Tag Archives: Ailyn Pérez

The Violetta of Miss Pérez / Royal Opera – 6 May 2014

7 May

ROH TraviataGuilty as charged…I missed the last run of Traviata with Ailyn Pérez in 2011 and was reassured that greatness was achieved. Having seen her give her all in recitals, Turandot and Manon I didn’t hesitate to grab a ticket and be at her first night this time around. I didn’t intent to write a blog about it, but since I was totally bowled over with the central performance, here my brief account.

I can report a sensational performance built on great attention to the text taking place. She uttered every word with complete understanding of Violetta’s motives and fears. A deep sense of experience permeating every phrase. Her intense physical acting was perfectly married to some extraordinary vocal shading.

In Act Two her confrontation with Germont Père was dignified and had the requisite struggle with her self, her life choices and how polite society view her. Her Non Sapete hurled across the table at him as a protestation of defiance and hurt. She was aided by the fine acting of Simon Keenlyside who despite the fact he is missing the sheer heft of a true Verdi baritone avoided the clichés if portraying a monster and instead he was a family man blinded by his own small world to see Violetta’s raison d’être. Their confrontation was in keeping with the period aesthetic of Richard Eyre’s production but was imbued with personality and life experience. The trajectory of the character by Pérez was a complete life in 2 and a half hours. Her frivolous toasting of the ice sculpture in Act One with the resulting clinking noise causing a ripple of laughter was a great signifier of a Violetta that is playful and fun.

Her Act Two gambling scene progressing from false defiance to humiliation was beautifully acted. Her Alfredo, di questo core supported by a thin column of air the testament of a woman broken but despite it all filled with love and compassion. It was so brilliantly acted it left little doubt in our minds of her honesty. This great central performance was supported by the undeniable chemistry with Stephen Costello (it helps being married to Alfredo, obviously) his singing seemed at the start, nervous but as the night progressed kept improving. Unfortunately his acting was not as fluent and kept on seeming too stiff at times.

The Third Act was the tour de force one can hope. The logical conclusion of the trajectory of the character. The fall from grace, rejection of the church that provided succour and return to a love affair doomed by death. It was a gripping ride from her waking up in her bed to the death in Alfredo’s arms. So frequently this scene can be disappointing but her Addio del Passato was spine-tingling in its sadness, sung with huge emotional commitment and elegance. The attention to every word again to the fore. When reading Germont Père”s letter her excruciatingly dry cry emitted with her È tardi was a suitable flourish to this great performance. Worth mentioning the excellent contributions by the ROH’s young artists. Ashley Riches, Nadezhda Karyazina and David Butt Philip whose small character parts made a big impact.

As many others I have listened for years and years the incredibly exciting 1955 live recording with Maria Callas from La Scala. An archetypal example of what can be done with Verdi’s morality tale. Last night Ailyn Pérez touched the same level of greatness with a truly stunning performance.

The show on 20 May will be broadcast live online, DO NOT MISS IT! ROH Traviata List

Curtain call video

Some Tweets

Sleepless nightmare / Turandot / Royal Opera House – 20 February 2013

23 Feb

ROH TurandotAh Turandot we meet again. I must be one of the most squeamish people when it comes to confronting most of Puccini’s output. His sentimentality and usual lack of in depth characterisation usually leave me from totally cold to in a state of fury. Attended Thursday’s performance just to see the Liù of Ailyn Pérez, after having to wait for over a year to see here again in London after her last recital it is a huge source of pleasure to have her sing Manon, Liù and Violetta in the space of a few months. The production by Andrei Serban dates back to 1984 and it was first seen in Los Angles as part of the cultural festival for the Olympics. It has all the hallmarks of an 80s production, stylisation, colour blocked costumes, affluence of unnecessary dancers and overtly detailed sets and a props. The conducting by Nicola Luisotti was precise and gave the score its expected luminosity and garish colouring. Of course what can be said about Puccini’s second take on Eastern exotica? If Madama Butterfly has a certain solemnity to it, Turandot is a confusing melange of garish Orientalist motifs and over-stretched ideas. Surely in 1924 this score must have sounded as out of date as anything written 30 years earlier. When one starts thinking what Strauss was producing at the same time it makes Puccini look like a spent force, rehashing the same old language to the same old dubious Orientalist clichés and paper thin characters.

Strauss at that point had written Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten all rather varied and most approaching the status of a musical masterpiece, frequently with excellent libretti. The reverence for Puccini’s output is simply puzzling to me. In Turandot the main interest is the dreaded riddle scene in Act Two, what can only be described as a screaming match not akin to two washerwomen having a fight. A total vacuity of purpose and emotional content marks it as the black hole in the heart of the work. Do we really care about Turandot’s story or about Calaf’s quest…nope, I couldn’t give a toss. Both protagonists are an offensive approximation of what Eastern characters ought to be, brutal and not in any way relating to the audience. The opera is all-consumed with the otherness of the story to actually care to tell it well.

The production replaced the 1963 Cecil Beaton designed production by Sandro Sequi. The visual inspiration seems to be in equal measures the contemporary world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also of 1984 vintage)  and low-grade Chinese lanterns from the supermarket. The costumes being a particularly offensive aspect, being in ugly bright colour-blocked polyester are neither flattering or in any way attractive. The set is a mix of textured wood and trellis-work with some oversized garden ornaments and ritualistic objects. Clearly the brief was to create a more austere setting from Beaton’s busy production. But clearly that quest  for simplicity did not go far enough with ugly carry ons and curious masked figures showing up at any opportunity. The overall feel reminds me of the recent appalling staging of Judith Weir’s disastrous new opera Miss Fortune, which of course went one better, by including a troupe of break dancers! But the overall sinking feeling was a common factor. When Calaf strikes the giant gong that magically appears from the sky (all very post-modern, get it?) he pretends to strike it while the sound comes from the pit. Making this highly theatrical gesture into a total gimmick and a disappointing start of many more wasted grand gestures. The final parade of the lifeless body of Liù on top of a dragon shaped carriage across the stage as Turandot and Calaf finally kiss inside a garden structure is both insensitive, verging on the simplistically repugnant.

The musical side of the evening was certainly world class with excellent performances by the orchestra and the chorus. With Iréne Theorin being one of the great Turandots of our times, she lived up to the expectation with some truly sterling singing and a much more subtle take on Act Three than usual, managing to inject a dose of humanity in Puccini’s bloodless heroine. Ailyn Pérez was a meltingly beautiful Liù with any dramatic opportunities that presented themselves grabbed with both hands. She vibrated with humanity so brightly that one forgot about everything else. Matthew Rose was a very strong Timur, despite his ridiculous costuming. Alfred Kim’s Calaf was very well done but lacking individuality. The horribly cringeworthy Ping Pong Pang caricature terror trio were given excellent performances by  Grant Doyle,  David Butt Philip and  Luis Gomes, again despite the mediocrity of the sung material.

In the field of art history the nasty imperialist background of Orientalism was given a shake up decades ago, thanks to Edward Said. Such unquestioning and purely illustrative productions of Turandot are displaying an unwillingness to acknowledge the problematic subject matter and the inbuilt misogyny of this opera. In the 21st century we are meant to have more meaningful and nuanced reactions to the grubby Imperialist past of Europe and to confront the artworks that glorified it. A more searching production that dissects the patronising “otherness” of both the score and the characters has to be the only viable solution to the crowd-pleaser lollipop that this work has become.

ROH Turandot List

The Curtain call

Some tweets from the evening

Ailyn Pérez in Muswell Hill – 22 February 2013

22 Feb

Ailyn Perez in Muswell HillOne of those out there treats, having a singer of the calibre of Ailyn Pérez in a music shop in North London suburbia. Les Aldrich in Muswell Hill was the scene of the first pop up gig since its acquisition by Ian Rosenblatt (of the solicitors and Rosenblatt Recitals fame). All it took was a small platform, an electronic piano played by Gary Matthewman and a few chairs borrowed from the bookshop next doors. The selection of songs was clearly off the cuff, which added to the fun aspect of this gig. We were treated to a handful of Broadway show tunes full of bubbly ebullience and spark. Her creamy tone and bouncy presence making them irresistible.

The two crowning glories were Gershwin’s Summertime, full of longing and that certain amount of statuesque poise that Leontyne Price brought to the music in her various recitals and the famous studio recording of Porgy and Bess. The other was her lusciously sensual rendition of Consuelo Velázquez’s Bésame Mucho delivered in the mellifluent manner only a Spanish speaker can bring. Her great ability to communicate the music she sings is undeniable and the impact is remarkably similar in a vast opera house or a tiny music shop.

On top of all the wonderful singing she was also cajoled into trying to play La Donna e Mobile on a ukulele (as seen on the photo above) by some of us present in the audience. She is working on it so stay tuned for a future rendition! If you see her in recital in the coming few months don’t be too surprised if she picks up a ukulele for the encore 😉 Or just pop and see Turandot at the Royal Opera House to witness her stunning assumption of Liù.

PS That signed CD sleeve will be causing some chuckles for months to come.

Heard about the recitals…now get the CD (or download).

21 Mar

Opus Arte / Rosenblatt CoversAny long term readers will know that I am not in the business of selling merchandise for anyone and do avoid promoting commercial ventures. But since I unwittingly was quoted on the press release for Ailyn Pérez’s new CD under the new joint project by Opus Arte and Rosenblatt Recitals, it makes sense to let you know about it. Any attempt to preserve great evenings of music as a memory capsule for the future and a source of enjoyment for the present is surely a worthwhile cause.

Do not be put off by the fact that a major producer of filmed opera and ballet like Opus Arte has not got an operational website. On 2 April they release three discs. Poeme D’Un Jour featuring large part of the fantastic recital Ailyn Pérez gave just over a year ago. The Heart that Flutters featuring the bel canto stalwart Lawrence Brownlee and Songs of the Sea by Anthony Michaels-Moore, who was a very effective Giorgio Germont in the recent ENO Traviata by Peter Konwitschny. The recordings will also be available on iTunes if disc formats are not your bag anymore.

The Rosenblatt Recitals have been running since 2000 and have presented over 130 concerts. In the intervening years they have become the platform for important recital debuts in London for the likes of  Juan Diego Flórez, Joseph Calleja and Vittorio Grigolo. They seem to have a good eye at picking promising singers that are at the beginning of their international career.

If you want to read more about individual recitals here is quite a selection of my blogs over the last couple of years. With the recent move to the Wigmore Hall and now this label deal, it seems this promotion of young talent continues even faster and with more permanent results than ever before. It is expected that 5 to 6 recordings will be released per year.

The next scheduled releases for autumn 2013 will be featuring, Ailish Tynan and Ekaterina Siurina.

My Top 12 of 2012

20 Dec

2012 graphicThe end of the year and we all give in to the convention of going through the draws of our minds and paying tribute to the most entertaining and uplifting events of the year. I published a top 11 list last year and thought I’d avoid innovation and go for a top 12 for this year. I am only hoping I will not be blogging in the year 2040 as the list will become too long.

Mittwoch aus Licht

Was a cross-disciplinary spectacular. Thought as unstagable but somehow Graham Vick managed to take us all on a journey. It was cooky, it was extravagant and above all a memory to last a lifetime. Cue in helicopters, cosmic camels and a trombonist in a paddling pool. Here’s my post on the experience.
Click here to read the post.

Alice Coote

Her interpretation of Winterreise was one of the most moving performances of the year. Her programme in honour of  Kathleen Ferrier was a joy to listen to. Her concentrated deeply tragic version of Britten’s cantata Phaedra was also wonderful. We are very lucky to have her and delighted the Wigmore Hall thinks so too.
The CD and download of her Wigmore Hall Winterreise is available to buy from 8 April 2013, here’s the link to the Amazon UK page.

Click here to read the post.

Calixto Bieito’s Carmen

English National Opera were so right to bring to London this extraordinary directorial tour de force. One of the few times when a very strong directorial concept marries with an opera so deeply they become one. The production was an earthy manifestation of Bizet’s masterpiece with such assurance and self-containment that enthralled.
Click here to read the post.

Anja Harteros in Otello

That was a night of wonderment and astounding depth. Even the creaky fusty old production didn’t matter. It was impossible to avert one’s eyes from the purposeful, intense Desdemona underpinned by a complexity so inspiring. Harteros may have a lot of detractors and her record at showing up for shows may not be the most consistent. This performance left me tingling and wanting to see her again soon.
Click here to read the post.

McVicar’s Rosenkavalier at ENO

What a beautiful, non-fussy production with a great cast that understood what Strauss is all about. John Tomlison, Sarah Connolly, Sophie Bevan and Amanda Roocroft had a wonderful chemistry on stage with Edward Gardner creating a most dense gold coloured sound from the pit that made it a very special evening.
Click here to read the post.

Scottish Opera’s Magic Flute

A beautiful steam punk inspired production by Thomas Allen made by a singer for the singers. Showed Scottish Opera in a great light despite the recent financial and organisational ups and downs. It was well cast and the sure-fire hit they need to help them stay relevant and afloat.
Click here to read the post.

Opera North’s Giulio Cesare

With the great sets of Leslie Travers and pacey direction of Tim Albery. The performance was built around the radiant and alert performance of Sarah Tynan who was an ideal Cleopatra and Pamela Helen Stephen’s earthy Caesar was the compete opposite all battlefield mud and conflict. The production was tightly knit and beautifully sung throughout. The Royal Opera may stay away from any baroque opera but thank heavens that regional companies are not as apathetic towards the interpretation possibilities of it. And are willing to tour it across the country to thousands of people in the regions.

Ailyn Pérez

I still remember the buzz before her unexpected recital in March (she took over for an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti) rushed to grab some tickets to see her and was not disappointed. Her creamy delivery and melting honesty was such a potent blend. She is an artist to watch and can’t wait to see her return to London very soon.
Click here to read the post.

Véronique Gens

She is  firm favourite of mine and had the chance to see her in action twice in the last few months at the Wigmore Hall. Her delivery of mélodies was exemplary, fusing a breezy natural style with a warm stage presence. Her singing manages to look effortless and yet is full of innate good taste and finesse. 
Click here to read the post.

Royal Opera’s Les Troyens

The production was overall hit and miss, but the incredibly vibrant,  Cassandre of a real tragedienne like Anna Caterina Antonacci the butch Enee of Bryan Hymel,  the variable but very regal Eva-Maria Westbroek and the sparkling tenor of  Ed Lyon made for a very memorable musical evening. So much so, that I snapped up another ticket and made my way to the very gods of the lower slips of the Amphitheatre not phased by the uncomfortable sitting arrangements over the over five hours duration. 
Click here to read the post.

Magical Ravel double bill at Glyndebourne

It was my first visit to Glyndebourne and it was everything I hope for and even more. Both productions were simply magical. Especially the brand new L’enfant et les sortilèges was as joyful to watch as it was to listen. The London Philharmonic played with such distinction and style that left us buzzing. Also the long interval was very welcome and our restaurant meal was expensive but also utterly delicious. Laurent Pelly was clearly at home in the whimsical and magical worlds of the two jewel like operas.
Click here to read the post.

Sarah Connolly

Another firm favourite and one singer I can not have enough of. Saw her sing Elgar, French baroque and Strauss. All of them distinctive all of them spectacular in their own right. Her upcoming Charpentier Medea with McVicar directing for ENO will be a great start for 2013 and her appearance as Phèdre in Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne will have me booking for a return trip to East Sussex in August. 
Click here to read the posts.

So many more entries could have made it here but the above are a quick distillation of some great evenings out and being present for some music making of great quality and variety. 2013 will hopefully be as full and interesting, maybe even bringing with it some surprises and new discoveries. A big thanks is owed to all my readers for putting up with my meandering blog posts. Have written this blog based on my belief that opera is alive and constantly changing and as a way to inspire others to give it a go. If just a single reader was inspired or intrigued to go to an opera or classical performance in the last year, it would make writing this blog all the more enjoyable and purposeful. 

The girl is fierce / Rosenblatt Recital series: Ailyn Pérez / St John’s Smith Square – 7 March 2012

10 Mar

This was the first time I had the chance to listen to Ailyn Pérez live and it was again another happy coincidence for Londoners to see her in concert, as an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti meant that she accepted to cover for him at this occasion, as it was it was stated from the stage, it was disappointing not to have Filianoti, but that feeling did not last too long when Pérez accepted in a matter of minutes. As she jubilantly expressed on stage, this was her third time performing for the Rosenblatt recital series and was obviously excited.

Her opening Hahn songs did not quite reach the rounded beauty those songs attain when sang by Veronique Gens but that has to do more with Pérez’s burnished timbre and much more explosive stage presence. These songs require a radiance and warmth that in my view are too restrictive for her beautiful lyrical instrument. Her voice is as expressive as her dress sense for this recital, a beautiful red dress that looked very demure till one noticed the gold detailing on the plunging bare back and side slash, revealing much more leg that I am accustomed to on recital stages. Overall she exuded beauty and charm in equal measure.

When she moved on to the Spanish section of the programme (she did let us know she had just returned from Seville and felt more in tune with the material) she took flight, the delivery was ardent without sacrificing the smooth delivery. Her Luna song was fiery and embodied the heroine who declares her pride to be Spanish finishing off the song with her shoulders dancing to the rhythm of this 1918 piece of Hispanic exotica. The De Falla songs were delivered with panache, deep understanding, sense of fun and anguish in appropriate measures. A good example what a great singer can bring to more prosaic material was her El paño moruno/The Moorish cloth which was delivered with sweet anguish and longing. Adding a layer of interpretation to a few lines of very unambitious poetry. In the hands of a less gifted singer this would turn into a farce all too easily, it is those small exceptional touches that show true class. The gorgeous lyricism of Asturiana was a marvel, softness and depth of feeling alongside Iain Burnside’s exemplary, pared down playing was a moment of magic. In Nana she deployed her mezza voce with a bronze like quality caressing the long and winding melody of this lullaby transporting us to a private world of devotion and love. The last two songs were much more fiery affairs that brought instant release and a fitting close to the first half.

What followed after the interval was even more exciting. The two Manon arias and Desdemona’s Willow song scene were as close to my idea of perfection as possible.

Her Manon was so vividly acted, all the little laughs and sideways glances added to the naiveté of the character which was galloping through Massenet’s smooth melodic line with such vibrancy and gusto. It was simply so fantastic that I can’t imagine what’s holding the Royal Opera from booking her as their next Manon. She had all the spark of Beverly Sills with the glowing ample tone of Victoria de los Angeles, paired with engaging acting ability. It is hard to imagine anyone in the audience not being moved by her Adieu, it was so genuinely heartfelt she obviously welled up in the conclusion. She more than brought the house down after this triumphant portrayal.

Her Amelia Boccanegra was equally vivid with liquid tone and sharp upper register. This aria is a true workhorse for any lyric soprano, which can make it a bit of a chore to listen through from a lot of lesser singers. She made it work beautifully but we all anticipated her Desdemona which was the juiciest part of this recital.

This scena is one of my most favourite arias in the history of opera, a still lament where it really displays a singer’s understanding of Verdian style and also an unforgiving display of coloratura, use of shading and shifts in dynamics. Her depiction was truly amazing. A transporting, transcendent experience. Every turn of the Willow song was thoughtful and dramatic, a display of acting skill and warm all enveloping sound. The concluding Ave Maria was smooth and her sound grew and hugged every word, the final phrase closing the aria as a mere whisper. She is set to perform the role on stage in Houston and I can only hope it will be webcast or committed to a disc format as an important document of this truly exceptional young singer.

The move to the Puccini section was with a lovely rendition of the aria from La Villi, which was perfectly lovely and followed on by a devastatingly strong Liu which gave us an insight how she will perform the role in her upcoming appearances at the Royal Opera. It was a potent mix of crisp delivery with a simmering undercurrent of anger and devotion. It was complex and rounded definitely spine tingling. She concluded the recital not with the scheduled Butterfly aria (she did explain that was due to the effects of her plane journey. After such a demanding programme we really had no right to complain) but with Donde lieta usci which was lustrous and bright displaying her crisp diction and direct, full-throated delivery.
If you’ve made it this far, you will know what an extraordinary evening this was, the enthusiastic, grateful reception by the audience verging on adulation was more than justified. I am looking forward to seeing her as many times as possible in the future and dear readers if she is performing nearby (she has a debut appearance at The Met coming up) go and see her. A huge star in the making is amongst us.

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