Thursday, July 07, 2011

The truth in cement, plus ice

A couple of weeks ago the Indy sent me along to Garsington Opera's new home at Wormsley to sample the doughty festival's latest unearthed rarity: Vivaldi's La verita in cimento. The experience as a whole reminded me of a Wigmore Hall for summer opera: the size is similar, the musical standard astronomic and the audience consists of absolute cognoscenti: those we chatted to all turned out to be confirmed opera addicts, immensely knowledgeable and devoted. The new pavilion is glassy and airy; you can watch the sunset through the trees while the opera plays out.

Admittedly, the night we went was so cold and wet that it could have almost have been February; the pavilion is a little too open for comfort in such conditions. We all sat in our coats shivering through the Vivaldi and wondering how the Red Priest himself would have depicted such a season in music.

Having so said, I found myself in the extraordinary position of adoring every minute of the performance. This sphere of repertoire has never been my thang, especially not since 24 compulsory lectures on Italian baroque opera were rammed down our throats at Cambridge, leaving me with a Clockwork Orange response to most of it, other than my arch-beloved Monteverdi (whom I adored before even setting foot in the City of Perspiring Dreams). And so I wrote a five-star review while many of my fellow critics, who are normally much more enthusiastic about all this, were a bit more 'meh' about it. All credit to Laurence Cummings, whose conducting was as light and airy as the pavilion itself.

In case you missed it, here's my review.

Five stars
La verita in cimento
Garsington Opera, Wormsley, 20 June 2011
Review by Jessica Duchen

Not much is black and white in Vivaldi’s opera La verita in cimento - “Truth put to the test”. But the colour-coded designs (by Duncan Hayler) do help, so muddled is the situation in which the unfortunate Sultan Mamud finds himself. It’s all his own fault. Twenty-five years before curtain-up he switched round the babies of his wife and his mistress – who conveniently gave birth on the same day – so that the son of the woman he loved would be his heir. Now he’s decided to own up, throwing both his families into meltdown. It would be easy to show this story as an 18th-century morality tale: the ‘official’ son, Zelim (colour-code white), unravels the mess through personal renunciation. But David Freeman stages it as family drama à la Dynasty and it mostly works a treat.

Garsington Opera, famous for championing little-known repertoire, has struck musical gold with Vivaldi’s 1720 smash hit, here enjoying its UK premiere. The compact cast in this sensibly condensed version – six very busy singers – is perfect for the company’s new home, a glassy, light-filled pavilion theatre which achieves an intimacy rarely possible at any other performance of such world-class calibre.

Vivaldi’s genius presented all the warmth that was missing out in the soggy gardens. There’s always a surprise up his sleeve: a love-triangle ensemble sung by soprano and two counter-tenors garnished with sensual trills; some stunning musical bling for Melindo, the unofficial son (colour-code black), duetting hair-raisingly with the trumpets; or the lamenting wife, Rustena, propped up not only by Pimms but also by an ironically twittering recorder obbligato.

This cast could scarcely be bettered. Paul Nilon, a tenor and the lowest voice on stage, portrays Mamud as a weak, despotic ruler caught between two strong and marvellous women, respectively Jean Rigby as the tippling Rustena and Diana Montague as the self-possessed, flame-haired mistress Damira. The too-pragmatic princess Rosane is an icy, crystalline Ida Falk Winland, betrothed to crown rather than prince and hedging her bets (colour-code one black boot and one white). Both lads are counter-tenors: James Laing a magically poetic Zelim and Yaniv d’Or a Melindo who grew better the more bitter and furious the character became. The Garsington Opera Orchestra, under the inspired conducting of Laurence Cummings, shone as much as the singers: perfect tempi, radiant textures and wall-to-wall virtuosity, the mingling of harpsichord, theorbo and harp cladding the sounds in Vivaldian sunbeams. Glorious stuff.

Site stats...

As you know, I'm a confirmed technotwit and my understanding of how various blog rankings are worked out amounts to 000. Still, I'm pleased to see that on the list of the top 25 classical music blogs, JDCMB has pulled in at no.8 on the "ultimate rank". Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise is no.1. JDCMB is missing, though, from Invesp's ranking according to 'monthly visitors', despite last month having clocked up more than 3000 above the total of that particular no.1. Could be as simple as my site being implanted with a counting device that doesn't match theirs.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

If Tosca survived, what about Brunnhilde?

Alex Ross has been to Rome and checked out the Castel Sant'Angelo, from the ramparts of which Tosca leaps to her death at the end of Puccini's opera. His reasonable conclusion is that the diva could well have survived, as there's a ledge just a few feet beneath. 

Could we face unexpected sequels to a range of operas in which the lead character's death mightn't be all it's cracked up to be? Just imagine...

Don Giovanni: the Commendatore drags the Don away ostensibly to hell - but once they're at a safe distance from the house he unmasks and turns out to be Giovanni's brother Giorgio in disguise, come to rescue baby bro from all those harpies. The boys run off and set themselves up with false papers on a yacht in Marbella.

Götterdämmerung: Brunnhilde utters her Immolation Scene, rides into the flames...and out the other side. She and her trusty Grane escape the apocalypse on the Rhine and cross the sea to a green and pleasant land, where they live quietly in the countryside before winning both the Derby and the Grand National. Brunnhilde becomes a famous equestrian champion and marries an aristocrat; Grane, on his retirement, sires a new generation of British racehorses with apparently magical powers.

Got any more?

(PS - have been writing my official response to the Opera North/Lee Hall situation, so watch that space...)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Picker the best

Here's my interview with the composer Tobias Picker about Tourette's Syndrome, how his Jewish background affects his music, and why Rita the Rat is a Jewish hippy in his Fantastic Mr Fox... (From this week's JC.)

Glyndebourne: big job for Ticciati

Robin Ticciati, the 28-year-old British conductor, has been announced as Glyndebourne Festival Opera's next music director, starting from January 2014. I'd have eaten my sole surviving hat if they'd picked anyone else. Glynditz is one big, delectable cake to take, and comes accompanied by champers. All jolly well deserved, too.

It seems just the other day that Nicholas Snowman, in his short tenure as general manager of Glyndebourne, announced the appointment of an unknown twentysomething Russian as music director. "Vladimir Jurowski? Who?" said everyone. Clever move - just look at him now. But that was ten years ago.

The big question now is: what will Vladimir do next?

Of course you know all about Ticciati's new job already...I'm not going to start wittering on about "embargoes", Twitter or why we referred to Robin as XXXX for 18 1/2 hours. Instead, here are some vital statistics from the press release explaining how Robin, who's currently music director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and used to be music director of Glyndebourne's touring opera, will go bob bob bobbing along to the Sussex opera house.

  • When Robin Ticciati takes up his new position in 2014 it will mark the 80th anniversary of the Festival and the 10th anniversary of Robin’s professional operatic debut, made at Glyndebourne in 2004.
  • Robin is only the seventh Music Director in Glyndebourne’s 77-year history, following on from Fritz Busch, Vittorio Gui, John Pritchard, Bernard Haitink, Andrew Davis and Vladimir Jurowski (2001 – 2013).
  • Robin is one of a long list of illustrious conductors and singers who started their careers at Glyndebourne, attracted by its generous rehearsal conditions and the supportive environment in which artists can grow and develop.
  • Robin’s first professional operatic engagement, as Assistant Conductor for performances of Die Zauberflöte for Glyndebourne on Tour (GOT) in 2004, immediately led to further invitations to conduct for both Glyndebourne on Tour and the Glyndebourne Festival (GFO).
  • Since 2004, Robin’s collaboration with Glyndebourne has included four productions for GOT (Music Director of GOT from 2007 – 2009) and three productions for GFO, including performances ofHänsel und Gretel, Macbeth, Die Fledermaus and Don Giovanni in this year’s Festival.
  • Robin will return to Glyndebourne in 2012 to conduct Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in a new production for the Festival directed by Michael Grandage.

David Pickard, General Director of Glyndebourne said: “I am delighted that Robin has accepted our invitation to become Glyndebourne’s Music Director from 2014. I can think of nobody more appropriate to continue Glyndebourne’s long tradition of artistic excellence and innovation.

None of us will forget the excitement when, as a 21-year-old assistant conductor on Die Zauberflöte in 2004, Robin Ticciati stood in the pit at Glyndebourne for the first time and conducted the overture. Those who were present at this rehearsal were in no doubt of his exceptional talent. Over the past seven years, we have been privileged to enjoy many thrilling performances from Robin, both as Music Director of Glyndebourne on Tour, and as a regular conductor at the Glyndebourne Festival.”

Robin Ticciati said: I am honoured to have been offered this wonderful opportunity and I look forward to Glyndebourne becoming my operatic home. From my very first experience of Glyndebourne, I was overwhelmed with the unrivalled opportunities that the environment offered. Creating opera with such talented artistic teams and world-class musicians in an organisation that places great emphasis on detailed musical preparation is a genuine privilege.”

Vladimir Jurowski, Glyndebourne Music Director said: “I am relishing my time at Glyndebourne as Music Director (2000 – 2013) and am very proud of the body of artistic work that we have produced together to date. The unparalleled rehearsal opportunities and detailed preparation dedicated to every aspect of the organisation has allowed me to realise many of my artistic dreams.  I am delighted that in 2014 the enormously talented conductor Robin Ticciati will take over this role. I have every confidence that he will cherish, as I have, the opportunity to create opera in the unique environment that Glyndebourne provides.”