Showing posts with label Jonas Kaufmann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jonas Kaufmann. Show all posts

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ever seen a violin like this before?

Testing a 'conical' violin made by Wolfgang Stegmüller of Munich

It's unlikely. Its inventor has patented it, so only he and his son can legally produce instruments to this model. It's 'conical' - the back is smaller than the front, so the ribs fan out and the effect on the sound gently but distinctly resembles a megaphone.

I met the inventor of the conical violin, Wolfgang Stegmüller, via a rather extraordinary coincidence in Munich this summer. We were hanging about backstage (my OH often plays in the Bayerische Staatsper Orchestra during the annual July festival) hoping to say hello to a certain very wonderful tenor, who was singing in Manon Lescaut that night, and while waiting we got talking to a fellow waitee who turned out to be a neighbour of his. When she heard what I do, she began to tell me about her friend the luthier who had invented a new design of violin. In a craft that dates back to the baroque era pretty much unchanged, you don't hear the words "new type of violin" very often, so I pursued the matter - and there he was in Schwabing, working with his son, also named Wolfgang, who trained in violin making in Cremona. We went to visit them and spent a fascinating day together, talking, looking, playing, listening and eating. My resulting article is up now at The Amati Magazine, here.

The Stegmüllers have now decided to come to the UK to display their work at the Amati Exhibition, which takes place at the Langham, London, on 1 and 2 November. And there, following his sell-out, knockout performance at the last Amati Exhibition earlier this year, the sensational Roby Lakatos will be back to play to us again, this time joined on the platform by the exciting young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, who wowed the Wigmore Hall yesterday morning. Tickets are on sale now, so be there! More info and booking here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Last Night of the Proms: Kaufmaniacs alert

Jonas Kaufmann is going to be the first non-Anglo-Saxon to sing Rule, Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms. This morning he turned on the charm for the BBC Breakfast interviewers, who look rather thrilled throughout. Here's the clip:

Meanwhile, a fan site on Facebook brings us this priceless tract about the Dolce&Gabbana outfits he will sport for the occasion. I'm sure something has been lost in translation, but am still pondering the likely effects on the crowd of black lace slippers, 'English' flag, and 'frog'.

"The Last Night of Proms" is the most important on screen musical event in the world, with over 11 million viewers featured on the BBC Channel from the UK, USA, and Australia as well as across Asia and most of Europe. For this special occasion the German renowned tenor, Jonas Kaufmann will wear Dolce&Gabbana.The concluding event of the concert season composed of eight weeks where a full symphonic orchestra held concerts even twice a day, will take place the 12th of September at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Jonas Kaufmann will be the first non-Anglo-Saxon voice to interpret "Rule, Britannia!".
For this occasion, Jonas will wear two Dolce&Gabbana looks: in the first part of the concert Jonas will wear a 3-piece Martini Suit in jacquard wool, with a pique plastron tuxedo shirt in white, polishing the look with slipper shoes in silk faille.
While interpreting "Rule, Britannia!" Jonas will flaunt a long velvet jacket with black lapels detailed with black and white polka dots, satin ties and black silk frog, a double-breasted wool vest with black tuxedo pants. The look is completed by slipper shoes in black lace, a gold brooch with the English flag expressly created for the event and a black silk bowtie.
Jonas Kaufmann will be the first non-Anglo-Saxon voice to interpret "Rule, Britannia!".For this occasion, Jonas will wear two Dolce&Gabbana looks: in the first part of the concert Jonas will wear a 3-piece Martini Suit in jacquard wool, with a pique plastron tuxedo shirt in white, polishing the look with slipper shoes in silk faille.While interpreting "Rule, Britannia!" Jonas will flaunt a long velvet jacket with black lapels detailed with black and white polka dots, satin ties and black silk frog, a double-breasted wool vest with black tuxedo pants. The look is completed by slipper shoes in black lace, a gold brooch with the English flag expressly created for the event and a black silk bowtie.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Return to the magic mountains 1: Manon Lescaut in Munich

You may think you're on holiday. It depends, though, what you mean by "holiday". I've been away for two and a half weeks, but this time has been brimming over with music, serendipity and a good few marvels of both. Every day has brought something new, a character from past or present, a startling contact or renewal, a joy or amazement, a revelation or insight or several, and I may need to take them one at a time...

I headed first for Munich and the Bavarian State Opera, steamy in the midst of a massive heat wave; here the final night of the annual Opera Festival brought Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais together again for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, relayed to the city on big screens and webcast to the world. This was the production by Hans Neuenfels that at the start of the season saw Anna Netrebko drop her participation, citing "artistic differences".

The square outside the Bavarian State Opera prepares for the relay

It's a bit of a mixed bag. The relationship of Manon and Des Grieux and its development is by far the most convincing element, and so it should be; the final act, the two of them in extremis, is a searing tragedy, full of struggle - Manon's passion fighting against the invasion of death, thumping the ground to bring back her despairing lover to her side. Opolais blossomed vocally and dramatically in the role to an even greater extent, perhaps, than she did at Covent Garden last year; Kaufmann simply soared along at the summit. Fine singing throughout in the supporting roles and chorus - but I am not sure I will ever get my head around the necessity for this chorus to wiggle about in fat-suits and pink wigs. Alain Altinoglu's conducting too brought patchy results: the opening tempo felt extremely fast, and some of the accompaniment was too loud, but often - not least in the intermezzo - it held a gorgeous eloquence.

Here Neuenfels, Altinoglu, Opolais and Kaufmann explore and explain the concept and the challenges of the opera.

A few days later, discussing the issue of the fat-suits and other potentially dubious details with friends who loved the production, I tried to see it their way: it shows Manon and Des Grieux defying convention, a pair of individualists in a world in which everyone else looks and behaves the same (except, presumably, for the Dancing Master, who turns up bearing some resemblance to an orang-utan, perhaps a refugee from Munich's old Rigoletto production set on the Planet of the Apes). As the introductory film declares, Manon and Des Grieux are seeing the world around them as nothing more than a preposterous installation compared to their love. Yet Jonathan Kent's production at Covent Garden last year spoke far more to me of the darker truths of this story in an incarnation for today's world, where it remains the most "relevant" opera of them all.

So what's the essential problem with Manon Lescaut? It could just be that the original book is a short, terse, taut, action-packed, 18th-century thriller. It shows us Des Grieux torn apart by his passion for a girl who wants to have her cake and eat it and whose charm makes her attractive, but who is more anti-heroine than sympathetic lead. Romanticising her never quite works, and that is not the fault of Puccini, nor of any director: it's simply that Abbé Prévost's novel is too finely wrought to allow such a metamorphosis. Maybe that is why this opera, which blossoms with phenomenal music from start to finish, still does not have quite the same currency on the stage as Madame Butterfly or La Bohème. If any director has found a way to make the drama work 200 per cent, I haven't yet seen it.

More on the joys (?) of Regietheater shortly - from Bayreuth.

But even with all these reservations, it was a tremendous performance and an unforgettable evening. Oh, and if you'd managed to get backstage at the Staatsoper that night and you had this photo, you'd put it on your blog too.

Friday, July 17, 2015

None shall sleep listening to this

Trailer for Jonas Kaufmann's new album of Puccini. What other singer could possibly promote a new album with a recording of Caruso and get away with it?

Resistance is pointless. Turn up the volume and wallow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kaufmann concert fracas goes to the Old Bailey

A row at the Wigmore Hall, of all places, has ended up going to court at the Old Bailey, the Telegraph reports. A disabled concert-goer, Alison Harvey, was allegedly rammed with her own wheelchair and was "sent sprawling" when she asked a man who was standing in her pre-booked space to move. 
Harvey is reported as telling the court: "I couldn't believe this from a normal person at Wigmore Hall, a place where it's so old fashioned, I regarded it as like a home. It's somewhere you just feel totally safe and lovely - it's always been a joy to be there."
The concert in question was the jam-packed song recital by Jonas Kaufmann on 4 January. 

Full story here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Open air spectaculars - or muddy field gigs?

Hope you enjoyed that all-star Munich outdoor opera concert t'other day. I've been having a chuckle over Amanda Holloway's piece over at about the highs and lows of summer spectaculars, from "extreme page-turning" to dive-bombing herons, so delved into my archive to find something I wrote for the Independent a few years ago on a similar topic. As the clouds are gathering today, it seems worth rerunning.

At the Waldbuhne, of course, they seem to have a way of getting it right, sparklers and all...but closer to home, it's low-flying Smarties and birdshit in the harp...

......What could be nicer than a classical summer spectacular? To the audience, it’s the perfect night out: take some friends, a picnic and a bottle of wine and enjoy some beautiful music in the leafy open air. Maybe the evening will finish with a thrilling firework display. But be warned: the duck noises you hear during the slow movement of the symphony may not actually emerge from a duck. It could just as easily be a disgruntled musician lurking behind the scenes with a quack machine, bent on sabotage.

At their best, outdoor summer concerts are fun for everybody, including the musicians in the orchestra. At their worst, though, the conditions in which the players have to operate, combined with awkward journeys, long, difficult programmes often catastrophically under-rehearsed, all for payment that’s little better than an insult, can mean that disgruntlement is the best they can hope for. A “rank-and-file” musician is usually paid a flat fee of £80 for such a day, including the performance, one three-hour rehearsal and the time it takes to travel to often out-of-the-way venues. These concerts are known in the profession as “muddy field gigs”. But the freelance musicians I spoke to were so anxious about complaining of the way they’re treated that they asked me to change their names, citing the risk that “we might never work again”.

The biggest hazard – which will come as no surprise – is the British “summer” weather. We’ve all shivered our way through such concerts under umbrellas. Jane, a harpist, recounts, “You spend a lot of time leaping around after the sheets of your music as it blows away! One time it rained so hard that a lake formed in front of the stage and outside buses were turning over in the mud.” Michael, a violinist, recounts stories of driving rain across the platform during Rossini’s William Tell Overture (“Never had the storm music seemed so appropriate!”) and doing gigs “wearing long-johns and jeans under my concert suit”.

Jane faces all kinds of extra problems in transporting her instrument: harps are large, expensive and heavy. “I always try to drive the harp up to the stage’s back entrance and once I drove over the central power cable and all the electricity went off! I often have to be towed back to the road afterwards because otherwise I get stuck in the mud with the car wheels going round and round. And if you’re on a beach you have to watch out for the tides.” Worse, “a few weeks ago a bird shat on my harp. Right into the mechanism. It’s almost impossible to clean it out.”

Indignities don’t only come from birds. One violinist recalled a “Last Night of the Proms” programme during which his valuable Italian instrument was damaged by some flying Smarties from the audience. Another musician had just experienced an outdoor concert in the north of England at which an excessively jingoistic presenter, clad in Union Jack outfit and hat, had found it amusing “not only to make quips slagging off ‘frogs’ but also to pick out members of the orchestra to humiliate. He was saying to the audience things like, ‘This is Mary, she got her roots done just in time for this evening’ or ‘This is Lizzie, she’s pregnant – ooh, we know what you’ve been doing!’ Nobody ever asks if a presenter peddling racist attitudes and personal insults is OK with us and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.”

So much for the compères – what about the star turns? A big-name singer earns thousands or upwards for a big outdoor gig, while the orchestra plays for peanuts. That’s fine, says Jane – as long as those soloists really can sing. “I did a concert with one famous singer who actually couldn’t. He’d had to have some of the music transposed down because he couldn’t reach the high notes. We started off laughing, but by the end he was so bad, and being paid so much, that it stopped being funny. He was kind to us in the band, but at one point in the rehearsal he declared, ‘Sorry, I’ve got some technical problems,’ and the first horn called out, ‘We all know that, mate!’”

All the players were keen to stress that “muddy field gigs” can be useful and, on a good day, enjoyable. They’re an excellent way for young musicians to jump in the deep end, learn the repertoire and perform it on minimal rehearsal (“after which anything seems easy,” comments one musician). “You never know which the good gigs are going to be,” Michael remarks. “The ones that sound the most glamorous are frequently the worst, while ones that you might think will be dubious can be wonderful experiences. One of my best was a free local authority gig near Huntingdon with a little chamber orchestra. It was cold, but we had the most fabulous show. That was because the conductor, John Wilson, was terrific. He insisted on us using loads of vibrato to get a big, fat, Hollywood tone – it sounded fantastic, it was great music-making and the audience loved it.”

Sometimes, though, it’s just too much to take. “Once we were in a big park at the end of the season when the weather was chilly,” Michael recounts, “and it was a bad date all the way through. There was a generator the size of a lorry churning out diesel fumes right next to the stage. We had a huge programme, almost three hours of music, including ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ which sounded ludicrous on a tiny orchestra with virtually no rehearsal. I was sitting on the inside third desk [row] of the first violins and the lighting strip stopped just in front of us so my desk partner and I couldn’t read our music and we got colder and colder – lighting helps to keep you warm.  As the evening went on, my desk partner became more and more furious. And at the end, in the 1812 Overture, the fireworks were right next to us and when one huge one went off beside us, he just lost it. In front of 6,000 people. He stood up in the middle of the piece, got his fiddle case out from under his chair, wiped down his violin and bow meticulously with a cloth, put them away, jumped off the stage and went home! Afterwards he thought he’d be sacked. But he’d had such a terrible evening and been so angry about it that the management didn’t dare go near him.”

But these highly trained, accomplished and dedicated musicians agree that the worst indignity of all is that audiences will come to a concert like this and assume that “that’s what classical music is”. “Some outdoor concerts are good,” says Jane. “But usually you turn up, you freeze, you have only a top-and-tail rehearsal, there’ll be a bad soloist who’s married to the director, and it’s amplified so you don’t know what it really sounds like. These concerts are part of our job, they’re good experience, people enjoy them and we shouldn’t be too precious about them. It’s a fun evening. But surely not at the price of people thinking that that’s all there is to classical music?”

Friday, July 10, 2015

A treat from Munich

Grab a coffee, let in the sunshine and enjoy this Jonas Plus fix from Munich's Königsplatz, which took place a couple of weeks ago on 27 June. With Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Ildar Abdrazakov, Thomas Hampson and the Janacek Philharmonic of Ostrava conducted by Claudio Vandelli.

Not so long now until I'm off to Munich myself for the annual end of the opera festival rapidly followed by a little excursion to another part of Bavaria where there's a Wagner it's good to get in the mood for the summer from underneath a heap of work, nice though the work is.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reasons to be cheerful post-election, #1

OK, it is admittedly pure coincidence, but we now have this to look forward to. Due out in the autumn.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Oh, all right then...

... it's Friday, it's gone 4 o'clock and it's high time we had a quick look at what Jonas Kaufmann is up to.

Singing Walther in Meistersinger in Munich, that's what - on the near horizon. Opening night is 16 May 2016, Kirill Petrenko conducts, Sara Jakubiak sings Eva and Wolfgang Koch is Hans Sachs.

It will be Kaufmann's first time in the role on stage - he sang it once before in concert at the Edinburgh Festival - and the Bayerische Staatsoper has issued this trailer in which he and the director David Bösch talk about the challenges that Wagner's glorious opera poses for them both. (With English subtitles.)

Monday, March 09, 2015

Separated at birth?

Aidan Turner in Parsifal (photo (c):Metropolitan Opera)

Jonas Kaufmann in Poldark

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Opening tonight: this

Sick as the proverbial parrot this morning because yesterday a friend offered me a ticket for the first night of Andrea Chénier at Covent Garden tonight - and I can't go. And they're in short supply, to put it mildly. In this all-too-rare opera, Jonas Kaufmann stars as a poet during the French Revolution who takes up his pen against hypocrisy - and is killed for it. Sound familiar? Anyone who continues to worry about the "relevance" of opera need look no further.

Eva-Maria Westbroek
photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

For those of us who can't get into the real thing, there is a cinecast on 29 Jan.

Meanwhile, you might enjoy reading my interview with the fabulous Eva-Maria Westbroek, who sings the role of Chénier's beloved  Maddalena, in the January issue of Opera News. Follow the link here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Who is the Johnny Depp of classical music?

Some would say it's Jonas Kaufmann.

Others suggest that my lovely Hungarian Dances violinist colleague, David Le Page, bears a certain resemblance to the film star.

But full marks to The Mozart Project - the producers of a superb interactive, multi-media e-book about the composer - for noting that in fact the mysterious hero of Hollywood appears to have been separated at birth from none other than...

...our very own Gabriel Fauré.

Friday, January 09, 2015

At the feet of guess who...

I'm officially on holiday - a long way off, somewhere hot and sunny that involves hammocks, trees and the sound of the sea. But there's WiFi, so I can still offer you, belatedly, some impressions of the two gentlemen above, whom I was fortunate to hear at Wigmore Hall last Sunday, at an extremely welcome last minute.

Yes, Der Jonas was back in our top Lieder hall, and there are few finer places in which to appreciate his remarkable qualities at close quarters, within a warm acoustic magnifying glass. Here, even from the back row, the ambience and sound quality are intimate enough to let us hear a degree of nuance that might not come over to the same extent in a larger, more impersonal space.

An all-Schumann first half from two highly sophisticated German musicians could scarcely be bettered. First of all, the partnership between Kaufmann and Deutsch - Jonas's Lieder Svengali - is something quite exceptional. The voice and the piano are so attuned to one another as to fuse into an indivisible sound, just as an orchestra at its best becomes a single entity. To call Deutsch an accompanist would be not just invidious, but unthinkable. They opened with five of the too-rarely heard Kerner Lieder, topped by 'Stille Tränen' - one of Schumann's most devastating songs, laden with the burdens of depression and intense longing, to say nothing of the glories of its melody. Kaufmann built up to this song as the climax it needs to be - and can hardly help being, given its quality - and unleashed the full power of his exceptional dynamic control.

Some musicians' sounds, whether they are singers, violinists, pianists or anything else, strike us at what certain New Age types would call the Chakra points. The vibrations might strike us primarily at the top of the head, between the eyebrows, around the solar plexus, clean in the stomach or guts, and probably one or two other spots as well - but whichever is the case, it becomes irresistible, setting off goose-bumps in some cases, tears in others, or simply the sense of rising far from everyday predictability into something rare, more sensitive, more extraordinary, that carries us with it to some measure of the beyond. Suffice it to say that this song did that.

Dichterliebe - the ultimate Schumann cycle, to many - is a work much maligned and misinterpreted, despite its phenomenal beauty and the perfectionism of its writing. This is not Schubert; far from the innocence and tragedy of Die schöne Müllerin and the desperation of Winterreise, this is Schumann's take on a love story - won, then lost - as portrayed by the poet Heinrich Heine, master of double-edged irony. Some suggest, oddly, that Schumann ignored Heine's detachment and cynicism. Yet the composer was a highly literary individual, one as adept (or nearly) with words as he was with music, constantly inspired by the poetry and novels of German romanticism at its peak. Kaufmann and Deutsch's Dichterliebe was as much Heine as it was Schumann; Kaufmann's gifts as storyteller were to the fore, backed by the refulgent tones of Deutsch's pianism; this was delicate, close-sketched life-drawing, leaving an emotional impact as subtle as the poet deserves - not head-butting indulgence, but something far more nuanced and colourful.

After the interval came the Wagner Wesendonck Lieder, Kaufmann bringing to the world of solo song the composer with whom he is perhaps most strongly associated. Studies for Tristan? If the third and fifth songs are indeed, Kaufmann will (hopefully) be a Tristan to be reckoned with if/when he gets round to singing the role. For the time being, this was a Wagner incarnation as rare and insightful as the Dichterliebe was to Schumann: a fresh, convincing and unexpected take that made complete musical and poetic sense. These songs, usually larger than life with a mezzo and an orchestra, became intimate and transparent, but in a world of their own, distinct from the Schumann; Kaufmann's perfect Siegmund tone shone at its steel-and-caramel best.

For Liszt's three Petrarch Sonnet settings - oddly, better known in their solo piano versions -  Kaufmann turned Italian. Like a religious convert who becomes more zealous than those born into a faith, he can sometimes seem more Italian than the Italians. The sound of the words becomes not only the inspiration for the music - instead, the words are the music, the latter simply a manifestation of a soundworld that is already there in Petrarch's dazzling love poems. If Dichterliebe was a set of keenly observed charcoal sketches, the Sonnets were as gigantic and perfectly wrought as Michelangelo sculptures. Petrarch gives his all in these poems, Liszt follows suit and Kaufmann and Deutsch delivered in kind. One encore - Schumann's 'Mondnacht' - quietened down to an exquisitely controlled, half-lit cantilena in which - as often through the evening - you couldn't help wondering when he manages to breathe.

Most Jonas concerts involve a substantial quantity of encores, but this one didn't. Whether that was because it was a huge programme and he is saving himself for the small matter of Andrea Chénier rehearsals at the ROH, or because the audience mostly didn't stand up, then started to make its way out while he was taking curtain calls, is hard to say. The Wigmore is the finest concert hall in London by a long chalk, but it is a notoriously difficult place in which to get up and yell and cheer, which is what we'd have liked to do and which is what this performance deserved. Not wishing to embarrass my colleagues in Critics' Corner, I resisted the temptation. What a pity one feels one has to. I've seen a place as staid as Vienna's Musikverein go totally, utterly bananas over a Jonas-and-Helmut recital and the fact that that didn't happen in London says more about us than it does about them.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The unbearable lightness of...oh dear

Having greeted the idea of this CD with huge enthusiasm and given it some warm announcements right here, I'm sorry to say that a certain tenor's new recording, 'Du bist die Welt für mich' (English title is on the cover, right), has in its entirety proved a tad underwhelming. So I've written a piece for Amati's magazine about why a little lightness can't hurt. Read it here:

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Jonas Kaufmann talks about...

...his lovely new disc.

I just want to add a few things. I love this stuff. It is very close to our hearts here at JDCMB, not least because some of these songs were associated with the Comedian Harmonists, that remarkable singing ensemble - pop group, indeed - who rose to fame in risqué 1920s Berlin, but were destroyed by the Third Reich since half the members were Jewish.

They all escaped the Nazi era, fortunately, but were scattered to the corners of the globe and never sang together again. One baritone with a gorgeously warm voice became a synagogue cantor. We stumbled across some reissued recordings ten or fifteen years ago and when we took them to my father-in-law - who was born in Berlin in 1921 and left forever in 1936, settling in Buxton - he still knew all the songs from memory and sang along, a faraway look in his eye...

There is also, as previously noted, some Korngold on this CD: the Lute Song from Die tote Stadt - but it's not on the trailer, so we'll just have to wait.

I'll leave you with this nice dose of Kaufmania as I am now off to meet some cats. This is not a euphemism.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This is Jonas Kaufmann's next CD and look what's on it...

A note for the Kaufmaniacs: this little box of delights is due out in September, we hear, and features Viennese and German operetta-plus.

Du bist die Welt für mich will also enjoy a 2015 concert tour...but not to the UK, which is a crying shame. I would conjecture that this might be a poor reflection on how our tub-thumping tabloids affect British taste in music ("Germany 1930s, eew!"). Is it possible that the delights of Lehár, Kálmán, Tauber, Benatzky, etc, and, er, Korngold - and yes, there is Korngold (Marietta's Lute Song) - are still perceived as too hard a sell in Blighty for promoters to risk it? No matter that Jonas only has to step into a hall for it to fill on the spot. Many people would be glad to hear him sing the Heathrow flight arrivals.

Incidentally, for anyone who does indeed hesitate over music they think is "Germany 1930s, eew," a number of the composers on this CD were actually Jewish. And their origins include Hungary, the Czech/Slovak regions, Vienna and more.

The tour - next April and May - will go around Germany plus Vienna, Lucerne and Paris. Full details on his site.

For the utter and total Kaufmaniacs, here is the full track listing (from the Sony Music Spanish site, which for some reason is the only place I can find it). The red highlighting is mine.

Tenor: Jonas Kaufmann
Soprano: Julia Kleiter
Orquesta: Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Director: Jochen Rieder
1. FRANZ LEHÁR (1870–1948)
Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss (Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküsst)
from Paganini
Text: Alan Patrick Herbert & Harry Dexter
2. You Are My Heart’s Delight (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!)
from Das Land des Lächelns
The Land of Smiles • Le Pays du sourire
Text: Harry Graham
3. RICHARD TAUBER (1891–1948)
Du bist die Welt für mich
from Der singende Traum
Text: Ernst Maríschka
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue (Hab’ ein blaues Himmelbett)
from Frasquita
Text: Sigmund Spaeth
5. ROBERT STOLZ (1880–1975)
Im Traum hast du mir alles erlaubt
from Liebeskommando
Text: Robert Gilbert / Armin L. Robinson
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
6. EMMERICH KÁLMÁN (1882–1953)
Grüß mir mein Wien
from Gräfin Mariza
Text: Julius Brammer & Alfred Grünwald
Irgendwo auf der Welt
from Ein Blonder Traum
Text: Robert Gilbert & Werner Richard Heymann
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
8. HANS MAY (1886–1958)
My Song Goes Round the World (Ein Lied geht um die Welt)
Text: Jimmy Kennedy
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert!
from Giuditta
Text: Paul Knepler & Fritz Löhner-Beda
10. PAUL ABRAHAM (1892–1960)
Reich mir zum Abschied noch einmal die Hände
from Viktoria und ihr Husar
Text: Alfred Grünwald & Fritz Löhner-Beda
Reconstruction: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
11. RALPH BENATZKY (1884–1957)
It Would Be Wonderful Indeed (Es muss was Wunderbares sein)
from Im weißen Rössl
The White Horse Inn • L’Auberge du Cheval-Blanc
Text: Harry Graham
Arrangement: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
from Die Blume von Hawaii
Text: Emmerich Földes, Alfred Grünwald & Fritz Löhner-Beda
Reconstruction: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
Don’t Ask Me Why (Das Lied ist aus)
Text: Joe Young
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
14. MISCHA SPOLIANSKY (1898–1985)
Heute Nacht oder nie
from Das Lied einer Nacht
Text: Marcellus Schiffer
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
15. EDUARD KÜNNEKE (1885–1953)
Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk
from Die große Sünderin
Text: Katharina Stoll & Herman Roemmer
Glück, das mir verblieb
from Die tote Stadt
Text: Paul Schott

Je t’ai donné mon cœur (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!)
from Das Land des Lächelns
Text: André Mauprey & Jean Marietti

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Manon Top

The new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, directed by Jonathan Kent, has already divided audiences into those who applaud the contemporary relevance of its updating and those who'd rather just see the beautiful Kristine Opolais clad in a nice pretty dress. Others still were so swept away by the music and its ravishing performance that they didn't much care what was going on on the stage in any case.

The Manon Top is not Jonas Kaufmann - well, he is, but there's someone else too. It's the conductor, Tony Pappano. That ROH orchestra blazed almost as if Toscanini himself had stepped out in front of them. The highlight of the evening was the Intermezzo before the second half, given to us with an urgency, sweep and intensity of tone that could raise your hair and crack your heart open. This rarely-performed opera is dramatically problematic - it could use an extra scene or two to make the narrative less patchy - but the music is some of Puccini's finest (personally I'd even put it ahead of Butterfly) and an interpretation of this quality is absolutely what it needs, restoring it to the front ranks where it belongs. Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann matched Pappano's glories turn for turn: Kaufmann contained and paced his ever-irresistible singing, saving the best for the last act, and Opolais infused every vivid note with her character's charismatic personality. The three together were a dream-team, inspiring one another to a level of artistic wonder that we're lucky to be alive to hear.

Now, back to the production. Manon Lescaut is not a nice pretty story. The book, by the Abbé Prévost, is light years away from big romantic tunes; it's a terse, nasty page-turner, an 18th-century thriller that careers at high speed through a hideous, greedy and depraved world which the clever Manon tries to use for her own ends, but which eventually destroys not only her innocence but her life.

Contemporary? Relevant? Just a little. Intriguing to note that there are no fewer than three different adaptations of the book on offer at the ROH this year: operas by Puccini and Massenet and, in the autumn, the Kenneth MacMillan ballet (including several performances with Natalia Osipova in the lead); four if you include the return of Turnage's Anna Nicole, which opens the season - the same kind of story, only real. This can't be a coincidence.

Jonathan Kent's production was booed on opening night - though it was cheered, too. It maybe needs time to warm up and settle a little more, but the concept is powerful and the tragedy overwhelming: Opolais and Kaufmann are stranded as if mid-air at the end of a collapsed and abandoned motorway in the middle of the American nowhere.

At the outset Manon arrives by car in a housing estate of pre-fab flats with a casino to hand; her wide-boy brother (wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Maltman) never flinches at the idea of selling his mini-skirted sister to the imposing Geronte. She becomes instantly an object, a blank slate for the depraved manipulation of all around her with the sole exception of Des Grieux.

Kaufmann's Des Grieux is a touchstone for other values, other worlds - choosing a book when others choose the gambling tables, holding on to the concept of love when it leaves others unscathed; however much the students sing about it at the start, they are clearly out for less exalted emotional encounters. Manon, meeting his impassioned declarations, responds like a rabbit in the headlights; such things are beyond her spheres of reference and when she runs off with him, she is running away from Geronte rather than towards her new life.

Puccini's opera, unlike Massenet's and the ballet, lacks a scene in which Manon and Des Grieux are poor but happy. Instead we cut straight to Geronte's mansion: Manon has abandoned love for luxury. Cue cameras: Kent turns Geronte implicitly into a porn king, filming Manon in a ghastly blonde wig and pink Barbie dress, the dancing master transformed into the director, instructing her while the visiting singer (Nadezhda Karyazina) engages in some apparently titillating girl-on-girl manoeuvres with her. There isn't much that any director can do to make her response more sympathetic, though, when Des Grieux arrives to rescue her and she hesitates too long because she doesn't want to leave her jewels behind.

The hypocrisy of this society, though, is underlined by the way Geronte and his friends debase, exploit and corrupt Manon, but then have her arrested and deported for prostitution. The scene by the ship in Act III turns into reality TV: Des Grieux's plea to go with her takes place under the lights and cameras. (Aside: reality TV is turning into an operatic trope and is on the verge of becoming a cliché: after seeing it in ENO's Götterdämmerung and, of course, Anna Nicole, I suspect that perhaps it's time to leave it for a while. One could say the same about staircases, spiral and otherwise.)

Act III, by the ship, is dominated by a huge poster: a beautiful face, a giant pink lily, the word NAÏVETE emblazoned across the image as if for a perfume advert. Later, the poster is slashed, across the model's cheek. This is a world that has gone beyond the romanticisation of naïveté, one that can only corrupt and disfigure beauty, one that experiences beauty only to squander it for greed. And when we see the blasted-out motorway in the final scene, it seems symbolic in the extreme. The crash barrier is broken. It is not only Manon that is dying, ruined and corrupted and learning her lessons too late; it is, quite possibly, western society as a whole.

Try seeing the production with open eyes. If you don't like it, close them and listen to the performance. But this Manon Lescaut succeeds because its director understands the story is too close for comfort.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I had an excellent chat with Tony Pappano recently about Manon Lescaut (which opens tonight), working with Jonas Kaufmann (who's singing Des Grieux), what it's like to be music director of the Royal Opera House, why conducting gave him tennis elbow and what he has to say to our government about cuts to the arts. Article is in today's Independent.

"I say to these guys: be careful. This place [the ROH] is one of several crown jewels in the UK; internationally speaking it's a fantastic representation of our grit and our taste. And I think funding decisions are made so quickly sometimes, and so recklessly. It's the same approach in music education, which is facing enormous cuts. This is ridiculous. It's not 'my opinion' that people who study music develop their brains better for the future – it's proven fact. Take that on board!"

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Top ten happy things about the BBC Music Magazine Awards

1. It was a great honour that this year I was asked to be on the jury. I was only able to emerge around Christmas from underneath the biggest heap of CDs that has ever colonised my study (dividing brooms syndrome) - but there could be many worse things in life than listening to c250 five-star discs in quick succession and exploring them over copious quantities of tea with respected colleagues. We had a ball, really. Best, in most categories we pick three and it is you, the readers, who vote for the one you want to win.

2. Alisa Weilerstein's Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos - with the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim - won Recording of the Year. Very wonderful it is. Here's an introduction to it. (And here's an introduction to Alisa herself over at Sinfini.)

3. At lunch I "was sat" next to Igor Levit, who was voted Newcomer of the Year. Perhaps paradoxically, he is already jolly well known: his debut CD of late Beethoven sonatas for Sony Classical sparked the sort of superlatives you don't see too often. Last year I interviewed him for the cover feature of International Piano. He is one of a remarkable bunch of pianists currently zooming to fame in their twenties: youngsters who already know their own minds and musicianship so well that they play with the assurance of seasoned masters. It's arguably the most interesting crop of young pianists we've seen in a long time, also including Grosvenor and Trifonov - all very heartening. Presenting yourself on the recording scene for the first time with with Beethoven's last five sonatas indicates no small ambition, and in Igor's case gambling on this repertoire was clearly the right choice. He will soon be recording some Bach. And incidentally he has a very natty way with ties.

4. Plenty of accolades for Jonas Kaufmann, whose Wagner album won the vocal category, despite powerful competition from an amazing CD of Hanns Eisler by Matthias Goerne. JK wasn't there in person, but recorded a touching video message for us from somewhere on his Winterreise tour, in which he added that the fact that the choice comes from listeners rather than critics makes this the biggest prize of all. I was on Easyjet from Moscow while he was singing Winterreise here the other night, and am I sick as a parrot about missing it or what. (Below: spotted outside the Moscow Conservatoire the other day. Missed him there too.)

5. Additionally, that Tosca from the ROH starring Angela Gheorghiu, JK and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting, grabbed the Performance DVD category. Bryn, who's currently starring in Faust at Covent Garden, was there to collect the award and told us fulsomely about their week of rehearsals for the performances at the ROH at which it was filmed. Angela, he said, moved everyone to tears in the studio when she sang 'Vissi d'art'. Jonas had flown in from New York and promptly got sick, so Bryn didn't hear him sing out until they were on stage. We were treated to an extract of film from Act II, when Cavaradossi sings 'Vittoria!' and Jonas emitted the kind of long, high, off-the-leash note that can flatten the entire music business at a stroke. At that point, said Bryn, even his threatening Scarpia-stare turned into "a small, wry smile," which he was glad the cameras didn't pick up.

6. Chamber category winner: the Ebene Quartet's gorgeous, impassioned, searingly intense recording of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. You couldn't hope for a more convincing advocacy of the neglected sister in this family duo than this from the lovely chamber-music boy-band of Paris; besides, the F minor Quartet comes leaping off the page as Felix's musical mid-life crisis that should not have been his swan-song, but was. With my Mendelssohnian hat on, this was my Record of the Year.

7. Rachel Podger's fascinating and velvety solo album of baroque violin rarities, Guardian Angel, scooped the Instrumental category. The first time I encountered Rachel was nearly 20 years ago in a festival in Australia, when she and her ensemble played their way valiantly through more than three hours of Telemann in high heat... Since then we've been watching her growth as an artist and now she is in her prime and flowering. This is the album of hers I have enjoyed the most, ever; sophisticated performing filled with sensitivity, intuition, character and insight. Brava! I'd also like to put in a good plug for another shortlisted disc, Richard Egarr's Bach English Suites, which I adored (yes, you read aright: I loved a harpsichord album.)

8. Orchestral went to Riccardo Chailly's Brahms Symphonies with the Leipzig Gewandhaus. They don't come much better than that. Yet for some of us, the surprise wild card of the year was a blistering account of the Strauss Alpine Symphony from...the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra under Frank Shipway. Fair blew my socks off, that one.

9. Other highlights included a gargantuan quantity of Britten wins, a Premiere award for George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin, a vast film about Cavaillé-Coll and his organs, and the first-ever App Award, which went to the Touchpress/DG exploration of the Beethoven Symphony No.9. You can see the full list of winners on the magazine's website, here.

10. Last but not least, two dear friends and colleagues whom I've known separately for years told me that they're an item. This was the news of the whole day that made me happiest. Cheers, chaps!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Why are great tenors like the London buses? You guessed it. I have for you today interviews with not one, but two of today's very best.

Here is Juan-and-only-Diego Flórez for your delectation, in today's Independent, talking to me about his first album for four years, the not-too-inner game of tennis (including the inspiration of Roger Federer), and why he is soon going to sing Werther.

And here, dear friends, is the new April issue of BBC Music Magazine, out today, with Jonas Kaufmann as the cover star. My encounter with him has the dubious distinction of being the only interview I have ever conducted while wearing snow boots. He talks to me about versatility, Winterreise and, er, Werther.

You have to buy the magazine as it's not online. Apparently the cover is Blippable, which means you can download an app, point it at the picture of Jonas and something ought to happen, though one isn't sure precisely what.

By way of a Kaufmannesque bonus, I couldn't resist asking him whether he might ever sing Paul in Die tote Stadt - a role that seems to be crying out for his voice and his dramatic abilities. He remarked that you need a sweet tooth for Korngold, but that he has recently sung the final duet and found it incredibly beautiful - so why not? We are glad that at least he hasn't ruled it out. And a message for the Kaufmaniacs? Well, he has found that you often ask him after performances to please go and sing wherever it may be that you live - but there is only one of him, so you'll have to keep on travelling...

Just for the heck of it, here are both of them singing "Pourquoi me reveiller?" from that Massenet. Flórez's is from his new, all-French album, L'amour. Kaufmann's is from the Paris performance a few years back as broadcast by Arte/Medici TV.  See what you think...