Folly Theater)
Dec. 1: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Big Band Holiday (Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland)
Dec. 7: Joyce DiDonato and Il Pomo d’Oro performing “War and Peace.” (Folly Theater)
Dec. 15: WindSync wind quintet presents Simple Gifts: A Holiday Sampler, a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)
Jan. 27, 2017: Russian National Ballet presents “Romeo and Juliet” plus great Russian gems (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)
Feb. 16: Venice Baroque Orchestra with violinist Nicola Benedetti (Folly Theater)
Feb. 26: Simone Porter, violinist, in a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)
March 10: National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine with pianist Alexei Grynyuk (Helzberg Hall)
March 24: Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart. (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)
March 31: Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist (Folly Theater)
April 8: Tomer Gewirtzman, pianist, in a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)
April 22: The Great Flood: guitarist Bill Frisell with ensemble and a film by Bill Morrison (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
April 28: Joyce DiDonato with the English Concert and vocal cast in George Frideric Handel’s “Ariodante.” (Helzberg Hall)

Read more here:

Saturday, 6 February 2016

A very blingy Turandot (Met/Turandot)

Puccini, Turandot (Paolo Carignani cond. Met Orchestra)
Franco Zeffirelli's Turandot is large, solid and very blingy. Your granny would love it. It makes the Copley La bohème look rather flimsy. If all opera were like this, it would grown tiresome, but the occasional sparkle, especially on a dark, cold January night is a rather good bracer, relayed to cinemas last Saturday night as it was.
A modest spectacle. Image: Met Opera

This is not standard Puccini. The heart strings are not plucked in the conventional way. But there is one really big number in it: 'Nessun Dorma'. For a tenor anything less than Pavarotti-league, it is a dangerous path to tread. Here is was slightly rushed and the nerves perhaps were just too much for Marco Berti.
It is not standard either to have a singer of Nina Stemme's quality; but then there aren't very many to be had. A Wagnerial soprano of the highest order, the Brunnhilde and Isolde of our times, she was commanding and domineering as ice princess, but not afraid to melt around the edges. 
Anita Hartig as Liù deserves rich praise, and for her an especially loud ovation was given, which might have been audible in the UK, without the benefit of the relay. Some in the cinema even joined in.
Yet the stars of the show were surely the stage crew building three views on a palace and dismantling them; rarely have the behind-the-scenes bits  been more impressive. Hosted by Renée Fleming, this was an all-star spectacle.
Overall: a shining light at the end of January.
Read the programme here.

Conductor: Paolo Carignani
Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume designers: Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri
Lighting designer: Gil Wechsler
Choreographer: Chiang Ching
Stage director: David Kneuss

Turandot: Nina Stemme
Liù: Anita Hartig
Calàf: Marco Berti
Timur: Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Emperor Altoum: Ronald Naldi
Ping: Dwayne Croft*
Pang:Tony Stevenson*
Pong: Eduardo Valdes
Three masks
Elliott Reiland
Andrew Robinson
Amir Levy
Mandarin: David Crawford
Executioner: Arthur Lazalde
Prince of Persia: Sasha Semin
Handmaidens: Anne Nonnemacher
Mary Hughes
Jennifer Cadden
Oriada Islami Prifti
Rachel Schuette
Sarah Weber-Gallo

Thursday, 4 February 2016

New music director for CBSO

The CBSO have appointed Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla to replace Andris Nelsons as music director, and will begin in September. The especially good news is that  press release promises that 'she will also lead opera projects in Birmingham'.  Some collaboration with the BOC, or perhaps just a continuation of the excellent concert performances, such as the astonishing 'Parsifal' next year. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Opera for free (Glyndebourne/Cenerentola)

A recording of La Cenerentola is available on the Glyndebourne site until 11.59pm on Friday, 5th Feb.
Click here to view.