Showing posts with label Opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Opera. Show all posts

Thursday, May 17, 2007

OMG. She's back

The sensational Rinat Shaham returns to Glyndebourne to sing Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, opening next Tuesday, 22 May. I fear I shall have to put an electronic tag on Tom for every single performance.

Here's 'Rini' as Carmen...need I say more?

But hey. I can get my revenge: Rini has a brother, Hagai Shaham, who's a fabulous violinist (=prerequisite), and looks my kinda guy. Here he is with his answer to the Gypsy:

Cold showers all round.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giuseppe MacVerdi

It's going to be a hot summer. Whenever the first Glyndebourne dress rehearsal is cold & wet, the weather for the rest of the season is glorious. Yesterday, we pinicked in the car with a thermos flask of soup.

Suitably atmospheric, of course, for the Scotland of Verdi's Macbeth. Hmm. Last year I thought that Betrothal in a Monastery was about to become the hottest ticket in town, but it wasn't, so I won't risk my luck this time. Suffice it to say that IMHO Richard Jones's production is startling, fresh, original, clever and a treat for anyone who likes hairy knees. And I'll never be able to look at a cardboard box in the same way again. Vladimir Jurowski's conducting is red-hot, seat-of-the-pants stuff and the singing - Andrzej Dobber as Macbeth and Sylvie Valayre as his blonde-beehived Lady Macbeth - is top-notch.

Debate will probably rage over whether Macbeth is this full of irony and black humour, and no doubt many will think not...but, weirdly enough, the production suits Verdi's remarkably effervescent score and I found the second half both powerful and moving.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The miracle of Melisande

Well, the miracle of Debussy. I've started to feel that Pelleas et Melisande is the most rewarding of all operas: every performance I've attended has been like hearing it for the first time because there's something special to notice on each occasion. The Royal Opera's co-production with Salzburg does leave a thing or two to be desired - notably, costume designs that don't induce the good punters of Covent Garden to titter audibly at every character's first entry - but with Simon Rattle in the pit, Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, Gerald Finlay, Robert Lloyd and Catherine Wyn-Rogers on stage, and as Yniold a young boy named George Longworth so musical that he almost stole the whole show, it didn't really matter.

Angelika looks fabulous in her now famous Red Dress, but the others, in huge, white, padded, puffed and pointed clown suits (without red noses) seem to have walked straight out of a cross between Star Trek and Dallas, and the way that stagehands push the foldaway sets round and round in circles during the first half's interludes, with associated squeaks, could have been usefully cut back. There wasn't much wrong with the actual direction - the characters emerged as well-drawn and believable - but the design...oh well.

Rattle controlled the dramatic pace marvellously and the orchestra sounded super - detailed, transparent and balanced extremely well with the singers. Hard to believe it was the same band that played that mismanaged, lumpen Mayerling the other week (conducted by, oh dear, um, one Mr Wordsworth).

Pelleas remains a conundrum of an opera because - well, what do you do with it? Nothing kills it stone-cold dead as much as naturalism. It's a Symbolist work, a conceptual piece where nothing can be taken at face value. So it begs a conceptual rendition. At least, one would think so. The music is what really counts, though; starship outfits or none, I still went home floating.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Philling up the Coliseum

If you fancy going to see Philip Glass's opera about Mahatma Ghandi, Satyagraha, free of charge at the London Coliseum on 5 April, Sky-Arts-sponsored bloggers ArtsWOM have some comps to give their readers. Have a look at their post & email them direct for more details & tix.

More info about the opera & the ENO production here. It's the opera's London stage premiere and the composer's supposed to be there in person. ArtsWOM tells me that their only condition is that anyone taking up the tickets should please talk about the show on their own blogs/outlets/forums.

So, will Glass generally induce a glacial glare, or gleaming gladness? Either way, it should be an event...and I may have to give it a go, too, having (blush) never heard any Glass live in concert, at least not since a CD launch in a converted cavern somewhere in Docklands, back in the days when CDs still had launches like that. Maybe it's time to face the music and reflect...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Prikrastna! E bellissimo!

Blimey! The missing manuscript of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony has turned up, in a Co-op bag. Geoffrey Norris authenticated it and has the story in today's Daily Telegraph. Big thanks to Anna/Robin Hill for the tip-off.

Meanwhile I'm still wiping off smudged mascara after seeing La Boheme at English National Opera last night, in their now classic production, set in the 1950s, by the late Steven Pimlott with the sparkling translation - now viewable in surtitles - by Jeremy Sams. Odd thing about opera (Lieder too, for that matter): it's pure masochism. The more you cry, the better it's been. Hmm. Boheme gets to me every time, but this was simply superb, with ace performances all round, especially from Mary Plazas (Mimi), Peter Auty (Rodolfo), Giselle Allen (Musetta) and Mark Stone (Marcello). Before the show I was too busy talking to our congenial companions for the evening - some of the staff of a new blog sponsored by Sky Arts, ArtsWOM (=Word Of Mouth) - to notice who was conducting, but was very impressed by the pacing, sensitivity and use of silence. It turned out to be Xian Zhang, clearly a maestra to watch out for in future.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Speaking of new music...

In the light of the Gant/Wordsworth debacle, here's another take on attitudes to new work of debated quality.

In today's Independent, I have an interview with Simon Keenlyside, who is singing Prospero in the revival at Covent Garden of Ades's smash-hit opera The Tempest, which opens tonight. I believe he's one of today's most fascinating baritones, a man with a brain as astute and analytical as any scientist, maybe more so than some.

Some of you may remember that Keenlyside took the leading role in Lorin Maazel's 1984 at Covent Garden a couple of years ago. Now, that opera must have been among the most critically reviled creations to hit the London scene this decade, partly because Maazel was known to be funding its staging himself, partly perhaps because some people knew something that others of us didn't until we heard it. I was willing to give it a chance, but Tom and I were both so disappointed with the music that we voted with our feet at the interval. But the production team and the cast nevertheless gave that opera everything they had. The standards were world-class in every respect. One audience member has since assured me that it was the best evening he'd ever spent in the theatre.

I asked Simon Keenlyside about 1984 in the interview, but in the end decided not to include the topic in this article, since space is limited and of course we were focusing on The Tempest which is a very different kettle of Calibans. His answer was still very interesting. I don't generally include what you could call out-takes of interviews here in blogland, but under the circumstances, I will - because he found countless positive things to draw out of the experience. Here is a slightly edited transcript:

JD: I saw you in 1984 and thought you were magnificent, but I must admit I had some problems with the piece.

SK: My job, if I accept the job, is – what’s that expression? Put up or shut up... If you’re booked to do a job, why would you want to pull the carpet out from under your own feet? If you’re on a stage, you’ve got to commit yourself 100%. And I’m not going to comment on the music, you wouldn’t expect me to of course, but I once read an old soldier saying that he always went to a man’s weaknesses through his strengths, so I’ll go as far as the strengths. I thought it was a good evening in the theatre. Whatever you think about the piece, I found a lot of worth in it and found it very enjoyable to do. Also I had Robert Lepage to deal with, which was an absolute privilege. Maazel is a brilliant man – just to be under his baton is a privilege. I’ve never seen anyone with such control, such ability to run a recipe like that and still have room in his head to talk to you. It’s great... Besides, people pay a lot of money for those tickets, and how can I argue my corner about opera, about music, if I think 'These people have paid a lot of money, they‘re in an uncertain state and we’re not committed to it?' I think most people are committed on stage, even if you didn’t like it. All of us have to take part in productions we can’t bear, we have no control but we’ve still got to give it our all...

UPDATE, 5.55pm: Over at On An Overgrown Path, Pliable casts some extremely interesting light on the background to the Gant/Wordsworth story. It seems that the political leanings and writings of the work's commissioner, R Atkinson frere, may be not irrelevant and will be highly uncomfortable, not to say repugnant, to much of the British arts community. Pliable applauds Wordsworth's decision. He may be right.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

meanwhile, in the Lubyanka of Farringdon Road...

...the Grauniad has decided that Madama Butterfly is racist, courtesy of Roger Parker of King's College London. Hasn't anyone there seen it? Presumably not, or they'd know that it's one of the strongest anti-racist arguments in the whole bloody opera world.

This is the same newspaper that would like to ban Gershwin's masterpiece Porgy and Bess. Can't wait to see what they'll have to say about Carmen Jones at the RFH this summer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

High Cs strike back

That interview with the glorious JDF finally found its way into the paper, or some of it did. It was for this, which is out today: how singing that high C can make or break an operatic career. Alvarez was centre stage in the end because he's in full flood at the ROH at the moment, whereas Florez has moved on...but at least [fluttering] one met them both...

[cue South American music, Peruvian pipes and/or tango] Intriguing contrast between these two Latin luminaries. As a teenager, Florez went to study at Curtis, that most elite of musical establishments in Philly. Alvarez was somewhere in the wilds of Argentina managing his family furniture business and didn't hear an opera until he was 30. Florez cuts a trim, elegant, designerish figure. Alvarez is one big boufka soundbox. Brain versus brawn? Fine technique versus sheer oomph? Opera has room for all sorts...

NOT OPERA, BUT THIS IS BRILLIANT: Also in today's Indy, Miles Kington writes about the play-wot-he-wrote: Tchaikovsky's death as Sherlock Holmes mystery, with the premise that Tchaikovsky was the only witness to the Holmes-Moriarty waterfall incident, therefore Holmes had to track him down in Russia and eliminate him...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Orlando: what was that about marmalade?

Opening at Covent Garden on 26 February, "a tale of conflicting passions, threats, magic, deceit and revelations which inspired Handel to some of his most original operatic work..." Francisco Negrin directs, stars include Bejun Mehta and Rosemary Joshua. Info here.

Solti is in favour...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Finding Trovatore...?

I never quite 'got' it before. Il trovatore was way over my head. Too difficult. What's going on? Blood and guts, sure - but why? Am I too stupid to understand? Last night we went to see it at Covent Garden, to catch Marcelo Alvarez [above - photo by Catherine Ashmore] doing that high C. Finally, I got it. The blood and guts are for the sake of it. Oh. Right.

Someone once said that all you need to perform Trovatore successfully is the four greatest voices on earth. Covent Garden has at least one who's seriously impressive: Stephanie Blythe as Azucena. Blimey, guv'nor, no wonder Manrico is dominated by his madre! (I read that the Covent Garden premiere in 1855 starred Pauline Viardot: that must have been an experience of a lifetime...) As for Alvarez, he has plenty of brawn and went for it molto con belto, which I guess is which he's meant to do. Orchestra under Nicolo Luisotti was jolly impressive - sensitive, careful, singer-oriented accompanying (which was more than could be said for Pappano in Carmen).

And somewhere there lurk the ghosts of the Marx Brothers. They couldn't have chosen a better piece to take off in A Night at the Opera.

I still expected Groucho to swing from the rafters, Harpo to materialise under Azucena's headscarf or the orchestra to burst into 'Take me out to the ball game'. They didn't. But it's still a rip-roaring good night, once all disbelief has been set to 'off' for three hours.

Here's a quick Trovatore quiz. No prizes.

As a piece of music theatre, is Il trovatore, compared to Evita,
a) better
b) worse
c) about the same?

In portraying their characters, are the stars of this opera in 2006
a) identifying profoundly with them
b) thinking 'what a load of b*****s'
c) thinking 'heck, let's get those top notes, then go eat'?

In its portrayal of Gypsies, is Il trovatore
a) remarkably sympathetic for its time
b) using colourful ethnic exoticism as raw material for its finest chorus
c) desperately racist?

Is Leonora
a) a strong, powerful, modern woman
b) a victim of circumstance
c) totally stupid, throwing herself away on a man who loves his mother better than he loves her?

Is Manrico
a) a thrilling, heroic revolutionary
b) a male chauvinist pig
c) a typical musician?

Last but by no means least, this is how to make the opera convincing:

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A love letter from Callas...

"In these awful moments
You alone remain to me.
You alone tempt me
Last voice of my destiny
Last cross of my journey.”

It's from La Gioconda - Callas's first big success. An article in today's Times asks whether these words, scribbled by the soprano in a hotel room, were indeed a long-after-it-was-over love letter to her first husband, or something even more significant regarding her professional hopes and regrets. Our 30th anniversary Callas exhibition here in London is a modest affair at the Italian Cultural Institute - quite a far cry from the Swarovski bonanza ladelling on the glamour in New York (Opera Chic has the pics - look out for the Traviata piece - blimey, how does anyone stand up, let alone sing, in a thing like that?!).

But I guess that's the difference between London and New York. We're still so hung up on being tasteful over this side of the pond that we sometimes miss out on the fun. Not to mention the bagels.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The whole tenor of this is...

La Boheme, Glyndebourne 2003. There I was, squeezing into orchestra last-minute spots whenever I could, lurking backstage whenever I couldn't, weeping fit to bust every time: David McVicar's magic director's touch turned Rodolfo, Mimi et al into my dearest friends and I felt personally bereaved every time it ended, quite apart from drooling over the gorgeous Nathan Gunn, who was Marcello. I was so busy eyeing him up that when Rodolfo sang, I thought 'wow, that's quite a voice', but didn't dwell on it too much. So, it was Rolando Villazon, just before he hit the headlines. Turns out Villazon spends his spare time scribbling cartoons - like this one. Yes, there I was in tears, but Rodolfo was scribbling the mickey out of the whole thing! More of Villazon's cartoons on his website, here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nothing like a Dame...

Apparently Dame Kiri has pulled out of some concerts with Australian pop star John Farnham because his fans throw their underwear at him. She's in court for breeches of contract. Read all about it here. And get Opera Chic's slightly sassier take on it here.

Heck, why didn't I think of that in time for the JDF show?!? Admittedly Upper Amphitheatre to Stage at Covent Garden is a long way to chuck anything, but maybe if one took along a cricket-playing pal and weighted the lilac silk ever so slightly with non-damaging ball-bearings... For Kiri & John, I suspect there are some lessons about multiculturalism, assimilation and how to reach a fair deal - eg, accept the low-flying pants, then in return get him to try to wow La Scala. Though that isn't fair.

Norman Lebrecht featured music blogging on his Radio 3 programme the other day and it's available to hear online here for the rest of this week. Norman's been called many things in his time, but I think this must be a first for 'juicy awesomeness', again c/o Opera Chic who was special guest star and deservedly so!

Last but not least, here's NL's piece about the BBC's Tchaikovsky bonanza. He tells it like it is. Don't get me started on the Beeb's latest foibles (Jonathan Woss?? £18m of taxpayers' licence fee money when he can't even talk properly!?!) before my third cup of ethical African coffee.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Wish I'd had my camera...

Just back from doing an interview at Covent Garden. Walking down Floral Street towards the stage door, I saw outside it the vehicle that chauffeurs the real star of Carmen: a van bearing the words ISLAND FARM DONKEY SANCTUARY. Polyanne the grey donkey is seriously, seriously cute and has worked with all the biggest names, darling, including Domingo. Van deserved a photo, had I been equipped.

'La Stupenda' was supposed to have been at the House today, opening the new exhibition to celebrate 60 years of the Royal Opera. But unfortunately Dame Joan had broken a bone (I think) and had to cancel. Instead, Juan Diego and Natalie came along to cut the cake. And was I there? No, I bloody wasn't! I declined the invitation in order to stay home tussling [cue: brightening halo] with third novel and a pile of CD reviews as tall as me. (OK, I'm not tall, but it's all relative...) And all I really managed to do was listen to two uninspiring discs and screw up the timescale that I was trying to fix. As Solti would say: grr.

The interview wasn't with any of the above, not even Polyanne. More soon...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sky high Cs...

When is a writer not a writer? When she's transformed into a screaming schoolgirl going nuts over a favourite tenor. Sorry to keep on and on about this guy, folks, but seriously, when Juan Diego Florez opens his mouth and that voice hits the high notes....I don't think I was the only person in Covent Garden last night whose heart hit the stratospheres with it. It's like someone striking the jackpot full on, the centredness, the perfection, and if there's one thing better than the high notes it's the velvet legato, the softness, the beauty of line...

As you'll have gathered, I finally made it to La fille du regiment at Covent Garden yesterday. If there was a ticket left for the rest of the run, I'd say go and see it, but the place is booked solid. And what an evening it is - not just Florez. In fact, the show really belongs to the French soprano Natalie Dessay, whose bell-like voice seems a near-perfect partner for Florez's and whose sparkle, intelligence, spirit and ability not only to hit the high notes but to hit them while being hoisted into the air on her side all add up to a humungous performance which ought to ensure her superstar status from now on.

The production by Laurent Pelly is like prosecco, fizzing, light and fresh, full of clever touches and brilliant characterisation. Dessay's foul-mouthed Marie, complete with a stubborn, sticky-out auburn pigtail, stomps about like one of the lads as she irons the longjohns and peels the potatoes, dropping a spud in shock when Tonio declares his love, then melting into ecstasy behind him as he sings, but only as long as he can't see her. Her singing lesson in the second act is a terrific highlight, with all that virtuosity gradually transformed into a prime tantrum. Felicity Palmer as the Marquise de Birkenfield strides about with her fox-fur intimidating everyone in act one, only to turn into a quivering heap of jelly when faced with one person more indomitable than herself: the Duchesse de Krakenthorp, a.k.a. Dawn French (no, she doesn't sing), whose English asides - translated into French in the surtitles - had immortal moments all their own. 'Sweetheart, don't be stingy with the chocolate fountains...' Alessandro Corbelli, as Marie's surrogate father (at least, the lead daddy out of 1500), is one of the great comic baritones of today's opera world. And as the end approaches, just when you think you've seen it all, Florez arrives to rescue Marie, on a tank. I've been trying to think how it could possibly have been any better. It couldn't.

A little message for director Tonys Pappano and Hall at the ROH: what about Comte Ory with Dessay and Florez next?

And now for something completely different: here's my latest piece for today's Indy. Ochin priatna, Maestro Gergiev, and welcome to the LSO!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Speaking of tenors...

...The Met in New York has announced casting for its Ring Cycle in 2012 (!) and Kaufmann is to be Siegmund. Forward planning or what.

Meanwhile, Richard Morrison in The Times says that La fille du regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez is the hottest ticket in town........

(UPDATE: So does Ed Seckerson in The Independent...)

The Three Tenors: for Domingo, read Villazon; for Pavarotti, read Florez; for Carreras, read Kaufmann. Are these wonderful guys the future of opera? It's looking like it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Jose takes the cake

Still reeling after Carmen at Covent Garden last night. I'm glad to report that Jonas Kaufmann is indeed the bees' knees, even more so than anticipated (and I dug out my old glasses so was able, more or less, to see as well as hear).

The production is a tad clunky at times - populist, West-Endish, traditional, with an orange tree, big orange walls complete with shadows, a well-behaved horse for Escamillo and a couple of walk-on roles for Polyanne the donkey, who I'm told has also worked with Placido Domingo. Apparently there were chickens too, but I missed them (wrong glasses?). A massive cut at the beginning of the final act was puzzling. But among a few superb touches are: the opening image to the Fate motif section of the overture - Don Jose being prepared for his execution, rendering the opera a flashback, rather in the spirit of Merimee's original story; the end of Act III when Escamillo sings off stage and Carmen, instead of leaving with the smugglers, suddenly decides to run off in the direction of his voice; but above all, the scenes between Carmen and Don Jose, which lifted the whole evening onto quite another level.

As Francesca Zambello told me when I interviewed her a few weeks ago, Carmen is all about the chemistry, and this chemistry was extraordinary. The murder scene was exceedingly harrowing - nothing in the rest of the show had remotely prepared me for what Antonacci and Kaufmann would do with it, nor for its impact.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is a glorious singer - more soprano than mezzo in timbre, though with the range to cope with the lot; but she'd be a more natural princess than she seemed a natural gypsy. One never really sensed the fizz of sorcery that's expected from Carmen. Yet perhaps it worked because the unfolding action was truly Jose's story, and not only because the opening images put him at the front of our minds. Kaufmann's Flower Song created the kind of magic atmosphere that you hear once in a blue moon - the heart-thumping, knee-wobbling magic where you can't quite believe your ears - the phrasing, the pianissimos, the raw emotion, the espressivity in every word and overtone. Throughout the opera, he seemed a man possessed, conveying the depth of his character with even the smallest of consistent signs. This Jose is doomed before he even meets Carmen: his character is his fate. Something was always going to send him over the edge; it happens to be her. Even Carmen remains mesmerised by him to a subtle degree despite herself, and dies in his arms when he stabs her.

I think I was probably wrong, talking about his Strauss disc the other day, to call him a 'heldentenor' - he may perhaps become one in time (next decade's greatest Tristan?) and he's still only in his early thirties. But now he's the most romantic of German romantics, ideal for this role, Mozart, Strauss of course, he'd be a great Lensky, and if he ever sings Schumann's song cycles in Australia, I think I'd fly there specially to hear him. He's one who knows that the soft is more powerful than the loud, passion more significant than virtuosity, giving more important than taking.

Would someone please tell Tony Pappano that? The orchestral side had its moments, but the insensitivity of Pappano's accompaniment was inexcusable. If Don Jose is doing his magic, half-light pianissimo but the orchestra comes crashing in at mezzo-forte, what's the earthly use? If the fine baritone Ildebrando d'Arcangelo's Toreador Song gets drowned out, is it any wonder that nobody seemed to know they were supposed to clap afterwards? Perhaps I'm naive, but I still dare to hope that an opera conductor's first priority might just be to make the most of his singers' capabilities and enhance their beauties, not ride roughshod over them.

Anyway, enough carping. Kaufmann is a miracle. Not just a wonderful tenor, but a great artist through and through. Time to call down some angelic protection to take good care of him.

MEANWHILE, TONIGHT AT THE WIGMORE HALL, don't miss Philippe Graffin, Raphael Wallfisch and Jeremy Menuhin's trio! Beethoven Ghost, Schumann 2 and Ravel, and it's the Sunday Times's Pick of the Week. Box office 020 7935 2141.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

These two...

... are at it again. Walking out of things. Yes, it's the Alagna & Gheorghiu Show (or no show). Read the Alagna files in detail c/o Milan-based Operachic here.

As far as surreal interviews go, my encounter with them several years back, pre-blog, probably takes the biscuit. Briefly, this is what happened:

7am train to Paris, with photographer, make-up artist and hairdresser. Taxi to posh hotel. A&G 45 mins late. We are all confined to a suite together. G's hair takes 2 hours. I interview A in hotel bar. He turns on charm, full of enthusiasm and ideas. When tape recorder switches off, so does he. We return to suite, where A sits on the sofa beside me but does not acknowledge my continued existence and responds monosyllabically to my attempts at chit-chat, preferring to talk in rapid French to the attending record company executive. G, still having her hair done, talks in rapid Romanian to her PA. I read a book. The TV is on, without the sound, showing female sumo wrestling. A&G don't appear to exchange so much as a look, let alone a word. Hairdresser finishes, photographer moves in to snap cover shot for Valentine's Day special and suddenly the stars turn on the twinkle and are all over each other. When photographer switches off, so do they. I interview G in hotel bar. She seems extraordinarily defensive, but at least remains consistent pre-, during- and post-interview. Sundown. Record company exec buys us a drink and I have civilised conversation with G. A continues to ignore everyone but self and record co exec. I bundle into taxi to Gare du Nord with photographer, hairdresser and make-up artist. On train they open a bottle of wine and let rip. Fast-forward a few months and A&G look stunning on cover of Valentine's Day/February edition. My article begins with the words: 'Paris: city of love...'

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Him again...

Still walking on air after my interview with Signor King of the High Cs yesterday. Just to preserve the nautical imagery: what a dreamboat!

(No wonder my husband wants me to believe that the world's best and loveliest tenor is Wunderlich, who's dead...)

Friday, December 15, 2006

On the other hand...

Tom pricked my Florez bubble yesterday evening, by a) assembling a group of friends to play the Schumann Piano Quintet in our front room (they made music and I made the food), and b) over dinner afterwards, saying 'Florez isn't a patch on this...' and putting on a CD of Fritz Wunderlich.

There are performances - like Florez's - which leave you clapping and cheering and full of superlatives. There are others which leave you speechless.