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The Exterminating Angel (ROH, 1 May 2017)

I went to see Adès’ latest offering mostly on the strength of the cast. Then I thought the Bunuel connection could be interesting. Also it’s good to know what’s being written these days, although the vocal writing makes Baroque vocals sound positively natural by comparison. Pehaps this artificiality is intentional.

Leonora Palma (Dr Conde’s patient/stalker): Anne Sofie von Otter
Blanca Delgado (pianist, wife of Roc): Christine Rice
Edmundo, Marques de Nobile (party host): Charles Workman
Lucia, Marquesa de Nobile (his wife): Amanda Echalaz
Count Raúl Yebenes (explorer): Frédéric Antoun
Doctor Carlos Conde (GP/Psychiatrist): John Tomlinson
Alberto Roc (conductor): Thomas Allen
Francisco de Avila (Silvia’s younger brother): Iestyn Davies
Eduardo (Beatriz’ boyfriend): Ed Lyon
Leticia (opera singer): Audrey Luna
Silvia de Avila (young, widowed mother): Sally Matthews
Beatriz (Eduardo’s girlfriend): Sophie Bevan
Lucas (footman): Hubert Francis
Enrique (waiter): Thomas Atkins
Señor Russell (dude who dies): Sten Byriel
Colonel Alvaro Gomez (Marquesa’s lover): David Adam Moore
Julio (butler): Morgan Moody
Others: 1
Conductor: Thomas Adès | Royal Opera Choir and Orchestra
Ondes martenot: Cynthia Millar
Librettist/Director: Tom Cairns

Co-production with Salzburger Festspiele, Metropolitan Opera and The Royal Danish Opera

Seeing the composer himself conduct is another interesting angle. I had the kind of seat (on the right arm of the trusty horseshoe, where I’ve sat many times) from where I could see him at work. His style of conducting struck me as very clear, though what do I know? As far as sound levels he did not go easy on his singers, though the whole (wall of sound) benefitted in my ears. It’s pretty much just Sprechgesang so it’s not like you’re missing some beautiful ppp lines. That’s not to say singers didn’t indulge in dynamic variation, they did (I remember some nice work from Workman and Rice) and these were sometimes swallowed by the whole. Which was rather fitting.

It turned out Cairns’ libretto was wickedly funny.

“I slept worse than that time on the train to Nice that derailed!” and “Perhaps I’m insensitive but the fate of those squashed common people [3rd class carriage] didn’t affect me at all”. These are gems from Silvia de Avila, who also boasts “I love this oddness! I don’t like anything normal!” or words to that effect. The answer to that is “We’ve all noticed that [in reference to her overly maternal (Oedipal) relationship with her whingy/neurotic brother] but we never said anything because we’re polite!” – this by the opera singer character (soprano), Leticia Maynar, who speaks in acuti only. Luckily Luna wasn’t pingy, because she had quite a bit to say.

As you can tell from the Surrealist connection, the shadow of Freud looms large. The voice of reason is the Doctor, who is GP and Psychoterapist rolled in one. This gives him funny lines like “In 5 days s/he will go completely bald” – his answer to any medical question posed to him. But even that has a funny answer “That’s not bad, she has a very fine skull!”

The libretto offers one of the most positive portrayals of Psychiatrists I’ve seen, with the Doctor reminding everyone of the need to preserve their humanity. The day is, however, saved by the soprano, who organises a reenactment of the moment everything went pearshaped, which in turn restores order. So music fixes everything. But it also screws things up (that’s sopranos for you).

It sounds like the host’s enthusiastic/polite quip that “you can’t leave now! This is the most intimate hour!” trapped them all in his drawing room for what seemed like an eternity (sounds like most parties after about 3am). I enjoyed both sides of the conversation – with the hosts complaining about being tired or bored and the hosts – subtly – trying to get them to leave already (“Give them breakfast and they’ll leave”).

The libretto boasts astute observervations along the way, such as people’s transition from abject hunger to contradictory complaints about the cooked meat when sheep appear out of thin air. Speaking of sheep, there were live (and very docile) sheep on stage when we were allowed into the auditorium and I could only relate their presence to their connection with sleep/dreaming.

So I took this as a meditation on human condition via a “very bad trip”, from luxury to degradation and back. The Ondes Martenot (related to the Theremin) was the anchoring instrument of the evening, with its eerie, early electronica sounds. Millar played it from the left Dress Circle (the orchestra is so big it takes the entire pit, with a few instruments spilling below and above) and I had a very good view at her work and got to appreciate it.

It wasn’t an easy evening but it kept me constantly engaged, even though I had had a long (and very cold) day, which included some flitting about in the ROH vicinity, because I had time to kill and I realised I knew very little about the area beside tube station – opera house – Covent Garden Market, which all in all comprises about 200m. Because of this I had the misfortune chance to hear a busking opera singer whose chief tool was a heavily undulating vibrato which rivaled that Martenot but completely obscured the tune of whatever he was attempting to sing shout.

The singing in the opera was more conversational but it’s still not easy for me to gauge how the singers fared. With so many characters it was initially a challenge to figure out who was who and what they were on about. It seemed like a marathon of dramatic intensity and focus rather than one of singing prowess. Everyone appeared engaged and did their thing when called for it – sometimes after long periods of not singing, though they were all stuck on stage at all times. Thomas Allen as conductor Roc had it easiest, one would say, as his character slept through most of the drama. As someone quipped, “why did Sr Russel die, why not the conductor? What difference does one conductor less make?” There were other such in-jokes in the libretto, not the least Francisco’s (I think?) reccurent cry “play us something by Adès, I implore you!” when the pianist, Blanca, regales them with a few phrases on the piano.

Dramatically, I really enjoyed the way Silvia was drawn as a character (obsessed with oddness, caricaturally overprotective of her brother + ambiguously close to him whilst potentially oblivious of Padre Sanson’s intentions towards her son, homeschooled by him. Though considering it’s her brother Francisco who voices doubts about Padre Sanson’s saintliness it was hard to tell whether she was negligent or he was paranoid. Matthews showed some top comedic timing when delivering her lines. Davies as Francisco also did a very good job acting neurotic/infantilised. Tomlinson as Dr Conde was very credible as the well intentioned “saviour of humanity”.

In conclusion, it was highly entertaining, though I think I need to see/hear it a couple of times before I can form a more coherent idea about the whole. Also seeing the original Bunuel film might help.


  1. Padre Sanson (Yoli’s teacher): Wyn Pencarreg | Yoli (Silvia’s son): Joshua Abrams | Pablo (cook): James Cleverton | Meni (maid): Elizabeth Atherton | Camila (maid): Anne Marie Gibbons 

ROH 2016-2017 confirmed, let’s talk!

So, it’s finally out!

Let’s start with Mozart:

Mitridate (26 June–7 July 2017) 

Mitridate – Michael Spyres
Aspasia – Albina Shagimuratova
Farnace – Bejun Mehta
Ismene – Lucy Crowe
Marzio – Andrew Tortise
Sifare – Anett Fritsch
Arbate – Jennifer Davis

Shagimuratova, then. I won’t be expecting complex characterisation, just very precise singing in an alluring voice, which is what people seem to endlessly equate Aspasia with (super difficult singing – yea, but so what?). Don’t know Anett Frisch but Spyres and Mehta are (same old) known quantities in their respective roles. Excuse me while I stand bitterly disappointed after the definitive-looking Paris production. Doesn’t mean I won’t go see it for Mozart.

Così fan tutte (22 September–19 October 2016)

Conducted by Byckhov, of all people! I loved his Die Frau ohne Schatten, what will he do here?

Fiordiligi – Corinne Winters
Dorabella – Angela Brower
Ferrando – Daniel Behle
Guglielmo – Alessio Arduini
Don Alfonso – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Despina – Sabina Puértolas

Brower is known to me as the multitalented Annio from the circus/cult Tito (Munich) production. The one with unicorn hair 😉 and the lovely tone, who accompanied himself for the Act II intro recit with Sesto. Will they have her do something out of the ordinary here as well?

We have dates for Adriana Lecouvreur (7 February–2 March 2017), woohoo! Must start saving now (sigh). I have never heard of the alternative soprano. But yay Finley as Michonnet!

Adriana Lecouvreur – Angela Gheorghiu (except 21 Feb, 2 Mar) / Hrachuhi Bassenz (21 Feb, 2 Mar)
Maurizio – Brian Jagde
Abbé di Chazeuil – Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon – Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon – Bálint Szabó
Michonnet – Gerald Finley (except 27 Feb; 2 Mar) / Alessandro Corbelli (27 Feb; 2 Mar)
Mlle Jouvenot – Vlada Borovko
Mlle Dangeville – Angela Simkin
Poisson – Thomas Atkins
Quinault – Simon Shibambu

And now for something I didn’t expect: Röschmann returns! In an opera I severely dislike but such is life. I will follow the Röschmann compass:

Otello/Verdi (21 June–15 July 2017)

Otello – Jonas Kaufmann (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Gregory Kunde (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Desdemona – Maria Agresta (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Dorothea Röschmann (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Iago – Ludovic Tézier (21, 24, 28 Jun, 2, 6, 10 Jul) / Željko Lučić (8, 12, 15 Jul)
Cassio – Frédéric Antoun
Roderigo – Thomas Atkins
Emilia – Kai Rüütel
Montano – Simon Shibambu
Lodovico – In Sung Sim

So no JK for me then (boohoo 😉 ). Might as well see how Kunde sounds live. My recent discovery Simon Shibambu (King of Scotland in the RCM Ariodante) will be there too. Please cross your fingers for me, last time I tried to sit through this one I couldn’t cope with more than 1 1/2 acts. It was a few years back…

Der Rosenkavalier (17 December 2016–24 January 2017)

Marschallin – Renée Fleming (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Rachel Willis-Sørensen (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Octavian – Alice Coote (17, 20 Dec, 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Anna Stéphany (22 Dec, 17, 24 Jan)
Sophie von Faninal – Sophie Bevan
Baron Ochs – Matthew Rose
Faninal – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Valzacchi – Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Annina – Helene Schneiderman (except 8, 11, 14 Jan) / Angela Simkin (8, 11, 14 Jan)
Italian Singer – Giorgio Berrugi
Marschallin’s Major Domo – Samuel Sakker
Faninal’s Major Domo – Thomas Atkins
Marianne – Miranda Keys
Inn Keeper – Alasdair Elliot
Police Inspector – Scott Connor
Notary – Jeremy White

New production by Carsen but apparently it’s the one from Salzburg? Or something. Anyway, it’s the ‘kavalier, I’m going no matter who’s in it (within reason and mostly depending on Octavian. I’d like a more adventurous choice for Die Marschallin but, hey, big house. And if its the one time I’m seeing Fleming live this is probably the best bet).

Speaking of other choices, has Catherine Naglestad ever sung Die Marschallin? I know she won’t be putting bums on seats in the way Fleming does (because the world is funny like that) but I’m having a bit of a Naglestad fest in my little world and I thought her Salome was way fine. And you might remember that semi-legendary (but severely cut) Alcina with Naglestad and Coote (daydream moment).

The customary belcanto bit – Il barbiere di Siviglia (13 September–11 October 2016)

Rosina – Daniela Mack
Count Almaviva – Javier Camarena
Figaro – Vito Priante (Sept) / Florian Sempey (Oct)
Doctor Bartolo – José Fardilha
Don Basilio – Ferruccio Furlanetto (Sept) / Carlo Lepore (Oct)
Berta – Madeleine Pierard
Fiorello – Gyula Nagy

For those like me who don’t habitually watch Cardiff Singer of the World (perhaps we should), here’s Daniela Mack singing obvious morsels like Pensa alla patriaVerdi prati and Amour, viens rendre a mon ame three years ago:

She’s agile but I’m not wowed by that voice. Too big too full too early? Not enough lyric quality. I guess Rossini fits her best out of that medley. She’ll be throwing babies into the fire before you know it.

More obvious belcanto – L’elisir d’amore (27 May–22 June 2017) 

Adina – Pretty Yende (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Aleksandra Kurzak (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Nemorino – Rolando Villazón (May, 3, 6 Jun) / Ivan Magrì (11 Jun) / Roberto Alagna (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Dulcamara – Alex Esposito
Belcore – Paolo Bordogna (May, 3, 6, 11 Jun) / Adam Plachetka (13, 16, 19, 22 Jun)
Giannetta – Vlada Borovko

But it’s Kurzak and hubby1 (cheers, no Villazón for me, though I would like to hear Yende) and enough with the Esposito, I bet he’ll make Dulcamara all menacing and whatnot. Eh. It’s a bloody comedy. Anyway, Kurzak!

Les Contes d’Hoffmann (7 November–3 December 2016)

Hoffmann – Vittorio Grigolo (except 28 Nov, 3 Dec) / Leonardo Capalbo (28 Nov, 3 Dec)
Four Villains – Thomas Hampson
Olympia – Sofia Fomina
Giulietta – Christine Rice
Antonia – Sonya Yoncheva
Nicklausse – Kate Lindsey
Spalanzani – Christophe Mortagne
Crespel – Eric Halfvarson
Four Servants – Vincent Ordonneau
Spirit of Antonia’s Mother – Catherine Carby
Nathanael – David Junghoon Kim
Hermann – Charles Rice
Schlemil – Yuriy Yurchuk
Luther – Jeremy White

Conducted by “my homie” Evelino Pidò. I recently had a weird moment with Hoffmann: I felt like it would be something I could sing. Not as in I can actually sing it, because I can’t even “actually sing” Row, row, row your boat, rather I could easily get into the spirit/rhythm/chord progression/Frenchness of it. A bit weird – French opera, of all things. Ok, let’s see Kate Lindsey in something she’s properly well known for. There’s a shitload of big names in it = more saving, and Yurchuk as well, lovely tone ex-Young ROH Squad baritone.

The Nose (20 October–9 November 2016)

Platon Kuzmitch Kovalev – Martin Winkler
Ivan Iakolevitch/Clerk/Doctor – John Tomlinson
Osipovna/Pretzel Seller – Rosie Aldridge
The Nose – Alexander Lewis
District Inspector – Alexander Kravets
Old Lady – Susan Bickley
Iaryzhkin – Peter Bronder
Pelageya Podtotschina – Helene Schneiderman
Podtotschina’s daughter – Ailish Tynan

You know I said I was going to go although I thought the music was unbearable because I’m a not so secret Gogol fan. Also Rosie Aldridge is in it and I really liked her in local Monteverdi and Handel. This is neither, I know, but I’m (and will be) very happy to see her on a big stage.

Now onto more Verdi, because ROH = big opera house and big opera house = trad repertoire until the cows come home:

Il trovatore aka Babies into the fire (4 December 2016–9 February 2017)

Leonora – Maria Agresta (Dec) / Lianna Haroutounian (Jan, Feb)
Manrico – Roberto Alagna (Dec) / Gregory Kunde (Jan, Feb)
Count di Luna – Quinn Kelsey (Dec) / Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jan, Feb)
Azucena – Anita Rachvelishvili
Ferrando – Gábor Bretz (Dec) / Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Jan, Feb)
Inez – Jennifer Davis (Dec) / Francesca Chiejina (Jan, Feb)
Ruiz – David Junghoon Kim (Dec) / Samuel Sakker (Jan, Feb)

Ok, I want to hear Kelsey live so that settles it – though I liked Tsymbalyuk’s Commendatore and I’d like to hear Haroutounian just because her name is badass… but twice with the pirotechnic babies? A bit much.

Don Carlo (12 May–29 May 2017)

Don Carlo – Bryan Hymel
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – Ludovic Tézier
Elizabeth of Valois – Krassimira Stoyanova
King Philip II – Ildar Abdrazakov
Princess Eboli – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Grand Inquisitor – Paata Burchuladze
Frate – Andrea Mastroni
Voice from Heaven – Francesca Chiejina
Tebaldo – Emily Edmonds
Count of Lerma – David Junghoon Kim
Flemish Deputies – James Cleverton, Gyula Nagy, Simon Shibambu, David Shipley and Yuriy Yurchuk

Good chance to hear Stoyanova and Tézier (don’t know why I should hear him other than his name has been around for a while), also Abdrazakov (tongue twister ftw!). Heard Semenchuk’s Eboli on zetube, wasn’t that impressed. Maybe she’ll be better this time around.

The Exterminating Angel (24 April–8 May 2017)

Thomas Adès conducts a huge ensemble cast of world-class singers in the UK premiere of his latest opera, inspired by Luis Buñuel’s iconic film.

Leonora – Anne Sofie von Otter
Blanca – Christine Rice
Nobile – Charles Workman
Lucia – Amanda Echalaz
Raúl – Frédéric Antoun
Doctor – John Tomlinson
Roc – Thomas Allen
Francisco – Iestyn Davies… and many others

Look at the fine cast but ugh, Buñuel? I don’t know, I’m really unfamiliar with Adès.

Oreste (Wilton’s Music Hall) (8 November–19 November 2016)
George Frideric Handel

See the opera stars of tomorrow in a blackly comic production of Handel’s masterful pasticcio, in the atmospheric setting of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Ermione – Vlada Borovko
Ifigenia – Jennifer Davis
Oreste – Angela Simkin
Pilade – Thomas Atkins
Filotete – Gyula Nagy
Toante – Simon Shibambu

Whoa, look! ROH has sort of caught on to the Baroque craze for its young singers. Sounds like it could be fun. More chance to hear Shibambu’s deep bass voice and let’s see if these yougins measure up to our local baroque talent.

Tuesday lunchtime recital – 4 October at 1.30pm

Francesca Chiejina and Thomas Atkins perform art songs, accompanied by David Gowland.

Francesca Chiejina was the young and very promising soprano who made an impression in JDD’s Masterclass at Guildhall last year. Worth checking her out in recital.

…and of course there are other things that I am not interested in, though I may go see Barbara Hannigan in Written on Skin in a somewhat similar way I’ll put up with Otello for Röschmann.


  1. Though isn’t it a bit weird having real life couples sing lovers on stage?