Tag Archives: Glyndebourne

2015, my operatic year

31 Dec

2015 reviewDear readers…I have been a bad boy this year and my blogging was rather infrequent. Mind you, if you follow me on any social media you probably have heard more from me than you’d like to…but thanks for persevering.

2015 has been an unremarkable year for opera in Britain, mainly due to companies feeling the squeeze on budgets which for most meant a retreat to standard rep and taking few chances. The much derided Royal Opera diet of Traviatas, Bohèmes and Toscas has become a joke that keeps on giving over the last three seasons. Thankfully smaller companies have emerged as the places to find more challenging material and more imaginative interpretations. The largest cloud cast has been again the pitiful state of Scottish Opera and the continuing upheaval at English National Opera. The year’s major highlights were provided by Glyndebourne, Opera Holland Park and Welsh National Opera.

The ups

Glyndebourne + On Tour / Saul
Barry Kosky’s exuberant production displayed a sure hand in blending the drama of Handel’s music a bleak dark grey stage and mountains of props. Never wavering from the emotional heart of the piece he put unremitting focus on the acting and how the high emotions were projected to the auditorium. It was impressive to listen, a sleek spectacle and an imaginative retelling that left no doubt in my head that he just gets it. A great moment for Glyndebourne and a production to be remembered for a very long time.

OHP / Flight
Holland Park did Jonathan Dove proud for staging his cheeky little opera in a straight but not boring way. It was not the hottest ticket of their season, but the young cast brought tones of brio to this tightly woven tale of human relationships.

SO / Inés de Castro
Scottish Opera brought out the baroque aesthetic of the work in a very simple staging by Olivia Fuchs that afforded ample opportunities to show off the singers. Stephanie Corley was a force to be reckoned with as Inés. Just wish SO spent more time sorting its administrative and financial side and championing more Scottish composers and their output. This was a gory triumph.

ENO / The Indian Queen
Peter Sellars is the proverbial mad man of the operatic village. This production of this work by Purcell was exhausting to watch but the sheer maximalism of the additions to the score and text made it one of those memorable failures that one tries to unpick in their memory months later. It was baffling and extraordinary, sublime and odd. Lucy Crowe in glowing voice under the baton of Laurence Cummings was superb. And was allowed mercifully the stage to herself to show everyone how it is possible to fill the expanse of the Coliseum with her voice that fills one’s heart with content.

Birmingham Opera / The Ice Break
My third opera excursion to Birmingham and another unqualified success. Tippett is criminally neglected these days and this production set in an airport resonated with the migrant crisis unfolding across Europe and has worsened since this productions saw the light of day. It crackled with energy and presented opera making as collaborative activity. Requiring active involvement by the cast, community chorus and all of us watching.

ENO / Queen of Spades
David Alden’s production had a lot of holes in the narrative continuity but it was worth the price of admission for the extraordinary conducting by Ed Gardner and the magisterial, otherworldly Countess  of Felicity Palmer. Who still has incredible reserves of voice and a stage presence to obliterate anyone else. Pure magic at work. 

OHP / Il Trittico
Holland Park was very ambitious to present Puccini’s triptych and it was a spectacular success. Most memorable the shattering interpretation of Suor Angelica by Anne Sophie Duprels who distilled the dramatic potential to unbearable intensity. Incredible to think this was her debut of the role…hope she gets to sing it many more times.

Glyndebourne / Poliuto
The return of Michael Fabiano to Glyndebourne with this infrequently performed tenor vehicle. He was eminently watchable and sang with great clarity and passion. The conducting of Enrique Mazzola brought restless energy to Donizetti’s score and softened the blow of a rather pedestrian production by Mariame Clément. 

Blackheath Opera / Idomeneo
A bracing community opera that brought the work to its basics. It had all the fizz the recent Covent Garden outing lacked. Kirstin Sharpin was spectacular in her description of the turmoil of Elettra, white hot intensity at its very best. 

SWP / Arcangelo: Lacrimae with Anna Prohaska
Not strictly an opera performance but worth mentioning for the sheer delicacy and charisma of Prohaska. Myriads of colours engulfed us. Her Purcell arias were particularly impressive each one a small acted drama. She is definitely one of the most compelling musicians working today. 

Wigmore Hall / Anna Caterina Antonacci + Donald Sulzen / La voix humaine
A sublime afternoon and if strictly speaking it was a concert. Antonacci is a dab hand in breathing life into the damaged woman of Poulenc’s work. Every word mattered, every gesture, every look. We have to be thankful that Radio 3 relayed it live so we have for posterity a document of this great artist at work. 

WNO / I Puritani
Welsh National Opera has been a great company to follow for all lovers of bel canto. After presenting Donizetti’s three queens last year they offered a rather beautifully stark production by Annilese Miskimmon of Bellini’s masterpiece. Carlo Rizzi conducted with true flair and Rosa Feola’s Elvira was a stunning stage creation. Balancing this figment of the gothic imagination perfectly. She displayed great taste and all the coloratura became a descriptive part of the heroine’s disturbed mind and mood changes. Bringing to Bellini’s score the depth of insight it deserves. Not a performance for the canary fanciers of old, but a romantic personage of true richness. 

ENO / The Force of Destiny
The production by  Calixto Bieito was probably too subdued for some, but made excellent use of the limited stage resources of ENO and endowed us with a stunning debut of the year, Tamara Wilson. Her opulent Leonora was stunning. A big voice with a warm enveloping sound and enough agility to overcome Verdi’s many hurdles. 

ROH / Andrea Chénier 
Was disappointing in the production value stakes. A dull “period” production by McVicar was cumbersome but at least it didn’t ruffle many feathers. But it remains memorable for the truly brilliant singing of Jonas Kaufmann this was probably the first time I enjoyed his singing so much. Up to now I was one of the doubters finding his sound not Italianate enough but he was exceptional as Chenier and was ably supported by Željko Lučić and Eva-Maria Westbroek. Tony Pappano’s conducting was too episodic and frankly lumpy to make sense of the whole instead giving us disconnected arias making the evening feel unusually long.  

ROH / The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
That was one production that was roundly unloved by the press but was definitely sleek and particularly its integration of projections was very accomplished. And let’s be frank any production that gives me the chance to see Anne Sofie von Otter on stage is worth seeing no matter what. Above all Weill is worth a resurgence Mahagonny is so much more than just the famous tunes. 

ROH / Madama Butterfly
Everyone was predicting doom (aka a cancellation by our diva), as I was scheduled to attend the final performance of the run with Kristīne Opolais. This was the performance that totally changed my mind about her. She sang with such great warmth and attention never wavering on her interpretation of Cio Cio San portraying her naivety in a subtle way that we could all empathise. This was the opposite of the maudlin mess that this opera can be, it was a glorious evocation of a broken life. Simply superb. 

ROH / Król Roger
And when we thought we’d never see a good production by Kasper Holten at Covent Garden, this production happened. Very rarely has set gigantism been deployed to such remarkably subtle effect. The spectacular performance by Mariusz Kwiecień was the corner stone of this sophisticated production. 

ROH / La Bohème
My main reason for bothering to book for that rusty old Copley production was Anna Netrebko and Jennifer Rowley. Thank heavens they were both superb the former a surprisingly subtle Mimi and the latter an all out sass pot as Musetta. The same can’t be said for our Rodolfo who bleated his way through the part in his usual unattractive manner.   

The downs

ENO / Pirates of Penzance
It was rather stodgy for my taste even if it was not short on spectacle. The humour somehow didn’t work for me. A shame as it was my first G&S work. 

SWP / Farinelli and the King
This amalgam of stage play and recital wrapped up in one was unsatisfying in both counts. Iestyn Davies was wonderful as usual filling the Wannamaker Playhouse with his lustrous voice. The play itself was totally innocuous. At no point cared very much for the King and his mental instability. 

ENO / Between Worlds
A confusing mangle of many good ideas topped with a counter tenor shaman figure presiding. Making an opera about the attack on the Twin Towers was always going to be a polarising enterprise and the resulting piece was sensitive and at times touching. If it had stayed naturalistic it could have been an altogether more welcome addition to 2015. But it felt overworked and overstretched, no amounts of commitment by its music staff could redeem it into a satisfying well balanced piece. 

 

 

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

My take on the coverage of Rosenkavaliergate

23 May

Rosenkavaliergate wig multiSince last Sunday when the reviews for the production of Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne came out a worrying pattern emerged, the major opera critics (FT, Guardian, The Times, Independent, Telegraph) chose to focus on the appearance of Tara Erraught, the bubbly fast rising Irish Mezzo who is cast as Octavian. Instead of getting into a critique of the production the critics felt that their own jaded pre-conceptions of what Octavian ought to look like cloud their judgement to such a degree that they didn’t see any further than the surface.

Their direct insults not aimed at the costume designer or the director (who, may actually required a less manly looking Octavian, after all) but a wonderful young singer who had just made her debut at one of the world’s most celebrated operatic stages. In the coming days all and sundry had an opinion about the attack but somehow had very little to say about the production. Richard Jones gets a wink and a carte blanche while Erraught gets thrown to the dogs.

Some tried to read feminist theories and male conspiracies in the story and wrote about grumpy old men berating a defenceless young female. It all got to an idiotic conclusion with a puff piece blog piece on the NPR website.

What we should be talking about is about the quality of coverage of opera in the mainstream media, the capability of the reviewers to see beneath the superficiality of appearances and manage to convey the overall picture of the production and the achievements within. Only Michael Volpe, the manager of Opera Holland Park was willing to look into the broader ecosystem of how opera houses attract audiences and what expectations they cultivate. It has been for a very long while less about the music and more about selling an entertainment package. The houses are complicit in this drop in standards of reviewing by encouraging superficial gut reactions on social media and by advertising productions with glossy advertorials, frequently featuring models (Raymond Gubbay and the Royal Opera House have done that so many times). When I worked at the Royal Albert Hall I remember an audience member being sorely disappointed that the model in the posters of Carmen had no resemblance to the singer singing the part.

It may seem silly but raising expectations beyond the reality of the artform is a sure way to create despondence and mis-selling the show concerned. The houses by not focusing on the productions and the artists are as disrespectful as those reviewing Neanderthals that have no connection with the world outside their own little clique.

Everyone has been far too eager to have a piece of the action over the last few days, including a rather flatulent piece by a fellow member of the cast that made its way to a rather boring corporate site. I am looking forward to seeing the production live on June 8th and you can all join me in cinemas around the world and online. Strauss gives so much to talk about in a rich work like Rosenkavalier. Not just Tara Erraught lost out on having a triumphant first appearance at Glyndebourne she deserved, Strauss also was let down by the short-sightedness of those present that should have known better and did not rise to the occasion.

The abhorrent reviews by
Rupert Christiansen: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalconcertreviews/10839018/Glyndebourne-2014-Der-Rosenkavalier-review.html
Michael Church: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/der-rosenkavalier-glyndebourne-opera-review-perversely-cast-9395750.html

The searching and even-handed piece by Michael Volpe can be read here: http://slippedisc.com/2014/05/opera-festival-director-it-is-inappropriate-to-mention-body-shape/
The thoughtful and personal response by Elisabeth Meister can be read here: http://elisabethmeister.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/big-boned-and-thick-skinned/

The non apology by Christiansen has amassed over 120 comments…that must hopefully be a good time for him to pause and think.

The review by Fiona Maddocks in today’s Observer (25 May) can be seen as the coda to this overdramatised saga that lasted too long and it was fuelled by self interest and loathing.


This post was first published in my weekly newsletter, you can read and subscribe to it here: http://operacreepnewsletter.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/operacreeps-week-no4/

Lucretia at the gravel pit / The Rape of Lucretia / Glyndebourne – 19 October 2013

28 Oct

Rape of LucretiaWho doesn’t love going to Glyndebourne…especially with decent weather. The second visit of the year (trying not to bankrupt myself) was an equally exciting one. Watching Britten’s Lucretia in the house it was written for (OK not quite the same building, the 1946 theatre had only 300 seats and the shape of a local gym, but the intimacy of the scale is near enough the same) was hugely exciting. It is sobering to think that Britten managed to compose Lucretia in four months, the length of time being disproportionate to the level of invention, effectiveness of the orchestration and depth of expression.

Fiona Shaw tackled the awkward ambivalence of the Christian chorus and the idolatrous Roman protagonists with a flattening of the environment to what amounted to an archeological dig.

The curtain opened before the overture to the Male Chorus face down in the black gravel with a spade nearby with only a yellow construction/archaeological dig light on the side. Shaw proposes that the Romans and their sordid tales are excavated from the darkness of this pit and brought to light. An interesting idea that given the touring nature of the production was realised very satisfactorily by Michael Levine. The black cloth covering most of the stage gets propped to create a giant tent for Tarquinius and his soldiers to rest under. A simple but very functional use of stage and minimal props. After the first scene the cloth gets removed revealing the rest of the gravel expanse that is quickly dug up by the two Chorus singers to reveal the footings of a Roman villa. A shorthand way to draw space without the use of a heavy set. The sparseness surely directed our attention to the singers. In a piece of such spare scoring and naked emotion it was a great match. My only qualm would be whether the iconography of an excavation (aside from any ridiculous Time Team analogies) has much currency for a general audience. But overall the bleak blackness of the set in contrast with the backdrop being illuminated to give an impression of the time of day was a moody environment to present one of Britten’s most paired down and darkly beguiling scores. This first chamber opera was the opening salvo for him that possibly culminated in his most beautiful score, The Turn of the Screw another small ensemble piece that packs a big punch.

Early on the conversation between Junius and Tarquinius about virtue and women raised a few eyebrows and knowing little chirps of giggles in the audience

JUNIUS: Virtue in women is a lack of opportunity

TARQUINIUS: Lucretia’s chaste as she is beautiful

JUNIUS: Women are chaste when they are not tempted.

In Shaw’s world of unshaken domesticity it is the libidinous Tarquinius (all muscle and swagger as portrayed by Duncan Rock) that transforms Lucretia from the chaste mother (she added a fictional daughter in the cast to elicit extra sympathy for the heroine) and wife to an equally disgraced Roman, her life destroyed by a sexual act. Britten’s work never quite clarifies the rights and wrongs of Lucretia’s rape. The contemporary viewer aided by the Chorus look in but the work fails to show a lack of attraction on her part. What seems equivocal in its title becomes murky. That moral ambivalence when put through as clearly is a numbing conclusion.

Shaw also concentrated on the ritualistic element of the piece adding symbolist touches to amplify inherent meaning, the Roman head rested in the finale on the outline of the house made to resemble a cross symbolising the dawn of Christianity, the faith of the Male and Female Chorus…with Valentine throwing her bible across the set moments earlier added a menacing touch maybe pointing to the helplessness of faith.

The rape scene was disturbing and captivating in Tarquinius’ near cinematic slow movement across Lucretia’s house to her bed chamber. Duncan Rock’s muscular physique played to the raffish nature of the character and his brutal sense of ownership and entitlement. Now why did the two Chorus singers continue to dig during the shameful conclusion of the scene in the black rubble is an awkward moment in the direction that while it solidifies the movement to a sculptural stillness it also takes away the muscularity of the struggle. I can imagine how this excavation-chic konzept can suggest that conclusion and being chosen purely for its visual impact. But if you add the famously anti-climactic and wet Christianity of the final dialogue by the Chorus I would have preferred a more dynamic, brutal final struggle.

The singing by the whole cast was excellent and extremely moving. Both Kate Valentine and Allan Clayton were spectacular in their articulation of the text with clear as glass diction and a melancholic sweetness. I have seen them both sing many times before and this is a definite career highlight. They embodied the moral voice of the work with such authority even a few unconvincing directorial flourishes in the form of an awkward sexual scene (in matching powder blue underwear, nonetheless) could not spoil the sturdy framework they offered for all the other performances to hang from.

Our Lucretia did make a great entrance almost like the raising of Lazarus, her long white scarf dragging her out of the ubiquitous gravel pit at stage left…the location of the rape an hour later. The aesthetic choice of her white outfit that keeps getting slowly tarnished by contact to a smeared tar-like dishevelment was a brilliant choice. Claudia Huckle used her velvety contralto and lithe physique for a devastating portrayal of the central heroine. A mother but above all a universal woman who takes her destiny in her own hands trying to protect her family and posthumous reputation.

Oliver Dunn and David Soar offered very strong supporting performances and Catherine Wyn-Rogers (unbelievably in her house debut) showered the stage with charisma and deep empathy for her mistress. The glassy coloratura of Ellie Laungharne in the spinning and flower arranging scene was a vivid image of sensitivity and quiet horror.

The playing by the orchestra under Nicholas Collon was exemplary and embraced the angularity of line with the near pastoral woodwind solos. Britten’s addition of a piano creates a continuo kind of richness but with a disturbing clang that underlines the cruelty of the story.

If you are not convinced by all the above to go and see it, I’ll urge you anyway. Even if Britten doesn’t quite move you enough, this production in all its stark splendour makes a great advocate for this jewel of a score accompanied by an immaculate cast.

Rape of Lucretia list

A production video courtesy of Glyndebourne

Some tweets from the evening

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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