Archive | August, 2012

Beginning of rehearsals / ENO Julietta blog

27 Aug

Last week I introduced you to Claire Pendleton a soprano with the English National Opera Chorus, who will take us through the rehearsal process for  Bohuslav Martinů‘s Julietta which is opening on 17 September 2012. This week she looks into the musical preparation before the first week of rehearsals and the first contact with the director of the production and the chorus master.

This is a little insight on how we start rehearsing for an opera – specifically, Julietta.

The chorus started looking at the score during the last couple of weeks of season 2011/12, in July. We do not have a chorus master/mistress at the moment so Martin Fitzpatrick (known to all as Fitz); the Head of Music has taken over the hard task of preparing us for all operas until a suitable candidate has been found.

Fitz is very knowledgeable and well-regarded by all at ENO. It is such a privilege to have him putting us through our paces for each opera. He is very specific in what he wants to hear and how we should sing it, this is invaluable with an opera like Julietta as the chorus sections are small and sporadic, so detail is important. There are no long, legato lines. It’s all punchy, little lines interspersed with the soloists.

Only six female chorus members are on stage in act one and act three. Act two has eight female choristers and during the rest of the opera, the chorus sing off-stage.

As we sing every opera in English, the diction is very important but it mustn’t get in the way of the musical line. We spend rehearsals working through the score, marking up difficult rhythms, tempi and key changes. We continue to repeat sections in order to memorize chunks of the opera, and then we can put them all together and get ready for the first production call. Hopefully by that time we have managed to memorize the whole opera.

We have had costume fittings which for some of us have been made by external seamstresses. They bring half-made creations in for the first fitting and make adjustments whilst we wear them, other times they adapt existing costumes. This method helps produce a fabulous tailor-made costume that fits perfectly and is very comfortable to perform in. I will take pictures of my costume once it’s finished and we’re rehearsing at the Coliseum. I have long hair so it will probably be styles rather than wearing a wig. I’ll know more once we get into the theatre and everything is ready!

We’ve started production rehearsals with the director, Richard Jones. The venue for the rehearsals is the Lilian Baylis Studio inside Sadler’s Wells Theatre. We have a wooden mock-up of the different parts of the set, which is helping us to get used to the exact space that we’ll get on stage. Richard is a man of great detail, he is also very easy to work with and is one of the favourite directors of the chorus. He has specific moves, gestures, noises for us on certain parts of the music and scene. It is so helpful to work with a director that knows the score so well. In my opinion Richard’s operas have lots of mad-cap ideas. Always exceptionable, a little dark and totally off the wall. I love working with him. He has a great sense of humour too. We always laugh at something he says every rehearsal, which is fun and lightens the atmosphere during the long days in the studio. During the rehearsal we get to run through chorus sections with the music director. Our esteemed leader, Ed Gardner is conducting Julietta.

We’re coming up to the sitzprobe* this week (Wednesday 29th), which will be the first time the singers get to work with the orchestra. This is always a magical experience for me, the opera really comes alive then. I am looking forward to it so much! Watch out for the blog next week to see how did it go and what comes up next.

You can also follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

*Sitzprobe (German) is a term used in opera and musical theatre to describe a seated rehearsal – which is the literal translation of Sitzprobe – where the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. It is often the first rehearsal where the orchestra and singers rehearse together. The equivalent Italian term is prova all’italiana.

The trailer for the production

The Stockhausen blast / Mittwoch aus Licht / Birmingham Opera Company / World Premiere – 22 August 2012

24 Aug

A lot of words circulate in my mind relating to attending the world premiere of Mittwoth aus Licht on Wednesday night…much like Stockhausen’s fabled dreams, here’s a random selection: Unique, Audacious, Excessive, Spiritual, Trekkie Convention, Extraordinary, Capricious, Daring, Ridiculous, Unfathomable, Sleek, Mesmerizing, Technical, Polyphonic Marvel, Unnerving, Contradictory, Illuminating, Mystical, Terrifying, Atmospheric, Ludicrous, Humorous, Complex, Long, Rich, Gesamtkunstwerk, Brave, Showy, Intoxicating, Great Face Painting, Vast Empty Space, Surprising. They would possibly make a good start for a word association game…but I’ll leave that to the readers.

I’ve always found Stockhausen’s work taxing and many times it has defeated me. Additionally his mature work is impossible to experience fully in recorded form, as his Quadrophonic and Octophonic sound installations with meticulous attention to detail create the environment that presents the work in the best possible light. Experiencing such a complex piece in person it feels more like encountering the most ambitious art installation than a purely musical/theatrical event. The sheer scale and wealth of detail makes up for a bewildering, overstimulating evening. One has to come into such a multi layered event with the intention to go along with the, at times outlandish,  subject matter and be immersed in the ambience. It seems to me the more the listener puts in the more he takes away, surely not a composer to encourage lazy listening and the whole set up by Birmingham Opera underlined that beautifully. His work is demanding but when staged with such conviction as Graham Vick did, makes for a spectacularly unmissable night out.

Walking through a rough area of Birmingham going past industrial units and factories was unappealing enough and then the skies opened for a shower on Wednesday…it made for an inauspicious start to a long evening. Mind you, being greeted by two camels on entering was an equally baffling and charming start. Argyle Works seems to be the venue of choice for Birmingham Opera and it surely works for Vick’s rough and ready stagings. The industrial, almost untouched look of the factory spaces create a distinctive feel that was greatly in tune with Stockhausen’s aesthetic, they created neutral backdrops for the theatre of the mind, something a gilded opera house could and would not do for Mittwoch.

When the heavy industrial shutter closed behind us and the space plunged in darkness it was an assault on our senses, as if going into self-preservation mode, trying to detect motion in the dark, to smell the air and to look out for performers passing by. The electronic music playing a humming backdrop to the darkness felt like an initiation ceremony into the mind of Stockhausen the lighting concentrating on groups of dancers, two of them scaling the walls and seemingly having a quarrel, a long platform arrives with a distinctive thump giving us a courtly mise-en-scene, dancers crowded on a doorway with one of them climbing on top of them and walking through. The iconography is distinctly opaque but one has to make a leap of faith and go along with Stockhausen and Vick on this journey as after all this is the Greeting. The constant searching for the action becomes a cat and mouse game between audience and cast it remains exciting through the near six-hour duration. The action/stage is alternating through two almost identical spaces with a small passage lit up with yellow neon to continue the theme of hope and love.

The World Parliament section was possibly the most traditionally written (of course sang in imaginary languages and with amplified sound and a long wave receiver) where over 70 singers surrounded us on what looked like umpire’s chairs in signature Wittwoch yellow. Their faces painted in different world flags. The polyphonic writing is truly exceptional and with the added on subtle amplification and use of the complex sound set up it made it an all enveloping experience, after all Stockhausen was after an otherworldly experience over the clouds, this production made him proud. The colourings and provocative stylings, particularly for the soprano, were magnificent displays of the human voice in a most unleashed state. The members of Ex Cathedra gave their all in this very tricky piece and made the room reverberate with the most extraordinary sounds. In the end he smeared their face paint and came down to give a handshake to the audience.

Putting up Mittwoch is a logistical nightmare and it is most obvious during the notorious Helicopter String Quartet. It is impossible to under-estimate how cool it is to have the players showing up and then to watch them on a video link for half an hour as they embark disembark and play each in their own helicopter. Written as the outcome of a dream it makes for a thrilling spectacle. The technical requirements are dazzling on both broadcasting it live and the actual technical side of co-ordinating the four players with a click track and instructions to the pilots. As usual with Stockhausen the work only exists in the live mix in the room as balanced by the engineer in charge (there is a famous CD recording of the piece but it can never replicate the live sound). Unfortunately one let down was the presenter from Radio 1 (DJ Nihal) who was more of an animateur than explaining the process, as the composer specified. It is strange why didn’t they ask the sound projectionist (Ian Dearden) to host this part (as the performance instructions clearly state). His jokes really fell on deaf ears (tiresome mentions of the Stockhausen massive and a reference to mini-bus fetish gives you an idea) as a large proportion of the audience was German, they were more than happy to ignore his parochial humour. But the sheer grandeur and excitement of watching it happen live was uniquely memorable. The Elysian Quartet have to be congratulated for taking it on and bringing their youthful vibrancy against the potentially scary and unpredictable conditions. Also love this picture of the pilots “playing” which they posted on their Facebook account! I wonder if anyone in Birmingham got really angry not being able to watch the awful One Show on BBC One while the helicopters where flying overhead 😉

The Orchestra Finalists section with the suspended musicians was beautifully staged to bring out the humour and playfulness of the ensemble. It’s not every day you get to see a trombonist splashing about in a paddling pool while being carried around on a raised platform while the audience is lying on their back below. Or having wooden birds mounted on long canes dangling centimetres above our heads. The dancers trying to kill a swarm of imaginary flies (clearly audible through the speakers) on members of the audience.  It is a pretty nutty way to present this segment! Which was also padded up with paper planes being thrown around (only to end up being eaten by the performers/dancers), two chaps with top hats emitting smoke, a mummy playing a small gong… you get the idea. It was like a fun day for a group of schoolchildren playing the most eccentric musical snippets while yo-yoing from the ceiling. That sense of fun is the saving grace for much of the piece, Stockhausen has an eye for mischief and as realised in Birmingham we all felt part of it (including getting splashed as the paddling pool was going past overhead).

The fifth section was Michaelion heavy with symbolism and a camel that gives birth to the chosen Operator and his short-wave receiver and also shits celestial objects from distant solar systems…yep it’s the most intricate and less lucid part of the work and the final sung section even adorns his tombstone in the cemetery of Kürten. Composed as most of the 29 hours of the whole Light/Licht opera cycle on the formula that Stockhausen devised, a compositional strategy very much in tune with other electronic music composers from IRCAM and elsewhere. Dispersed amongst us where actors splattered in signature yellow paint who contributed ritualistic dancing at the election of the new leader and also helped sing the beautiful staccati notes written for them and expected to be performed en parade. Ah yes, there was also a shoe-shine serenade for the camel and also a huge inflatable bottle of champagne! This section was possibly the only one that felt too long, to the point when the singers came near us carrying, what seemed like, giant pretzels on sticks I couldn’t help but feel slightly hungry 😉

The Farewell was another downbeat segment like the Greeting allowing all of us to wind down, while surrounded by the performers holding up signs with mottos relating to the composer’s ideas throughout the opera and were led next doors for drinks and conversation…

The biggest credit has to be given to Kathinka Pasveer who was a long-term collaborator of the composer and the Director of the Stockhausen Foundation. She was mixing the live sound throughout the evening with great care and created an impeccably well crafted soundscape befitting such an ambitious work. Made even more special being staged on a Wednesday and on the anniversary of Stockhausen’s birth…you can imagine him smiling down from whichever planet he’s moved onto 😉

My photos from the evening

Read more

Graham Vick interview in the Telegraph 

A piece by Alex Petridis for The Guardian

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Claire! / The ENO Julietta rehearsal blog starts here

20 Aug

I have only had one guest blogger so far in the form of @Mirto_P who wrote a beautiful account of an early encounter with the uncomfortable side of an opera recital, which you can read here.
Thought it would be a great idea, to ease everyone in the new opera season with a blog written by a singer. And this time I thought it was time we gave it a little twist, we have all read blogs about preparing for a role by one of the soloists, but this time we will focus on a chorus member as a way to communicate their important contribution and equally intensive preparation. Sometimes singing on stage with the rest of the cast and others being the off stage voice of the people or the neighbours,a chorus is an essential element for most operas.
In particular the chorus of the English National Opera is well known for the variety of repertoire they perform and also about their genuine dramatic engagement, so I was delighted that Claire Pendleton one of the sopranos of the ENO chorus agreed to join me on the blog to take us through the six week long rehearsals for Bohuslav Martinů’s Julietta. Every Monday we will look into the progress of the rehearsals and also any particular stages/processes that Claire finds worth highlighting.
Following is a brief biography and also a few questions to get to know her a little bit better. You can also follow her on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Claire Pendleton studied at UCL/Birkbeck College, where she received distinction in Opera Performance and was awarded an Ottakar Kraus Memorial Scholarship. She then gained a Postgraduate Diploma at Trinity College of Music, studying with Wendy Eathorne and Geoffrey Pratley; winning several scholarships including the Ricordi Opera Prize and Beatrice Taylor Memorial Scholarship.

Whilst at college Claire sang as Madame Lidoine (Dialogue of the Carmelites), at Spitalfields Opera conducted by Andrea Quinn and received critical acclaim for the British fully staged premiere, in the title role of Barber’s Vanessa, at the Bloomsbury Theatre conducted by Gregory Rose.

Since leaving college, operatic roles have included Tetka cover (Jenufa) and Giulia cover (Gondoliers), Lakme soprano (On the Town), Vendor & Young Woman (Kismet) for English National Opera, Mimi & Musetta (La Boheme) for ENO’s Baylis Programme and Mabel & Gianetta for ENO Friends evening, Anna Bolena for Swansea City Opera, Rusalka for ‘I Maestri’ and Opera Box, First Lady (Magic Flute), for Opera Project and Opera à la Carte, Helmwige cover (Die Walküre) for Northern Wagner Orchestra, Aminta (Schweigsame Frau) for Garsington Opera Educational Project, Anna (Nabucco) at Blackheath Concert Halls, Mimi (La Boheme), Countess Almaviva (Marriage of Figaro), Michaela (Carmen) and Queen of The Night (Magic Flute). Gilbert & Sullivan roles include Yum-Yum, Rose Maybud, Celia, Gianetta and Fiametta along with Frasquita (Carmen), Madame Silberklang (Schauspieldirektor) and High Priestess (Aida).
Recently with English National Opera, Claire has sung the roles of Solo Woman in Puccini’s Turandot (2010), Old Woman in Alexander Raskatov’s A Dog’s Heart (2011), Suburban Mum in Nico Muhly’s opera Two Boys (2011) and off stage solos for Detlev Glanert’s Caligula (2012). She also covered the roles of Mrs Naidoo in Philip Glass’ Satyagraha (2010) and Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal (2011).

Claire has performed in many venues around the UK and abroad. She has recorded the role of Blush of Morning, in Arthur Sullivan’s Rose of Persia, with the Hanover Band, which is now released on the CPO label. She has also recorded for Chandos, BBC television and BBC Music Magazine. She studies with the distinguished soprano Marie McLaughlin.

A short Q&A

When did you realise you wanted to be a singer?

I sang in the senior school choir at secondary school, which introduced me to oratorios and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I remember Catherine Wyn-Rogers coming to sing the mezzo solo in Verdi’s Requiem. I was blown away. I then joined a weekend youth club & was introduced to my first singing teacher, Norman Welsby. He was encouraging, supportive and brought opera into my life. The first arias I worked on were Cherubino’s (Voi che sapete + Non so più from The Marriage of Figaro). I was totally transfixed by Mozart and became an avid fan. I saved up to go and see as many operas as I could. I queued up for the stars’ autographs too! I carried on with lessons and sang roles with operatic societies in and around London. My teacher at the time was Keith Bonnington, he sang in the ENO chorus and persuaded me to audition for extra chorus. My first opera at the Coliseum was War and Peace in 2001. The rest is history.

How long have you been part of ENO’s chorus?

I was an extra chorister from 2001 and was contracted to sing 2 or 3 operas a season. In 2005 I was employed on an annual contract to cover maternity leave so that was my first taste of full-time chorus work. It was SO hard! I covered annual contracts for 3 years then in 2007 I auditioned for a permanent soprano position and was lucky enough to get it, so for the last 5 years I’ve been full-time.

What has been the most challenging (physically or musically) work you have performed?

Gosh! Where to start. There have been a few. Nixon In China was a tough gig. I had to cover all the sopranos in the chorus. They all had a different physical gesture on each word in some of the scenes. That was tough to memorize. The music was tough too but I adored it, especially as I got to work briefly with the director, Peter Sellars. One of my favourite and challenging operas is Satyagraha. This was a great achievement to learn and memorize Sanskrit. You need good vocal stamina to sing the high, long phrases. The production was stunning and when we revived it I got to cover Janis Kelly. Doctor Atomic had some numbers that were tough to memorize musically. I grew to love it more than Nixon In China, which I never thought possible. I was positioned in a high box being harnessed in and having to lean out whilst singing. I realise now that I could never do that again. I was terrified every night.

Last season we performed The Death of Klinghoffer. The music is stunning but the opening scene starts with the women in a very tricky number to memorize. It was almost like a vocalize. I think that was demanding vocally and physically. I also played a hostage and that was physically tough but very enjoyable.

What is your music of choice at home?

I love a lot of different music. French cafe songs – Charles Trenet, Edif Piaf, Leo Ferre, Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier …

Columbian & Cuban bands, Buena Vista Social Club, traditional jazz,
American rock & metal bands – Guns & Roses, Aerosmith, Black Crowes, Bon Jovi, Poison…

Easy listening pop – Abba, Queen, Brain Adams, 1980’s…

There’s a lot I’ve missed like northern soul or Burt Bacharach songs but I could listen to pretty much anything.

What was the strangest costume you had to wear?

Where to start at ENO? Ha! I can picture me as a geisha, prostitute, nun, vestal virgin, wet nurse, pirate, school girl, factory worker, a French revolutionary, little girl/dolly but my utter favourite was dressing as a gentleman in a pinstripe suit in Richard Jones’ Tales of Hoffman last season, complete with a beard and moustache. I think all the female chorus had such a giggle being a man.

The trailer for the production

Abysmal 1960s vision of opera makes the Olympics Closing Ceremony

13 Aug

I am not delusional to expect unadulterated opera or classical music in a mass entertainment event like the Closing Ceremony, but seeing an artist of the stature of Susan Bullock as a ridiculous be-feathered “Brunhilda” next to Eric Idle was edging on the insulting. It was near an admission that opera is this desperately irrelevant, form of music that is only good for visual jokes that involve shields and a plumed helmet. Many of Bullock’s colleagues on Twitter thought it was “cool” and “fun” but what image of the opera world did this appearance dissipate?
Being able to laugh with the art form and all its impressively out of date attributes is a healthy reaction to a fast, digital world that doesn’t feel it has enough attention span to sit through a whole Ring.
But when that one appearance in a three hour ceremony is the only presence of opera as a genre it becomes more problematic. Bullock was embodying the popular cliché of the trident armed high singing soprano additionally surrounded by roller skating nuns and traditional Indian dancers.

The whole ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ segment can be discarded as a bit of throwaway comedy that Britain is so great at producing but it should also be seen as a projection of the lack of self-assurance in the part of the opera world to allow its very credibility to be trashed in front of a billion TV viewers. It made for depressing viewing and made me seriously uncomfortable that this was seen as entertainment in 2012. A missed opportunity to show any other genre except for pop/rock that is disproportionately monopolising those type of events.

The 1992 Olympics managed to have Montserrat Caballé sing the barnstorming Barcelona with Freddie Mercury which presented an operatic voice as an awesome instrument, measuring against a great rock vocalist. It may have been light on concept but it surely was presenting a more cultured face for Spain than the cheap joke route Britain took last night. Unlike with Caballé’s performance I can’t imagine anyone this morning looking up what opera is on Google.
The other two chances for less mainstream culture to feature prominently were also missed, the LSO were not even credited in the broadcast, while the Royal Ballet danced as a circus troupe with a long retired head that was there on the back of some reality TV few years back (sorry Darcey, a decade ago you were great).

It could have been uplifting and inspirational but I am afraid I was left disappointed that some of my favourite art forms ended up a cheap backdrop to a painfully nasal Liam Gallagher and his multi-millionaire friends. Ironically enough Norman Lebrecht was much more interested in the leggy string quartet…I rest my case 😉

Here’s the link to the tracklist of the Closing Ceremony

Sexy enchantment / L’heure espagnole + L’enfant et les sortilèges / Glyndebourne – 6 August 2012

10 Aug

When I looked through the programme of the 2012  Glyndebourne opera festival, this Ravel double bill stood out. I couldn’t think of a better combination of director and works than that and it became instantly the reason for my first visit. I have systematically avoided the rarefied black tie affair that is Glyndebourne, mainly put off by the image of toffee nosed bozos roaming around the Sussex countryside. But for any UK based opera lover it’s a venue difficult to ignore as it is the birth place of country house opera for the modern age,  since its inception in 1934 under the auspices of John Christie and Audrey Mildmay and not forgetting the first general manager…a certain Rudolf Bing (no, not of the failing Microsoft search engine). The festival up to this day is pitched as entertainment for the upper classes but has always had high artistic goals. It has been the springboard for international careers for a number of very important singers and conductors, including my beloved Janet Baker. Also one success we can’t under-estimate is their ability to keep the festival self-sufficient without any public subsidy (except for Arts Council support for their Tour and Education programmes). A reason that will stop me making rude comments about very pricey Stalls seats for all shows. But how was my first visit, I hear you ask…

I was immediately impressed by how disarmingly laid back it was. Despite being surrounded by the kind of plummy accents one would only dream of at Covent Garden, the black tie uniform in a way adds a veneer of parity across the distinct class divides. Who wouldn’t find dressing up to go to the opera in a beautiful garden and historic house enticing? Yours truly strolled around the manicured lawns and climbing roses for an hour and a half and then the bell was tolled asking us nicely to make our way to the theatre. The theatre, designed by Michael Hopkins in 1994 is as simple in appearance as the remains of the Tudor manor house that make up the country house. All red brick, wood and concrete. The stark appearance will surely come as a surprise to some. The unadorned exterior and interior gives a non distracting backdrop for the magic of opera to unfold. And the acoustic is possibly the best I’ve heard in the UK, being slightly reflective and true. An auditorium that seats 1200 spectators is always going to feel more intimate than the big two London stages but it is surprisingly so. Every single note of Ravel’s beatific music enveloped us in an extraordinary way.

L’heure was as sexy as one would expect. The stage set is an idiosyncratic mix of clock faces in every possible piece of furniture that springs to life following Ravel’s atmospheric and very quirky cues. A nice touch was the makeshift curtain made up of fabric patches which opened slowly to reveal the lower half of the set, including a washing machine with a clock in its drum and a sculpted life size bull…that surely raised a few laughs. Pelly’s direction is full of physical comedy and always with a keen eye for the music, as Ravel’s light composition always makes suggestions for the action. The singers were clearly exceptionally well drilled and the organised chaos on stage always added to the story and making beautiful stage pictures from the suggestive score.

The stand out performances came from Elliot Madore (making his UK debut) who gave us a naughty and endearing Ramiro with gorgeously sensual singing and vivid stage presence. Stéphanie d’Oustrac gave as a piquant and extremely sexy Concepción that lit up the stage, her singing being as hot as she looked in her revealing outfit. The kind hearted clock mending husband as portrayed by François Piolino was a figure of fun and maybe hinting at silent suffering inside. They played it for laughs with beautifully timed vignettes…a particular favourite being Concepción removing her panties when left alone with Ramiro which raised a quiet giggle around the auditorium. Kazushi Ono’s conducting of the London Philharmonic Orchestra was exemplary, allowing the transparency and warmth of Ravel’s music sufficient space to shine while keeping it moving sprightly alongside the hilarious  fast paced stage action. It was as sexy as can be.

Then came the long interval, all 1h30mins of it…where we managed to squeeze a delicious three course meal and another walk around the grounds. I can imagine that can be the interval of oblivion for a lot of punters ending up even forgetting what they’ve seen in the first half. But thankfully in a double bill that problem is slightly alleviated (provided the alcohol intake is fairly low).

L’enfant was clearly directed with a darker much more gothic intention befitting the subject matter. A lot of reviewers seem to find Colette’s libretto unwieldy and not musical enough, on the contrary I thought it grounded the story and gave it great charm and narrative flow.
The opening set of the child doing his homework on a giant table and chair had the feel of an outsize Richard Artschwager sculpture and unfortunately caused a large part of the audience to applaud…continuing a recent bugbear of mine, where we start to see Met Opera style applause for inanimate objects. Can someone make it stop, please?
The oversized look of the furniture was simple, stylish and very effective, the kind of presentation Pelly has got us used to. L’enfant is so easy to turn into a cheap musical full of silly props and dancing teapots in the Disney tradition. But he managed to keep the darkness of the score and the underlying sense of wartime tragedy that runs as an undercurrent through it. Despite the frenetic at times change of tableaux the backstage team did a great job giving us seamless transitions within seconds, keeping up with the around twenty scene changes admirably well. If I had to pick one scene as the one that wowed us, it would be the torn wallpaper one, with the members of the chorus in vague 18th century dress looking like they’ve just escaped the Toile de Jouy wallpaper and step out on the torn piece (ingeniously hiding inside it the sheep mentioned in their aria). That scene encapsulates his directing style, by being quick-witted, not afraid to be literal but always sprinkled with a magical touch.

The piece calls for a totally co-ordinated ensemble cast doubling up on many of the parts and Glyndebourne’s troupe delivered in spades, every singer relished their vignettes with particular highlights the two armchairs who managed to be both menacing and darkly fascinating. The fire as sang by Kathleen Kim was both vivid and aggressive and in sparkling  vocal form. And of course the duet of the china cup and the teapot (which the libretto reverts to English for the pot and cod Chinese for the cup) which was done with such ease and devilish cheek it turned the house to a bunch of laughing children. A work that can too easily turn into a piece of cheap musical theatre was turned into a much more sophisticated affair without losing its touch with the playful side of Ravel’s music and Colette’s thoughtful libretto.

This double bill was full of panache, varying from the wide-eyed excitement of a cheating wife to the unexpected horror of a misbehaving child. Make sure you tune in on the 19 August to see the live broadcast on Glyndebourne’s and The Guardian’s websites. Or even better get some tickets and see it live in all your finery, it’s worth the trip just for the ravishing playing of the London Philharmonic. I will definitely return to the Festival next year.

Read More

The productions’ page on Glyndebourne’s website:
Interesting article on Colette’s libretto:
Interview with Laurent Pelly on the Guardian website:

Promotional videos for the two productions

Tweets from the evening

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