Tag Archives: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

The serious business of being Richard Jones / Der Rosenkavalier / Glyndebourne – 8 June 2014

11 Jun

Glyntz RosenkavalierThis production of Rosenkavalier became a media sensation a few weeks back on the back of a bunch of jaded bores that focused on why a woman who is dressed as man and pretends to be a woman didn’t look manly enough. A truly burning non problem. What they seem to have skirted around was the elephant in the room…the oversupply of stock Richard Jones and not nearly enough Richard Strauss.
All the clichés are there for the count…comedic furniture, ugly wallpaper, pointless zombie crowd scene, early 20th century update and list goes on and on. Jones treating the work as an opera buffa with a disregard for the central question on aging and loneliness. The Marshallin seen as a clothes horse that has little emotional depth and just likes to flaunt her beauty in empty gestures and exhibitionism. This central betrayal of the opera is an impossible fact to ignore. At least most of his well-drilled visual jokes fell fairly flat on Sunday with the only true laughs for a sofa in Act Three which proves how his slapstick doesn’t quite work in practice anymore. And renders many of the set pieces predictable and meaningless.

His only real engagement with a character’s deeper implications was the one of Sophie’s. Her presentation at the Faninal palace on top of an oversized board room table did spell out her status as a tradable good. As always with Strauss his women are multilayered human beings with interesting stories to tell. Sophie’s love at first time moment with Octavian was exaggerated with a side to side synchronised sway that one would expect on a Disney cartoon. It may have been endearing at first but eventually made the characters look incapable of true feelings. For all his directorial skill at stage pictures he seemed lost at sea at engaging with the emotional worlds that Hofmannsthal and Strauss worked so hard at. Taking a multilayered social drama of the souls and turning it into a parody.
The musical standards were equally patchy with Kate Royal being obviously cast for her gorgeous looks but not for her voice, who became barely audible at any orchestral surges and in duets with Tara Erraught. It is a role that has some of the most thoughtful and introspective music in Strauss’ output and yet Kate Royal preened and stared with little pathos and with a matching bland and underpowered vocal performance. Having seen both Soile Isokoski and Anne Schwanewilms in the last month sing the part I was disappointed. The magic of the score evaporated into a forced battle for survival. The effortless grandeur required turned into a whimper.

Tara Erraught’s Octavian may not have displayed the eloquence that comes with experience with the likes of Sarah Connolly and Alice Coote but she displayed a vivid engagement with the horny, red-headed side of the character and truly let her hair down as Mariandel layering the slapstick thickly, very much in style with the direction.  Her singing assured and her projection loud and clear.

The Baron Ochs of Lars Woldt was an extraordinary find, a role that in recent years had become the preserve of end of career baritones, using humour to hide huge vocal deficiencies, it became a star vehicle. He sang with great warmth and the attention to the language only a native German speaker can give. His take on the role less sarcastic than most, made me for the first time feel compassionate and maybe even protective of him.

Also very strong contributions by Michael Kraus as Faninal that countered Ochs with the superficial seriousness new money brings. The Marianne of Miranda Keys made a big impression in her description of the arrival of Baron Ochs’ entourage mixing her sweet toned voice with her over-excited persona.

The overall musical direction of Robin Ticciati was lithe and swift but quite frequently at the expense of the more lush string sound one would expect in this opera. It was a display of promise for the future seasons than the finished article of a performance. Maybe having heard the LSO and the CBSO play the score in the past weeks spoilt me.

For all the uproar and the body shaming, it is terribly ironic how very few people focused on the flip side of the coin. The casting of a wonderful singer that is totally inappropriate for the role. The final trio is one of the most sublime pieces written for female voices and yet on Sunday I could not wait for it to end. It had none of the magical, superlative beauty.

Glyntz Rosenkavalier List

The Curtain Call 

Some Tweets from the day

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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.
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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.
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. 

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: http://glyndebourne.com/production/ravel-double-bill
Interesting article on Colette’s libretto:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jul/27/colette-lenfant-sortileges-libretto
Interview with Laurent Pelly on the Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/aug/09/glyndebourne-odd-ravel-double-bill

Promotional videos for the two productions

Tweets from the evening

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