Showing posts with label Giuseppe Verdi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giuseppe Verdi. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Michael Volle: How to keep your head in opera


Even if his characters sometimes lose their heads, the powerhouse German baritone Michael Volle has no intention of imitating them. You'll find he has strong shoulders, feet firmly on the ground and a velvet-lined juggernaut of a voice. I was lucky enough to hear him sing Hans Sachs in Meistersinger at Bayreuth this summer, and this season he is back at the Royal Opera House to sing Guy de Montfort in Verdi's Les vêpres sicilienne and, later, Jokanaan in Strauss's Salome. My interview with him earlier this year originally appeared in the Royal Opera House Magazine and I'm rerunning it below with their kind permission.



Volle as Montfort in Les vêpres siciliennes
Photo: Bill Cooper/ROH
Michael Volle is very proud of his head. The one in the cupboard, that is. “Since 2008 in each Salome performance here, my head is used,” he declares, “because I did the first run with David McVicar.” When Strauss’s searing masterpiece is revived at the Royal Opera House later this season, Volle can reclaim his model cranium: he returns as Jokanaan, aka St John the Baptist, whose decapitation is the febrile princess’s revenge for her failure to seduce him.

For the leonine German baritone, 57, Jokanaan offers a challenge through sheer intensity. “In Strauss’s big, big lines, everything must be perfect. And you must be a prophet,” he says. “I would never have been able in the early years to sing Jokanaan, or the big Wagner roles: you need the experience, you need the breadth, you need to have been on stage playing a very strange character. He is in his madness, he is confronted with this strange young lady and her demands and he loses his security. It’s not a long role, but a very strong: you stay like a rock, but then it takes your energy, the fight with the unknown planet of this young woman.”

Jokanaan, the Flying Dutchman, Hans Sachs, Wotan: the roles that Volle sings are often larger than life, each in its own way, and Volle himself is a gigantic personality, somewhat resembling an imposing yet genial German version of Jack Nicholson. His voice, with its vast capabilities in both quality and magnitude, reflects that strength of presence, yet can also be as meltingly beautiful as it is dramatic. Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini could eat up all his time. Yet his lasting inspiration is something very different: Bach and Mozart.

BACH TO THE FUTURE

The youngest of eight children of a priest, Volle grew up in Baden-Württemberg, near Stuttgart, steeped in first-rate church music. “In Stuttgart you could visit on one day six or seven church services with six or seven Bach cantatas, because it was part of religious life,” he recalls.

Because of that background, he insists, he cannot do without Mozart and Bach: “But the crazy thing is, nobody offers me Bach any more.” The expectation, he grumbles, is that a Wagner and Strauss voice cannot possibly suit those composers. “It’s ridiculous!” he expostulates. “I’m so fortunate that I did recently with the Akademie für Alte Musik in Berlin the three bass solo cantatas of Bach and we recorded them in concert. I do a lot of Bach because I need it. No Christmas time without a Christmas Oratorio; no Easter without a Passion.”

As for Mozart, he remarks with satisfaction that following a Wagner rescheduling last winter, he found he had the chance to sing one of his favourite roles, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, in Paris, with his wife, Gabriela Scherer, also in the cast as the First Lady. “What could be better than that?” he beams.


Perhaps having half a million Youtube views could run a close second? Last year Volle was invited by an ear, nose and throat specialist in Stuttgart to be filmed singing inside an MRI scanner, which duly captured astounding images of the physical mechanism of singing. The video went viral (see above). “I don’t do social media, so I knew nothing about it,” he says. “Then my wife told me I’d become an internet sensation.” Wasn’t that a little alarming? “I would not get a job from the way I sang in that video,” he laughs, “but it was fun.”

It’s often said that Volle has had a “slow burn” career, a phrase which also makes him laugh, but is not far off the mark. “Boys always develop more slowly than girls!” he quips. “I only started to study aged 25 and in 1990 I had my first opera contract. I was on fire, wondering why some other people got roles... But 27 years later, I’m very happy it took all that time, because I had the chance to develop and grow up. I believe somehow in a ‘plan’ for your life – fate, if you like. For me it was perfect, because I was never forced to do anything that could have killed my voice. I was able to grow with the right parts at the right time, and I’m very grateful for that.”

As Montfort, with Bryan Hymel as Henri
Photo: Bill Cooper/ROH
Covent Garden audiences might be forgiven for thinking, though, that Volle specialises in characters whose fate is distinctly darker: not least, he is reprising the role of Guy de Montfort in the forthcoming revival of Verdi’s Les Vêpres siciliennes. The opera begins with Montfort as a soldier raping a dancer, who then bears his child – the opera’s hero, Henri. Later, as governor of Sicily, Montfort longs for his grown-up son to accept him, but ultimately he, along with the French occupiers of the island, comes to a sticky end.

"THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE PROFESSION"

As Montfort
Photo: Bill Cooper/ROH
Montfort might not seem the easiest character to identify with, but one vital element of the role was uppermost in Volle’s mind when Stefan Herheim’s production was premiered in 2013. “My fourth child was born in 2012,” he says, “so I was very involved in being a father. This is a central conflict in Vêpres, between Montfort the elder statesman and Montfort the father. He wants to be a good father and he meets his child, who rejects him: this big scene at the end of the first act is very intense.

“I am happy that for the past 20-25 years opera singers have had to be actors too,” Volle adds. It so happens that his brother is an actor: “He says often that if you feel close to a role, it must touch you in some inward way. This is the gift of being an acting singer, or a singing actor: you can try to be somebody else, something quite different from your private life you are paid for it, and you can sing!” Volle gives a giant bellow of laughter: “This is an incredible profession – I love it.”

FIVE AT ONE BLOW

This summer one summit of Volle’s repertoire approached in a special form: he sang Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Barrie Kosky’s new production for Bayreuth [our interview took place before this, in the spring]. “For me Sachs is the one and only role that is above everything,” he says. “The singing is so difficult – but it is so wonderful, because you have not only to sing five characters, but to act them too. Sachs is the wise man, the jealous man, the artist, the shoemaker, the mastersinger, and this is incredible.” He was looking forward to working with Barrie Kosky for the first time, too: “He has incredibly good ideas and I think we will have a great time.” [Author's note: looked good to me.]

And having a good time, he reflects,  is vital. “I am glad to be at a level now at which I can say no to offerings,” Volle reflects. “This can be the least family-friendly job in the world, because if you do an opera you are away for weeks at a time. Family is everything, so I do sometimes say no. Singing so important to me, it is a part of me, but it could be over tomorrow. Then what do you have?”

Les Vêpres siciliennes opens at the Royal Opera House on 12 October. Michael Volle sings Montfort, Bryan Hymel reprises the role of Henri, Malin Byström and later in the run Rachele Stanisci perform Hélène, Erwin Schrott sings Procida and Maurizio Benini conducts. Booking here.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Hotello

Kaufmann as Otello, Vratogna as Iago.
All photos by Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House

One of the first rules of reviewing is: do not start by talking about the weather. So to start on the Royal Opera's new Otello by pointing out that it was the hottest first night of the year - Jonas Kaufmann's role debut - as well as the hottest June day since 1976 just isn't on. Nevertheless, it was both. In the auditorium one experienced Keith Warner's postmodern new production and Verdi's sizzling score through the gentle rattling of ladies' fans, the flapping of tickets and programmes mimicking their effect, and the upping and downing of light on rogue mobiles as certain people in my row checked Facebook every ten minutes. (Why couldn't they just have donated their ticket to a fan who would have fully appreciated the performance?)

If the audience was finding it difficult to settle, the same couldn't be said of the music. Tony Pappano, first of all, is in his element in this opera. His shaping and pacing of the drama is breathtaking: mercurial, clear, enormously energetic and deeply intelligent. The building up of the scene where Iago gets Cassio increasingly drunk is just one example, beginning almost as a pub song, joshing about, before spiralling through a queasy mephistophelian intensification into violence. The chorus's staging is often static and stylised, very far from naturalistic, but they sound simply glorious.




Again, canny pacing is everything in Kaufmann's characterisation of Otello: confident and tender until Iago plants the seed of doubt, but thereafter tumbling in stages from loss of faith through cool, calculating and controlled resolve, into increasing torment and ultimate dissolution. At ease taking command, but tentative with his new wife as she leads him to the bedroom, this Otello is a man of war first and foremost, perhaps unable to cope with the shock of his own emotions. His progress towards murder for once makes considerable sense.

Deeply convincing and vocally gorgeous, full of careful shading with brilliance reserved for the moments it most counted, this was singing in 3D. If some people expected more volume, one can only reiterate that Kaufmann doesn't do volume for the sake of it and has never been the biggest voice on the stage, just the most beautiful and intelligent one (hmm, this is my second time this year writing that). It is no reason to reject the most complex and satisfying interpretation of this role that I've yet experienced.

Marco Vratogna, replacing the originally announced Ludovic Tézier as Iago, was the wild card of the evening, bursting into our consciousnesses in impressive style. Warner's production makes him explicitly the puppet master, controlling not only those around him but the symbols of Venice, the carnival mask, the winged lion, setting the hideous process in motion with ice-cold, psychopathic glee and resembling nothing so much as a Shakespearean version of Dracula with shaven head and bat-like cloak. He could scarcely lean on a wall without making it move. Yet his raven-dark, demonically powerful voice made Iago more than merely a copybook villain. Meanwhile, as Desdemona Maria Agresta sounded vocally effortless and presented the hapless heroine as a straightforward, uncomplicated, loving young woman, trapped in a tragic situation beyond control.

Agresta as Desdemona, Kaufmann as Otello in the final scene

Visually the production has some seriously striking moments. The set design, by Boris Kudlička, involves sliding panels that shift to show us blazes of light through glass, the bedroom through latticework, Otello's face highlighted in a window frame before the final scene, and Cassio's vertiginous descent into drunkenness, amid much else. The contrast between the public and the private moments is convincingly achieved, with Iago and Otello experiencing their oppressive solitary reflections in the darkest isolation. The aptly named Bruno Poet's lighting is, throughout, not only masterful, but often magical.

However, reflecting Otello as a tragic-faced lion-caricature in a mirror, smothering him with a carnival mask and bringing on a giant dismembered lion statue are gestures that seem to over-egg the Venetian pudding in a production that otherwise mixes and mismatches its eras to occasional ill effect. The tall ship rigged with beautiful sails arriving at the back in scene 1 is far indeed from the apparently contemporary hotel-style bedroom in which the murder takes place. And the costume designs by Kaspar Glarner, while offering flowing robes for Desdemona and that splendid cloak for Iago, experience occasional misjudgments. Emilia - the excellent Kai Rüütel - is encumbered by an impossibly stiff and outsize fake-Renaissance wig, and as for Otello's gigantic harem-style leather trousers (eh?) and the blue sparkly robe - think variety-act pseudo-magician - in which he arrives to kill his wife, these did few favours to either singer or character. If the point is that the story is timeless, we know that already and this doesn't help.

There's always some plonker who has to boo the production team, of course, and despite those few weaknesses they really didn't deserve it. It's a powerful, moving account of a towering masterpiece, with musical performances of a calibre that you won't find improved upon anywhere.

Otello is in cinemas next Wednesday, 28 June, so if you can't get to the ROH, do try and catch it on screen.

Details and booking here.


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Helter-Skelton!

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/stuart-skelton-rising-to-the-challenge-of-otello-9722095.html
Here's my piece from today's Independent about the fab Heldentenot Stuart Skelton, who stars as Otello at ENO's opening night on Saturday. He tells me about his path to the top, the challenges of Otello and why he and ENO feel the love...

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Sizzling Vespers at ROH


A last-minute invitation to the Royal Opera House's Great Big Verdi Bicentenary Production yesterday was more than welcome. Yet it conspired with blocked local train lines and slow rush-hour tubes to ensure that I arrived a hair's breadth before curtain up for an opera I didn't know, without having had time to read the story.

What a marvellous way to listen. You wouldn't look up the plot before attending a film, would you? If someone gave you a programme containing a synopsis, indeed, you might be cross. You'd call it a 'spoiler'. OK, some operas are so convoluted that we might need a little help. After our 20th Marriage of Figaro, we might have unravelled the plot enough to have some idea of what's going on. But in the era of surtitles, and of certain directors who actually know how to tell a good story when they get the chance, do we still need advance briefing? The only giveaway, in this state of blissful ignorance at a grand-scale, nearly-four-hour romantic roller-roaster, was knowing that the finish time would be 9.50pm. If hero and heroine start singing happy wedding songs at 9.20pm, you can bet your bottom dollar it's all going to go horribly wrong.

Robert McKee, Hollywood screenwriting story guru par excellence, might be impressed with certain part of this plot. Who could imagine a greater conflict for our young hero, Henri? He is a rebel; he discovers his father is the local dictator; and he has to choose between his newly discovered instinctive feel for his dad, aka Guy de Montfort, and the rebel duchess whom he loves, Helene. Montfort wants to kill Helene, having already killed her brother, but after Henri cracks and obediently calls him "mon pere", he changes his mind and insists that she and Henri marry. Yet the leader of the rebels, Procida - vengeful after the psychologically muddled Henri has betrayed him - declares that their wedding bells will be the signal to unleash a massacre. All of this takes place against background conflict of occupation, wanton cruelty and simmering revolt.

Stefan Herheim's production contains a few absolute masterstrokes. In the prologue, a ballet class is in progress. Soldiers burst in, taunt the girls, abduct them. Montfort chooses one and commits violent rape. The act is witnessed by the ballet master, powerless to help his dancer. He is Procida and becomes the rebel leader after years in exile - and you know exactly where he found his motivation. The rape victim demonstrates to her attacker what is about to happen: evoked in ballet, we see the pregnancy, the baby, the mother and child. The little boy will become Henri. Ballet is a vital part of the storytelling throughout, representing Henri's mother and her appalling history as a vital presence while the action progresses. The details are superb: for instance it's clear that the ballet girls in the crowd recognise, love and respect Procida for his original incarnation in their own world. And we see, on Procida's return to his studio, exactly how the rape of his dancer has become equated in his mind with the rape of his country.

The designs by Philipp Fürhofer are big, bold, convincing. Michael Volle as Montfort virtually stole the show; Bryan Hymel - the current high-register, French-conversant tenor du jour - was often beautiful in tone, but a little underpowered and, as actor, slightly wooden within a drama where so much was detailed and realistic. Lianna Haroutounian (replacing Marina "Popsy" Poplavskaya), matched him well; again, a voice that is basically gorgeous and has much character and distinction, yet perhaps not quite large enough in such a vast-scale opera. Erwin Schrott as Procida seethed, fumed and loomed - though personally I wouldn't have chosen to bring him on in a dress at that particular moment in the last act (and another touch that proved uncomfortable was Helene's cradling - and others' footballing - of her brother's severed head). Throughout, Pappano's conducting existed in technicolour, full of razor-blade edginess and Mediterranean warmth.

As for Verdi in French - it sounds even weirder, if that's possible, than Verdi in English. But it is authentic, so... what was needed was better diction from most of the cast other than Hymel. And despite all the ballet - no actual ballet. There's around half an hour of designated ballet music in this opera and there was to have been a major collaboration on this between Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. But thanks to some operatic goings-on behind the scenes some months ago, the whole thing went ballet-up. It's fine dramatically as it is, of course - probably better - but still a pity to lose that.

There are reasons, one suspects, why the opera is not presented more often: it is vintage Verdi in many ways, but the music is more generic and less distinguished than such works as Otello, Rigoletto or Falstaff, while tenors who can pull off the role of Henri are few and far between. Hymel is a godsend, in that respect. This production, despite a few inevitable flaws, seems set to become a classic that will be remembered for many years to come.





Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Verdi bicentenary: Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann in Don Carlo



It's Verdi's bicentenary today and as everyone is choosing their favourite bits, here is one of mine. I've been lucky enough to hear these two in this opera twice this year - once at Covent Garden, once in Munich. Life in music just doesn't get any better than that.



Monday, August 19, 2013

At the risk of being a bit predictable...

...here's JK making his new album of GV. You'll want to hear this, believe me, and you'll particularly want to hear the bit from Otello.



There's a moment near the start of the film where he clutches his phone rather pointedly. I reckon that's when a text arrived from his press agent saying "oh no, another message from that blasted English journalist begging us for an interview in Munich/Salzburg..." (Nah, just kidding... in fact they've all been really helpful, for which I'm grateful. But 0 interview for JD yet.)

I tried. I really did. But time was there none, it seems. More about Munich and the opera festival as soon as there's a little, er, time - of which I am very short at the moment too.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Royal Ballet is OUT of Les vepres sicilienne at the ROH

Big news from Covent Garden for last thing on a Friday afternoon. Here's the press statement. Suffice it to say that for the theatre's own glorious ballet company, and its school, and the Royal Danish Ballet too, to be out, wholesale, replaced by "freelance dancers", in which had been much vaunted as a flapship production for next season and the climax of the Verdi bicentenary is - well, rather operatic. Ooof.


7 JUNE 2013
PRESS STATEMENT

CHOREOGRAPHER CHANGE FOR LES VÊPRES SICILIENNES
17, 21, 24, 29 October, 1, 4, 7, 11 November 2013


“We regret that it has been necessary to rethink the inclusion of the Four Seasons ballet, in its entirety, from Act III of The Royal Opera’s new production of Les Vêpres siciliennes which opens in October. As a result of artistically differing approaches to the project between Johan Kobborg and director Stefan Herheim, Johan Kobborg and The Royal Ballet will no longer be working on this production.”

“There will still be a strong element of dance in the production, however no longer featuring Artists from The Royal Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet and students from The Royal Ballet School.”

“We are delighted that choreographer Andre de Jong, who has previously worked with director Stefan Herheim on his production of Eugene Onegin in Amsterdam, is now the choreographer, working with freelance dancers.”

Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday roundup from a very busy week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 01, 2013

Stop press! Motorcycles to take over Royal Opera House


The Royal Opera House's new production of I vespri siciliani, a grand celebration of Verdi's bicentenary involving both the opera and ballet companies, has been widely tipped to be the event of the season. And so it will be - but not quite as expected.

Everyone has been so busy speculating about the choice of the French language version and the strength of the mooted dance element - to say nothing of the cost - that until now we completely failed to notice one vital fact about the production.

This is in fact not Giuseppe Verdi's opera The Sicilian Vespers, but a work by Guillaume Verdi, an all-but-unknown French composer deemed to be the descendent of, allegedly, an illegitimate relative of the great Italian father of grand opera. Its title is The Sicilian Vespas.

It's to be a treat for opera and ballet lovers alike: a newly discovered European equivalent, perhaps, to West Side Story. Two rival motorcycle gangs in Palermo clash over their Mafia heritage; the star-crossed lovers, Paulo and Giulia, mirror the tragic progress of their Shakespearean models. The stage of the Royal Opera House is to host a specially constructed "volcano" on which the bikes will race in a spectacle unlike anything these august spaces have seen before.

I tracked down Guillaume Verdi's daughter to her remote hillside home in Provence. Valerie Verdi, a woman of few words, with dark eyes that speak more than her voice, expressed simple gratitude that her father's work is at last to receive the attention it deserves.

"It's a beautiful, dynamic creation," she suggested, "but was long suppressed in an atmosphere of contemporary music that was hostile to any style but the atonal avant-garde. And in terms of stage drama, Leonard Bernstein dominated the same territory my father chose, with West Side Story, and who knows if he had a vested interest in suppressing any potential rival? Who knows the truth?" She gave a shrug and a smile that betrayed a long-held and infinite sorrow.

I asked her to tell JDCMB readers more about her father's relationship to Giuseppe Verdi. "It's difficult to prove," she said. "Given the circumstances of my father's birth, documentation is limited. But there really was an extraordinary resemblance between them. When I look at photographs of Verdi and his beard, I see my father's face."

Will she come to London for the show? "Yes, perhaps," she said, "if I can find someone to feed my goats in my absence."

Speculation is rife that Sergei Polunin will return from Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet to dance the ballet-double of Paulo, with tiger-scratch tattoo fully exposed. Leading ballerinas are said to be vying for the chance to play Giulia. As for the singers, the house has apparently put in a call to a German tenor who happens to look rather good in leather.