Showing posts with label Sarah Connolly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarah Connolly. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tonight: A fundraising concert for UNICEF Syria Children's Appeal

Conductor Nicolas Nebout is heading a fundraising concert tonight at St James Piccadilly in aid of UNICEF's Syria Children's Appeal. Please come along if you can, or donate to the charity at the links below.

Nicolas says:

"We will perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with the internationally renowned British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, and a world premiere by award-winning Syrian composer Malek Jandali - all profits going to UNICEF.

"It will be an inspiring evening for all involved and I hope this event will be an opportunity to unite the classical music community in the UK behind this important cause! People can show their support on social media with hashtag #MusiciansForSyria. "

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why we need the arts: a great singer speaks out

Sarah Connolly, the wonderful British mezzo-soprano, was the principal speaker yesterday afternoon at a special Arts Council England event in Westminster, addressing ministers, MPs and leading arts figures on the vital nature of art for all, its place in Britain and the dangers that face its future. She has sent it to me to publish, so here it is. Read and be inspired.

274 years ago today, on the 14th of September 1741, Georg Friedrich Handel completed the first edition of his legendary oratorio,‘Messiah’. It is a work associated with children’s charity, and thanks to a royal charter granted to philanthropist Thomas Coram’s Foundling hospital in Bloomsbury, Handel raised awareness and money for the orphans with performances every year for decades. William Hogarth was a governor and he persuaded leading artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough to donate works, effectively creating at the hospital the first public art gallery. 
Sarah Connolly. Photo: Peter Warren
Once there, a visitor would see not only the best in contemporary British portraiture, landscape and maritime painting, they would also SEE the children at mealtime and hear them singing in the chapel, and perhaps donate money. This public charity helped cure the symptoms of a deeply divided London society and Hogarth was able to showcase his colleagues’ paintings thereby inventing the NOTION of art for all.
Jumping forward to 1940: In Britain’s darkest hour, when 643m was spent on Defence, Winston Churchill procured a royal charter to create the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, known as CEMA, he ring-fenced 25k for that purpose.
A small but significant sum, Churchill clearly understood its importance, and said, “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them ... Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due”
Towards the end of the decade, CEMA changed its name to the Arts Council, local government authorised spending on the Arts and in 1951,The Festival of Britain was intended as a tonic to the nation. On London’s South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall was built, the interior designed by Robin Day who will shortly enjoy a centenary celebration in the London Design Festival.
The RFH featured concerts conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent, the two most influential British conductors up until the 1970’s and benefitted from many innovative Arts programmes under the passionate stewardship of Jennie Lee who also renewed the charter for the Arts Council in 1967. The South Bank Centre continues to be at the heart of many different and inclusive projects such as Alchemy, a festival of culture connecting with the Indian sub-continent and “Being a man”, a platform which considers children’s rights to culture and growing up.
The reason why I’m giving this "history lesson" is to put into context the relevance and the importance of the arts in our history as a multi-cultural, sophisticated inclusive nation, rich in humanity. Apart from music’s vital holistic importance, let’s never forget for a moment what we have in our keeping; a towering and deserved global reputation for cultural excellence in our theatres, art galleries, cinemas, ballet and opera houses, stadia and concert halls, in our performers, writers, poets and composers. It is a fragile inheritance: all this could be lost, permanently, if we don’t continue to preserve and provide an artistic educational journey for all, from childhood to university and beyond.
The classical music industry is a small part of the economy, but for the health of the nation it is critical that funding continues. For too long, financial support has been seen as subsidy: in fact it’s investment with clear financial return. The economic benefits however, are significant.
In 2012, 6.5 million music tourists spent £1.3 billion. In January 2015 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport issued for the first time more detailed estimates for the creative industries showing that in 2013, the gross value of the Creative Industries was £76.909 billion- that’s 5% of the UK economy. Music, performing and visual arts was estimated as being £5.453 billion, or 7.1% of the total. The number of jobs sustained by music tourism is just over 24 thousand not to mention the benefits to surrounding communities. Of the live performing organisations, the total income (roughly equal to expenditure) in 2013 was just under £550 million. Include dedicated music schools, broadcasting and recording organisations, and this total figure rose to approximately £785 million.
For the number crunchers among you, these are some interesting figures with significant returns on relatively meagre investments but as your illustrious forbear – himself a painter – stressed, the importance of the arts is immeasurable.
Nietzsche claimed that: Without music life would be a mistake.
Robert Browning said: There is no truer truth obtainable by man, than comes of music.
Many musicians work with hospices and hospitals. Manchester Camerata practitioners have been working alongside qualified Music Therapists since 2012 to deliver pioneering group music therapy sessions for people living with Dementia and their carers. A growing base of academic research shows that the projects improve quality of life, self-expression, communication, confidence and logic, enhance relationships with others, and reduce the use of medication. This is one example of social activism through the Arts, which has been a core consideration across all genres for many years.
As Michael Gove rightly said, “Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.” The coalition government’s well-thought-out National Plan for Musical Education based on the excellent Darren Henley review created 123 music hubs with funding managed by the Arts Council. Awarding the Arts Council £75 million for 2015/16, the Department of Education says, “Music services should now be funded through music hubs (which can cover one or more local authority areas) and from school budgets, not from the Education Services Grant”. 
Economic circumstances have put local authorities in a position where they will find it difficult and in some places undesirable to fund music education. Since music or ANY artistic subject is not planned for EBACC inclusion, a tragedy in my opinion, the only recourse to a musical education will be these music hubs which are not self-sustaining financially and highly unlikely to generate enough income to exist alone. If the government could find a way of ring fencing some local authority money for the Arts then these hubs can supply the critical oxygen to those who most need it, enticing young society into doing something worthwhile, creative and enjoyable. 

Another more feasible route would be if Ofsted was instructed to reward schools for their Arts achievements. An Outstanding grade cannot be given to a school with a poor Arts programme. Lower achieving schools can also raise their profile this way. It's a win win.
I was privately educated until my mid teens but without a doubt, I received the best schooling and musical training at a State funded sixth form college in Nottingham in 1980. My experienced teachers, all of them excellent performers were infinitely more qualified than those at my former school, and I would not be here but for their inspirational guidance. I speak for my fellow students too; one of whom is a multi Grammy Award winner as a classical music producer and another is a vocal coach to the stars in London’s West End. In the present climate, State funded schools are struggling to focus on the Arts and from KS4, curriculum based arts are set to vanish and we will lose an enormous tranche of influence, talent, comment and life-experience. I feel we have a duty to all children from all social backgrounds to share our rich artistic history and to think creatively. This is surely what Winston Churchill meant when he said “the Arts are essential to any complete national life”. Roosevelt said in his New Deal, “Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land but part of the present life of all living and creating peoples”
What musicians want is a snowball effect, retro-education: when the child learns so does the family. It could be called the Billy Elliot effect.
We really are the envy of the world on many levels, punching so far above our weight in the Arts, Broadcasting and Entertainment that it is a source of puzzlement to us (and to the outside world) why there is not more recognition of this. Last week, Marin Alsop said, “It’s our responsibility as musicians and audiences to build bridges. El Sistema already has nearly a million kids (world-wide) playing music”. At the LNOPs she said, “the power of music is to unite us and to bring out the best humanity has to offer”.
Orchestras, theatres, opera houses, art galleries, festivals, like the Deal Festival in Kent, the Philharmonia, Glyndebourne, The Hallé, El Sistema-UK run by Julian Lloyd Webber, the Royal Northern Sinfonia “In harmony” projects based around The Sage, Gateshead, the BBC's successful and engaging 10 Pieces project and many others receive invaluable financial grants from the Arts Council. Musicians put their utmost into helping those who haven’t the means to pay for tuition or who struggle to rent an instrument. 

We need audiences in the future, we need passion from politicians to lead by example, so come to our concerts, we’d love to see more of you and just ask us to help with any idea, however humble, because, "were it not for music," said Disraeli, "we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead".
Sarah Connolly

Thursday, April 09, 2015

BBC Music Magazine Awards: playing of integrity and passion

North star: Andsnes triumphant
The BBC Music Magazine Awards took over Kings Place the other night and offered an evening that would in old-fashioned pop-psychology terms have been termed a "warm fuzzy". It was Leif Ove Andsnes's birthday, for starters, and he didn't only walk off with the Concerto Award, but also with Recording of the Year for his recording with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of Beethoven concertos nos 2 and 4.

Accepting the prize, the Norwegian superstar - who, we're told, is now one of the country's biggest exports - explained that he had had to postpone the recording because at the time it turned out that his wife was having their twins three months early; they remained in hospital for two months. But all is well, the recording took place at a later point - and he says he is delighted with the results both of the recording and of the twins. Tony Pappano was there to present his prize, then sat down at the piano and struck up Happy Birthday. So now pretty much the entire UK music business can say it has sung with Tony Pappano.

It was a fine night for keyboard players, all in all. Benjamin Grosvenor won the Instrumental for his gorgeous album 'Dances'. Mahan Esfahani was Newcomer of the Year for his CPE Bach Sonatas (with his old record label, Hyperion) and he was there to perform a fabulous example from it on the harpsichord - as well as delivering an impassioned tribute to the inspiration he'd received as a lad listening to the playing of the person who presented his prize, Trevor Pinnock. And the inimitable Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, initiated the whole evening by telling us a story about the time he had to perform the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Cambridge recently and the digital organ malfunctioned...let's just say that Hoffnung could not have bettered this account.

The one person who nearly succeeded, if on video, was the pianist Alexander Melnikov, whose recording of Beethoven trios with Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras won the Chamber Award. "A lot of jokes probably begin with 'A Frenchman, a German and a Russian decide to play trios together'..." he began in the most deadpan of tones...

In person once more, we were treated to a performance of one of Elgar's Sea Pictures by the amazing Sarah Connolly in tribute to her recording of these plus The Dream of Gerontius with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davies that scooped the Choral Award. Opera went to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne, with Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs and Vladimir Jurowski conducting; DVD was for Being Traviata, with Natalie Dessay in rehearsal; and vocal went to Joyce DiDonato for her 'Stella di Napoli' album. Premiere award was for Unsuk Chin's concertos respectively for cello, piano and sheng, and Orchestral was the late Claudio Abbado's Bruckner 9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

You can see the full list of winners and shortlisted discs, and listen to extracts, here.

Can't think of a single thing to argue with, really, so let's raise a glass, or a coffee (depending at what time you're reading this) to a roster of wonderful winners - devoted musicians every one of them, who deserve what little celebration this crazy world can give them. At a time when other pianists seem mired in controversy - Valentina Lisitsa being dropped from Toronto for political reasons, Gabriela Montero desperate to reveal the corruption of Venezuela and Khatia Buniatishvili causing fuss by bothering to respond to an iffy review - while we can't separate music and politics, because one never can, we can at least keep celebrating the music  first of all. Because if it wasn't for music, these would be grim times. Music can carry us to a better world. Here's hoping it always will.

Here's Benjamin.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas cracker? OAE strikes Offenbach

Here's a little piece I wrote for the Indy about Offenbach and his long-lost operatic extravaganza Fantasio, which the OAE is performing (its British premiere, btw) on Sunday at the Royal Festival Hall. I can't go because it is Alicia's Gift in Hampstead that night, but I'm pleased to say that the show is being recorded for Opera Rara. The one and only Sarah Connolly sings the title role. Looking forward to hearing it...

The fate of Jacques Offenbach’s Fantasio seems bizarre – if not quite as bizarre as the opera itself. Recently unearthed and published, having not been seen since 1927, it is about to enjoy its British premiere in a concert performance and recording for Opera Rara by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and an all-star cast. The hope is that it may emerge as a neglected masterpiece that can shed new light on its composer. 

Admittedly this Offenbach is off-the-wall. Fantasio, an idealistic young student, loves a princess who is meant to marry a prince. To disrupt her wedding plans he disguises himself as the court jester, who has just died. It’s a peculiar premise, signalling a comic opera with a melancholy slant under the surface; but Offenbach could never escape his own bent for the quirky, the naughty and the magical.
Best known for having written the world’s most famous cancan, the composer is popular for his effervescent operettas – especially La belle Hélène and Orphée aux enfers – yet he dreamed of a career in serious music drama. Only one such work by him is in the repertoire today: Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann). For all its darkness it, too, remains as fantastical a piece as has ever graced a stage. 

The British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, who takes the title role, describes Fantasio as “a convoluted, barmy farce. It’s a bit like The Wizard of Oz,” she adds. “It has that fantasy element to it, with cardboard cut-out characters – almost a Disneyesque feel. It is an ironic piece, though; it’s not to be taken at face value.” She affirms, too, that its nuttiness is worth it for the music: “It’s absolutely beautiful and the orchestration is very delicate. It feels like the sun coming out.” 

The story is based on an 1866 play by Alfred de Musset that had not been much of a success; and the odds were stacked even further against Offenbach’s adaptation when it was first aired at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1872. Offenbach – a German-born composer living and working in France – had been much attacked in the press during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and national sensitivities continued to run high after France’s defeat. If he hoped Fantasio would be a way to fight back, he was disappointed; the theatre curtailed the opening run after only ten performances. Saddened, Offenbach recycled some of its themes in Les contes d’Hoffmann

But if anyone wonders why Offenbach was so devoted to this opera, they would not have to look far. Fantasio is a “bitter clown”, the archetypal comedian weeping behind his pranks. It seems that Offenbach had found therein a character after his own heart.  

Fantasio, Royal Festival Hall, 15 December. Box office: 0844 875 0073

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kaufmann sings Parsifal

I'm not a well Jess right now (spring lurgy) and haven't got anything very useful to blog about. While the Guardian says that 9 (nine) former Chet's/RNCM teachers are under investigation, Sarah Connolly as Charpentier's Medea is producing the sort of rave responses you see once in a lilac moon and all sorts of wonderful people are giving fantastic concerts all over the place (try pianist Jean Muller at Kings Place this evening), I regret that I don't feel up to doing anything except curling up with peppermint tea, an indignant cat and a hot laptop.

So there is only one thing for it...indulge in a spot of Kaufmania. Jonas Kaufmann is singing Parsifal in NY and the Met has posted on Youtube an extract from the final dress rehearsal. Reviewing his new CD the other day for Sinfini, Warwick Thompson sounds the question we've all had in mind since hearing JK's voice for the first time: is he going to sing Tristan someday? 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another 2 1/2p on the ENO issue

My interview with English National Opera's artistic director, John Berry, attempted to address a few tough questions. The company has won every award in town. It has also turned out to have a £2.2m deficit for the 2011-12 financial year. The piece is in The Independent, here.

Time to reflect a little...

Reactions to my article via Twitter were intriguing. I have the impression that some read in it only what they wanted to read, which is normal enough, but means that false impressions may have circulated. Right at the start I ask whether ENO has been flying too close to the sun - all those awards, all those new, risky productions. Obviously, the answer is yes. John Berry does acknowledge that perhaps mistakes were made, admitting that with hindsight perhaps they should not have done Weinberg's The Passenger or Glanert's Caligula. He doesn't "blame the audience", as one or two people muttered; he says, of The Passenger, "...but I couldn't sell it." He does acknowledge that there is a price-tag in taking risks, saying that he has no choice now but to "rebalance" the programme; and he also makes the point that the international co-productions that are the chief focus of this article enable the staging of work that ENO could never have afforded on its own.

Naturally the economic climate is nasty and the combination of that with the £1.3m cut in ENO's ACE grant accounts for a large proportion of the problem, but that isn't all there is to it. Some question why ENO has such a big a deficit when other artistic institutions don't. Clearly, a strategy of artistic risk that's then whacked with a massive grant cut is a kind of "perfect storm". But also, sadly, it's only a matter of time - and probably not all that much of it - until other institutions find themselves in the same boat. ENO is merely the first. (I lived through the '80s: been there, seen it all before, bought the t-shirt, now using it as a mop.)

Perhaps ENO is in a kind of double-bind with its international co-productions. Ingrained tastes in audiences vary a great deal from country to country, even from city to city. So, if you're going to produce an opera in collaboration with a place that is used to pushing the boat out in terms of directorial concept, it may not go down especially well with UK audiences, and you can probably forget it in America. (ENO is not the only place that's come up against this: think of "that" Rusalka last year at Covent Garden.) Perhaps that is why the Met is the most frequent of ENO's co-producers; a beautiful Satyagraha; a Klinghoffer that was sensitive and visually striking; but a comparatively dreary Gounod Faust that was not very interesting at all.

I put the question of varying audience tastes to Berry. He defended his decisions, as you'd expect, and it's only fair that he should have the chance to do so. He pointed out that British creative work, this way, is exported and showcased all over the world. Yesterday someone asked where the singers are in all this. They don't usually do the travelling... In that Faust, we had the very fine Toby Spence. At the Met, they had Jonas Kaufmann.

Without those partnerships, and without a strong artistic vision, we might risk being reduced to wall-to-wall Gubbay-style Butterflies and Carmens, because there wouldn't be enough money for anything else. But the fact remains that "Eurotrash" productions have never been favourites with British audiences, yet houses in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain and elsewhere want them, expect them, encourage them. Essentially: you could be stuffed if you do them and stuffed if you don't.

On the other hand, even an old favourite like Nicholas Hytner's perennial production of The Magic Flute was not particularly full when I attended a few months ago; it's beautiful, but has been very thoroughly seen. A new one by a top director (there are rumours of Simon McBurney) with performance to match might draw the audience much more.

But here's another thought: as one canny "tweep" mentioned, it's the music that sells opera. Last year's ENO Rosenkavalier, in the staging by David McVicar, was as glorious a performance vocally and musically as anyone could have wished, with Ed Gardner going great guns in the pit and a cast consisting of Amanda Roocroft, Sarah Connolly and Sophie Bevan, with John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs [left: Tomlinson & Connolly]. It was outstanding. It was unforgettable. I've been stirred, shaken and overjoyed by many, many performances I heard there last year. Gardner's conducting in The Flying Dutchman; Peter Hoare singing in Martinu's amazing Julietta; the list could go on and on. Under Gardner's music directorship, the standard has shot up to a whole new level, and there have been some terrific decisions in the casting department.

Are there solutions to the financial woes? As Berry is the first to admit, there will have to be a "rebalancing" of the programme, and one suspects that various structures in the company's operation will need a long, hard look: ticket pricing, website, marketing, message. ENO runs on minimal staff already and it neither likes nor could afford cinecasting. But most of the clangers, to my view, have been in the question of how they get the message across, or don't.

Round the corner from the Coliseum is the Royal Opera House, with its Tosca, its Trittico, its, er, La Sonnambula and its, ooh, Robert le Diable (if you're grumbling about turkeys, I've seen more of them there in the past couple of years than at ENO)... Christmas dinner aside, Covent Garden gets the Great Big Whopping International Names. It's the place you go to see Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Calleja, Terfel, Stemme, DiDonato, Florez, Beczala, Pappano, Bychkov...

ENO can't compete with that - or so we'd think. Yet ENO has its fair share of stars too: Toby Spence and Sarah Connolly are regulars, Stuart Skelton's rise and rise has happened largely on the boards of the Coli, Sophie Bevan has become a meteor under their auspices, Gerald Finlay brought the house down in Adams's Doctor Atomic [right] - these people are among the best in the world. And of course they pop up frequently at Covent Garden too. As for Gardner, I find him one of the most exciting conductors in the country at the moment. The standard seems to be so high now that that is almost taken for granted. Should we not be told about this a little more often?

But with Covent Garden doing the big traditional productions - Copley's perennial Boheme, Zambello's Carmen - and pulling in the grandest names, ENO needs a different, distinct identity, a defined and individual brand. Now it has one, and it is in these adventurous, internationally-minded productions.The new audience Berry seems to want to reach is not necessarily the one for fabulous star singers, but the one for experimental theatre.

Now, if it is going to keep doing cutting-edge, European-style directors' opera, which people may not "like", and it doesn't mind if not everyone likes them, it has to do a better job of convincing its public that it is OK to go to something and be provoked or stimulated or disturbed by it, rather than necessarily liking every moment This isn't "blaming the public". It's a question of how to speak to them. That will be up to marketing, box office strategy, et al, and will mean cutting out misfiring or patronising schemes like the "Undressed" venture. It's quite a few years since the incident of Aida and the cut-out-and-colour paper dolls, but these things stick in the mind. 

I sympathise with ENO's aims, their integrity, their courage and their musical standards [left: Ed Gardner, who works a lot of magic]. I don't "like" everything they do, but I'd rather be surprised, startled and stirred than bored silly. And if they're boxed into a no-risks, please-the-crowds corner, all that creativity might go down the drain. They deserve support for their vision and their ambition and their achievements. (I mean, that's a lot of awards they've got. Really. It's not just me that's cheering for all this.) That doesn't mean failing to acknowledge that there'll have to be some changes.

In a way, ENO is a little hobbled by its original mission statement. It's gone beyond English or National. It could be better described as British International Opera. That in turn might raise and slightly shift our expectations of what they're about - if it's weren't for the likelihood of such a name being shortened to BIO. And opera in English? That's a topic for another time... 

Friday, October 05, 2012

A last-minute trip to Valhalla

Where do you sit for Die Walküre? In the Gods, of course. And the single best thing about going to Wagner? No queue in the Ladies' Room. Though apparently there was a massive queue in the Gents. Now they know what it's like for us at almost everything else.

I managed, with the help of an eagle-eyed and quick-moused pal, to get a last-minute return for the Wagner at Covent Garden last night. Amid all our yadda yesterday about dressing-down, seat prices et al, I can report that a) the amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House was very dressed-down indeed - Wagner is a long haul flight and you need to go for comfort rather than style; b) the rest of the audience didn't look excessively flash either; and c) you can see nearly six hours of opera with a world-beating cast like this one, a clear view of the complete stage and an excellent take on the house acoustic, for £61. I don't think that is overpriced, under the circumstances. Most people I spoke to had booked a year in advance. Everyone up there was a total Wagner nut, and the hush and stillness through the performance was something to marvel at.

Highlights of the evening appeared in unusual places. First of all, Sarah Connolly's Fricka: a nuanced, heart-rending, ruby-toned performance, exceptionally sophisticated and classy. Another call for someone, please, to award a recording contract, scandalously absent at present. Come on, people - Connolly is a national treasure. She's on disc. But not enough.  

This, too, was the production's one real masterstroke: the tortured relationship between her and Bryn Terfel's Wotan is the heart of the story. Often Fricka is portrayed as little more than a backroom bully, a fundamental ideologist forcing Wotan's hand over a point of malign principle (it's a common enough problem) and you always wonder why he's weak enough to cave in (a common enough problem too). Here, though, there is still a great love between this long-married couple, on both sides. Connolly made you feel every twist of Fricka's shredded heart as the faithless Wotan cradles her with tremendous tenderness. Wotan lets her win because his love for her ultimately overrides his other amours. It makes sense out of the whole story.

It was more or less the only sense we got out of Keith Warner's production, which I have not attended before. It's cluttered, fussy and occasionally worrying: there's a distinct tendency for characters to trip over the red rope that is doing goodness knows what across the stage, and over the metal thingummyjig that rears up in the middle of the set, and then there's the ladder, from which Susan Bullock apparently had to be unhooked by a stage-hand on the first night - and will something elsewhere in the cycle make sense of the three-pronged fan under which Brunnhilde falls asleep? What's it for - repelling mosquitoes? On the top of a mountain? Most of the action appears to take place in a disused storeroom or perhaps a very messy study (a bit like mine) with a black office table, a leather chaise-longue and a huge heap of discarded books. I was constantly alarmed in case someone decided to do a Nazi-reference thing by setting light to it, though fortunately they didn't. If you're going to offer a concept Walküre, then clarity of that concept helps. This one, if it exists, eludes me. And according to Fiona Maddocks, the production has actually been streamlined since last time. 

The other unforgettable performance was Sir John Tomlinson's Hunding, who could dominate the stage with his first swing of the axe and the auditorium with his first note and all thereafter. A marvellous moment when he and Terfel's Wotan come face to face - these two legends together are not something you see every day. Marvels too from Terfel himself, of course, a Wotan incarnate; and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, creamy-toned, all-giving and ultimately transcendental as she blesses Brunnhilde. As the latter, a feisty Susan Bullock, tiny and ferocious. Simon O'Neill as Siegmund started strong, but threatened to fade out as Act 1 wrestled him and nearly won. Luxury singing from the Valkyrie gang and, below, Tony Pappano presided over a rich-toned and rhapsodic orchestra augmented by six harps plucking away in the stalls circle. 

At the risk of sounding heretical, though, I'm not convinced Wagner is Pappano's finest six hours. He has become incomparable in Italian repertoire - Il Trittico a year ago was one of the greatest evenings I've ever had in the ROH, and I mean it. But this was rather gentle Wagner: an interpretation that roused and glowed but didn't transfigure. It needs an extra hard-edge of ecstasy that simply wasn't there, despite the glories of the singing. 

Let's face it: we go to Wagner to get high. That's why people get addicted. And if you don't get the high, something isn't quite working. And the place it needs to be generated is in the pit. It's legal. But it shouldn't necessarily sound it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A good cause at Glyndebourne

If you fancy going to Glyndebourne, getting a look at their new wind turbine (aim: green electric opera?) and supporting a truly excellent cause while you're about it, now's your chance. The mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby has organised a stellar line-up for a special gala on 29 April in aid of Young Epilepsy, Britain's only national charity devoted to children and young people living with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. The evening is being hosted by the actress Joanna Lumley, the woman we'd probably elect president if given half a chance. Money raised will go towards the support of the charity's information service, special school, college, residential homes, medical centre and a new school mini-bus.

Among those appearing are Ian Bostridge, Jason Carr, Sarah Connolly, Danielle de Niese, Gerald Finley, Dame Felicity Lott, Diana Montague, Paul Nilon, Brindley Sherratt, Timothy West and of course Jean Rigby herself. Glyndebourne's general manager David Pickard and music director Vladimir Jurowski will also be on hand.

Jean Rigby said: “Our son Ollie has severe epilepsy and is a residential student at Young Epilepsy. He is now in his fifth year and is very well looked after, contented and happy: learning to cope with the challenges he faces now and in the future. I feel so indebted for all Young Epilepsy has done for him and this concert is my way of giving something back.”

Concert and booking information:
The Young Epilepsy Gala Concert will run from 3pm to 5.30pm, including an interval. Guests will be able to wander the famous Glyndebourne gardens in the interval and experience the history and majesty of Glyndebourne.  Glyndebourne’s gardens will be open to visitors from 1pm. Ticket prices start at as little as £15, with prices going up to £85. BOOK NOW online at the Glyndebourne box office at
 There are a limited number of exclusive Premier Seat Packages available at £175, which includes a souvenir programme, interval champagne and a post-performance reception with the cast.  Or Premier Seats with Dinner at £250 include an additional three course dinner with wine, previewing Albert Roux’s new menu for the 2012 Glyndebourne Festival season.  To book Premier tickets or for more details call Young Epilepsy on 01342 831261 or email: 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gold stars for this silver rose

If you only do one thing in London over the next few weeks, make it this: go and see Der Rosenkavalier at ENO.

The opening night on Saturday...where to start? The dream-team cast? OK, Amanda Roocroft is The Marschallin for the first time - not that you would guess for a moment she had not been born singing this music. Roocroft is one of the finest actresses in British opera right now - look at her awards for all that Janacek. She can effortlessly evoke the charming, open-hearted aristocrat on the one hand, and, lurking just beneath the surface, a self-destructive woman whose fear of losing her beloved young lover leads her to chase him away; act I's conclusion leaves her cradling a cushion in despair. Sarah Connolly is everyone's perfect Octavian: glowing, dashing, her voice as silvery as her armour (and those of us who follow her updates on Facebook were extra-pleased to see her as she'd been stuck on a motionless train with points failure for half the afternoon).

Sophie Bevan as Sophie

But perhaps most stunning of all was the debut of Sophie Bevan as Sophie (above, pic by Clive Barda). A star is born? You can't argue with the goose-bumps: you can't always explain them, but you know them when they happen. The moment Sophie opened her mouth, it was clear that she is no common-or-garden girl soprano, but one with potential to reach some very special places indeed. At no point while she sang did one have to glance at the surtitles; every word was clear as the proverbial bell, and every twist of character projected with relish. The voice - pure, flexible, snowy and effortlessly voluminous when required - never faltered; and the magical moments following the presentation of the rose as Sophie and Octavian fall in love made us all fall in love too. The audience went mad for her. I can't wait to hear what she does next.

Nor can you argue with John Tomlinson as the odious Ochs. Some of us feel that the opera contains too much Ochs and too little outrage over his ghastliness (the programme notes said that Strauss makes us like Ochs, but actually no, he doesn't) - but 'John Tom' is so convincing that what one remembers is a) the 18th-century setting would have condemned him to the guillotine had Strauss and Hofmannsthal not shifted the action to Vienna instead of Paris, and b) the world premiere, in 1911, took place only six years before the Russian revolution. Rosenkavalier as social commentary for its own time and maybe for ours too... Meanwhile, so involved was the singer with his role that in the scene with the attorney he turned physically scarlet with anger.

David McVicar's direction of a production as opulently golden as its music is typically astute and detailed - probing, questioning and poetic. For instance, why doesn't Octavian dressed as Mariandel slip out of the boudoir to escape Ochs's attentions? Because the mystery doors in the wall are so mysterious that he can't work out how to get them open. And the last gesture of Octavian towards the departing Marie-Therese before turning back to Sophie sparks an idea that we may not have seen the last of that affair after all...while young Mohamed the page boy has a crush of his own to pursue after curtain-down.

Down t'pit, Ed Gardner was working a magic of his own. This was a shimmering, generous, expansive Rosenkavalier - running to 4 hrs 10 mins, it was 25 mins longer than the theatre's estimate - but not a second of it was excessive. The music had room to breathe, grow and smoulder. Super violin solos from leader Janice Graham and some very lovely woodwind playing.

I have only two complaints. First of all, fine though the diction of the singers was, this opera's entire musical world is so bound up with flow of the German language that in English it just sounds all wrong. That's nobody's fault. I imagine the translation could have been more inspiring, but perhaps it would be a losing battle in any case. The other issue is that the set scarcely changes from scene to scene - without differentiation between the Marschallin's olde-worlde palace and the Faninal's new-build house, half the matter of class distinction, which is such an overriding theme, can't help but be somewhat submerged. Still, sets cost money; and, quite honestly, this cast could have performed in concert alone and still convinced us every step of the way.

Runs to 27 February. I wanna go again!

Photos here: