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, April 09, 2014
Saturday, March 02, 2013
Two rising stars of the opera world are taking on Tosca at Covent Garden: Amanda Echalaz and Kristine Opolais. They're very different. Which is the Tosca for you? I talked to them both and a bit of our chats is in today's Independent. More appears below. Incidentally, I popped into the ROH the other day to do some more interviews and found the foyers hearteningly packed with kids, who were excited and shouting after the first act of the Tosca schools' matinee. They saw Amanda, and she certainly seemed to be doing the trick for them.
Tosca is an opera for a diva about a diva. No wonder this perennial Puccini favourite is, to many sopranos, the ultimate prize of the repertoire. Floria Tosca is an opera singer trapped between the artist she loves and the dictator who lusts after her, and in the Royal Opera’s latest revival, the spotlight falls on two fast-rising stars who take on the role in turn.
I remember speaking to Angela Gheorghiu about Tosca once: she declared that in this role she was simply playing herself. So does a soprano have to be a diva - in every sense - to be a great Tosca?
Amanda Echalaz, 36, thinks not. She shot to prominence in this same work at Opera Holland Park in 2008, since when it has become her “signature” role (audiences may also have spotted her in the Cardiff Singer of the World 2005 in which she represented her native South Africa). More recently she has performed Tosca at ENO and, crucially, stepped in at Covent Garden about three years ago when Angela Gheorghiu dropped out - since when she has been hailed as this star's successor in the role. “I never get tired of singing it,” she says.
For her, she adds, “Tosca is a very human figure: she’s full of wonderful qualities and like most people she has her flaws, which makes her very likeable. I’m drawn to the passionate, fiery side of her: she has a real zest for life. Her diva characteristics are obvious, but it’s more interesting to try to find the real woman behind that, especially the real woman in love.” Echalaz herself, unlike Tosca, seems serene and relatively down to earth. She identifies with Tosca’s vitality and passion for music – but there, she insists, the resemblance ends. “Playing someone so extreme can be liberating, but I’m a little calmer in real life.”
But the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, 33, whose 2011 Royal Opera House debut in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly took her audience by storm, declares simply: “Tosca is like me! She’s an opera singer and she’s very jealous.
"You can find everything in this very colourful and powerful woman. She’s strong, emotional and impulsive, and what happens to her is a great tragedy as she gives everything she is capable of giving for love. I feel very at home when I sing this role.”
Opolais, who is married to the conductor Andris Nelsons and has recently had her first child, adds with a laugh that she thinks “divas” are inherently “not normal”. “Who would want to do this job? You’re nervous, you go on stage and all the time you are afraid whether the audience will love you or not. Even if you are stable, you are always afraid. So I think Tosca is already a little bit crazy – as every big diva has to be.”
Sunday, December 25, 2011
In case you missed the fun, Tosca trended on Twitter yesterday when the Royal Opera House's production by Jonathan Kent hit BBC2, starring Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting. Experience the power and the glory of this singular Christmas treat by reading a selection of the verdicts, commentaries, quips, observations and much more that spurred the stars on their way, from living rooms up and down the country... (BTW, this timeline goes backwards, so we start at the end.)
MERRY CHRISTMAS A TUTTI!
@richardwjones As good as Angela Gheorgiu was as Tosca, nobody will ever be quite as good as Maria Callas.
#greatdivas #tosca #puccini
@talopine Being made VERY jealous by all the people in my timeline who are raving over
#Tosca on the BBC with Kaufman and Terfel. #VERYjealous #sob
@Random_Opera After brilliance of
#Tosca earlier, why are we being given repeats of f***ing Morecambe & Wise on BBC2 (and equal shit on other channels...)
@jonathanclinch Sooo true.... RT
@Maroodiva #tosca is trending, c'mon #bbc don't just put decent opera on the tele at Xmas, people WANT to watch it!!!!!
#Tosca was awesome!
@Gert: Is this really suitable viewing for a Saturday afternoon - torture, attempted rape, murder, execution, suicide? #tosca” ALWAYS!
@DrPiffle It was amazing, wasn't it? Sublime leads, spec JK. Orchestra in fine form too.
#BrynTerfel was frightening enough from the amphitheatre.On TV he was terrifying #Tosca #don'thavenightmares
@stu_melling Tosca over: tears dried and the excitement of my first visit to
@RoyalOperaHouse on Feb 11th kicks in now. #shakingwithexcitement #tosca
@amzenon It was amazing.. stunning.. captivating.. even on television.. I hope you can hear and see it sometime...
@kittywhately Overwhelmed by
#tosca at @RoyalOperaHouse. Terrifyingly good and incredibly moving. And Kaufmann and @Bryn_Terfel made it a total hunk fest!
@marcodemag Mario Cavaradossi's quite hot shirtless
@Gert Shabby little shocker
@theviciouspixie Dear Santa, in my stocking I would like Jonas Kaufmann please.
@redragwork Wow - that
#Tosca was heart-stopping
@Popher Thank you BBC.
#tosca was brilliant, a delightful change from the normal Xmas tv
@leboyfriend For me that was entirely satisfying and fulfilling. Bravi tutti!!
@Mark_Pullinger Ah, a Spoletta who milks the final moments! Excellent performance of
#Tosca - so sorry I didn't get a ticket, but thanks Beeb for the relay.
@glittrgirl Gosh I feel knackered after watching that
@Irma0316 Magnificent! Fantastic! Stunning! Amazing! *stands up and applauds*
#tosca bloke can sing a bit, but I couldn't understand a word he said
#Tosca.. Grandiose !!! above all Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel.. Pappano & Orch. fantastic.. tremendous broadcast.. @RoyalOperaHouse #BBC2
@hannahmmay pahaha, just watched Puccini's
#Tosca from the Royal Opera House on BBC2! #FeelingCultured
@ivisbohlen Horrible, but great acting! RT
@cazponty: It's horrible that we know that he knows...... #Tosca
@glittrgirl I had goosepimples through nearly all of that
#tosca *blows noes* *dabs eyes*
@John_Denny Anyone else think Scarpia looks like Ed Balls?
@clavdivs1 That was SUPERB! We need more opera on the telly!
@_Joliffe FINALLY. Needn't of jumped, I'd happily of pushed.
@danny_blue2004 I've always had this image of her popping back up again
@MahlerMad I HAVE NO MORE TEARS
@goldenavenger1 Only slight downside of watching opera on the telly is I can see Cavaradossi breathing when he's meant to be dead.
@MahlerMad SCARPIA! AVANTI A DIO!
@railtonrailton Don't worry, he's still breathing
@RuthElleson Yikes, I never like watching this bit...
@MahlerMad Presto, su. Mario! Mario! MARIO!!!! AAAAAAAH!
@glittrgirl The good thing about watching opera at home is being able to bawl audibly.
@flumpmistress If he'd done that lip curl, I'd have probably fainted!
@MahlerMad *hugs cushion*
@TimSim85 I'll call you by a thousand loving names.
@Irma0316 I'm in absolute BITS. God, how I love Puccini :)
@MelJD46 'Together in harmony our souls fly to the ecstasy of love'
#tosca ..everything that's beautiful will find its voice in you...breaking my heart!
@findo I am in awe of JK right now
@millymelon Angela Gheorgiu's nipples: I can't understand why I can't see them in that dress
@chiller Guys, just get in the carriage and go. If you hang about like this it's not going to end well.
@Clavdivs1 No good plan starts with the line "You will be shot"
@brendadada Jonas Kauffman's e lucevan is the most emotional I've ever heard. Domingo would be proud.
@AngharadLee 'I die in despair and I have never loved life so much' - Jonas Kauffman u have brought me 2 tears. Stunning performance
@Cairnspolitics if you only watch 1 opera in your life then it should be Tosca. Terrific performances on BBC Two now
@leboyfriend e lucevan was exquisite
@amzenon Oh...Jonas... 'E lucevan le stelle' ..sigh... sigh... sigh...
#tosca - typical man, going to be shot and all he can talk about is shagging. # lucevanlestelle :D
@manx_maid Beautiful diminuendi - Jonas' trademark
@HorizonVA Jonas Kaufmann *sigh*
@AngharadLee My 4yr old is loving
#Tosca on #bbc2 Not sure I can cope with anymore 'why' or 'what's he doing' questions mind. She's transfixed #opera
@RoyalOperaHouse #Tosca being taped fr me at home.I saw the cast after queuing 16 hours over night.looking forward to reliving it:-)
@Becky_Todd We approve of
#BrynTerfel. Blooming brilliant on the beeb in #Toscaas he is in everything. Loved my auditorium shifts when he was on.
@RachelWolseley Oh I do love you Ange, despite everything...
@flumpmistress I'm not getting anything done, too enthralled!
@Clavdivs1 Don't trust the man you daft girl, he's spent the last act lip curling maliciously and squeezing your boyfriend's head in a vice!
@DiveSciDiva Even though I'm female even I'm finding Angela Gheorghiu's low cut dress distracting
@bbc2 never ever seen an opera before but current showing of #tosca is absolutely fantastic. Amazed. Thank you!
@raethepain Visi D'arte time! Unfortunate boob slippage there though.
@AngharadLeeThank God 4
#Tosca #bbc2.Relief fromXmas 4 a wee while.Terfel just head butted him @Bryn_Terfel Not classified as a fair fight in th valleys
@sensisuperstar It's all kicking off on BBC2, Bryn Terfel has just butted some bloke...
@Paul_Anater There's hope! RT
@jolocktov: RT @MahlerMad: #Tosca is trending :D This restores my faith in humanity
@cazponty For all the ladies drooling at Jonas...good....all the more Bryn for me!
@CharlSkidmore Watching the same production of
#tosca I camped outside the @RoyalOperaHouse for. SO EXCITED. BBC 2 you've made my day.
@patrickxwest Can't help wondering if Meatloaf wouldn't make a good Scarpia
@Gert Take your dirty hands off Jonas, you brutes!
@JackSullivan2 Right that's it I'm going to write an opera so I can marry Jonas Kaufmann
@leboyfriend I'm a wreck already - and I have seen this more than any other opera so it's not like it's full of surprises.
@yourPollyanna Mother's just come into the room and asked if she's "chucked herself off the turrets yet?"
#Tosca is even trending lol wow is this what happens when the x-factor finishes ? BBC HD folks its even better :)
@SophieBellaWiz Current trending topics are ridiculous. What is this fuckery? The only decent one is
#tosca, which I hope is in referrence to Meerkat Manor.
@quentinrayner Opera singers must go deaf, bellowing at such close range into each others faces
#tosca #roh #bbb2
@ivisbohlen I'll keep an ear out for this. RT
@Edward_George_: Here comes one of his best bits: diminuendo through the key change in same breath #Tosca
@bubblesmoloney I wonder if 33 is too old to become an Opera singer? I have the 'lungs'.
@manx_maid Lady tweeps who don't think they're into opera may like to look at Mr Jonas Kaufmann on BBC2 NOW. That is all.
@thestorti I wish my life was narrated by the lead singer in
#tosca would mean making toast would be so epic.
@JackyTarlton Watching Antonio Pappano's
#Tosca on #bbc2 now. Thrilling start to Christmas. Great to have opera on tv:)
#Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca #Tosca