Category Archives: royal opera house

Reality and fiction or Written on Skin (ROH, 23 January 2017)

(photo from theupcoming.co.uk)

Written on Skin had its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 and ran at ROH in 2013 under the baton of the composer (so we can settle what the composer really wanted in this case). This month it had its first ROH revival, also conducted by Benjamin.

Though I’m not a contemporary opera afficionado I do enjoy keeping abreast at least partially with what’s being written these days. When I first heard it I didn’t like it; not because I found it unlistenable (it’s not); I just didn’t like the vibe. The lack of visuals didn’t help. I wasn’t going to see it this time around either although I really wanted to see Barbara Hannigan live in anything modern and when her date at Wiggy went MIA last Autumn I was at a loss. John suggested this was a good opportunity for just that so I booked a ticket. At £19 what’s one got to lose?

The Protector: Christopher Purves
Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
Angel 1 / The Boy: Iestyn Davies
Angel 2 / Marie: Victoria Simmonds
Angel 3 / John: Mark Padmore
Conductor: George Benjamin | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
A co-commission and co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Netherlands Opera Amsterdam and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse

I know by now that there are operas you like just by listening to the music, others where you need visuals to spur you on and some yet that you might only appreciate if you get your arse into the designated space for this type of entertainment. This is one of them (for me). I liked the performance/production a lot; I was not bored for a moment but I don’t know that I’d rush to just listen to it again. I would go see it again but not tomorrow.

However I can see why some have really got into it – it’s got a lot going for it – especially the libretto, with its very compact/concise style, which somehow mixes a lot of poetry in and because of this interesting combo it’s actually rather difficult to discuss. Characters speak as themselves as well as the narrator, modernity and old skool attitudes alternate when you least expect it, as if past and present are running at the same time whilst people live and watch themselves do the act of living.

It is good to see women taking control of their lives in opera, even when the only control they can have is over their own death. Or maybe I’m a miser here, Agnes did have her fun before that. I also liked that she didn’t want to live a lie.

The production, with its interesting mix of modern and ancient, which in this case is as according to the libretto, fits the mood of the work perfectly. (When I was at uni I used to work in the library, where I got to see how books are mended/made. As a result I developed a slight fascination with the process so I was very pleased to see it play an important role in this production.)

I like stage designs that compartimentalise the space because those compartments speak for themselves. Here we had the house where the couple lives (ancient) and the space where the book about them is being written (modern), plus “the woods”, which in some ways is the space where wild things brew.

This is an opera that heavily relies on acting – voice (in many ways it’s an ode to the written/spoken word) and movement alike. The high quality of the production relied on the choice of performers, some of whom have created the roles1. Right off the bat Benjamin’s writing for the voice reminded me of lieder. I bet you this cast is worth hearing in recital as well. It was gripping word drama. Hannigan had the most intense role – a woman awakening to herself – and her highly charismatic stage presence was captivating even in this half-ethereal role but the men + Simmonds (reprising her 2013 ROH role) were all in high form as well.

With a libretto so strongly focused on words, you notice things like diction and pitch and Hannigan’s were both impressive. Agnes, who is quiet and meek (and illiterate) to begin with but very soon blossoms, emboldened by desire – desire to know the world both physically and intellectually – is a refreshing female role.

Davies as The Boy was in very fine voice and he had no problems making himself heard in the amphitheatre over the slender accompaniment, which makes me think ROH can accomodate Baroque/voice all right. The Boy is another interesting role, as he entirely supportive of Agnes on her journey to personhood, as opposed to The Protector (the husband), who’s basically a backwoods bigot, the type who wants his woman barefoot in the kitchen.

He does commission the book The Boy writes/draws about their righteous life (bigots are usually righteous), which I guess means he’s interested in leaving a very good (albeit hypocritical) impression about himself to the rest of the world. So The Boy is somewhere between personal PR and investigative journalist, as he ends up digging the truth about the so-called righteous couple as is promptly assassinated. Purves as the villainous husband had just the right edge and the appealing lied-narration style fit his voice as well as his temper real well.

The performance ran for ~135min without an interval, save for a couple of breaks for scenery change, which the audience used to expel all the pentup coughing (an impressive amount, considering there were no extraneous noises during the performance; in fact the domino effect of dumping air via the mouth likely caused hilarity among the public). I often praise other houses for their atmosphere, but these breaks gave me the opportunity to remember just how enjoyable the ROH auditorium is as well. I do take it for granted and with good reason: it felt like an extension of my personal space.


  1. Purves and Hannigan. 
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2016 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance (ROH, 17 July 2016)

It’s that time of the year again, time to close up shop for the Summer at ROH (the weather yesterday suggested just that: don’t stay indoors!) but not before the annual Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance. Let me remind you I also wrote about the 2014 and 2015 JPYA Summer Performances.

If you read any given article about opera in the local papers you’re sure to run into comments like “cut the state funding, it’s entertainment for the rich”. That being the current attitude, the trend of using all purpose boards as stage design comes in handy once again. For our five opera excerpts we had the same boards passing as garden wall, hospital ward, art exhibit, bohemian hovel and party hall. I bolded the ones I thought worked best.

Since I’ve been very happy of late with minimal stage design I wasn’t bothered by the paucity of detail. The Summer Performance is about young singers getting experience singing on the main stage. Now the cast has already had more than one occasion to sing in ROH productions but they perhaps haven’t had to carry important scenes before.

A weird thing having to do with these boards (I guess?) was that whenever the singers were positioned further back (though never too far, as the boards split the depth of the stage in half of its usual size) or to the sides their voices sounded louder and more metallic. This was consistent for all of them and not something you normally hear at ROH.

Janáček: Kát’a Kabanová, Act II, scene 2
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Katěrina (Kát’a): Vlada Borovko
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Boris Grigorjevic: Samuel Sakker
Vána Kudrjáš: David Junghoon Kim

My experience with Janáček is limited to The Makropulos Case and The Cunning Little Vixen, neither of which has been a mainstay on my playlist but I have been left with a good feeling after each listen. Same here, the orchestral writing made a very positive impression on me. I have also enjoyed the (appropriatedness of the) folk tunes the servant characters have as basis for what they sing. David Junghoon Kim hammed it up with gusto as Kudrjáš and was my favourite in this scene.

The libretto, on the other hand, is so melodramatic! In this scene, married Kát’a and her hopeful suitor (Boris Grigorjevic) have barely said hello, I love you (let me jump in your game, as The Doors would put it) and she’s already omg, I have committed a great sin and I must suffer! Way to put the cart before the horses. Anyway, what they end up doing doesn’t much sound like suffering to me. Though I understand it’s all downhill from here. Thankfully we were spared that.

Though Maestro dug out quite a few interesting details, I thought his fs were too loud, having heard Wagner and Strauss in this very hall. He returned to this trend in further scenes but the singers competed well, though one would wonder how they’d have fared at that volume over a three hour opera.

Gounod: Mireille, Act IV aria
Conductor: Paul Wingfield
Mireille: Lauren Fagan

Weirdly enough I studied (excerpts? of) Mireille (the poem) in French class about, ahem, 20 years ago. Which means this is all I remember about it and only because the girl who “played” Mireille in class was cute. So I don’t know if having a still confused Mireille recovering from a suicide attempt makes sense with the story but this is what we got. Wiki says this about the scene:

Mireille, staggers in already tired, and dazzled by the sun, faints as she hears shepherd’s pipes in the distance. She makes a last effort to continue her journey.

The aria is about going on in spite of many setbacks and it contains religious references, so might as well. Fagan showed total commitment and some nice skills where dynamics were concerned. I’m not the biggest fan of her tone but her stage presence was strong.

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Act III, scenes 1 and 2 (excerpts)
Conductor: Jonathan Santagada
Tatyana: Jennifer Davis
Eugene Onegin: Yuriy Yurchuk
Prince Gremin: James Platt
Guests: Vlada Borovko, Lauren Fagan, Emily Edmonds, David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker, Samuel Dale Johnson and David Shipley

As I was saying, the boards worked very well with this scene since it looked like the party was in a very contemporary (think Shoreditch) exhibition space. This is the scene where Prince Gremin sings praises to Tatyana (now his wife) which work a little too well on Onegin. It’s almost like he falls in love with her on the basis of Gremin’s appraisal alone (we could have a staging where Gremin is a car salesman, eh?).

Then there’s the scene where Onegin shows up at her house (I love it when this happens in opera, a character is thinking about someone in a very private space and somehow that very person comes out of the woodwork 😀 ) and professes his suddenly undying love to her. This gives her the opportunity to remind him how he’d rebuked her when she wasn’t fashionable and married to a rich man.

Before the show started we were told by Holten that Jennifer Davis (Tatyana) was under the weather but I didn’t particularly notice anything. Yurchuk as Onegin was appropriately moody but this year he didn’t stand out to me quite as much as last year as Michonnet.

James Platt (much enjoyed by me in previous outings, particularly as Caronte in last year’s L’Orfeo) was such a charismatic Gremin, he stole the scene(s). His rendition of the aria in praise of Tatyana ended up being my favourite thing of the afternoon. His tone lent itself beautifully to the aria, his phrasing was spot on and he seemed to relish singing it. He also looked like I imagined Gremin would.

Interval

Leoncavallo: La bohème, Act IV
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Mimì: Lauren Fagan
Musetta: Emily Edmonds
Marcello: Samuel Sakker
Rodolfo: Samuel Dale Johnson
Schaunard: David Shipley

Did you know Leoncavallo wrote his own version of this tearjerker? Well, I didn’t but he did. It’s a bit different (properly verismo, makes the libretto used by Puccini look like a bourgeois fantasy of poor artists’ life) but Mimì still dies. Samuel Dale Johnson as Rodolfo pulled out some proper Italianate pathos. I really enjoyed David Shipley’s Schaunard here, he was very good as comic relief and had a nice, even tone. The crap fast food grub he brings his friends was a nice touch.

Strauss: Die Fledermaus, Act II finale (excerpt)
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Rosalinde: Vlada Borovko
Adele: Jennifer Davis
Ida: Lauren Fagan
Prince Orlofsky: Emily Edmonds
Gabriel Eisenstein: Samuel Dale Johnson
Dr Falke: Yuriy Yurchuk
Colonel Frank: James Platt
Guests: David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker and David Shipley

This was odd but then that party is one of the (if not the) weirdest parties in opera. As it was the closer, (most) everyone came on stage in their previous costume. Dead Mimì was pulled to her feet and Fagan became Ida without further ado. Then everybody paired up in more or less surprising ways, some of them not straight. It had an air of improv to it but the audience enjoyed the levity after so many dead serious scenes and such a comprehensive zoom through operatic languages.

Boris Godunov (ROH, 21 March 2016)

It is the first time ROH has produced the original (1869) version. This production was a mixed bag for me. The biggest problem was that I didn’t feel the inherent “Russian-ness”. This isn’t the kind of general feel opera which you can transpose anywhere, any time and it feels timeless. This is “exotic” in the sense thst it deals with a very specific part of the world and very specific reactions to circumstances. It is timeless that way.

Boris Godunov: Bryn Terfel
Prince Shuisky: John Graham-Hall
Andrey Shchelkalov: Kostas Smoriginas
Grigory Otrepiev: David Butt Philip
Pimen: Ain Anger
Varlaam: John Tomlinson
Missail: Harry Nicoll
Xenia: Vlada Borovko
Yurodivy (Holy Fool): Andrew Tortise
Xenia’s Nurse: Sarah Pring
Hostess of the inn: Rebecca de Pont Davies
Mityukha: Adrian Clarke
Frontier Guard: James Platt
Nikitich: Jeremy White
Fyodor: Ben Knight
Boyar: Nicholas Sales
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones

You have to sell The Pretender somehow. Grown men “forged in the heat of battle” end up shitting their fine linen when some 20 year old (The Pretender) announces he’s the murdered crown prince as he had not died after all, the sole explaination being “weird dreams” (his own). This kind of thing flies in parts of the world where people still trample each other queueing to touch saintly relics. Here in the West, though, this kind of experience isn’t readily available to artists seeking to portray such a surrealist atmosphere.

As a result I felt once again that the necessary mysterious and unsettling non so che was missing. Ever seen the 1956 Hollywood version of War in Peace? Absolutely awful, awful, every actor miscast, the tone of the piece completely wrong. This is better, because the music is always there to save their arses. And, to be fair, the singers aren’t miscast. Just not nearly Russian enough.

Richard Jones’ staging was also only superficially Russian. The arched, golden “court area” above the stage was a good idea and gave it a bit of atmosphere. But then his team chose to have the boyars dressed as they would in Musorgsky’s time. Another hark-back (forward?) to the composer’s time. Sigh. I don’t know why directors love this idea. In this case it felt completely out of place, not adding anything useful but further ruining the meager atmosphere. The peasants/regular people wore peasant-y clothes, all in various shades of grey. Fair enough. Then, all of a sudden, for one of the big choruses, the choir returned dressed in bright, multipatterned attire. Some people (monks) wore robes but mixed with contemporary footwear. The Pretender (Otrepiev) wore a contemporary jacket and jumper bought in a second hand shop from a poor area. Him, of all people, was firmly placed nowadays.

BgodunovRoh2016I guess the fact that the crown prince is repeatedly shown being murdered in the arched, gold “court area” is meant to remind us that no, The Pretender is definitely not him – resurrected or not (the libretto is rather vague on how the crown prince might’ve escaped). Just in case we thought otherwise. Don’t flatter yourselves, the production has not an ounce of strangeness to it. We’re still firmly ensconced in a reality where you can’t even begin to consider such things.

Musically the most memorable bit was the peaceful part that almost reached a medieval feel where Pimen the chronicler monk is talking about how he wants to preserve history so that what has happened – in which he includes prophecies and rumours –  is not lost to future generations. Wagnerian bass Ain Anger as Pimen was for me the most touchingly lyrical presence in the whole peace.

Not to say that Terfel in the title role wasn’t good. He sang with sesitivity and his voice feels good to the ear in this role but dramatically he was more Lear than Godunov. His interaction with Ben Knight as Godunov’s son Fyodor was excellent.

The rogue-ish monks Varlaam and Missail were very entertaining but – again – in a Western OTT way. Listen how Kuznecov sings the drinking song in a Gergiev-led version; there’s a certain impishness with a tinge of fairytale to it. When I heard this I was immediately transported to Gogol’s world. With Tomlinson it was a lot of fun but Viy didn’t come to mind even for a moment.

There is a debate as to where the best seats are for different types of opera but I think the first few rows in the gods are always a very good to decent bet. In this case I was sitting centrally and still the Coronation Scene could best be described as noisy: the chorus was loud, the bells were loud, the orchestra took it up 3-4 notches. I’m surprised we were spared sirens and airplanes taking off. I know it’s supposed to be loud, but I couldn’t discern any rhyme or reason.

I dozed off through most of what happens once the Pretender escapes the border patrol to Lithuania but (likewise) came back to life for Godunov’s elaborate dying scene. I’ve since given it another listen at home and I think I’d’ve liked it better had I known it a bit more. Some other time, then – with a Russian cast/conductor.

“revival adriana lecouvreur roh 2016-2017”

Dear all, I’m very heartened to notice the blog has been running itself – ie it is being read – even though I have been less active recently. The most attractive were the posts (especially the last one, which skyrocketed to the top 3) about the 2016-17 ROH season. Earlier today I checked the wiki page where I got my initial info (out of curiosity whether anything new was added).

For whatever reason my last post didn’t mention anything about the Adriana Lecouvreur revival which is supposed to happen sometime next year, with Gheorghiu in the title role and Ekaterina Gubanova (rather than the other EG) as her nemesis and one of my favourite mezzo roles. Anyway, it’s there so we – the person who found my blog via this search, I and anyone else who likes this opera – can only hope everything will go well and no divas will be dropping out at the last minute. I would like to see Gheorghiu live but I’m not into Puccini.

I also notice there is a Don Carlo next year in May (very specific dates, too), with Vargas, Stoyanova and Tezier. I might give it a try as I have started to thaw towards widening my operatic horizons.

ROH rumours 2016/17

Mr Plow, factotum della cita

Winter, end of another year, time to plow ahead! (though around here snow is not even a speck in a cloud’s eye – currently 14C).

Way better than ROH productions are ROH rumours. I love them, though these were posted last July I think. Who cares? Let’s see:

Otello (Verdi) – 2017 – JK returns

The Nose (Shostakovich)  Oi, the music is tedious BUT! it really fits the story. Soooo… I might just suffer.

Cosi Fan Tutte (Mozart) – Autumn 16 – Wolfie’s back!
Production: Barrie Kosky
Production: Jan Philipp Gloger
Ferrando: Daniel Behle – the new darling of ROH? JK must be getting old or something
Fiordiligi: Corinne Winters – who?

Der Rosenkavalier (R Stauss): Dec 2016 – Jan 2017 – one can never have enough Marie Theres’ and Quinquin
Conductor: Andris Nelsons
Production: Robert Carsen
Marschallin – Renee Fleming – nobody else available?
Octavian – Alice Coote / Anna Stéphany – does AS have volume enough for 3 hours of Strauss? Also she seems to have a very dispersive voice.
Sophie – Aleksandra Kurzak – yay!

Semiramide (Rossini) – YAY! YAY! YAY! but who’s Arsace? (see comments bellow)
Semiramide – Joyce “I’m a soprano now” DiDonato
Assur – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo – eh

Norma (Bellini) Autumn 2016 – at long last but…
Norma: Anna Netrebko – nooooooo!!!! I thought she had moved on to Verdi 😦
Pollione: Joseph Calleja
Adalgisa: Sonia Ganassi
Oroveso: Brindley Sherratt

Königskinder (Humperdick) Production from Oper Frankfurt (2016)
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Original Director: David Bösch
Stage Designer: Patrick Bannwart
Costume Designer: Meetje Nielsen
Der Königssohn: Daniel Behle – see what I mean?
Die Gänsemagd (Goose Girl): Amanda Majeski – interesting

The Exterminating Angel (Thomas Ades)
Director: Tom Cairns

Mitridate, Re di Ponto (Mozart) – rock!
Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Mitridate: Michael Spyres – who dat?

Ariadne in London (ROH, 10 October 2015)

Boasting mostly the same cast, Ariadne returns to joyful reception in London after 15 short months. We’re all one year older and wiser (?). In the past year I’ve also become acquainted with Semele’s story, which adds to the comic angle of the plot (when Bacchus tells his life story).

The Prima Donna/Ariadne: Karita Mattila
The Tenor/Bacchus: Robert Dean Smith
Zerbinetta: Jane Archibald
The Composer: Ruxandra Donose
Harlequin: Nikolay Borchev
Music Master: Thomas Allen
Dancing Master: Norbert Ernst
Scaramuccio: Ji-Min Park
Brighella: Paul Schweinester
Truffaldino: Jeremy White
Naiad: Sofia Fomina
Dryad: Karen Cargill
Echo: Kiandra Howarth
Wig Maker: Samuel Dale Johnson
Lackey: Simon Wilding
Officer: Nicholas Ransley
Major Domo: Christoph Quest
Concert Master: Sergey Levitin
Conductor: Lothar Koenigs | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Every so often I comment negatively on fellow opera goers’ behaviour. This time the public has wowed me by showing great appreciation for the comedy, especially when the snarky quips from the vaudevillians turned into the Composer’s very serious moans. I think the conducting helped as well. I enjoyed the smooth transitions and the attention to detail, which brought out several instruments beautifully – for instance the oboe in Großmächtige Prinzessin.

The orchestra was mostly kept to chamber level, making the few bang! moments memorable. This allowed the singers to be expressive, such as in the case of Mattila’s wonderful phrasing of “you’re the captain of a dark ship ready to take me on a dark journey” in her duet with RDS’ Bacchus. I did believe Ariadne had developed a fascination with death (rather than a death wish).

This reminds me: the Composer, in his dialogue with Zerbinetta, is adamant that Ariadne dies at the end of his opera. But in the end it’s quite obvious (to me?) that she does not. So I wonder: is it because tossing the two world views together has influenced them both and the opera had, perhaps, taken on a life of her own? It is, after all, an opera that advises compromise and praises a sensible approach to life. Death can simply mean transformation.

One year later (and perhaps with all of us more relaxed), I liked both Mattila and Archibald better. Still not quite sold on JA’s tone but fearless (and ocassionally used to excellent comic effect) take on the coloratura fest as well as good acting through the evening. Last year I know I said I liked Mattila’s personality better than her voice but this time I must’ve been in a more receptive mood for her dark velvety tone. Now I think it’s an interesting sound, very appropriate for Ariadne the character.

I’ve enjoyed Donose’s Composer last year and did so again this year. It’s good to see things twice, as once the novelty of the production has cooled and it doesn’t capture so much of one’s attention you can focus on the most important thing: the singing. Although not the biggest fan of her tone, I have to admit that the woman can sing. The Composer is a tough role, very high for a mezzo, with a lot of angst in the top bit of the voice. It’s balm to the ear to hear a (properly timbred) mezzo who can extend there and be in perfect control.

Robert Dean Smith, whom I have not heard before, did a very good job with Bacchus. I preferred him by a good margin to last year’s Roberto Saccà. Less flashy in acting, he was an almost bashful Bacchus with a fluid tone, coping very well with the demands (Strauss not being too kind to tenors). He was also hilarious in the ugly wig the Tenor throws at the wigmaster.

The obligatory Strauss trio of ladies was reprised by last year’s ladies with similarly successful results. Listening to them I gave into fanciful thinking: how the (female) voice is like light – to enjoy its beauty best you want to separate it in three (ok, with light it’s more than three, but let’s keep the main idea in mind). Three voices together soar to heights of beauty one could not possibly encompass alone… or something along these lines 😉

There’s that strange business in the Ariadne-Bacchus conversation where Bacchus dwells on the fact that he did not succumb to Circe’s wiles. So Circe, the seductress, has not conquered… drinking? – whereas idealistic, “honest woman” Ariadne has. Bacchus likes the fact that she has sacrificed herself (gods like sacrifices), when obviously Circe did not have any of that in mind. Hardly a feminist take but yanno… beautifully sung and it’s perhaps disingenuous to over-analyse happy endings. It’s fair to say that Bacchus finds his meaning by saving Ariadne so they complete each other.

Lovely night at ROH – may this clever Loy production stay for a long time.

Orphée et Eurydice (ROH, 28 September 2015)

It was the night JDF didn’t sing, yet the house was full and the applause more than generous. It’s very late to talk about “first impressions” so I’m going to talk about my expectations.

photo from The Independent

Orphée: Michele Angelini
Eurydice: Lucy Crowe
Amour: Amanda Forsythe
Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner | English Baroque Soloists | Monteverdi Choir
Director: John Fulljames/Hofesh Shechter

Orphée is a bit of an odd work, seeing as how Gluck deliberately tried to make a musical point with it – and altered his original twice, with all three versions being viable. It starts with an inexplicably chipper overture (rehashed?), then goes into funeral mode but Act I finishes on a high note with Orphée’s hopeful L’espoir renaît dans mon âme which Gluck (randomly? and shamelessly) borrowed from Bertoni’s Tancredi. Then major angst with the descent into hell and plaintive sweetness as Orphee tames the tormented spirits. Act III starts in the modern equivalent of heaven, where all is harp-and-cloud fluffy. Then more angst when the two lovebirds meet again in not-quite-right circumstances. Finally rambling for the ballets followed by major fireworks for the finale.

I was after in this order:

  • hearing this wonderful opera live for the first time
  • the Monteverdi Choir
  • JEG + English Baroque Soloists
  • Amanda Forsythe
  • who’s this Angelini chap?

This Angelini chap is a very good singer indeed, though my fave tenor Orphée remains Richard Croft and his evocative voice. Angelini was soulful and heroic enough, though, and he negotiated L’espoir renaît dans mon âme with aplomb. But this is another opera that requires very complex acting chops (abundant vocal colours) from whoever’s singing its main character and Angelini wasn’t that good in that respect.

Amour isn’t enough of a role to get a proper idea about a singer but I wouldn’t mind hearing more from Forsythe. She garnered much appreciation for her comic skills and generally strong stage presence. Hey, anyone who can rock a gold lamé catsuit is doing something right 😉

I’ve seen Lucy Crowe now a couple of times live and I don’t know that I’ll ever be a fan. It’s nice if Eurydice has a pure voice but it’s not imperative (Delunsch on the Minkowski CD sounds pretty mature). There is, however, something veiled or fluttery about Crowe’s voice that doesn’t work for me in spite of her technical accomplishments and dramatic commitment.

JEG: the mean bounciness he extracted from the orchestra exuded French-ness to my ears, no complaints there; very light and stylish.

Not only hearing one of my favourite operas live but in all appearance UNCUT. The tenor version has L’amour triomphe instead of Le dieu de Paphos et de Gnide. It’s equally as satisfying (although liberté constantly came off as liberty). The choir is pleasantly interwoven with the solo vocals but:

The main dish: hearing the Monteverdi Choir sing the many choral parts of Orphée was one of the best musical experiences of 2015 for me. Beautiful tones, expressively sung, the voices well integrated, spot on in regards to the orchestra and meshing well with it. On the spot I contemplated getting a ticket for the last performance just to hear that again. The main singer is a bargain, but along with Tito and Idomeneo this is one of those late 18th century operas where the choir alone is worth the price of admission. I now have a strong urge to make a “mix tape” featuring the choruses from these three operas but for now let’s listen to L’amour triomphe:

My seatmate half-complained that it wasn’t so much a production as a concert performance. It was spartan, indeed. But the few elements made all the sense in the world. The most obvious: located on stage, now hovering, now sunk, the orchestra was an integral part of the production (it’s an opera about the power of music, innit). I liked this continuous motion and I felt very comfy with the uncomplicated feel of the production. It was related in spirit to the Munich DVD production (the plastic chair was a central element; also the beginning and the direction of the duet was very similar), so I immediately got into it. It might look like not much but it fits Gluck’s intention of simplicity.

It took me a good while to get the choreography. But I generally don’t have an easy time feeling dance. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me what all the flailing and hand gestures were supposed to represent. I wasn’t annoyed by it all, rather indifferent. But towards the end (and after a lot of persistence from the dancers, given that there is A LOT of ballet in this opera) I came to the conclusion that it was a contemporary reading of primal movement, nymphs and fawns, things that ain’t quite human, often times quite possibly vegetal. I don’t think it matters if I’m correct or not as long as it finally spoke to me in some way.

Not the best opera night but choral heaven nonetheless and very likeable staging which I hope ROH keeps and revives at some point. It’s an opera I could easily revisit live once a year.

Operalia 2015 winners (aka, tardy news)

I’m beyond late but I wanted to express my satisfaction at seeing “my man” Ioan Hotea win first prize as well as the zarzuela prize! Felicitari si la mai mare!

There you go, more proof that you should trust me… when it comes to tenors 😀 Congrats also to Lise Davidsen for her wins (first prize, too and the Audience Prize for Female Voice). For those who may have missed it even more than I did, here‘s a list of all the winners.

Michieletto + ROH = freestyle booing

I think this was an opera, not a discussion.

Remember how much I liked Rene Jacobs’ conducting of Idomeneo? And remember how meh I felt about Michieletto’s direction? I watched it once though I listened to it many times since. But opera should indeed be a discussion. Anything less is demeaning to the art form.

Kasper Holten brought Michieletto to ROH for Guillaume Tell and unsurprisingly Michieletto made some waves. This production involves a (gang) rape scene which was booed whilst it was going on. Not at curtain call – during the actual opera. Whether the scene is warranted or not is as usual debatable. I’ll make up my mind later this month when I go see the performance. There will be filming and a cinema relay on 5 July.

What got my head spinning was the comment section in the Guardian. It’s again the same tired comments that opera is jolly entertainment (from people who sound like they don’t go to the opera):

ROH is not the same as Tracey Emin. Modernist interpretation is best reserved for modernist theatre.

I like it when people help us understand what’s what.

Opera and reality don’t mix. People who go to the opera want a stylised, elitist experience follwed by a nice bottle of wine somewhere chic.

Wait, wasn’t this an elitist experience? The chap above might think so.

Isn’t the point of the theatre to get away from reality once in a while?

No.

Audiences will surely stay away from new productions until they work out whether or not they will want to sit through them.

An educational outcome? I can only hope more people will look a bit into what they’re going to see. Hats off to Michieletto, then.

Il turco in Italia (ROH, 20 April 2015)

Operas about opera tend to be tongue-in-cheek. This one is blowing a raspberry. Amico Felice Romani by way of none other than Caterino Mazzola of Mozart’s Tito fame sometimes tries a little too hard to be funny but the central concept is, as usual with Rossini, humour based on keen self awareness. So soon after Adriano in Siria, Don Geronio and Fiorilla’s reconcilliation duet (she compares herself to a thirsty vine, he to an elm left naked without his vine) came off even more hilarious. The production goes the same route – no stereotype left behind.

Fiorilla: Aleksandra Kurzak
Selim: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Don Geronio: Alessandro Corbelli
Don Narciso: Barry Banks
Prosdocimo: Thomas Allen
Zaida: Rachel Kelly
Albazar: Luis Gomes
Conductor: Evelino Pidò | Orchestra and Chorus of the ROH

When writer’s block strikes, Prodoscimo the librettist literally runs into walking cliches: the cuckold, the cheating wife, her current lover, the exotic prince, the exotic prince’s even more exotic true love and the true love’s current lover. The opera writes itself. Crucial to Rossini, the lone tenor (the cheating wife’s lover of the week) is mercilessly taken the piss out of, the insatiable soprano is busy hunk-hopping and the (faithful in her heart) mezzo marries the (faithful in his heart) bass. Quite the righteous order of fachs 😉

A curious thing happened: as the opera progressed I went from slightly nonplussed to the brink of fandom regarding Aleksandra Kurzak’s voice. Her last interventions comprised some of the most pleasurable belcanto singing I’d heard in a while. On record I didn’t exactly care one way or another and so I wasn’t itching with curiosity to hear her live. But she squarely won me over with a very nicely burnished tone and relaxed agility that suited the role to a t. I guess for complete surrender I would’ve liked a bit even more chutzpah in her acting, though it was by no means poor in a production that asks the singers to do a lot of stuff whilst singing.

D’Arcangelo, on the other hand, made less of an impression. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, intelligent singing with very well timed “romantic” touches but I missed a mocking/knowing wink in the voice and kept thinking back to Francois Lis in La pietra del paragone. It’s one of those things you either have or you don’t. I guess it could be argued that Selim is more of an innocent abroad type than funny per se. His acting was very good in that context.

Alessandro Corbelli was perfect as the put-upon husband and Barry Banks was hilariously ridiculous as the lover of the week. Rachel Kelly was convincing as the faithful Zaida. Having seen her a few times now I think this was the most solid singing I’ve heard from her. Thomas Allen seems to have made a second career out of these witty behind the scene types.

I’ve been quite a fan of Pidò’s belcanto conducting and he didn’t disappoint, keeping things very sprightly and winky. Also nice job the flute(s) several times during the opera, such as the “Turkish vs Italian customs” duet between Selim and Don Geronio. Another shout-out should go to the timpanist who went to town during the Act I finale. Initially I thought it was way too loud but then decided it suited the zaniness of the whole thing.

The production in bold colours illustrating the Naples shore worked very well. I was very pleased with the chunky boat on which Selim arrived (complete with unfolding stair). The whole scene looked to me like Rossini was mocking his own Di tanti palpiti. There is at least one instance where he clearly reprised a few bars from Tancredi.

All in all, it was good fun, nothing earth shattering but a very enjoyable evening for anyone who likes belcanto and can take a good dose of slapstick.