Archive | January, 2012

Mezzogasm / Winterreise / Alice Coote + Julius Drake / Wigmore Hall – 26 January 2012

27 Jan

Winterreise is such a canon and a true challenge for vocal recitalists interested in German Lied. This return to it by Alice Coote after her 2008 first attempt at the same venue was an evening of deep intellectual engagement and a journey of the heart. Surely a cycle that benefits from a woman’s warm touch.

Her appearance on stage with eyes as moist as the poet Wilhelm Muller describes, was a perfect match for Elena Gerhardt’s famous quote on the work ‘You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it’. The first bleak introduction into Gute Nacht/Good night to the departure of the man from the house of his beloved was played with butch conviction by Drake and a thin thread of voice by Coote that snarled the last Schnee/snow of the first verse in a piercing cry, pre-figuring what was to come next.

Her visceral turn of phrase chasing the piano throughout the circle created a sense of tension which paired with her unwavering, sustained emotional engagement was a perfect amalgamation of text, music and subject matter. She sang Wenn meine Schmerzen schweigen, Wer sagt mir damn von ihr? / Who, when my grief is silent, will speak to me of her?  in Erstarrung/Numbness with a devastated search for life amongst the snow on a background of rapidly played triplets was a marvel.

Her rendition of Der Lindenbaum/The linden tree was one of such simplicity and softness that was winning and intensifying the emotional core of the work. Ich träumt in seinem Schatten. So manchen süßen Traum/I used to dream in its shade, so many a sweet dream ,was lustful with her production of glorious round tone. Her deep breaths before the last verse brought us further in this world of romantic suffering. The repetition of the last line was as hushed as a lullaby contrasting with the high dramatic delivery of the next song Wasserflut/Flood which was much more imposing in character and darker in delivery.

For Auf dem Flusse/On the river we were treated to a description of the scene painted with beautiful colours Coote’s voice finishing with a fierce Ob’s unter seiner Rinde.Wohl auch so reißend schwillt?/Is there such a raging torrent beneath its surface too? The fast-moving Rückblick/A backward glance added urgency and spring to the step.

She concluded Irrlicht/Will-o’-the-wisp with a simple and serious repeat of Wind’ ich ruhig mich hinab,Jeder Strom wird’s Meer gewinnen,Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab./I calmly make my way down – every river will reach the sea, every sorrow find its grave. She then gave a relieved and at the same time restless delivery of Rast/Rest.

Frühlingstraum/Dream of spring was a captivating interplay of steely vocal delivery for all the morbid thoughts at the start that turned in to a feeling of wistful remembrance and helplessness. She followed in the same mood with Einsamkeit/Loneliness culminating in her projection of the word licht/light straight upwards to the ceiling of the Hall almost physically going against that natural tormentor of the hero. A subtle but telling way of all the small details that she brought to the evening and made this song cycle a lived experience that was narrated back with those world-weary limps and eyes welling up.

Die Post/The mail-coach was a wonderful merge of piano and voice, Drake created the intricate, playful  backdrop for Coote’s heart-broken delivery. That led to Der greise Kopf/The hoary head where she used her warm chest voice to describe the wish to find succour in death. The plucked motifs of Die Krähe/The crow ended with a fierce, bitter wish to come closer to death. That gave way to the contained, quiet reverie of Letzte Hoffnung/Last hope with her voice describing the trembling leaf with a fluctuating middle register.

Her steely gliding tone in Im Dorfe/In the village gave an interesting textural richness that prepared us for the quick-moving, almost breathless Der stürmische Morgen/The stormy morning which she navigated with urgency.

Täuschung/Delusion took us back to the heart of the character, a desperate description of unattainable happiness. The dynamic shaping of the phrases was soft and effortless.

Der Wegweiser/The signpost was a combination of silky delivery in the first half and crushing grief and a sense of inevitability in the last few lines. Das Wirtshaus/The inn opened with lustful, lush piano and Coote moving from weariness to an accusing frenzy. Almost a condensed mad scene in four minutes, a stunning moment where she took a risk and added visceral engagement and dramatic vigour that thankfully did not make the scene seem ridiculously soppy. Her Nun weiter denn, nur weiter, mein treuer Wanderstab!/On,then.ever onwards, my trusty staff! was an impassioned conclusion.

The last three songs allowed her to conclude in the most fierce manner possible. Mut!/Courage! was a last rallying cry of the inner voice of the hero with the proclamation Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, Sind wir selber Götter!/If there’s no god on earth, then we ourselves are gods. Her intoxicating delivery of Die Nebensonnen/Phantom suns was the personification of disillusionment in a dream-like scenario. The concluding Der Leiermann/The organ-grinder was dramatic and still subtle. She looked out in search for that other wretched soul that would accompany the hero into the underworld. After the final  Willst zu meinen Liedern deine Leier drehn?/Will you grind your hurdy-gurdy to my songs? ,almost a minute of silence followed as she stood immobile in suspended animation. Alike a figurehead in the bow of this Schubertian ship.

It was this rare beast of a recital when venue, work and performers created a unified whole that was stunning. The performance tugged at the heart-strings like nothing else I’ve seen in months. A master-class in marriage of stage magnetism, great singing and truth. Alice Coote and Julius Drake should be truly proud on delving deep and offering us an insight into this song cycle that very few artists can do. We were all very lucky tonight and the memory of it will be with me for a very long time.

The performance was recorded for future release on cd…so look out for it!

2013 Update

The CD and download is available from 8 April 2013, here’s the link to the Amazon UK page.

Some tweets from the evening

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How much?

25 Jan

Having had a look through the new season listings by the major London-based orchestras. Somehow happened upon the amazingly high prices of visiting orchestras, (Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra / Staatskapelle Berlin) particularly at the Royal Festival Hall…top price seems to be a consistent £85, which seems very steep and even the back of the Stalls is priced at £70! At the same venue the Philharmonia’s top price is £35 with some premium seats at £45. The LPO charge £39, with premium seats at a considerable £65.

Compare that with the top price for many Barbican concerts by the LSO  of £35 and decent seats at Circle for £19.50 .  At the same venue the New York Phil is playing with a top price of £45!

The Wigmore Hall is charging an average top price of £30-35 with some very decent seats for £15-20.

Clearly the subsidy from the Corporation of London is helping to keep Barbican prices on the low-end, but am very surprised by the prices at the South Bank Centre. Paying £85-70 in order to listen to music at the very hollow acoustic of the Royal Festival Hall is not exactly the most tempting proposition. This season except for a rare London appearance by Jessye Norman I will stay away from the RFH due to their prices, regrettably as I do love the Philharmonia.

The SBC is pricing themselves out of my concert going budget and make themselves look terrible value even in comparison to the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

Has anyone else noticed the climb in prices?

Classical appliances

21 Jan

This morning on Twitter…as it happens the conversation went towards an unexpected direction and ended up making some mock adverts of Classical biz stars (had to use that term due to -that- waffle iron). Thought I’d add them here for an extra laugh. If they don’t make laugh…try the real thing, Myleene Klass Nails.




Rosenblatt Recital, Artur Ruciński + James Vaughan / St John Smith’s Square – 18 January 2012

20 Jan

Usually when I attend a recital I tend to be immensely amused and charmed when singers add to their programmes songs in their native language. This recital will be the exception, both the accompanist and Ruciński seemed too ill at ease with the four sonnets. I would guess lack of enough rehearsal time was to blame. Sight reading the lines in Polish from the score throughout was a pointer to that. Thank heavens they tweaked the running order and the interval came after the aria from Faust, otherwise I am not sure I would be too willing to return after the interval.

His two arias from I Puritani and Don Pasquale were great vehicles to display his limpid tone and fearless delivery. His passion and sadness as Sir Riccardo was palpable and his first fortissimo passage did make a few members of the audience shudder, he can be very loud if the piece allows, which was very effective with the too neutral and dry acoustic of the space. His Dr Malatesta was good fun but somehow I felt a gap between an attempt at interpretation and his clear intention to please the all (too approving) audience. He was surely a buffo baritone but somehow the character as envisaged by Donizetti was missing.

His Valentin was not a good fit for his voice type, his French delivery was not as unforced as his flowing Italian and maybe the voice is a tad too strident and steely for this repertoire.  The interval came and I was thinking of the strength of his voice and the powerful delivery and the lightness of touch in bel canto.

His Count Almaviva was surely acted and he wasn’t just playing to the audience. Clearly a result of his stage experience in the role. It may sound harsh, but despite the limitations of the concert platform, interpretation is possible if not more needed than when in a fully staged performance. His Count a thinking, living character, the last ringing Il colpo e fatto was  a great signifier his arrogance and moved on to a climatic signature Mozartian expression of rage. Up to that point that was the most natural bit of singing of the night.

The two Tchaikovsky arias were a very good fit for his voice, the tautness of the sound was fresh and the Russian sounded involved and a proper romantic opera interpretation. At times his Onegin sounded on the sharp side but the overall atmosphere and confidence were winning. Unfortunately the accompaniment maybe was not up to his standard, with a tentative touch Vaughan did not sound fluent enough.

The final programmed aria was for me the best piece of the evening, for the first time his projection was full bloodied and from the mask, the voice lost any steely edge it had up to that point and delivered a wonderful rendition of Rodrigo’s death aria with passion and more empathy than displayed earlier in this recital. A total joy to listen to, the phrasing was elegant and attuned to what a grand opera by Verdi requires. The loud cheers were truly deserved.

His encores were Di Provenza il mar from La Traviata and Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre from Carmen were a good way to close the recital. Despite my misgivings at asking the audience to clap for the toreador aria and throwing the rose he was given straight to a woman on my row! But it was a bit of fun on a Wednesday evening and hope he returns to London for maybe some fully staged Verdi in the very near future.

On the whole this was a great introduction of the singer to a London audience, as always with this recital series you never know where the singers will be in the next five years. Judging on the stars they gave the stage to, early on in their careers, it’s a great place to see the stars of tomorrow.

Some tweets from the evening

Anti-SOPA protest day

18 Jan

David Pountney 1 – Norman Lebrecht 0

17 Jan

This morning a link to a blog post by David Pountney, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Welsh National Opera as a response to as usual baseless and naive article by Norman Lebrecht in Standpoint Magazine (who buys it, I wonder), grabbed my attention.

Any classical/opera world followers on Twitter are too well versed in Mr Lebrecht’s attention seeking, ambulance chasing ways. I am truly grateful that someone of Pountney’s stature took a stand and publicly denounced his lazy assumptions about funding. He makes a number of great points about the nature of the opera business and of art in general. I totally agree with all his points. Additionally, pure commercial enterprises have very rarely produced good quality opera programming. Utter the name Raymond Gubbay (a favourite of the Royal Albert Hall, old Norman, isn’t he?) to any opera lover and you will see 😉

Bravo to DP and hope all the readers of my blog will read his post.

David Pountney’s Adventures of the Spirit blog post

Norman Lebrecht’s Just say no to State Funding article (watch out for the tulip metaphor!)

Read More

The new season announcement by the WNO

Follow the hilarious Fake Norman Lebrecht, much better than the real thing!

(dis)Enchanted Island live and in HD

16 Jan

The promotional circus surrounding the staging of the Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera has had all the ingredients one would hope for a good, gripping story. The originators announcing it as a new creation that will not be understood by the specialist baroque fans ( the piece by Jeremy Sams in The Guardian was reeking of desperation and essentially questions the intelligence of New York opera fans).  The cast as true pros supported it, as they should (it pays the bills). And the Met has been clutching the straws, by using as the main headline good review, one  published in the pile of odious shit that is the Huffington Post.

A couple of screen shots of the Orchestra section of the Met shows the brutal truth, it has not sold out on any date.

Of course the million $ question is if the holier than thou Mr Gelb will listen to the lack of hard cold cash at the box office and maybe adjust future projects accordingly (the stated partial re-write of Two Boys is a positive step).

To conclude with good news, at least the HD broadcast this Saturday 21 January is nearly sold out at most London cinemas.

Read More

The Article by Jeremy Sams trying to sell hard the Island

Lucy’s wonderful blog on the Island

Rufus and the battle to save the NYCO

8 Jan

A friend forwarded me an email from Rufus Wainwright’s website with the dramatic title: An Operatic Request from Rufus Wainwright. You can read the full text on his website. It seemed to meander aimlessly how important opera is to him and how the New York City Opera is in dire financial state (tell us something new, dear Rufus). He throws in some references to life and death for gravitas and closes with a request for everyone to go and buy tickets for the New York staging of Prima Donna. Instantly I wondered what was clearly missing…

Did not see an indication that maybe he would waive his fee to help out, or that he would stage a fundraiser to help the NYCO. Another option would be of course to ask the fans to donate to a fund or something, instead of just asking them to buy tickets.

I am not necessarily castigating his motives but I feel like calling out the negative effect his Prima Donna may have on the embattled NYCO. A company with a deficit running at: $6.717.000 should be involved with this vanity project that was unceremoniously dropped by the Met Opera a couple of years ago? Especially on the back of other commercially unsuccessful projects, that is continuing to sink financially and shrinking audiences. All opera fans applaud experimental new repertoire but not at a time when the company is about to be torn into shreds and possibly go bankrupt. Julius Rudel’s open letter last year clearly pointed the finger at the mismanagement of the institution and he is a man that knows from the inside the mess the Company is in. His advice is to push forward and be bold, not retrench and lose valuable personnel that will make its existence impossible.

New York, indeed like most big cosmopolitan centres deserves at least two major opera houses (as Wainwright points out in his letter) but using its scant resources, away from its rightful home at the New York State Theater (lately the David H. Koch Theater) staging an opera in French by an unknown operatic quantity like Wainwright is near incomprehensible, verging on the self destructive. I hope that a lot of Rufus’ fans will indeed show up (if the season doesn’t get cancelled altogether) and at least help recoup the costs of putting it up.

But it seems things have gone from bad to worse yesterday, with George Steel, the company boss, essentially freezing upcoming piano rehearsals for La Traviata. He and the board of the Company have essentially created an entity without a permanent home, no orchestra and singers for the time being. Let’s hope that a way out of the current stalemate is found very soon, otherwise a much admired institution will be lost.

Read More

New York Times report on the latest sad developments at NYCO

The blog of the musicians of the NYCO

New York Times on the NYCO deficit

The accounts of NYCO for 2010-11 (PDF)

Julius Rudel’s 6 June 2011 passionate open letter in the NY Times

Tony Tommasini’s conversation piece with Julius Rudel, published in the NY Times throws more light at the start of the current problems

The full text of the open letter from opera singers against the move from Lincoln Centre

Eve Arnold, one of the greatest photographers passes aged 99

6 Jan

Once one sees a photograph by Eve Arnold is surely aware that this is not any random photo journalist. She had a unique tenderness and the very femininity of her gaze is rare and therefore precious. Through the pages of the Sunday Times her shots animated events and important people for decades. Her beautifully curated books allowed us to flick through her stunning imagery from the comfort of our armchairs.

I will for ever be in love with her Marilyn Monroe book that she published in 1987 and then reissued with 28 never before seen photographs in 2005. It is an elegy to a true legend of the screen, letting her guard down, knowing that Arnold was not there to embarrass her but to capture her day-to-day reality and create photo stories for newspapers and magazines. It was an extraordinary collaboration between the two women that lasted from 1952 to 1961. Arnold’s gaze is if nothing else a protective cocoon through the difficult shoots of The Prince and the Showgirl and The Misfits. Her Marilyn is having her hair done, her make up retouched, chatting with her co-stars, having conversations with Henry Miller, reading books, changing outfits, rolling around in bed and meadows naked. Her Marilyn is a creature fragile but also assertive and intelligent. A world apart from the desperate filmic courtesan of Hollywood myth. One reporter asked her what was it like to photograph Marilyn, her answer is typical Arnold:

It was like watching a print come up in the developer. The latent image was there – it needed just her time and temperature controls to bring it into being. It was a stroboscopic display and all the photographer had to do was to stop time at any given instant and Marilyn would bring forth a new image

(quote from Marilyn Monroe – Eve Arnold page 155)

If you have a copy handy, open it up and revel in the beauty or look out for one. It is one of my most treasured books that never fails to enthrall and fascinate. Arnold was one of the finest photographers at capturing the human spirit on celluloid, a true technician full of humanity and empathy. She will hopefully be referenced as one of the great photographers of people,  alongside Cartier-Bresson, Brassai and Richard Avedon.

Read More

Her page on her agency’s website, Magnum

The Guardian’s obituary

A selection of her photographs on The Guardian’s website

The last edition of the Marilyn book was this one

Goodbye 2011 / Stormy weather edition

2 Jan

Just a quick note to express how wonderful it was to visit again the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea on Saturday and say goodbye to 2011, next to the stormy sea and enveloped by the amazing Modernist masterpiece that the Pavilion really is.

Built in 1935 by  Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff it is a supreme demonstration how Modernism can reflect back on both location and function, providing a wonderful backdrop for the seaside views and a flowing space that makes people the main spectacle. The two staircases are beautiful at capturing light and giving a sense of occasion, but it is the movement of the users that activates the space and makes it an ongoing performance.

Beauty, elegance, simplicity.

If you haven’t been, rush to see both the excellent Warhol exhibition (which is free, and do not be put off by the stupid title)

Here is a link to my photo set on Flickr: Click! 

For general information on the Pavilion check it’s Wikipedia entry: Click!

And here’s the link to their website: Click!

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