Showing posts from 2017

Strauss - Elektra (in concert)

La Philharmonie de Paris, Friday December 15 2017

Conductor: Mikko Franck. Elektra: Nina Stemme. Klytemnestra: Waltraud Meier. Chrysotemis: Gun-Brit Barkmin. Orest: Matthias Goerne. Ägisth: Norbert Ernst. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Choeur de Radio France.

A super strong Elektra at the Philharmonie last Friday night.

First of all, Mikko Franck was painstakingly attentive to the score. There are subtleties and details that don’t always make it over the edge of the opera house pit. But here, in a concert hall, with the Philharmonique on remarkable form, they were magnificently laid out in the open for all to hear. Franck’s approach leaned pointedly towards the late romantic: towards the Alpine Symphony, I thought; “towards Wagner,” said a colleague present the same evening. At any rate, more in the 19th-century symphonic tradition than paroxystic expressionism looking forward to, say Wozzeck (which is perhaps how I like Elektra best: wild and exhausting).

The cast was as g…

Happy New Year!


Humperdinck – Hänsel und Gretel (Jancsi és Juliska)

Hungarian State Opera, Erkel Theatre, Budapest, Saturday December 9 2017

Conductor: János Kovács. Director : Rafael R. Villalobos. Sets: Emanuele Sinisi. Costumes: Rafael R. Villalobos. Choreography: Csaba Sebestyén. Hänsel: Gabriella Balga. Gretel: Nánási Helga. Peter (father): Zsolt Haja. Gertrud (mother): Atala Schöck. Witch: Bernadett Wiedemann. The Sleep Fairy: Eszter Zavaros. The Dew fairy: Ingrid Kertesi. Orchestra and Chorus of the Hungarian State Opera.

One of the many nice things about opera in Budapest is that you can usually get a ticket at the last minute. Realising I would be free on Saturday evening, on Friday I hopped on the web and for about 25 euros bought myself a stalls seat at Hänsel und Gretel, or, as here it was sung in Hungarian, Jancsi és Juliska.

The new production by Rafael R. Villalobos, who won the 7th Opera Europa Camerata Nuova opera directing prize in 2013, updated the staging to the present day. This inevitably caused the usual mismatches between libret…

Rossini - Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday December 8 2017

Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Production, sets, costumes: Laurent Pelly, assisted by Cléo Laigret (sets) and Jean-Jacques Delmotte (costumers). Lighting: Joël Adam. Il Conte Almaviva: Michele Angelini. Figaro: Florian Sempey. Rosina: Catherine Trottmann. Bartolo: Peter Kálmán. Basilio: Robert Gleadow. Berta: Annunziata Vestri. Fiorello: Guillaume Andrieux. Le Cercle de l’Harmonie. Unikanti chorus.

According to the TCE’s website, this Barber combined “The verve of Jérémie Rhorer, the poetry of Laurent Pelly and a seasoned cast at ease with this repertoire.”

I’d flown in that morning from a week in Houston, so perhaps I was tired. But I sat there thinking that verve, or better still a touch of Rossinian madness, was exactly what was lacking as Jérémie Rhorer conducted the none-too-accurate Cercle de l’Harmonie. I have yet to understand how and why he has become so well-known (the website mentions his Mozart performances; I don’t know…

Janáček - From The House Of The Dead (Z mrtvého domu)

ONP Bastille, Paris, Friday November 24 2017

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Production: Patrice Chéreau, restaged by Peter McClintock, Vincent Huguet and Thierry Thieû Niang. Sets: Richard Peduzzi. Costumes: Caroline de Vivaise. Lighting: Bertrand Couderc. Alexandr Petrovič Gorjančikov: Willard White. Aljeja, a young Tartar: Eric Stoklossa. Luka Kuzmič (Filka Morozov): Štefan Margita. Big Prisoner: Peter Straka. Small Prisoner: VladimÍr Chmelo. Prison Governor: JiřÍ Sulženko. Elderly Prisoner: Graham Clark. Skuratov: Ladislav Elgr. Čekunov: Ján Galla. Drunk Prisoner: Tomáš Krejčiřík. Cook, Blacksmith: Martin Bárta. Priest: Vadim Artamonov. Young Prisoner: Olivier Dumait. Prostitute: Susannah Haberfeld. Prisoner/Don Juan/The Brahmin: Ales Jeniš. Kedril: Marian Pavlovič. Šapkin: Peter Hoare. Šiškov: Peter Mattei. Čerevin: Andreas Conrad. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

As I’ve often written, it’s hard to do justice, in writing, to a great evening. In this case, the la…

Verdi - Macbeth

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Tuesday October 24 2017

Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda. Macbeth: Dalibor Jenis. Banquo: Marko Mimica. Lady Macbeth: Anna Pirozzi. Macduff: Piero Pretti. Lady-in-waiting: Alexandra Zabala. Orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Regio, Turin.

A thrilling Macbeth in concert at the TCE last night, thanks first of all to conductor Gianandrea Noseda. This was probably the most energetic Verdi I ever heard, Verdi exactly how I, personally, like it: vigorous yet crisply detailed and, mostly, fast (“too fast” said a friend at the interval). The “rumty-tum” stuff (Duncan’s march, the start of the banquet…) was extremely zippy and bouncy, Noseda slashing his baton through the air like a riding crop, urging the work forward. You could see orchestra members enjoying it: swaying along, smiling and tapping their feet. But orchestra and chorus were nevertheless in full control (detailed, as I said) and expressive, capable of extraordinary dynamic range (amazing rustling pi…

Verdi - Don Carlos

ONP Bastille, Thursday October 19 2017

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski. Sets: Małgorzata Szczęśniak. Lighting: Felice Ross. Video: Denis Guéguin. Philippe II: Ildar Abdrazakov. Don Carlos: Jonas Kaufmann. Rodrigue: Ludovic Tézier. Le grand inquisiteur: Dmitry Belosselskiy. Élisabeth de Valois: Sonya Yoncheva. La princesse Eboli: Elīna Garanča. Thibault: Eve-Maud Hubeaux. Députés flamands: Tiago Matos, Michal Partyka, Mikhail Timoshenko, Tomasz Kumiega, Andrei Filonczyk, Daniel Giulianini. Une voix d'en haut: Silga Tīruma. Le comte de Lerme: Julien Dran. Un héraut royal: Hyun-Jong Roh. Le moine: Krzysztof Baczyk. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

For various reasons, the Paris Opera's new Don Carlos had the buzz of a special occasion - something you could feel in the air in the lobbies and not just because sponsor Rolex's guests were unusually dressy.

For a start, marking the 150th anniversary of the work's premiere in Par…

Boesmans - Pinocchio

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday September 10 2017

Conductor: Patrick Davin. Production: Joël Pommerat. Sets and lighting: Eric Soyer. Costumes: Isabelle Deffin. Video: Renaud Rubiano. Le directeur de la troupe, premier escroc, deuxième meurtrier, le directeur de cirque: Stéphane Degout. Le père, troisième meurtrier, le maître d’école: Vincent Le Texier. Le pantin: Chloé Briot. Deuxième escroc, le directeur de cabaret, le juge, premier meurtrier, le marchand d'ânes: Yann Beuron. La chanteuse de cabaret, le mauvais élève: Julie Boulianne. La fée: Marie-Eve Munger. Stage music: Fabrizio Cassol (saxophone and improvisation coordination), Philippe Thuriot (accordion), Tcha Limberger (gypsy violin). La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra.

I try to have a couple of new or at least recent operas in every year's schedule. More often than not the result is rewarding, though I'll never forget how, trapped in the middle of a row during L'Amour de Loin, I ached – literally - to escape. In that …

Bizet - Carmen

ONP Bastille, Tuesday June 13 2017

Conductor: Mark Elder. Production: Calixto Bieito. Sets: Alfons Flores. Costumes: Mercè Paloma. Lighting: Alberto Rodríguez Vega. Don José: Bryan Hymel. Escamillo: Ildar Abdrazakov. Le Dancaïre: Boris Grappe. Le Remendado: François Rougier. Zuniga: François Lis. Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili. Micaëla: Marina Costa-Jackson. Frasquita: Vannina Santoni. Mercédès: Antoinette Dennefeld. Moralès: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine/Paris Opera Children's Choir.

In March I wrote: “As far as I remember, this was the best Carmen production I've seen, however upset the noisy old biddies behind were at the absence of fans and mantillas and castanets and donkeys and all the rest. I may well go back and see it with Anita Rachvelishvili and Hymel in June...” I did and crikey am I glad. The best production of Carmen I’ve ever seen (still, ridiculously, booed a bit), this time with the best ever …

Saint-Saëns - Le Timbre d'argent

Opéra Comique, Paris, Sunday June 11 2017

Conductor: François-Xavier Roth. Production: Guillaume Vincent. Sets: James Brandily. Video: Baptiste Klein. Costumes: Fanny Brouste. Lighting: Kelig Le Bars. Choreography: Herman Diephuis. Magic: Benoît Dattez. Circé/ Fiammetta, danseuse: Raphaëlle Delaunay. Conrad: Edgaras Montvidas. Hélène: Hélène Guilmette. Spiridion: Tassis Christoyannis. Bénédict:Yu Shao. Rosa: Jodie Devos. Accentus choir. Les Siècles orchestra.

The Opéra Comique has opened again and seems set to pursue its policy of scheduling welcome rarities. To me, Saint-Saëns is a very sound composer, so I've long wished we could get to know more of his operas. I was pleased get a shot at Le Timbre d'argent. As it's a very rare piece, here's the plot, as summarised (drastically) on Wikipedia:

Conrad, an artist, has an unhealthy obsession for gold, and is further engrossed by his own painting of Circe, embodied in the living world by Fiametta, a ballerina. Conrad is giv…

Verdi - Aida

Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 4 2017

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Director: Stathis Livathinos. Sets: Alexander Polzin. Costumes: Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. Lighting: Alekos Anastasiou. Choreography: Otto Pichler. Aida: Monica Zanettin. Radamès: Gaston Rivero. Amneris: Ksenia Dudnikova. Amonasro: Giovanni Meoni. Ramfis: Mika Kares. Il Re: Enrico Iori. Una Sacerdotessa: Tamara Banjesevic. Un Messaggero: Julian Hubbard. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

On Saturday night, watching The Voice on TV with friends for the fun of finding fault with it, we saw a pair of teenage hopefuls take on a Bee Gees number and another tackle Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." The result highlighted how good the Gibb brothers and Freddie Mercury actually were and how hard it is, in fact, to sing their songs. The kids were catastrophic. The cast in Brussels the next day far from it: they were pretty good, but just far enough short of premier league to remind us that Verdi isn't …

Sanctuary: A pictorial history of Dartington Summer School of Music

Sanctuary: A pictorial history of Dartington Summer School of Music
By Harriet Cunningham.

How a music school and festival became a meeting place for the world’s greatest musicians, in words and pictures.

From The Author:

"I spent every summer from zero to 25 at Dartington Hall with my family. I grew up at the feet of visiting artists. I begged my parents for a violin. I sang in the choir. I fidgeted through concerts. I worked in the kitchens as a teenager, then as an usher, then a trog. I played in the orchestra. I fell in love. I learned how to live. Dartington Summer School made me who I am, as a person, a musician, a critic and a writer. Now I’m telling its story. This book is a labour of love – a collaboration between the Summer School archivist, Jeremy Wilson, and his daughter, me. I’m hoping to direct profits from the book towards funding an ongoing bursary for a young musician to experience the Summer School, just like I did."

To support the project, click here.

Strauss - Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder), Alpine Symphony

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday May 19 2017

Conductor: Christian Thielemann. Renée Fleming, soprano. Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden.
Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder), Op. 150.Alpine Symphony (Eine Alpensinfonie), Op. 64. The day of the concert, I posted this on Facebook:

The website of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées reduces The Four Last Songs sung by Renée Fleming to something like a cheese straw:

"Leur première soirée cette saison sera de nouveau consacrée à Strauss, Dresde oblige, avec le poème
Une symphonie Alpestre, autre page de Strauss de grande ampleur et à l’orchestration particulièrement riche. Et en guise de mise en bouche, les Quatre derniers Lieder, tout autant testament musical du compositeur que chant du cygne de la musique romantique, interprétés par la soprano américaine Renée Fleming."

A "mise en bouche" is a pre-dinner nibble of some kind. A canapé. A cube of cheese on a cocktail stick...

In the end, as there was no overture to set…

Ginastera - Bomarzo

Teatro Real, Madrid, Sunday May 7 2017

Conductor: David Afkham. Production: Pierre Audi. Sets and Lighting: Urs Schönebaum. Costumes: Wojciech Dziedzic. Videos: Jon Rafman. Choreography: Amir Hosseinpour, Jonathan Lunn. Pier Francesco Orsini: John Daszak. Gian Corrado Orsini: James Creswell. Diana Orsini: Hilary Summers. Girolamo: Germán Olvera. Maerbale: Damián del Castillo. Julia Farnese: Nicola Beller Carbone. Nicolás Orsini: Albert Casals. Silvio de Nardi: Thomas Oliemans. Pantasilea: Milijana Nikolic. Mensajero: Francis Tójar. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real.

Ginastera’s Bomarzo is so rare I decided to make a weekend of it in Madrid. I’m glad I did. In addition to four very full hours spent renewing acquaintance with the Prado and an excellent, extensive exhibition centred on Picasso and  Guernica at the Reina Sofia (not to mention good food and wine), the opera was magnificent. In the house, coupled with the action on stage the score, which I found quite austere on CD at …

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Rimsky-Korsakov - The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka - La Fille de Neige)

ONP bastille, Monday April 25 and Wednesday May 3 2017

Conductor: Mikhail Tatarnikov. Production and Sets: Dmitri Cherniakov. Costumes: Elena Zaitseva. Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky. Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden): Aida Garifullina. Lel: Yuriy Mynenko. Kupava: Martina Serafin. Tsar Berendey: Maxim Paster. Mizgir: Thomas Johannes Mayer. Spring Beauty: Elena Manistina. Grandfather Frost: Vladimir Ognovenko. Bermyata: Franz Hawlata. Bobyl Bakula: Vasily Gorshkov. Bobylikha: Carole Wilson. Wood-Sprite: Vasily Efimov. First Herald: Vincent Morell. Second Herald: Pierpaolo Palloni. Tsar's page: Olga Oussova. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris. Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine.

I’d been delighted to see some Rimsky-Korsakov on this year’s schedules at last, but maddeningly missed the Golden Cockerel in Brussels, in Laurent Pelly’s production, because a sudden cold snap froze the trains. Fortunately there was still The Snow Maiden to come, and my experience of Cherniakov so far ha…

Toshio Hosokawa - Matsukaze

La Monnaie at the Théâtre National, Brussels, Sunday April 9 2017

Conductor: Bassem Akiki. Production and choreography: Sasha Waltz. Sets: Pia Maier Schriever, Chiharu Shiota. Costumes: Christine Birkle. Lighting: Martin Hauk. Matsukaze: Barbara Hannigan. Murasame: Charlotte Hellekant. Mönch: Frode Olsen. Fischer: Kai-Uwe Fahnert. La Monnaie Chamber Music Orchestra. Sasha Waltz & Guests. Vocalconsort Berlin.

My first experience of an opera by Toshio Hosokawa was his Hanjo, shortly before Matsukaze was premiered in May 2011, and I liked it. So I wasn't totally put off by La Monnaie's Synopsis of the latter, however unpromising it looked:

"On a beach, a monk on a pilgrimage discovers a single pine tree on which two names have been carved: Matsukaze (Wind in the Pine Trees) and Murasame (Autumn Rain), the names of two sisters who are buried nearby. He falls asleep next to a shed for storing salt. Matsukaze and Murasame fill their buckets with seaweed and leave the beach. T…

Janacek - Foxie! The Cunning Little Vixen.

Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday April 2 2017.

Conductor: Antonello Manacorda. Production and costumes: Christophe Coppens. Sets: Christophe Coppens & I.S.M. Architecten. Lighting: Peter van Praet. Revírník (Forester): Andrew Schroeder. Revírníková (Forester’s wife): Sara Fulgoni. Rechtor (Schoolmaster): John Graham-Hall. Farář (Parson), Jezevec: Alesander Vassiliev. Harašta: Vincent Le Texier. Pásek (Innkeeper): Yves Saelens. Bystrouška (Vixen): Lenneke Ruiten. Pásková (Innkeeper’s wife): Mireille Capelle. Lišák (Fox): Eleonore Marguerre. Mala Bystrouška (Young vixen): Maria Portela Larisch. Frantík, Kobylka: Logan Lopez Gonzalez. Pepík, Cvrček: Marion Bauwens. Lapák: Kris Belligh. Kohout: Willem van der Heyden. Chocholka: Virginie Léonard. Skokánek: Heleen Goeminne. Datel: Birgitte Bonding. Komár: Alain-Pierre Wingelinckx. Sova: Beata Morawska. Sojka: Lieve Jacobs. Solo Liščička: Margareta Köllner. La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus and MM Academy.

It was a frustrating aftern…