Tag Archives: Anja Harteros

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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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. 
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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.
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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. 

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An old fashioned, plush affair / Otello / Royal Opera House – 21 July 2012

26 Jul

This production maybe be inspired by old master paintings with its lush palette of Venetian reds and greens to make Tintoretto envious, but the dodgy costumes are more in the Blackadder league and the “blackening” of our leading man a throwback to the 1950s. The aspirations are there but the execution is showing its age rather obviously. Cue in crowd scenes, fire torches, tenors arriving on a  Helepolis, painted backdrops inspired by old masters and naturalistic lighting (for the most part).
This is billed as a uber traditional production, but in all honesty it is just conventional and largely predictable. It is the 21st century and we have all moved on from expecting a close simulation of reality to make staged opera exciting. A lighter touch and more ideas are appreciated, but unfortunately Moshinsky shows all the arrogance of today’s most extreme directors but without any ideas informing his embroidered brocade and pillar heavy production. One can only go beyond such a set up with an excellent cast that can reanimate this fossilised relic, which is only useful as memento of the legendary original cast and conductor (Domingo+Ricciarelli+Díaz+Kleiber).

Antonenko has an enviable capacity to sing forward and with incredible propulsion. I could hear some sharp intakes of breath in the audience when he made his big entrance with a rock steady A that must have peeled off some paint from the ceiling. His acting was on par with his vocal production, creating a butch, heavily chiselled masculinity. The only negative was that his voice seems to have a big break in the passaggio,  that was particularly disappointing when he was in conversation with Iago and Desdemona creating a raspy, almost hushed, covered tone.

Gallo is and remains more of a buffo baritone, he does lack the vocal heft and darkness to pull off Iago. It was truly unimaginative of the Royal Opera to book him again for this production five years on. He is a fine singer but dramatic roles are totally beyond his camp stage presence and lighter, brighter voice.

Anja Harteros was the absolute highlight of the evening. With immense stage charisma and poise. Her sound was seamless and beautifully propelled across the auditorium. Her delivery at the more lyrical passages was like crushing waves of soft, slow vibrato allowing her to utter the sweetest phrases and the most dramatic passages with equal success. The attention to text and her intense, forceful acting created a much less soft and victimised Desdemona. She was a woman in the middle of a maelstrom but very much with her dignity intact. For any dramatic soprano the final scena containing The Willow Song is a dream come true. A great way to deploy limpid phrasing with shapely melodic flourishes and great acting. I can happily say that Harteros gave us true golden age singing with sincere acting and sinuous vocal production from the top of her range to the very lowest passages. She was dreamy and vulnerable, beautiful and insightful. A mesmerising presence that will remain unforgettable.

Antonio Poli fresh from winning Operalia gave a sweet-voiced and nuanced performance as Cassio. A young artist to watch out for.

Hanna Hipp moved on from her beautiful contribution to Les Troyens and a bubbly addition to Il viaggio a Reims and gave us a very earthy Emilia that added the right amount of alarm during Act Four. A brilliant counterbalance to Harteros and her much more internalised approach for the final scene. Her versatility and stage presence give us great hopes for what she may do in the future, when bigger roles are entrusted to her.

The conducting was of a very high standard, with the drama and the tenderness coming through. The opening storm being augmented with pyrotechnic thuds high above the flytower. Also the dispersed brass, creating an enticing soundscape of the Venetian fleet arriving in Act Three which was very elegant and involving. Unfortunately the sound from the back of the Balcony is not exactly the best but the orchestra and chorus have to be commented for being so professional and alternatively performing Otello with Les Troyens with vitality and gusto. A mention has to be made for the audience on the night which was the quietest I’ve heard there in a long while. Maybe having a rare appearance by Harteros and Antonenko’s super loud Otello took their mind away from munching sweets and having chats with their friends…result!

It was an amazing evening, sadly  spoiled by a dull and unimaginative production from the 80s that barely deserves a revival. There are rumours that this was the last hurrah to this production which is a relief.  The performance was recorded for later broadcast on BBC Radio 3, so look out for it around September and hopefully the sound will convey some of the magic of the evening.

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