Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday roundup from a very busy week

I've been burning the candle at both ends, to coin a phrase. It beats the hell out of sitting alone at home watching repeats of Midsomer Murders - something I have resolved never to do again.

Last Saturday, Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House. You wake up, the sun is shining, you're free, it's opening night at Covent Garden, Jonas is singing and you're not there? Unthinkable! I scooped a return and drank long and deep of the genius of Verdi. It was almost impossible to imagine a finer cast. Sometimes when Kaufmann is on stage, the rest can fade to insignificance, but here his peers matched him moment for moment.

This appears to be the one performance that the scheduled soprano, Anja Harteros, was able in the end to do, and the first time I've managed to hear her live. Her voice has an almost uncanny beauty along with extraordinary range of expression: the deepest levels enhanced by taut, dramatic diction, the uppermost soaring with rare 100-carat sheen. She's the perfect stage partner for Kaufmann, matching his sensitivity to nuance and blending with his multifaceted colourations, the final duet daringly hushed. Mariusz Kwiecien's double-edged charm and rich-flowing baritone, as Rodrigo, might otherwise have stolen the show, while Ferruccio Furlanetto's magnificently tortured and heartbreaking Philip II threatened to do likewise, with the type of voice and interpretation that brings every twist of phrase and fortune into close-up. Eric Halfvorsen's Grand Inquisitor rose to the challenge of one of Verdi's nastiest and truest personalities. In the pit, Tony Pappano and the orchestra plunged through the four-and-a-half hour span with passion undimmed; and the chorus was absolutely on fire for the auto da fe, a scene in which the confluence of symbol and drama could scarcely be finer.

Carlos is, after all, a German romantic hero - by Schiller - in all but moniker, a soul whose obsession with Elisabeth after one scant encounter in the forest can match that of Goethe's Werther for Charlotte. Flanders is Elisabeth; the burning heretics are the heart of Carlos, who burns inwardly for breaking the taboo of aching for his stepmother. Freud might have enjoyed that final moment of farewell when he addresses Elisabeth as 'mother'. What happened to Carlos's real mother anyway? We are not told.

Lianna Haroutounian has since stepped into Harteros's shoes, making her ROH debut; and the churlish anonymi grumbling on the ROH comments boxes that the house should have had a "name" as second cast may want to think again. Fiona Maddocks's review today declares: "Haroutounian seemed to pull forth ever-increasing vocal powers until you thought her heart, or yours, would burst."

On Tuesday we had the first run-through at home of the Hungarian Dances concert with the new team for the Ulverston and the St James Theatre June performances. David Le Page (violin) and Anthony Hewitt (piano) used to be duo partners in their teens, but hadn't met in 23 years...yet it was as if they'd last seen each other yesterday. And the intensity of their musical response to the story took me completely by surprise. It felt as these concerts probably should: we may be a reader and two musicians, but their engagement with the drama and the emotions in the narrative bounced different angles into the music, while their impassioned interpretations made me see new and darker corners in my own text. It was as if we all made music together, essentially. I'm hugely grateful to them and excited about sharing a stage with them. Ulverston is on 8 June, the St James Theatre Studio in central London is on 11 June, and booking is open.

On Wednesday, to St John's Smith Square to hear Angelo Villani in recital. Angelo, you remember, is the Italian-Australian pianist we talked to a little while back when he started to make his comeback after 20 years away from the concert platform due to a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He performs in white gloves. And there's something of the white gloves about his musicianship too, in the best sense: while some complained that the programme he chose consisted more of the slow and soft than the barnstorming so many people seem to expect of concert pianists these days, that was actually the point.

Whether in the freely-calibrated rubato of the Chopin Nocturnes Op.9, two of the Liszt Petrarch Sonnets and the Ballade No.2, or the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, adapted from Wagner by various hands including Von Bulow, Liszt and Villani himself, his exceptional and microscopic sensitivity, the way he immerses us in sonority, allows us to soak up the edges of vibration as if letting subtle-coloured dye infiltrate and diffuse through our inner worlds. It's unusual and it may not be for everyone, but this is fine-art pianism and it is good to know that it hasn't been entirely lost in the outside welter of the (largely positive but often noisy) Lang Lang Effect.

There's a wonderful story about Daniel Guilet, the founding violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, as a young lad meeting Fauré in the foyer of the Paris Conservatoire. Monsieur le Directeur, as Fauré was then (pictured right), said to Daniel: where are you going in such a hurry? "My violin lesson, sir." Ahh, said Fauré. You'll go to your lesson and you'll learn to play fast and loud. But to play slow and soft: that is really difficult.

On Thursday, my mates from the Culturekicks blog took me to the trendiest gig in town: The Knife, at the Roundhouse. I'll be writing about it more fully for them, but in brief, the experience was a polar opposite from Angelo's concert (=ear protectors) and in other ways just like the Proms, because if you're my height you can't see much. Music: Nordic Noir without the murders. More about it soon.

The great thing is that in this extraordinary world, and especially in this matchless city of ours, there's room for everything: music of different eras, angles, twists, turns, scale, substance and aspect. Try to do it all, if and when you have the chance. Because each experience feeds the next.

Last but not least, yesterday I went to a school reunion and saw friends I haven't seen since our A levels, more years ago than I'd like to admit, and they hadn't changed a bit. Time's a funny old thing. Just as an opera that is well over 100 years old can feel as fresh and relevant in terms of drama and emotional impact as an electro-post-pop band, the passing decades simply disappear when people's energies connect, reconnect and blossom. Yes, this was quite a week...