Showing posts with label The Nutcracker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Nutcracker. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Concerts? Remember those? Get down the Wiggy tonight, then

Christmas: the kiss of death, if you're a musician. Or a music-lover, for that matter. Nothing but Messiahs and Nutcrackers being wheeled out all over again as far as the ear can hear. After you've been around for a few decades, you may start wanting to scream at the sound of that celesta. Maybe escapism is the reason so many of us eat and drink ourselves into a stupor over the days of festivities. By 30 December, enough, already.

Thank you to all those doughty musicians who brave the seasonal wheeliebin to remind us that life goes on. At the Wigmore Hall tonight the smiley, gleamy-toned Australian pianist Piers Lane is doing a recital that is refreshingly free from anything topical. The first half is Rachmaninov and the second is Schubert, culminating with the great A major Sonata D959. Do please try to tear yourselves away from the overload and hear some really wonderful piano playing. Book here.

A few other chippings of gold amid the general plastic recycling have come from the Royal Ballet, which gave Alice's Adventures in Wonderland instead of The Nutcracker this time, and BBC4, which made the Christmas ballet treat The Winter's Tale - an absolute glory of a full-length story ballet, choreographed this year by Christopher Wheeldon, which needs to be seen by lots and lots of people. It is not exactly seasonal, despite the title; instead, it's a very grown-up and brilliantly imagined balletic translation of Shakespeare's play, with a specially composed score by Joby Talbot and featuring astounding performances from Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson as Leontes and Hermione, and Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae as Perdita and Florizel. (You can catch it on the iPlayer for another 25 days if you missed it.)

Last but not least, do catch Fascinating Aida's brilliant show Charm Offensive at the Queen Elizabeth Hall during the first two weeks of January. Here's a taster, which I've been attempting to bear in mind this past week (honest, guv).

Monday, January 02, 2012

Cracking the O2 Nut

Rewind to Millennium year. Tony Blair's government has decided to leave us as its legacy the most magnificent flexible performance space in Europe. Audiences of many thousands can flock to the east London riverside to see rock concerts, ballets, operas, superstar lectures and big-screen spectaculars, to name but a few possibilities. The Proms consider relocating in order to treble the audience size and improve the sound quality. The seats are comfortable, the acoustics state-of-the-art and adaptable to any occasion, the sightlines carefully considered at all levels. The foyers are warm, pleasantly designed, friendly and welcoming, the food outlets offer - besides pizza, or fish and chips - falafel and organic salads, home-made chocolate cake and fresh juices. Soon no visit to London would be complete without a trip to the People's Palace of the Arts.

Instead...they built the Millennium Dome. A great spawling shell containing...emptiness. Think of the length of time it took to decide what to do with the damn thing. Think of the cost, dear readers. Think of the waste. Then think how different it could have been if only they'd decided to build it as a proper venue in the first place.

I trotted off to the Dome last week. It's now comfortable enough in its adopted skin as the O2, but still - what a missed opportunity it is. It doesn't feel only 12 years old: it has all the atmosphere of a miserable 1960s relic, with stairs that look as if they've been exported from the old Swiss Cottage swimming baths, and an all-pervasive smell of beer and burgers.

But the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker was of course the purpose of the visit. And whoosh - two bars of Tchaikovsky and the entire O2 was transported to dreamland in one swoop. It was absolute magic from start to finish. If this Nutcracker can transcend that venue, then it can do anything.

Here's my review, for The Independent. (Not sure if it has already appeared in the paper - it isn't online yet.)

Balletic bravura, dazzling transformation scenes, a giant flying goose – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has become a national favourite. Still, with so many different Nutcracker stagings grinding away this Christmas, especially in London, bringing it to the gaping spaces of the O2 had to be something of a gamble, and not only because of the challenge of selling enough seats. Can its dream magic survive the transition from traditional theatre to an outsize arena with popcorn and eat-in-your-seat pizza?

It also had to survive an unfortunate late addition to the line-up: Joe McElderry crooning three Christmas carols in hideous, sickly arrangements. Goodness knows why he was there. But as soon as the show got underway, the spell created by Tchaikovsky and BRB’s expertise spun its joys unhindered on the sizeable stage.

Moving this complex showpiece to a space that neither it nor the company had inhabited before must have been a gargantuan task, yet glitches were few and far between – just a little over-enthusiasm with the dry ice for the battle of the rats, perhaps. A large screen brought us the welcome option of close-ups, the amplification of the orchestra was unintrusive, and best of all, the superb cast seemed to rise to the evening’s demands by bringing out any extra percentage of energy they might conceivably keep in reserve.

In Peter Wright’s Nutcracker – his own choreography rubbing shoulders with Lev Ivanov’s and some by Vincent Redmon – the momentum of demanding dance scarcely lets up. The party scene brings us three generations of a family happily taking turns on the ballroom floor, from the excellent children to some lovely vignettes for David Morse and the great Marion Tait as the grandparents. Our heroine, Clara, is barely off stage in either act, although when she is finally transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy for the great pas de deux, it’s another dancer who takes over. Rather like bringing out Wayne Rooney for the penalty shootouts.

Still, Clara has plenty to do already, and Laëtitia Lo Sardo joyously captured the adolescent girl’s voyage of discovery as she balances on the cusp of womanhood. Her Nutcracker Prince was the dashing César Morales, Robert Parker conjured a flamboyant magician-uncle Drosselmeyer, and the unshakeable Nao Sakuma as the Sugar Plum Fairy offered a tranche of ideal classical control.

Did it work? The ultimate verdict must come from the many children in the audience – for in the interval, through those soulless, stadium-style foyers, virtually every little girl was dancing. That’ll be a ‘yes’.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

5 Top Things to Do/See/Hear Over Christmas

1. Tosca is on BBC2 this afternoon, recorded in July at the Royal Opera House with Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. Previously cinecast, now coming to a TV near you...

Tony Pappano conducts, and he will introduce the work in a documentary an hour before, at 1.35pm. Details here.

2. Medici TV is offering a free day of viewing for all on Boxing Day. Don't miss the chance to sample the startling array of wonderful performances on this digital online channel, devoted to music, opera and ballet, which normally requires a subscription (which can be rather good value). If you need a last-minute gift for a music-lover, btw, they have special gift subscription packages. Start here.

3. Go to see The Nutcracker, if you haven't already. On 27 December the classic Birmingham Royal Ballet production is coming to the O2, which is the proud possessor of a five-figure number of seats and an array of affordable tickets. Building on the smash-hit of the Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet last summer, which was the O2's first venture into such territory, this Nutcracker promises much and the cast is led by the BRB's top principal dancers, including Nao Sakuma, Cesar Morales and Robert Parker.

4. Pop over to The Guardian for a week from Boxing Day to see a free streaming of Glyndebourne's production of Hansel und Gretel - a slightly close-to-the-bone staging by Laurent Pelly of the Humperdinck classic. It's energetic, painfully funny, gloriously sung and at times jolly scary too. Jennifer Holloway and Adriana Kucerova are in the title roles. And the witch's house set is one of the cleverest, and most sinister, that you could hope for. Tom Service introduces the opera here: "Fatten kid. Cook. Then eat..."  

5. Make a resolution about music for the new year and start on it right now. Here's mine: practise more.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Festivities: Argerich and Freire play the Sugar Plum Fairy

MERRY EVERYTHING, EVERYONE! Enjoy this sliver of seasonal magic played by Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire.
Love & hugs from JDCMB

Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's all going nuts at the ballet

Wall-to-wall Nutcrackers this year, left, right, centre, north and over the Pond too. I mean, how many do we need? My article asking this is in today's Independent (and this morning it has made it to the front page of the Indy website):

Meanwhile - with impeccable timing - my dear friend "Entartete Musik", aka Gavin Plumley, has started a Nutcracker advent calendar today. It's wonderful! Find it here.

Overkill? Let's add to it. Please welcome those gorgeous former Royal Ballet stars, Lesley Collier and Anthony Dowell, in the great pas de deux.